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Salt Pans in Peru

8 Jun

These salt pans are just a few hours outside of Cuzco in Peru near a tiny village called Moras.  An underground spring pours saltwater down the hills into the “pans” that locals have created.  As the water evaporates, huge salt crystals remain.  This particular area provides Peru with nearly 80% of its salt!  The pools are all at different levels of evaporation, which accounts for the patchwork of colors.  There’s no real perspective in this photo, but the area is huge!

Photo Friday – Love in Peru

11 May

Bridesmaids sprinkle flowers, and well wishes, on the head of the bride and groom.

Today we are attending the wedding of two of our most dear friends (congratulations Julie and James!) so I thought it only fitting that the photo be wedding related.  When we first started our journey we were blessed with the opportunity to attend a wedding in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  It was an incredible experience, one that we will definitely never forget!

Photo Friday – Tilt-Shift Machu Picchu

20 Apr

We absolutely loved Machu Picchu and were lucky to be there on a day with beautiful weather despite that it was technically the rainy season.  If you’ve been there, you probably have this same classic shot.   We decided to put a little twist on it with a technique we recently discovered called ’tilt-shift’.  By blurring out the top and bottom of a photo, you can make it appear to be a highly detailed miniature version of itself.  These kinds of photos work best when you have a wide shot with a lot of details.  There are plenty of tutorials online about how to achieve these results, and even some websites that help alter photos you have already taken, which is what we did here.

Photo Friday – Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, Peru

6 Apr

Plaza de Armas in Arequipa, Peru

Arequipa is the second largest city in Peru, yet it manages to maintain the feel of a much smaller place.  The Plaza de Armas in the center of the tourist zone was one of our favorite spots in all of Peru for people watching.  The square is very well maintained with a beautiful fountain and plenty of trees and benches. One entire block on the edge of the plaza is taken up by a spectacular cathedral.  We snapped this shot just as the sun was going down and the first of the lights illuminating the cathedral had been lit.

Photo Friday – 7 Super Shots

23 Mar

We’ve decided to try and be more diligent about sharing pictures of our journey, so from here on out we will have a regular Photo Friday post.  We’re starting with a nice little travel meme, “7 Super Shots” started by HostelBookers and passed along to me by Nod ‘n’ Smile travel blog (check it out, they are in the final stages of the planning process and will be heading out soon!).  This meme is very straightforward – select 7 photos that fit into 7 categories and then nominate 5 others to share the same.

Since we are on the road, we’ve chosen only from pictures that we’ve taken on this journey.

A photo that…

1) Takes my breath away

Justin in the Andes at Macchu Pichu, Peru

We had gotten up long before dawn to make our way up to Macchu Pichu before the sunrise.  As day broke, the mist that had settled in the valleys overnight began to shift, rising and flowing up through the Andes.  It was a moment of such unexpected beauty that it really did take my breath away.

2) Makes me laugh or smile

Dianna Arroz. Of course.

I mean, how can you not laugh or smile at this?!?! We were grocery shopping in Bariloche, Argentina when we came across this marketing gem.

3) Makes me dream

Sunrise at Deception Island, Antarctica

I still cannot find the words to describe how incredible Antarctica is.  It really is the most beautiful, almost magical place we’ve ever been.  We got up at 4am so we could witness the sunrise on our final day of landings.  Watching the sun break the horizon that day, I felt like anything was possible.

4) Makes me think

Local woman near Maras, Peru

We took this picture on our way to see the salt ponds of Maras, in Peru.  The juxtaposition of this woman with the beauty salon advertisement, in the background (notice that the model is a blonde woman) makes me think about what happens when the modern and the new crashes into the traditional.

5) Makes my mouth water

Olives at the market in Arequipa, Peru

We LOVE local markets.  We can spend entire afternoons wandering around and sampling food, eating little bits of everything there is to offer in lieu of a real meal.  These olives were so perfect that I can almost taste them as I’m typing this…

6) Tells a story

Shaman during a wedding ceremony in Ollantaytambo, Peru

We were blessed with the chance to attend a local wedding during our stay in Ollantaytambo, Peru.  The traditional ceremony was performed by a shaman, and while we couldn’t understand the language much at that point, the beauty and the purpose of the ceremony came through very clearly.  At this point, a young girl had just come into the ceremony site with a bag of fresh milk.  The bride and groom’s families took turn offering the milk, and some wine, to the four directions, after which the wine was poured by the bride and groom and shared with all in attendance.  It was one of the most mystical things we’ve experienced, and we feel very fortunate to have been a part of it.

