We all have those cities that you instantly fall in love with. As soon as we arrived into Iquique and walked straight to the beach in just a tank top and shorts with our backpacks still on we knew that this place was going to be our home for awhile. We stayed there for a total of 7 nights because we were long overdue for a beach oasis paradise. When we arrived we didn't have a hostel pre booked and luckily all it took was looking across the street from the beach and there was a hostel called Uma Jaqi Surf Hostal. It was 6,500 pesos a night each ($10.28) which is so cheap for Chile! Not only were the staff completely incredible and chill there but we also made friends the first night with two awesome guys named Luciano and Oli who were both from London that we ended up doing everything with for four days! It is crazy how much more fun a city can be when you already have new friends to share your experiences with.
Our days in this town were very simple. It started with waking up and making an easy small breakfast of bread and whatever toppings from the local supermarket and street markets we had and then making our way to the Central Mercado where we would find an array of restaurants inside and out that sold similar lunches with soup (Always go with the seafood soup!) and rice or a mini salad with usually fish or chicken. Most places averages around 2,800-3,500 pesos for lunch ($4-$5 USD). But after eating the same lunches everyday and seeing our cash disappearing faster we realized it was better to just eat street food (empanadas or ceviche that are around $1 USD!). Then we would save up our appetite for dinner by eating small snacks in the afternoon and just cook dinner every single night at the hostel. After lunch time was when we would head to the beach to just take in the sun since we knew going further south in Chile it was going to get colder. So with the grand trunk matt brought with us (think of the best compact beach blanket ever) we would bring our books and journals and stay on the beach until the sunset. It seems so simple of a lifestyle and it was exactly that. I love going to small towns especially on beaches like this where the pace of life is slowed down. I always feel more drawn and connected to cities that make me reflect and feel gratitude for being there.
The city of Iquique has many different restaurants, shopping areas and and selection of whatever you need sold on the streets. The buildings are colorful and you can find some amazing murals spread out throughout the city. If there is one food choice I would say you need to try here it is sushi. There are many sushi restaurants everywhere and vendors on the street selling it and all were delicious. Random fact about 80% of the sushi we had all contained cream cheese which I was shocked about but still found delicious.
Get ready to keep your swim trunks on and your worries away. In this town you will find yourself entertained by the sun and the stars. No need to run here, unless of course you want to run or ride your bike along the beach which I would highly suggest. There are night markets every so often as well so hopefully you will find a great souvenir to remember this town by.
After the incredible adventures we had the days prior being apart of the biggest Salt Flat tour in the world entering into the city of San Pedro de Atacama was not a hot destination for us. This town is a small tourist town to say the least where you walk down one of the few main streets and everything is directed toward tourism! From the star gazing tours to any tours offering what the Uyuni Salt Flat tour already took us to we couldn't find a reason to stay in this town for more than one night. I read online and saw that many hostels and rooms were $15 USD+ a night per person in this city but luckily close to where the bus drop off location is there are a few hostels close by that are from $10-$13 USD that are not advertised at all online. So as soon as we unpacked from the bus and slung our backpacks on, a young man approached us and told us he worked for few hostels nearby. I usually am skeptical about guys like him on the street but for some reason I had a good vibe from him and we went over and stayed at one of the hostels he worked at for 8,000 pesos ($12.50 USD)! It didn’t include breakfast or anything and it was a 4 person dirty shared dorm but we were the only two in the room! Standards of rooms become low as you keep traveling on. Any room that doesn't look like it has mold on the walls or bugs in the bed are pretty good in my books.
After settling and it still being mid day we asked the receptionist if he knew any local cheap lunch spots nearby we could eat at. We pointed us towards some lunch stalls that was a 5 minute walk from our hostel and it was the most incredible vegetarian lunch I have had since Cusco, Peru. There were a few different stalls/restaurants and of course we just went to the one with the most locals in it. After lunch we knew we wanted to leave this town as soon as possible so we ended up just walking to the bus station and buying a ticket to Iquique for 13,000 pesos ($20 USD) each that was leaving the next day around 9:30am that would be almost seven hours long! So that evening we walked back towards our hostel and saw a big fruit and veggie stand and bought some groceries to cook with that night and just had a chill night at the hostel. I am telling you sorry if this blog post was boring but for me this city was boring. The stars are beautiful at night if you want away from the main part of town and I heard they even had sandboarding. You can find something to do here if you are really on the hunt but for us it was just a low key layover city.
