Huacachina

Huacachina – an oasis in the middle of the desert. A lake surrounded just by two streets and couple of houses, just 10 min driving from Ica. Almost every days sunny and dry weather – Huacachina is really a place where you can loose yourself for couple of days. Just ten years ago you could find only 12 hostels here, now the place exists almost solely of hostels, hotels and restaurant, similar to Aguas Caliente or other touristic places in Peru. The name of our hostel was Banana`s Adventures. With 80 Soles per night for mixed 6-bed dorm room its seemed quite expensive first, however it already included an activity: sand dunes -buggy/ sandboarding tour, BBQ-dinner or Ica city tour. We have of course decided for the first option – the dunes – buggy /sandboarding tour, a reason why most of the backpackers and tourists come to this place. The hostel was really lovely, with a cool pool, nice atmosphere and a bar where different cocktails and delicious dishes were served right next to it. The warm weather and lying next to pool felt really good after spending one month in the cold mountains.DSC_0010

As the oasis is really small, you can walk around the lake in the center just within couple of minutes. If you find time and energy, you should definitely climb the sand dunes surrounding Huacachina to see the oasis from above during the day if you want to get the typical postcard pictures as the dunes buggies will most probably not stop there during the tour and if yes, you will have only limited time to take the pictures. We bought some cold beers before, climbed the san dunes within 15-20 minutes and enjoyed the view from above.

However, as mentioned before, the sand buggy and sandboarding in the dunes are the main activity here. I would recommend to do the tour in the afternoon around 4 or 5 pm as the weather is not as hot at the afternoon and you can see the sunset later in the evening. Driving with the sand buggies is really a lots of fun! I haven´t realized how fast these small dunes cars can actually get! Sometimes I had the impression sitting more in a rollercoaster than a dune buggy. DSC_0090After 10 minutes driving the buggies stopped and we had some time to practice sandboarding on a small sand dune. However, do not expect professional sandboarding equipment. If you want some better boards you have to pay more in advance (around 25 Soles). If you know how to snowboard and surf, don’t worry, sandboarding is still a completely different feeling and you will fall exactly the same as the others as soon as you will start to try to carve in the sand. Still, it`s a lot of fun and maybe after a while you will manage to stand on board until the end of the track or even on bigger sand dunes. DSC_0094We had around one hour to practice sandboarding, first on smaller, later on bigger sand dunes. The highlight of our trip was definitely the sunset with its evening sun razes shimmering on the dunes and the night scenery of Huacachina.

After the tour you can enjoy a nice dinner in the hostel with couple of drinks. And when the bars closes, you can still walk around and find some other bars for more drinks, for example Huacafuckingchina, which is located right next to the lake.

All in all, for me Huacachina was a really pleasant stay after the cold, high altitude mountains. Refilling the vitamin D and recharging energy, I could have stayed here longer!

Arequipa

Arequipa – la ciudad blanca, the second biggest and economically second most important city in Peru could probably be described as the Peruvian equivalent to Bolivia´s capital Sucre. Similar to the origin of the word “kangaroo” or “Chile”, the name of the city, Arequipa, comes from a misunderstanding between the conquerors and the locals. As the Europeans arrived to the region of today´s Arequipa, they have asked the locals for the name of the land pointing on the ground. The Incas misunderstood and answered: “Ari qhipay” which means translated “Yes, stay”. DSC_0999We don`t know for sure if this mythos is true or not, but nonetheless, the city is called Arequipa now. Another common misunderstanding is Arequipa´s nickname “la ciudad blanca”. A lot of people may think Arequipa is called the white city because of its numerous white colored houses and colonial architecture in the center. However, the city´s epithet derives from the fact that back in the colonial days only the Spanish, meaning the white people, were allowed to live in the city center.

Le Foyer is a lovely Hostel downtown of the city with a New Orleans flair. It is a bit pricier, but the view over Arequipa´s roof on the top of the building and the tasty breakfast is definitely worth the price.

The daily free walking tours will give you an historic and cultural overview about the city. On Plaza de Armas you can get the typical postcard picture of Arequipa with the cathedral and El Misti in the background. The cathedral of Arequipa is known for its uncommon shape: unlike the typical European vertical floorplan of cathedrals, the architecture of the main body of Arequipa´s cathedral is horizontally shaped. DSC_1000Another interesting building open for tourists is the Santa Catalina Monastery. Here the nuns of the Dominican second order have created their own city within a city and are basically living isolated from the rest of Arequipa. For a lunch you should definitely try one of the traditional Arequipa´s Picanterias. Here you can taste the typical Peruvian spicy food and even the typical fried guinea pig. Picanteria la Mundial with fast service and good cuisine is recommendable. Visit Chaqchao Chocolates for chocolate deserts after your lunch and dinner. This artisanal chocolate company also offers chocolate making workshops where you can try to create your own flavored chocolate.