7) I am most proud of (a ‘National Geographic shot)

Glacier in Paradise Bay, Antarctica

It was hard to not choose pictures entirely from Antarctica for this challenge because it’s just so easy to take great photos there!  For me, this one just leaps out every time we sift through the tons of images from that trip.  Our zodiac cruise around Paradise Bay was one of the highlights of the cruise because we had absolutely perfect weather and, as you can see, totally still waters.  As our zodiac made its way closer to this ice hunk, a piece of it collapsed and sent huge chunks of ice crashing into the ocean, a reminder of the ever-changing landscape in Antarctica.

And now…I’d like to see 7 Super Shots from

Happy To Be Homeless

Fluent in Frolicking

Ric and Roll

Adventures in Nature

Click. The Good News.

The Peru Roundup

31 Dec

We’ve been meaning to start posting about how our budget is working out, and we finally decided that the best way to do this is not by the month, but rather by the country.  In addition, we want to be able to highlight some of the places we really loved (or in some cases, really didn’t).  To that effect, we present the inaugural “roundup” post – a compilation of our budget and travel statistics for each country we visit.

The Statistics

Number of days spent in country – 19

Cities/towns visited –  Lima, Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes, Pisac, Arequipa, San Juan De Chuccho, Sangalle

Number of different lodgings – 8

Flights – 1

Local bus journeys – 20

Combi/collective/taxi  journeys – 11

Long distance bus journeys – 2

Days of rain – 2

Weddings attended – 1

Antibiotics needed – 1 round each (sinus infections)

Moving Box Bet – Anticuchos

The Budget

*Air travel is not included in this budget*

Total US dollar amount spent – $1,335.93

Average cost per day, per person – $35.16

Average lodging cost per night – $15.73

– We stayed entirely in hostels with a private room, often with a private bath. On our last night we stayed in a dorm in Lima, but we were the only ones in that room, so it was essentially private.

Most expensive lodging – $25.90 Hitchhiker’s Hostel, Lima

Least expensive lodging – $5.51 Rivelino House, San Juan De Chuccho (Colca Canyon)

Average food/drink cost per day (per person) – $8.18

* Generally, breakfast was provided by the hostels.  We often self-catered lunch by going to the markets, or went out for a set menu.  We ate out for every dinner.  We consumed very little beer and wine, mostly because we were hiking regularly so we weren’t going out to bars much.

The Best

Accommodation –  Estela de Oro in Arequipa.  Another traveller told us about this gem of a place, and it was easily the best of our time in Peru.  It’s really more a hotel than a hostel as the rooms are huge, all with private bath,  flat screen television, and great internet access.  The rooms come with lovely fluffy towels, little bars of soap, and a pretty standard breakfast of tea/coffee, rolls and jam.  We paid only 50 soles a night, which was a HUGE bargain considering the comfort level.

Huge, delicious steaks.

FoodRasa Nostra, also in Arequipa, and only for meat lovers.  Rasa Nostra is located on Bolognesi, between Sucre and the Plaza de Armas (and right around the corner from our favorite hostel).  They have incredible set menus for dinner, most of which involve a colossal amount of Argentine-style grilled meat (think perfectly cooked steaks, chorizo, etc), french fries, and a salad bar.  A full meal was about 15 soles, more than we’d paid generally, but a total steal for the amount and quality of the food.  The restaurant itself is quite nice, and was packed for both lunch (when they have a cheaper set menu that is more traditional with a soup, entrée, and drink) and dinner.

Empanadas at the market in Arequipa.  Clearly Arequipa treated us well.  If you head over to the main market, there is an empanadas stand just inside the center entrance.  They were the best empanadas we had in all of Peru, especially the chorizo ones.

Prasada in Cuzco.  Prasada serves up delicious vegetarian dishes, including a mean falafel sandwich.  They also make great fruit smoothies.  You can find Prasada on Choquechaka, near San Blas.