When you hear about Uyuni you instantly think of the biggest Salt Flats in the world. Or at least I did, I put no after thought into the town itself. So when we arrived into the small deserted town we were a bit shocked about how empty and dirty it was. We arrived with a couple named Sarah and James who were from New Zealand. We met them at the hostel in Potosi and all discovered we were all heading to Uyuni next and decided to book the Salt Flat tour together! They pre booked a hotel before arriving and of course we didn't so we just walked around until we found a budget hotel that was $6 USD each for the one night. We have just continually kept learning that in this country prebooking usually means you are staying somewhere a bit more expensive than if you waited until you arrived. So patience and research are virtues on this trip. That evening after settling into our hotels the hunt for the perfect tour agency was on.
We thought this would be a big adventure to find a tour agency but all of them can be found on one of the two main streets and one was called Avenida Potosi. We asked in total four different travel agencies (All offer basically the same package) and decided to go with the trip advisor #1 choice called Salty Desert Aventours. We got the price including transportation across the border to Chile for 820 bolivianos ($118.67 USD) each with a Spanish speaking driver. We could have paid 400 bolivianos extra for a English speaking guide but we decided that it was time to practice our spanish and save a little bit of money. Since it was Thursday it was the day for the big feria which is an open street market that sells everything from fruit, snacks, clothes, teas and full meals. We walked around the street stalls and I got to thinking that I have heard the flats are freezing and all have are of my thin layered jackets that I have worn everyday the last month. It was time to invest in a heavy duty puffy black jacket that I bartered down to 200 bolivianos ($28.95 USD)and it was an incredible decision. I was told how cold it would get on the tour and I wanted to let nothing stand in my way from fully enjoying this. We ate at a local restaurant for 10 bolivianos each after the successful purchase and had the typical chicken and rice dish that you find most anywhere in Bolivia. After dinner we found a street vendor selling Api which is purple maize, cinnamon and hot water with some fried up sweet bread on the side. We just relaxed that evening with new friends under the street lights of the small town enjoying the thoughts of what was awaiting us.
The tour the next morning started at 10:15am. Before departing we went to a few mini markets to grab some last minute snacks that we didn't already get at the day priors feria and of course had to get some wine and beer. We met the third couple that would be joining us on our tour outside the car and could already tell we were going to hit it off. Their names were Celine and Bruno who were both from Switzerland and spoke 5 different languages including Spanish! For the three day and two night tour ahead it was pretty comfortable with 6 people and the driver in a midsize SUV. We even had bluetooth for music alongside with good conversations.
Our first stop was to the train graveyard that was a playground of old trains that all the tourists including myself could jump all over and take pictures on. It was a bit of a underwhelming way to start our tour but the next stop was the incredible salt flats. It was our car of 6 and one other car of 6 that were all from the same tour agency and we were taken care of so well by our guides. As soon as we got to the salt flats we just took it all in. The endless view of salty flats covered 360 degrees around us. You could sort of see the famous mirror reflection that the salt flats are known for but since it wasn’t the wet season it wasn’t visible everywhere except a few parts. I just had to put my camera down and step away from the group to really soak in what I was seeing. From there we went on to Isla Incahuasi that is covered with cactus and had a 30 boliviano entrance. This island was once a lake that was dried up and this little island still remains and we were told it was over 1,000 years old and to see it still surviving in the elements is incredible. Before it got dark we pulled over one last time to watch the sunset over this perfect day. One of the best sunsets I have ever seen in my entire life and to reflect on everything we have done to be there in that moment. We spent the night in one of the few salt hotels in the area where the walls, floors, chairs and tables were all made of salt. You could just dip french fries on the floor to give them a little more salt (but that is not advised)
The following morning after a small breakfast served at the hotel it was time to start day two of our trip. We first headed to Laguna Hedionda that was a lagoon full of flamingos and was completely beautiful and surreal to see flamingoes in a climate like this. We had lunch here that consisted of an assortment of pasta, chicken and vegetables. I will say that this tour agency knows how to feed their guests because the drivers not only travel with us everywhere and give us historical facts about the places we are visiting, they do all the cooking and help loading and unloading the vehicles. The guides are a one man show so make sure to tip them for all of their hard work. From the lagoon we saw different crazy rock formations to beautiful Laguna Coroada that was a lake that was the color red to a stone that was shaped as a tree from all the years of the sandy winds. Before heading to our hotel for the night we saw one last amazing natural wonder which was the Solar de Manaña geyser. These geysers were completely beautiful and so powerful. The water looks boiling but with the view of the background with the geyser steam pouring out makes for a beautiful scenery.