Most of the travelers use Arequipa as gateway to the Colca Canyon, which is the second biggest canyon in the world. The travel agencies in Arequippa are offering 1-, 2-, or 3-days tours. However, as the entrance for the National Park costs around 20 Euros, it does not really make sense to do the 1-day tour, except you really have time pressure and really do not want to skip this tour. Some other tours like rafting on the Chili river as well as the mountain biking are offered as well. As always, be careful with the choice of the agency and read the travel adviser or other internet revues before. We have decided to book a rafting tour with … agency. However, on the day of our tour, our tour guide told us that the river conditions on that day were really bad for rafting so he offered us a mounting bike tour instead. At the beginning he wanted to charge us more, however at the end we have agreed on the same price. Still, it was probably the worst decision we could make. The bikes provided by the bike rental company were in a really bad condition and our biking guide did not even know which tour we have booked. He took us through a trek, which was really exhausting (especially with bikes without proper breaks and gears). Unfortunately, the trek was not spectacular at all. The weather was not nice either, so we could not even see the mountains around. At the end we have arrived at the river, where are biking guide told us, that the river conditions were perfect for rafting that day!! Afterwards he explained us, that the seller from the agency probably did not have enough bookings to fill the boat, so he just convicted us to do another tour instead. Angry and feeling betrayed we have realized how important it is to choose the right travel agencies, as sadly, most of the sellers in the South American countries are trying to take advantage of uniformed tourists.

Nevertheless, we have spent 3 relaxing days in Arequipa and learnt from our unfortunate travel experience.

Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca 

The world’s largest high altitude lake is definitely worth a relaxing break after La Paz. A bus from La Paz to Copacabana, which is the typical stop on the Bolivian border of Lake Titicaca, takes around 4 hours. The bus drive itself is already one of the most beautiful I have seen so far in South America – the road goes along the lake`s coast, the country is amazingly green and from time to time you can see sheep, cows, donkeys or pigs pasturing on the meadows. Quite, colourful and fresh air – Lake Titicaca is clearly an opposite of the hectic life in La Paz.

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Copacabana

Copacabana is a small city on the lake’s shore. It consists mostly of one main tourist street, the Av. 6 de Agosto. Here you can find a lots of restaurants, tourist agencies, hostels, small kiosks, and laundries. It is pretty easy to find a cheap accommodation here. We have stayed in “Hostal Andino” for 20 bs per night. The blue-white facade of the building in he courtyard looked very Greek and created a cozy atmosphere. The rooms were all right, even though the bathrooms were a little filthy, but seriously, who could complain for 20 bs per night?!

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Although you can find tons of restaurants in the main strees, most of them offer the same menu every day: quinoa or vegetable soup, trucha (trout) or pollo milanesa (chicken schnitzel), and banana with chocolate as a desert for 25 bs. However, do not except to much, you are in Bolivia finally. I can highly recommend two places to eat in Copacabana: “La Orilla” and “Pit Stop”. La Orilla is located on a main street, but in comparison to other wanna-be exclusive restaurants, it does not try to draw the customers with any false promising promoters or signs (for example “Las Playas”, the restaurant right on the opposite side of the street – do not enter this place!! Horrible food, horrible service, horrible atmosphere!). La Orilla is run by an American expat, a bit more expensive, however this place definitely conforms western standards. La Orilla offers probably the best food in the city. Pit Stop is a bakery and rotiseria, opened just two and half years ago by an Argentinian. It is more of a take away place, where you can find delicious empanadas, pizzas, and pies.

In the center of the city you can find a market with fresh products and a beautiful Mediterranean-like cathedral. If you already got used to the altitude you can try to climb one of the hills surrounding the city or just lay down on the meadow next to the lake and enjoy the sunshine. From Copacabana you can easily book a ferry to Isla de Sol or a tour to the floating islands. DSC_0956We booked all of our tours as well as our bus tickets to Arequipa in the highly recommendable “apthapi” travel agency right on the Av. 6 de Agosto.

Although the floating islands are supposed to be more beautiful from the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, you can visit some of them from the Bolivian side. Our tour started in Copacabana, where we were picked up by a taxi and then drew to Sahuiña, a small village south of Copacabana. There a typical Bolivian elderly woman called Ana awaited us, it was a nice surprise, because we were expecting a classical tourist guide. DSC_0859Ana showed us and told us a lot of interesting things about the flora and fauna on the Lake Titicaca. Afterwards, she brought us to a floating island. Ana alone was paddling our boat of six people – yes, the Bolivian women are very strong. On the island she dressed us in the typical Bolivian women clothes – huge skirt, the Bolivian bolero and the typical hat. She taught us a dance from Sahuiña and danced with us. It was definitely an unexpected and unforgettable surprise we experienced on our last day in Bolivia.