The Worst

Accommodation

Hostel Joe in Aquas Calientes.  Based on the review in Lonely Planet, we expected this place to be basic, but tolerable.  In reality, it was awful.  Filthy hallways, questionable sheets, and a definitely sewage-like odor.  Do yourself a favor, pay a little more and stay somewhere that understands the basics of sanitation.

Oasis Paraiso in Sangalle (the ‘Oasis’ in Colca Canyon) – This is one of the more expensive places to stay in Sangalle, and clearly it has seen better days.  The rooms/huts are in various stages of tolerable, the bathrooms leave much to be desired, the bar area is literally falling apart.  The pool was ok, and the staff was nice enough, but not nice enough to make up for the condition of the place.  It looks good when you enter (lovely gardens, all the trees, the pool, etc) and it took us a little while to realize how run down it really was.  There are at least 4 places to choose from in this village, so even if you’re exhausted, suck it up and keep moving.

Feeling the Love in Ollantaytambo

13 Dec

Ollantaytambo, Peru

We intended to spend just one, or maybe two days in Ollantaytambo.

The thing about intentions is that you never really know where you might end up if you let them run off course.

On our way back from Machu Picchu we decided to stop over in this little village – there are more ruins there and I have a vague recollection about it being one of the places where the Inca really held out on a battle against the Spanish.  In any case, those ruins are included in the tourist boleto and we were hell-bent to get our money’s worth on that particular purchase.

"I can haz snuggles?"

We chose our hostel based entirely on the fact that the write-up said they had cats, and we really miss our own kitties.  It was as simple as that.

We arrived exhausted after getting up at 5 am and tromping around in the scorching heat all day, so we were a little disoriented when we walked into the common area and found a group of people popping champagne and the hostel owner scurrying around with bags of groceries and packages of flowers.

We had walked into a pre-wedding celebration.  The hostel owner’s sister was to be married the next day, and she was frantically trying to finish preparing for the festivities.

Recalling the insanity that was the night before our own wedding, we asked if there was anything we could do to help.  It didn’t take long before we found ourselves chopping carrots, peeling garlic, arranging flowers, hanging garland and moving tables and chairs around.

Flowers dry in the sun

By the next morning, we had been invited to attend the two-day celebration.  We were told to be ready to go at 9.

Good thing the groom has a sense of humor...

Apparently the bride has a long history of being late, and this day was no exception.  As we waited, we got the opportunity to get to know the groom and his family (from Germany) and receive our traditional decoration to wear to the first ceremony, which was really a two-for-one with a civil service and the traditional shaman ceremony.

Justin gets some traditional flair

To begin the traditional ceremony, the wedding party and guests paraded through town, following the Shaman who spent the better part of the 20 minute walk blowing on a conch shell to alert our presence to everyone in the area.

We wound our way through town, over a fence, into a horse meadow, past some crops, over an irrigation ditch and into a cornfield.

There are small ruins scattered all through the Sacred Valley, many of which are never seen by tourists as they are too small or are located in someone’s field.  I can’t think of a more stunning place to be married.

The ceremony was long (3 hours), and at times, intense.  We didn’t understand most of what the shaman was saying, but overall we got the gist of what was happening.

Unlike most weddings we’ve been to, the ceremony involved a lot of guest participation, especially with the parents.

At one point the men and women were separated and sent into different areas.  We gathered in our circles, the women with the bride and the men with the groom.  We were given some kind of herbs to smoke (not those kind of herbs…) and as we each took a puff, we were asked to give some words of wisdom, advice, or support to the bride and groom.  It was an interesting mix of thoughts, given in German, Spanish, and English and was mostly about marriage and love, but also about staying true to yourself and finding support when you need it.

Mom and sister give advice to the bride.

Something we found very interesting was that during the “I do” part of the ceremony, the bride and groom told each other not only what they liked about their partner, but also what they didn’t like.  People we have spoken to about this ceremony are often confused as to why we would be so drawn to this part since the general consensus seems to be that you shouldn’t be telling your loved one what you don’t like about them, especially at your wedding.

Let’s be real here.  People don’t typically love everything about their partners.  The thing about marriage is that if you go into it thinking everything is going to be perfect and that love conquers all, well, you’re in for a hell of a surprise.  Marriage is a partnership and, like all partnerships, there will be times when the partners don’t agree.  Love, in and of itself, doesn’t solve problems.  People solve problems.  What drew me to that portion in the ceremony was the fact that it was so honest.  They were saying that they loved each other for all the ways that the other person is so wonderful AND that they loved each other in spite of whatever imperfections they might have.   They were really committing, openly and clearly, to their partner as a whole person.