We arrived to our hotel for the night as the sun started to set and we got to see where we were spending the next twelve hours. Only a few hotels were close by all that were not housing many groups and we had the incredible Termas de Polques hot springs a five minute walk away. Before and after dinner our group decided to go soak in the hot springs with some beer and wine. We were able to watch the sun set completely and see the milky way come alive. I have never seen the milky way so clear in my entire life until that moment. I felt almost in tears for how happy I was to be there. After the many hours and our hands completely pruned we went back to the hotel where we shared a room with the new zealand couple and we stayed up for another hour just giggling like little kids about all the fun we had. And right before our eyes shut for the night we decided to wake up in three hours to see the sun rise over the lake that is outside of our window. We all woke up still rubbing our eyes but we witnessed the sun rise with one another by our side. We enjoyed our last meal together before we hit the road again to see one more Laguna Verde before getting dropped off at the border crossing into San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. It was a 15 boliviano fee to leave the country but free to enter in Chile which was a nice change after having to pay to get into Bolivia. We were happy to move onto a new country but sad to leave a country we built so many friendships in and had some amazing experiences ending with the best one.
To any future travelers that want to adventure to Bolivia, I will say don't hold back and just go. This is a tour you will brag about to your kids and your grandkids and when you are done traveling and people ask what some of your highlights were, this trip will definitely be one of those stories.
This place is good to stay for a quick layover between Sucre and Uyuni. We spent a total of two nights in this town for the sole purpose of seeing the once so famous mines of Cerro Rico that are still active today. We didn’t pre book a hostel in advance but found a great one called Casa Blanca that was 45 bolivianos each per night ($7 USD). There are multiple hostels and budget friendly hotels in this area so check out a few before making your decision. To find the hostel we took a minibus from the terminal we arrived at that was going towards the main plaza called 10 de Noviembre. It took asking a few people to help us find the right bus and when to get off but with kindness from strangers that is how we have gotten to many destinations. Don't be sky to ask for directions, many people are willing to help! The city itself is very small but has a great street food selection such as popcorn and hamburgers. Unfortunately, Matt got food poisoning from the street burger that cost less than $1 USD but I had the same one and was fine! If you are frightened of the street food there are many empanada and pizza shops to have dinner at.
On the night of our arrival we found ourselves there on the day of a mining parade held on by kids and adults of all different ages! There were fireworks and live music and was just a great surprise for a town we didn’t have any idea about! There was a contest for the best dance and outfits from each group and it was amazing to see an entire community all together celebrating miners for all of their hard work. I am not sure how many of these mining festivals there are per year but since many men in this town work in the mines and their parents and grandparents did as well they must celebrate frequently.