Isla de Sol

 A ferry from Copacabana leaves every day at 8:30 am and 1:30 pm and costs 20 bs. It is definitely wort a one or two days trip from Copacabana. You can get out of the ferry on either the south or north harbor. I can only recommend the north part of the island. Although once you are there you can easily hike from the north to the south part of the island or vice versa, which takes you around 4 hours. However, calculate the time wisely, as there no cars and respectively no taxis which could take you back to your accommodation. Once arrived in the North harbor, you will find couple or restaurants and hostels lined on the main streets. Most of the visitors decide to go to the right, however if you take a 10 min walk up the hill on the left you can find there an ecologic Refugio “donde Alfonso”, which offers rustic but traditional accommodation with beautiful view of the bay for 25 bs per night. Most of the restaurants offer the same menu for dinner and lunch: again, quinoa soup and trout or chicken schnitzel with rice and couple of French fries for 25 bs. However, the trout is really tasty as it is freshly fished from the lake. During the day you can decide to hike to the south of the island or just explore the north part of the island. DSC_0803About 45 min long hike can bring you to the Chincana Ruins, spectacular Inca ruins. Although the island is called isla de Sol or the Island of Sun and the sun shines here indeed the most of the time, however it can also change quickly, especially in the rainy season. Ferries and boats back to Copacabana are leaving every day at 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. However, depending on the weather conditions, the boat ride might become very adventurous – take some medicine in advance when it`s raining and you know you are likely to get seasick (unfortunately, I didn’t know that, thus I had very funny 2 hours of my life).

Traditionally vested Bolivian women, peaceful bays, green fields of quinoa and potatoes, ruins full of pre-Columbian Inca –energy – you can easily get lost in this untouched nature of this breathtaking island.

Bolivia´s Death Road

The Death Road is probably one of the craziest things you are ever going to do in your life. 64 km long road starting on the top of the mountains, at “La Cumbre at 4,700 meters above the sea level leading through the mountains, rainforest, waterfalls and finally the beginning of the Amazonas. The last point of the road is “Yolosa”, 1,200 meters above the sea level. Thus you will definitely feel the quick altitude change. However, it is an unforgettable experience.

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Bolivia´s Death Road – The World Most Dangerous Road

The tour can be booked in the different agencies in the city or simply in your hostel. But be careful, as the cheapest potion is not always the best option. As you are going to do extreme sport and drive a bike on a most dangerous road of the world, so make sure that your equipment is proper, especially the breaks of your bike and your helmet. We have booked our tour over the “Ride On” agency and paid 499 bs for it, which is not the cheapest, but also not the most expensive option. However, I can only recommend the company, as the equipment was quite new, the guide very experienced (lucky we, he was even a doctor) and the banana cakes for the breakfast were just amazing ;).

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Make sure you rent a proper equipment, double check especially the helm and the breaks of the bike!

Our tour started at 7 am in the morning. We were picked up in our hostel and drew with our mini van to the highest point of the tour. However, on the day of our tour it was snowing really badly, so we were stacked in the mountains for two hours longer than planned and could not drive the first part of the tour on the bikes. Well, the reason for being that slowly might also be the flat tire we had and did not realized until a bus driver from another agency told us while he was overtaking us. So consequently, our company was the last on the road, which had an advantage as well: the roads were free of other bikers and we could enjoy the road and the nature just for us. After we passed the most snowy areas of the mountains, the guides (we had three of them for a group of seven!), gave us our equipment and introduced couple of rules on the road. The first part of the road, until the actual Death Road, was meant to get used to the bikes and the streets. We were passing passing on an asphalt street through beautiful mountains from which now a then a small waterfall sprinkled out of nowhere. The mountains reminded a lot of the Alps. And the air was much cleaner than in La Paz, you could finally breath properly here!! The second part of the road was more interesting though. From the top of the mountain we have looked into a rainforest valley and could see the beginning of the Dead Road leading into the middle of a rainforest jungle. The first stop on the road was the highest cliff on the road, where we really got the impression of how the next two hours driving on a 2-3 meters narrow streets, next to this dangerous cliff, are going to be. After this we were riding in line, making several stops on places called like Peruvian or French corner, which were called like this after the nationalities of people who died there. So yeah, it was pretty scary and nothing for people afraid of heights. P1400885However, even though I am slightly afraid of heights as well, as we needed to concentrate on the road and driving the bike all the time, we did not really get a chance to look down the cliff while driving. Or at least I did not. Or maybe I didn’t want to :D. The food was included in the prices of the tour, so we got breakfast at the beginning, couple of snacks during and a buffet dinner after the tour. The climate changed rapidly during the ride. While it was snowing at the very beginning on the top of the mountains, the snow turned into rain at the beginning of the second part of the road and at the end of the tour, in the Amazonian area, sun and a lots of mosquitos were awaiting us (so bring a mosquito protection with you!). The most companies end the tour in a restaurant with a nice pool, where you can cool down after the adventure. The road is really rocky, so at the end of the tour experienced kind of short-term Parkinson.

This road is not called Death Road and the Most Dangerous Road in the World for no reason. In our group (of seven people) a girl was injured pretty baldy, as she felt on her left hip and shoulder and she was actually lucky because she could have been one of the countless people who already died on this road. And yeah, she would probably get a corner named after her, “the Brazilian corner”.

However, the feeling after the reaching the last point on the road was amazing. Full of adrenaline, dust, mud, aching hands, back and butts, we knew we made it: “We have survived the world`s most dangerous road!”.

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