Near then end of the ceremony a young girl came running up with a plastic bag filled with fresh milk.  The parents of both the bride and the groom took turns tossing cups of wine, and this milk, to the four directions.  Afterwards, the bride and groom took turns pouring the rest of the wine and each guest drank from the same cup.

Justin partakes of some ceremonial wine

After it was all said and done, we headed back to the hostel for the first night of the fiesta and a huge homemade meal.

The next day was the traditional Christian ceremony and large reception.  It was held a few kilometers outside of town at Tulupa, a restaurant in yet another stunning little valley.

Tunupa Restaurant in the Sacred Valley

The ceremony was lovely, the food was excellent, and the pisco never stopped flowing.

Like most events where people have been drinking and dancing for 6+ hours, there came a point when the crowd started to get tired and began to take a break from the dancing.  There is a way to stop this.  It’s called “Crazy Hour” and it involves scary clowns with balloons, masks, bizarre hats, confetti, foam (yes, foam) and a serious dose of dance music.  Within seconds everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was back on the floor whooping it back up.  Amazing.

Exhausted, happy, and very drunk we finally piled into a minivan, with the groom’s family and friends, to be carted home sometime in the wee hours of the morning.   The journey may or may not have included rambunctious group singing of various American rock classics, and a rousing chorus of Mein Hut Der Hat Drei Ecken…the only German song I know all the words to.

When we started out on our adventure around the globe we left our itinerary wide open, knowing that we wanted to be available to take advantage of whatever the universe might present for us…for example, a random invite to an incredible wedding.

For more pictures, check out the slide show:

The Ancient Marvels of Monasterio de San Francisco

10 Dec

Monasterio de San Francisco

We’ve seen a lot of churches, temples, monasteries and other places of religious importance throughout our travels.  They make great tourist spots for a number of obvious reasons (art, architectural beauty, cultural significance  historical significance, I could go on and on here…).  The thing about churches is that after a while, if you’ve been travelling and seeing dozens of them in a very short time period, they all start to blur together.

If you find that happening to you in Lima, but you still want to go out and see the sights, I highly recommend the Monasterio de San Francisco.  It’s included in every guidebook’s section about downtown Lima, but if you have only a day or two in the city I could see this one getting lost in the shuffle.

The structure in and of itself is nice, there are many rooms that hold lovely pieces of art, or very old furnishings, but there are two things that make this place stand out above some of the other smaller sites we’ve visited.

1 – The Library

Now, I have to admit to having an affinity for books and other old things (I was a history teacher…old things are awesome), but this was truly amazing.  The monastery has a library collection that contains 25,000 ancient texts, most of which are handwritten, and some of which date back to before the Spanish conquest!  The room itself is beautiful, and they have a few enormous books on display right up next to the ropes that keep you from actually entering the room.   You can really feel that you are in the presence of something magnificent here, and I would have stayed for hours if we had been allowed.

Library at the Monaserio de San Francisco. Photo by Andre Gunther Photography.

 2 – The Catacombs

Catacombs aren’t for everyone.  Before we entered we were told by our guide that if we felt nauseous, or uncomfortable that we should leave and wait by the exit for the rest of the group to join back up.  We’ve seen some smaller catacombs, but we were simply not prepared for how massive this site is.  Apparently, it was the general burial area for hundreds of years, for everyone in Lima.  Our guide estimated that there were more than 70,000 skeletons that had been unearthed so far.  That’s right, only so far. They had rearranged the bones into separate earthen bins, which were open and just inches away from the walkway.  We passed bin, after bin, after bin, after bin until we finally came to the end of the tour, where a giant well of sorts had been used to arrange skulls and more bones into a morbid circular display.  It was both extremely unsettling, yet completely fascinating.  I find myself wondering who these people were?  Is this how they are to be remembered?