You will notice many tour companies all over the city that offer mining tours. We decided to go with a tour company recommended by a fellow traveler friend and we were so happy we went listened to him. Most companies offer a deal of 70 bolivianos for a tour but ours was 150.. a bit pricey I know. (By bit pricey that is $21 USD). The company's name is The Big Deal and the best part of this company is that they keep the tour groups small and you truly get an insight of what a miner's life is like especially since the 6 guys running this tour all used to be miners themselves. We got to see where the silver and other minerals are separated and cleaned at their processing factories. They took us into the active mines and talked to us about the history, conditions and lifestyle of miners. The guides did not hold back at all when they talked about the gritty details of the place. We walked around for almost two hours in these pitch black tunnels where the only light came from our headlamps we were provided along with our whole ensemble including boots and helmets. It is interesting to know this town was once so rich because of the mines and they depleted them to fast for their own good. It is a town in the middle of the desert so not much to do besides eat at one of the few stalls open at the Mercardo Central and spending your nights with friends at the hostel making dinner.
After the two lazy days in Potosi it was time to make our way down to Uyuni. From our hostel we caught a taxi for 5 bolivianos per person to the bus terminal. There are two bus terminals in the town and we were glad to have just spent $.50 cents more to take an easy taxi ride instead of the bus again with our huge backpacks. Buses are leaving constantly leaving all the time for this 4 hour ride to Uyuni. We spent 30 soles each ($4.50 USD after bartering it down a few dollars) and it was a completely easy ride with a great view entering into Uyuni where the Salt Flats soon awaited us. If you have the extra time and money I would say visit Potosi., This isnt a city where to much is going on but the tour itself taught me a lot of history of this country that I wouldnt have known otherwise if I missed it.
After visiting Copacabana and La Paz I was ready to see how the city of Sucre would be compared to those two diverse places. Well, Sucre completely shocked me to say the least by how progressive and young the people that lived there were! It is a university city where many young 20 year old's flock to. It is an easy place to spend a week and relax since the environment calls for just eating ice cream in the sun with a good book at the park. We stayed for 4 nights at a place called Homestay Jorge that we found off of booking.com and it was family run business where they opened the doors to their house and converted a few rooms into guest rooms. It was the perfect place to feel like you are living a true locals life instead of a typical hostel especially because of the views from the terrace and the amenities such as a warm shower and a completely usable kitchen. It was about a 15-minute walk to the main plaza but the walk was lovely just seeing all of the colonial architecture along the way. On the first day of arriving we knew we wanted to search for cheap Spanish lessons so we found a hostel called Colors House Hostel and took a few days of classes with a private tutor there that was $5 an hour each for two hours per day. Looking back I wish I would have taken classes for at least a week straight because I was learning a lot quickly but there is only so much you can learn in three days. This city out of all the places in Bolivia I would completely recommend to take Spanish lessons as this is a very livable town that you can easily make the most of everyday at.
We quickly made a little routine here starting at 10am with two hours of Spanish classes and then around noon we would head to the Mercado Central that is a gigantic building full of fruit stalls, vegetable stalls, meat, medicines, knick knacks, smoothies and rows and rows of stalls serving lunch. Everyday we would have an incredible lunch at the Mercado ranging from 10-16 Bolivanos (That is less than $3 USD!) that included soup as an appetizer and then usually a meat dish with a salad and carb source of rice, pasta or fries. After we ate we would head downstairs to the area where ladies are selling fruit smoothies and I would order a huge fruit salad…everyday. It had cereal, yogurt with multiple types of fruit and was only 10 bolivianos. I fell in love with that dish and think of it often still. That lunch would fill us up for hours and after we ate we would always pick up some food to cook back at our homestay.
If you are looking for a great bar to chill out on it can be found in the area of the city called La Recoleta called Cafe Gourmet Mirador. Beers are around $3USD each and it is a perfect lounge outside area to soak in the sun and let the hours of the day slip on by. I completely recommend anybody to rest your feet up and call this place home for a few days. If you are wanting a park to people watch at there is a great huge one in town called Parque Bolivar where we brought our books and sat at the park for a few hours taking in the sunshine and the surrounding views. We only spent 4 nights in this city but looking back I would have stayed at least 3 more nights. Enjoy yourself here, it is hard not to.
Arriving in this massive city that translates to “Peace” in english was a sight to see on the bus ride arriving in of the huge hills covered with houses as far as the eyes can see. We arrived from Copacabana and got dropped off near the bus station and walked down a main street until we found a hostel for 45 Bolivanos a night (less than $5 USD). Now luckily we have low expectations and are low maintenance but after one night at this hostel we had to bail. This hostel is called Bash and Crash so do yourself a favor and spend a few dollars more on a place especially if you plan on staying for a couple of nights. For the second night we turned to booking.com and found an amazing bed and breakfast place for $20 a night called Casa Skyways B&B that was a bit of a splurge for us but we decided since the food and transportation were so cheap it was worth it. That was the nicest place we stayed in in all of Peru and Bolivia and the most comfortable. Except for one small problem… the powdered milk they served at breakfast that is meant for coffee gave me horrible food poisoning. But after those two days of torture I just learned to keep my coffee straight black.
We spent our time on the first day walking around the main touristy area around San Francisco Church. This place is full of people and performers acting as clowns and dancers trying to make a few pesos and of course the lovely street snack vendors. As we were walking down one of the streets behind the church we found a vegetarian lunch restaurant called Centro Vegetariano! I was so happy after constantly eating meat in Peru! We had a simple soup, salad and vegetarian lentil dish all for less than $3 USD. Highly recommend to just walk around this touristy area because you can find everything a little more upscale..but still inexpensive. Or if you want the traditional dishes head toward Mercado Lanza Food Stalls close by and you can get many lunches and smoothies and empanadas all for less than $3 USD. This is a place I would recommend to go around and see what other people are eating and point at it with a smile and asking “Cuanto Cuesta?” (How much?) to whomever is working there. Good way to get authentic food even with the language barrier. We took a walking tour that afternoon by the company called Red Hat for 20 Bolivianos each that was 3 hours long. They took us to all of the interesting areas around San Francisco Church and we got to learn more about the different plazas, witches market, food markets and the San Pedro Jail. This tour I would completely recommend as it was informative and entertaining. After the tour we randomly found our way to this place called Museo De Bebidos Bolivanas! It was an awesome 20 minute tour of history of alcohol in South America more specifically Bolivia and then we tried 2 different beers and a shot for $11 USD! Such a great time and all of the drinks were very unique to anything I ever had in the United States.
On Thursday and Sundays the next town over called Alto holds the biggest flea market there in all of South America. You have to take a cable car to get there for but only 3 Bolivanos one way it is more than worth it. I bought some awesome fabric to make pillows with once we get our next future home. They have everything from clothes, to toiletries to car parts to food to cell phones to food stalls. It was gigantic and crazy and I am glad I wore my backpack in the front since my friend went to the flea market after I did and said he got his cell phone pickpocketed. This place is jam packed with people and even if you aren’t interested in buying anything the view from the town is completely amazing. One of the days I walked around the area of Sopachi which is where our B&B was located and found a Harry Potter themed café called Avada Kedavra Café Tenebroso. A little hilarious to see a cafe shop like this but fun to go for a drink and a small bite.
In Peru we took public transportation buses in the cities only a handful of times but it Bolivia it is much easier to get around in them. In Peru the bus drivers shout out the windows where they are going while in Bolivia there are signs in the front of the bus to tell you where it is going. The mini buses are called colectivos and it took some time to figure out which ones to take but for the most part strangers are willing to help from the driver to the other passengers to strangers on the street. The collectivos are usually 2-3 bolivianos and for it being so cheap we knew we had to use the system instead of taxis. Just be nice when asking and people are so eager to help! We went to Valley De Luna 45 minutes outside the town which was a little representative of what the moon would look like. It was very beautiful and felt like we were in a new world I have never seen before. The entrance fee was only a few dollars and was just a few dollars to get in. The perfect amount of time is 1-2 hours as there are two trails you can do to explore the area.
On one of the days I had food poisoning, Matt took advantage of it and biked the most dangerous road in the world for around 400 bolivianos ($58) and he raved about what a great time he had! There are many different agencies that sell the same package so just find one that you like the salesmen and make sure they give you in full details what to expect on your trip. Don’t be afraid to barter on this because you can always get them to go down even if it is just a few dollars. Matt says one person got hurt on the biking since it was all straight down hill and one guy was being an idiot trying to go the fastest.