Catacombs of Monastario de San Francisco taken by Ray_from_LA on Flickr

It’s only a few blocks away from the Plaza de Armas, so it’s quite easy to get to if you are already in the center.  You  must pay a small entrance fee of 7 Soles, but this includes a guided tour of about an hour in Spanish or English.  Most people we’ve met along the way have skipped this particular site, so we’re here to encourage you to go!

30 Days

2 Dec

We’ve been on the road for 30 days.

I sort of can’t even believe it.  On one hand, it still feels like we’re just on “vacation”.  On the other hand, it feels like we’ve been gone for a lifetime.

Peru was a whirlwind, we were so busy doing things because we knew we had only a short time to be there and we didn’t want to waste a single minute.  After nearly three weeks of moving at the speed of light, we felt like we had been on the road for months.

Chile has so far been extremely mellow by comparison.  We have some great friends here who we’ve been staying with and we’ve had the chance to slow down and just be ‘normal’ for the past week.  We’ve done laundry, gone grocery shopping, started running again, and haven’t felt much like tourists at all…except for that whole not being able to communicate very well in Spanish bit.

It’s OK though, we have plenty of time for sightseeing because we’ll be staying in Santiago for another month.  We start an intensive Spanish class on Monday, Justin may complete his next Moving Box Bet Challenge as early as this weekend (it’s a good one, stay tuned!), and there are loads of little day and weekend trips in the works…hello wine tours!

(Inexplicably, the slideshow isn’t working for everyone.  Go ahead and click the link instead if you can’t see the embedded version.  If you hover over the slide show, you can expand it to full screen using the link at the very bottom of the black border.  To see the captions once in full-screen mode you can click “show info” in the upper right corner.  Hate this slide show format? I do.  Have a better one in mind?  Let me know!)

http://www.flickr.com//photos/theparallellife/sets/72157628247374035/show/

Even after 30 days it’s clear that we’ve only just begun, and we can’t wait to see what’s in store for us this month.

How To Hike Colca Canyon, Without A Guide

28 Nov

Really, the only reason we went to Arequipa was to hike the Colca Canyon.  Originally it was going to be our test hike to see how well Justin’s leg might hold up on the Inca Trail (he had a muscle tear, no fun), but even after we decided not to trek to Machu Picchu, we still wanted to take this hike.  Why?  Well, partly because it’s billed as the world’s second deepest canyon, and partly because we didn’t hike the Inca Trail, so I was bound and determined to hike SOMETHING for more than one day in Peru.

Colca Canyon is a big tourist destination, and as such, there are about a million different tours or trekking packages available from every single “travel agency” or hostel in Arequipa.

Lonely Planet suggests that you can do the trip yourself.  Unfortunately, the edition we have doesn’t give a whole lot of info about how exactly you do that, and I am not the kind of person who feels comfortable setting out on 3 day hiking trip without some fairly solid details, or at least a decent map.  After searching around quite a bit online (tons of people have done the trek alone and posted basic itineraries), and pestering the moderatly helpful agents at the tourist info booth in Arequipa, and then asking around a bit at Cabanaconde, we managed to figure it out.  However, it would have saved a whole lot of time and quite a bit of stress to have found some detailed instructions somewhere.  To that effect, I present –

How To Hike Colca Canyon Without A Guide.

This is long…if you don’t plan on hiking the Colca Canyon, you could just stop here and check out the slideshow:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

*Disclaimer – I am just a regular person, writing about MY experience.  I hope you find this helpful, but it certainly shouldn’t be your only source of info.  Please ask around before you head out to make sure things haven’t changed, and obviously, use your own common sense.*
 

1)      You need to get yourself to Cabanaconde, where the hike begins.  This is about a 6 hour bus ride away from Arequipa.  There are a number of bus companies that go there including Andalucia, Milagros, and Transjesa.  The booths seem to be clustered on an island in the center of the central bus station rather than around the edge like the long-distance companies.  You can buy tickets from a travel agent, but they will charge you an outrageous commission. We opted to take a combi to the main bus station (Terrestre) and just buy one way tickets the day before we left.   Most combis seems to go there, ask around as to where to catch one near where you are staying.

Cost: 16 soles one way.