After 5 days in La Paz we were ready to move on so it was off to Sucre! We just headed toward the bus terminal around 6pm and found a few companies that all head toward Sucre and went with the one that had the best seats at the best price. You don’t have to book any bus more than a few hours in advance, there are so many companies in route there so there will always be seats available. It was a 12-hour bus ride we got for around 150 bolivianos ($22 USD) each from the company El Dorado. It was by far was the most comfortable overnight bus because the seats reclined all the way back and we were provided blankets and they played Back to the Future 1 AND 2. It was the easiest bus ride and for the first time was a little bit bummed when it ended. Interested in seeing the adventure onfold there? Watch the Youtube video above to see the experience yourself!
This magical small town of Copacabana is 3,800 metres above sea level and on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and a great place to spend 2-3 nights. We were lucky enough to arrive on the Saturday of Easter weekend and we pre booked two nights at the cheapest hotel on booking.com we could find. It was $20 a night for a room with two twin beds but soon after we got there we realized how many cheaper hostels were in the town and just just not advertised anywhere online! This is where I started to realize we did not need to prebook too much in advance in Bolivia. We found a hotel on the third night for 40 bolivianos ($6) each and the only difference was no free breakfast. (Which is okay because usually just bread and coffee.)
In shorts and a t-shirt with a beer in our hand sitting on the sandy littered beach we found the paradise we were looking for. Since it was Easter it turned the small beach town into a camping retreat full of families and drunk friends all drinking Fernets and coke and cheap liters of beer. Of course after 10 minutes on the beach we found ourselves with five Bolivian men whom invited us to drink with them! Now our Spanish is very minimal and their English is basically nonexistent but luckily drinking is an international way to instantly make friends. After a few hours and a bit tipsy we were ready to move on to get some dinner! This town offers street food and small mom and pop shop restaurants for dinner so of course the classic fried fish/rice and soup were our dinner for less than $5 each. You can find fish stalls on the beach or the variety of pasta, trout, papa fritas and ceviche around the main street of Av. 6 de Agosto. After stuffing ourselves full we headed over to this amazing tea/cafe night market that is between the trucha fish market that is open during lunch and the other side where there are fruit and vegetable and meat stalls. To give you an idea of where this is if you are on Av. 6 de Agosto and you are looking toward the water it is one street over to the right! It will be hard to miss just look for the sign that says Cafe Mercado! Or follow the small crowd of people heading into a big building. We had a tea and ate a few brunello donuts that are made right in front of you and then spent the next three nights doing the same routine. You will feel in with the locals being there. The cafe/tea night market is something I truly believe should make it’s way towards the states.
Since there are no supermarkets in this town just get ready to be constantly eating street food like empanadas, chips or nuts sold on the street and fruit. Do not be afraid to barter on the street as hardly any places will have signs for prices because if you are a tourist you will not get the same price as a local. But if you thinking you are only getting charged a few Bolivianos more don’t argue it, the money means more to them than to yourself. Sunday, as people were leaving after the weekend was over we spent our day relaxing in the sun and doing a little 30 minute steep climb up to the Stations of the Cross. You can’t miss this little gem as it is the one huge hill in the city and it is best to be there during sunset. A view that is worth more than 1,000 pictures.
On the third day in Copacabana it was time to take a little boat ride for $6.50 USD (45 Bolivianos roundtrip) to go to the island called Isle De Sol. Of course when we got to the sun island it was pouring down rain the first few hours we were there but luckily we brought our ponchos and positive attitudes to explore around anyway. We got dropped off on the south island and were only allowed to trek there and not the north island since they have a bad relationship with one another. Wish I knew more details about it but the locals were pretty hush hush about the fight. It was an incredibly beautiful island with million dollar views everywhere you looked. There are a ton of hostels you can spend the night at that you do not need to prebook online but we took the 8am boat in and took the last boat back to Copacabana at 4pm. There are a lot of pizza places surprisingly there so beware of not very authentic food. The island was great for a day trip but we had no desire staying there. Maybe if it was sunny and warm it would be a different story but we were happy with our choice!
On the last morning after waking up we wondered out of the hotel and found street food ceviche for breakfast. I really could get used to eating ceviche everyday. Then as we were thinking of how to get to La Paz in the little plaza we heard a guy yelled “La Paz, La Paz!” and he was selling bus tickets for the four hour long ride for only 25 Bolivanos (less than $4)! Buses come and go all the time from this city to Cusco and La Paz so never be scarred of being stranded. We grabbed our bags quickly from the hotel and headed our way on to the next city! One big advice I can give is just play it by ear in this country. The best deals, food and hostels will be the ones you have done zero research about before. If you are curious of seeing what Isla De Sol is like click the video above!
This is a town I would recommend to either skip or just visit for half a day between Cusco, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia. We arrived in this town because we wanted to make sure all of our visa requirements for Bolivia were straightened away before crossing (Click here to see the requirements as Americans) and we wanted to see what Lake Titicaca was like on the Peruvian side! We got off the bus around 6am from Cusco and started our 20-minute walk to our hotel I found off booking.com. We arrived on Good Friday and surprisingly; an incredible street market was going on! Lots of fruit, veggies, fish and street stalls were open and it seemed as though the whole small village was shopping there. That street market was our favorite thing about this small town. After eating some ceviche and buying some street empanandas we walked straight to the main pier on the lake and booked an impromptu boat tour for a few dollars to see the floating villages that Puno is known for! The short boat ride was great and seeing the actual houses and floating villages were incredible but get ready for a huge tourist trap. You will get told a brief history lesson of the floating islands and afterwards you will get asked to shop around to the few stalls on the island you are at. Then from there you will get charged a small fee to ride another boat to a different part of the floating village where there are restaurants and souvenirs to buy and that’s the end of the tour. It takes away the feeling of wanting to learn more when really they don’t want to share their culture or history they just want money out of you. Once we were done with the two-hour tour it is back to the main part of Puno where all the restaurants on the pier were overpriced so we passed them to try and find more street food. That is all that Puno truly had to offer that we found. If I were you I would just take the bus straight from Cusco to Copacabana. It was 40 soles for an overnight bus to Puno from Cusco and 65 to Copacabana. When we left Puno to get to Copacabana it was 22 soles. I would say just pass this town and head to the better side of Lake Titicaca! You won't regret skipping this town.
How do I start off a blog entry on one of my favorite cities I have ever been to? I know that is a huge statement to say but as soon as I arrived in Cusco this spell came over me that made me just fall in love. I lived here for 2 weeks and now I wish I would have stayed at least a month. This city is the gateway for any adventure you have in mind. The three types of outings I did while there was one full day trekking Rainbow Mountain, one full day seeing the entire sacred valley surrounding Cusco and of course we made our way up to Machu Pichu. But even inside the city itself there are so many markets and districts with food variations that the rest of Peru does not offer. So get ready to call this place a peruvian slice of heaven because it stole my heart.
The City of Cusco
We stayed at three different hostels during our stay but one truly had our heart that we spent 10 days at called Hookah Chill Hostel. Sadly, this hostel is now but closed but it was in the best neighborhood of Cusco called San Blas District. This district will make you instantly feel like you have found a place that you can call home. They have coffee shops, pizza shops and this amazing market that you can find lunches at for $2-$3 that include soup with a main course called the San Blas Market. Not only can you find an incredibly filling lunch but they have ladies selling juices to completely make your taste buds rejoice. We always left the market with vegetables, fruits and some snacks and never were disappointed by the food. They even have vegan and vegetarian food stalls in the market clearly advertised.