2)      If you want to avoid spending a night in Chivay or Cabanaconde you can take an early morning bus to Cabanaconde – they seem to go around 1am, 3am, 5am, 6am and hike all the way down the same day.  We took the 6 am, which got us in around noon.  We had time for lunch, and then had no problems hiking down to our first destination that same day.  Taking the 1 or 3 am bus seems masochistic.  The reason people do it is to stop at the Condor viewing overlook when the birds are supposedly most active.  We aren’t really into birds, so we didn’t care about that, but I will say we saw one from the bus, and many while hiking so unless you are REALLY a birder, choose sleep and go with the 5 or 6 am bus.  It also seemed like if you got off the bus at the viewing spot, you’d be stuck there for at least another hour until the next bus came along.  If you’d rather hike in the morning, you can stay at either Chivay (about 3 or 4 hours into the bus ride from Arequipa there is a stop at this town, they apparently have a hot springs and places to stay) or at Cabanaconde.  If you go during high season it might be worth making reservations somewhere in advance, but it seemed utterly dead mid-November.

3)      At some point you will have to buy the tourist boleto.  People in the past have argued that this is a scam, but you really do need to buy one, just like you do in the Cuzco area.  We got ours in Chivay while the bus was reloading, but we could have bought one in Cabanaconde as well.  Officials with green or beige vests and clipboards have them for sale, and you have to buy one, there is no way around this.  They are square, and MAKE SURE they have a rectangular tear-off section attached for “control” at the end of the hike.  Ours got lost along the way and we nearly had to pay again.

Cost: 35 Soles per ticket.

4)      We tried with diligence to find a trail map.  We could not.  We found a few rough maps online that people had scanned, and those turned out to be the same at ones that were given to us by hostel touts upon exiting the bus at Cabanaconde.  There seems to not be anything better, and we did just fine with these, so I imagine unless you really get off track, you should be ok.  There are two different basic maps, with estimated times, but they are NOT to scale and NOT technical.  Here is one, and here is another.

5)      To get to the trail depends on which route you take.  We wanted to hike down to San Juan de Chuccho the first night, then onto Sangalle the second day, and then back up to Cabanaconde.  If you want, you can just head straight down to Sangelle one day, and back up the next.  If you are in good shape you could do it all in one day as it apparently only takes about 2 hours to get down that trail, and it took us 4 hours to hike back up.

This sign shows the way to Sangalle, but it marked the finale of our journey as we headed back into the main Plaza.

To Sangalle – follow the gigantic sign just off the main plaza by the Hostel Valle Del Fuego.  It points you in the correct direction, which leads down a street (no turns, just stay on that road) and eventually into a cornfield where you follow a rough path that ends up on a trail that really looks like a ditch, where you will turn left.  The ditch leads you directly to the proper trailhead and a control checkpoint where you will have to show your boletto.  You will likely doubt that you are on the right path, but we saw a number of hiker groups on that path on our way out, and you can always stop and ask a local if you’re headed the right direction.

The trailhead to get to San Juan de Chuccho

To San Juan de Chuccho– Facing the church in the main plaza, go down the road that runs along the left side of the church.  After about 3 blocks you need to turn left onto a street that is ‘more’ paved with stones than with dirt, and after a few more blocks you will end up on an actual paved road, which is the one the bus comes in on.  After about 10-15 minutes you should pass a large football stadium on your left, and shortly after you will be at the overlook Mirador de San Miguel where there is an actual trailhead sign.

Hiker footprints *generally* mean you are on the right path.

6)       Stay on the main path.  Do not take shortcuts.  Shortcuts increase erosion, and the place is slippery and rocky as is, so don’t encourage any more small landslides!  When you come to a fork, take the bigger path.  If you see a lot of hiker footprints, you are probably on the correct path.  There are not many forks, and when there was, there was always a very obvious ‘main’ path.

7)      It took us about 2.5 hours to get all the way down to the bottom where there is a little bridge you have to cross.  We had to show our boletos here as well.

Justin outside our Rivelino house accommodations.

8)      There was a woman waiting at the bridge who took us to the Rivelino’s House in San Juan de Chuccho where we spent our first night.  There is another place to stay in this village, Roy’s House.  If nobody is at the bridge waiting to take you somewhere, you can take either path leading to the village (there are two, apparently they go to the same place, the lower path is very steep for a short bit, but is quicker.  The upper path meanders a little, and thus takes a little longer).  There were directional arrows and signs painted on big rocks along the trail that would lead you to either Roy’s or the Rivelino’s house.