Make sure while you are in the city to take the free walking tour. Around the main Plaza De Armas you will find men in blue shirts offering free tours and your hostel will also tell you about it. Tip around $3-$5 USD for the tour since it is well worth the two hours. They will take you to a few of the markets and districts with some of the best viewpoints that I wouldn't have known about if I went to look for them myself. The biggest market that you need to check out is the San Pedro Market. This market for breakfast or lunch will be full of locals, tourists and people of all ages selling nicknacks and food galore. Don't forget in Peru bartering is a part of the culture. Locals know they can overcharge a tourist especially if they don't speak fluent Spanish. We went back to this market multiple times because I just couldn't get over the wow factor of the size of the place.
The food in Cusco is one of another magnitude compared to the rest of the country. One of the best places we ate at (besides the San Pedro Market) was a restaurant called Mr. Soups. They have many international soups and local ones that will make you want to go back for more. Another great place is La Caso Del Kebab. OH MAN. That was a great kebab. Especially at 3am when you are hungry and drunk. Besides those two restaurants I would say expand past the tourist area of the center of the city and go to the outskirts to find local lunch spots. If you don't know anything they are serving on the menu just ask the waitress for their recommendation and await the surprise! I have done that many of times and even if you don't like the meal it only cost a few dollars. One last place you need to find are little local bars called Chicharias. Confused by what that is? "Chicha is a fermented or non-fermented beverage usually derived from maize (corn). Chicha includes corn beer known as chicha de jora and non-alcoholic beverages such as chicha morada." Chicharias are places that are usually in someones home that are visable only by the fact that the only sign is a huge stick above the front door with a red bag at the end of it. That is it. So don't be alarmed just walk on in if the door is open or knock and enjoy a huge $1 beverage. I personally really enjoyed it! If you are still nervous check out my YouTube video above to see us going into one!
Sacred Valley Tour
There are so many different tours that one can do in Cusco. The first one we did for around 75 soles (not including the entrance fees) was the Sacred Valley Tour. We woke up very early around 5am to start our tour that was a 13 hour day. This tour included going to a few markets that you will have zero interest in (All for tourists, overpriced but good presents for friends and family back home if you want). Then we got to go to some sites including Pisac ,Urubamba and Ollantaytambo where you will see some incredible archeological landscape. I would say this tour was a great place to be able to see everything in one day but be prepared to feel rushed at every location. We were promised a tour guide that spoke English and Spanish but he spoke 80% Spanish and would paragraph details of sites in English that didn’t make much sense. My favorite place was the salt mines where we got to see how salt was naturally produced.
The second tour we did was the Rainbow Mountain tour! This was 65 soles to do and since it was the wet season (April 2017) it was completely muddy the entire time. My boyfriend Matt hiked the mountain like a champ as I paid another 70 soles to be able to take a horse to the top. I wish that I knew ahead of time that a poor Inca women would be pulling my horse the entire time to the top (3 hours one way) and bottom while wearing flip flops and exhausted the whole time because I wouldn’t have rode the horse if I knew. I shared my water with her but I would recommend if you want to take the horse to have snacks to give your guide. The tour started at 3am getting picked up close to our hostel and it is a 4 hour crazy drive to get where you will have breakfast (bread, jam, butter, tea and coffee). From there you will get to the bottom of the mountain and have three hours to get to the top. A lot of people struggled on this trek and fell over in the mud. But since I was on the horse I had it pretty easy. When we got to the top it was very cloudy and we would get glimpses of the beautiful rainbow mountain. This place I saw a million times on Pinterest so it was very exciting to see with my own eyes! Get ready for a lot of people around trying to get the perfect picture. But after you get your picture but your phone away and just enjoy the views around. On the way down the mountain it was raining and made it a bit miserable for everyone but once we got to the bottom and ate our lunch (rice, meat and vegetables!) we were glad we did the tour. I would have just next time did the trek along with everyone else.
That's my little tidbit about the city! You can't go to Peru and not visit this town so make sure to stick around for awhile and find your own magic there. Any questions? Always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5) Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Sacred Valley
6) Machu Pichu
1) Copacabana and Isla Del Sol
2) La Paz
1) San Pedro De Atacama
4) La Serena
5) Puerto Iquazu
6) Buenos Aires