We thoroughly enjoyed staying at the Rivelino’s House.  They had a number of huts/rooms that were basic, but clean.  There were hot water showers, flushing toilets, and a little store with beer, water, tp, some candy, etc.  They also served a basic but filling dinner (I believe we had beef, some veggies and rice, if you are vegetarian you might just get pasta). The next day we had a lovely breakfast of banana crepes drizzled with caramel.

We were the only people there without a guide, and we seemed to get the exact same service/meals that everyone else did, with the exception of dinner.  We were the only people to get meat.  I can’t imagine that everyone else (maybe 15 people) were vegetarians, so I suspect it’s just what the guided groups either carried in or contracted to pay for since it’s easier to serve a batch of spaghetti than to cook 15 steaks.

Cost : room was 8 soles per person

           dinner was 8 soles per person

           breakfast was 5 soles per person.

Did you get to this bridge? Then you are going the right way!

9)      The next day we were up early and on the trail by around 8.  To get to Sangalle you have to go through two small villages – Cosnirhua and Malata.  You can alternatively head out to Tapay, which we didn’t do, and then loop back around.  The locals pointed us in the right direction, and we just followed the path around the side of the canyon, and eventually down to the bottom again where we had to cross another small bridge.  I was worried we would accidentally take the turn-off to Tapay but we didn’t, and in fact I’m not really sure where the turn off is so if you want to go that route, I suggest you just ask before you are out of San Juan de Chuccho.  It took us around 30 minutes to reach the bridge, and then it’s uphill for around 45 minutes to the town of Cosnirhua.

10)   Once at the edge of the town of Cosnirhua there are two paths you can take.  The one headed left will take you on the edge of town, the one leading the right will take you through the town, but they meet up again at the end of the village.

11)   It takes about 20 minutes to walk between Cosnirhua and Malata, and it was flat and easy.

Justin is excited that we can find beer in this little village.

12)   In Malata there is a hostel with a little store and a museum.  All the tourist groups stop here and are served the fermented corn beer (which seemed warm and terrible) and are given a little red smudge on their faces from the cactus.  As we had already played with the cactus smudges on the trail, I didn’t really feel like we were missing out.  The store has all the basics, pasta, soup packets, rice, soda, water and beer.  The beer apparently used to be only 5 soles, but it’s now 10, so you’d be better off just waiting until Sangalle.

13)   From Malata the trail continues very obviously down to Sangalle, it took a little less than an hour for us to get down there.

The pool at our hostel in Sangalle

14)   Sangalle is odd because it’s not really a town, just a series of little resorts.  There are at least 4, and I strongly suggest you look around before you accept a room.  We made the mistake of being lazy and just saying yes at the first place we came across in Sangalle, Oasis Parisio, which apparently used to be quite nice, but is now a total shithole a bit rundown.  Our hut was tolerable, but had dirt floors, and we heard afterwards that the two places beyond it are newer and have tile.  The whole ‘resort’ is in a bit of shambles, and I wish we had just sucked it up and found our way to the next place.  Unfortunately it rained most of the afternoon that we arrived so we only got to enjoy the pool for a little while.

Cost: 10 soles per person for a room, unless you get a matrimonial       (double bed) and then it’s 25.

10 soles per person for dinner – soup and pasta.

They also serve breakfast (7 soles) and lunch (10 soles) but we didn’t partake.  We just bought a few bananas the next morning to supplement the bread and granola bars we brought with us.

15)   To hike back up was very obvious…you just go straight up. It’s mostly switchbacks, and there were no real splits to confuse you.  Hiking times vary greatly…we did it in four hours.  Some English guys that were also staying at the Oasis made it in about 3hrs 15 min, and there were a few other guys who claimed to have done it in just over 2.  If you are in great shape and acclimated to the altitude I’d say between 2-3 hours is reasonable.  If you are in terrible shape, give yourself 5+ hours.  The average seems to be 3-4 hours.

A much needed rest about halfway up.

We started around 6:30am to try to avoid some sun, which was a good idea as there are no trees or shade other than the sides of the canyon before the sun is up. After about 2 hours we had reached this little overlook with a little hut and a place to sit.

If you just can’t (or don’t want to ) hike back up, you can hire a mule from every hostel in Sangalle.  We didn’t do this so I can’t speak to the actual cost, but Lonely Planet puts it at around 60 Soles.

16)   At the top there was a control guard who needed the tear off pieces from our boletos that we didn’t have.  We got lucky and he eventually let us pass without it, but we were a bit nervous that we were going to have to pay a fine or something.

I swear this is the trail. Ok, it might ALSO be a ditch, but it really is the trail.

17)    Once at the very top you follow the path into something that looks like a ditch (you will probably be thinking “no way is this the right way…”), then when you see the cornfields you go over the small wall to your right onto the path through the corn and follow that into the town and right onto the road that has the Hostel Valle Del Fuego and onto the main plaza.

18)   You can buy your bus tickets when you get back (might be a good idea in high season to do this before you hike down, just make sure to be back up in time!).  The bus times change frequently, but we caught one at 11:30 headed back to Arequipa.

Cost: 16 soles one way

Our total cost per person for the whole three days (including all water, some beer, food that we brought as well as meals in the canyon, lodging, transportation and entrance tickets): 140 soles per person

Did we save a ton over the tours? 

No, but most tours didn’t include the boleto though, so without that we did cut the cost by at least 1/3. Prices seemed to land around 150 Soles for some type of 3 day package, though what you get for that 150 varies.  Some tours offer no hiking at all, they merely cart you to a number of spots on the rim of the canyon to see the condors and to marvel at the depth of the valley, others take you to scenic overlooks, spend the night in Cabanoconde or Chivay and then have you trek down to Sangalle (the oasis) on the second day, and trek you out on the third.  Yet others offer a solid three days of hiking where you get to spend 2 nights in the valley, usually one in a village and the other in Sangalle.  If you’re looking at a tour, make sure you know exactly what the itinerary is as well as what’s included – will they provide all the meals?  Snacks?  All the water? One thing most companies don’t include in the cost of their trip is the tourist boletto that MUST be purchased in order to enter most villages in the area, including Cabanaconde.  As of November 2011, it was 35 Soles, but rumor has it that price is about to double.

Incidentally, Lonely Planet’s suggestion of the company Colca Trek, seems totally out of whack for the otherwise budget friendly guide.  Colca Trek quoted us 690 soles for a 3 day tour that included one night of camping at the oasis, and one night at the top of the canyon.  The stopped at a number of places along the way to look at the vicuña and some natural landscapes as well.   It may well be one of the better tours in the area, but the price just about blew us out of the water.

Would we have rather taken a tour considering how close the cost was?

No.  It was nice to be able to do things at our leisure, and not feel like we were being rushed, or having to wait on people. It also was really easy to do on our own.  If you don’t hike much in your day-to-day life, or just want to have the added comfort of going with someone experienced, then I’d recommend a tour.  Just make sure you shop around and are very sure what exactly is included before you put any money down.

What did we bring with us?

One outfit to hike in – we wore it each day for 3 days (with new socks and personals each day)

One outfit to sleep in

Sleep sacks (which we didn’t need)

Swimsuit for Sangalle

Lightweight towel

Two giant (2L, heavy but necessary) bottles of water (bought a third in the canyon)

A few bananas, 6 granola bars, 2 chocolate bars, and 4 rolls.  The rest of our meals we bought at the hostels or had en route in Cabanaconde

Headlamps – a must, most places in the canyon do not have electricity.

Flip flops

Warm fleece for night, it gets COLD.

Hats with brims

Sunscreen and bug spray.  There is no shade, you will get fried.  There are also these little flies that bite in Sangalle, highly irritating.

Basic first aid kit with advil, band-aids, sports tape, dehydration salts, anti-bac, immodium and water treatment tablets.

Rain jackets

All the money we needed for the whole time as there are no ATMs in the canyon.  Bring small bills.

With, or without, a guide, we’d definitely recommend this trek if you’re in Arequipa and have at least 2 days to spare.

**UPDATE (Jan 2016) – We still get loads of hits on this particular post, which leads me to believe that guidebooks still aren’t giving great directions on how to do this (get it together guidebooks!).  There are a number of readers who have written posts of their own with updated pricing etc – you can find links to those in the comments, or the section below the comments (Trackbacks/Pingbacks).  We would highly encourage you to check those out as well to see what’s changed since this was originally posted.**

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