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22 replies
Peru & Bolivia
Kahunna
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Hey Guys,

Just returned from a brilliant three weeks in Peru and Bolivia! I’m here to answer any questions one might have on the following:

*Lima, Peru (2 nights)
*Cuzco, Peru (1 week)
*The Inca Trail, Peru (4 days through SAS Travel)
*Machu Picchu, Peru
*Agua Calientes (1 night)
*Puno, Peru (3 nights)
*Islas Flotantes Uru, Peru
*Isla Amantani, Peru
*Isla Taquile, Peru
*Copacabana, Bolivia (2 nights)
*Isla del Sol, Bolivia (camping)
*La Paz, Bolivia (3 nights)
*The Choro Trek, Bolivia (3 days)

My budget averaged out to $33 a day. More for big cities and quite a bit less in Bolivia and around Lake Titicaca.

Anyway, I’ll leave the details to any answers you might need.

Cheers,
~Kolby

MeredithBlueEyes
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I want to hear about that Choro trek! Amazing is not a good enough word to describe your photos. How did you hear about it? Did you go with a group and a guide or did you organize everything yourself? And did you feel safe in the area? When I was there, Yungas was a bit of a dangerous place.

You should add a link to your webshots page. I know everyone wants to see your pictures.

kentish girl
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Wow Kahunna! Fab trip…I shall go and have a look at your site!
Well, I have Sooooo many questions! But I shall refer to your site before I post too many!

How did you travel between each city? How safe were the destinations which you visited? And did the high altitude affect you at all?
Which place would be your favourite? Please tell us more about the Inca Trail!?!
And lastley…with regards to accomms…did you stay in hostels? Did you make a reservation in advance or just turn up?

LOL!!! Sorry….But I really want to do this trip in 2005…sounds amazing!

Kahunna
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Hey Meredith!

How’s Japan? The Choro Trek was outstanding, for a few reasons: the lack of knowledge before doing it, the lack of gringos on the trail, and the abundance of nature along the trail. I found out about it from a fellow backpacker I met in Copacabana who invited me to join her. She said she had already talked to a trekking company based out of La Paz, but on the bus from Copacabana to La Paz, we met Abraham Ticona Conde. He was a nice guy who mentioned he did private treks on the El Choro and would guide us for $80 for the three days. I was reluctant, but my friend seemed to trust him immediately. As the next week would reveal, he was a very trustworthy and helpful guide. He brought his older brother as our porter.

The Choro Trek is three days through the mountains an hour or two north of La Paz. We started high in the Cordillera Real, ascending slowly and breathlessly to the Apacheta pass (4,859m/15,941ft) before desceding for most of the remainder of the trek to the village of Chairo (1,200m/3,937ft). From Chairo we received transportation back to La Paz via the town of Choroico and "The World’s Most Dangerous Road."

The change in climates is unbelievable. At the start of the trek (9am), we hiked in patches of snow covering black shale rock with only small clumps of moss surviving in the high altitude. But during the few hours of descent through Chucura village (3,900m/12,795ft) for lunch and Challapampa for the first night, the flora and fauna slowly changed to a sub-tropical jungle filled with butterflies, birds, waterfalls, and more plants per square yard than those found in most home improvement stores.

And unlike the crowded Inca Trail where I had trouble finding isolation from the throngs of "gringos", my friend and I spotted only two other western trekkers during the three days of hiking (and only from a distance). We would hike for hours at a time without seeing another soul. The only people traveling with us was a group of 30 homeless Bolivian kids on a once-in-a-lifetime trip organized by a humanitarian group. Also unlike Peru’s Inca Trail is the fact how this trek takes you through mountain communities where the path is the only connection to the outside world. Some have a population of about 10-15 families (Chucura), but most are no larger than 5-8 people, a few llamas and a handful of chickens.

I’m still trying to put into words the beauty of the landscapes. Not even the 100’s of photos I took on the trek do more than capture just a small fragment of the unspoiled land. I have posted a few of those photos here:

http://community.web…

Someday soon I will write more indepth on what I saw.

Kahunna
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Ok Kentish Girl, your turn…

Travel between cities in Peru and Bolivia are usually done by bus. If you want to save time between cities such as Iquitos, Cuzco, Lima, Arequipa, Juliaca, or La Paz, look into flying. The investment in a $100 flight can save you a full day of riding on an crowded bus on a bumpy road.

"Safe"? Hmmm… This is a tough word to define in this case. You must keep in mind that I am a 6’4, 280 pound male, so being "safe" is a little easier for me than most. However, that is not to say that I didn’t have my share of problems. I got ripped off by a taxi driver in Lima simply because I didn’t know that the ride should have cost about $4 rather than $20. Ignorance isn’t bliss in South America. I was glad to be able to catch a crook trying to scam me out of my passport who acted (and tried to dress) like a police officer. I heard of a larger Australian backpacker (who I met in Peru) that had a bucket splashed on him in La Paz to distract him while another grabbed his wallet from his front pocket of his jeans. Not only did he lose over $100US in cash, but after calling his bank less than an hour later to cancel his cards, was told that the crooks had used the cards to rack up more than $10,000US in charges! Or my other Australian friend who was exploring the markets of La Paz with two of her friends and had her bag slashed and her camera stolen. But don’t let this scare you out of going. I met quite a few solo female travelers in Peru and Bolivia who hadn’t had a single problem. You just need to do a lot of research before you go and be vigilant while you are there. Check out the[url=‘http://travel.state.gov/travel/peru.html’]Consular Information Sheet[/url] and sign up for [url=‘http://www.google.com/alerts’]Google Alerts[/url] with keywords &quoteru" and/or "Bolivia" to keep on top of current events. Stay out of trouble by knowing the signs. Know the signs by reading the "horror stories" on travel boards like this one.

High altitude did affect me and for much longer than I had anticipated. I was short of breath while hiking on treks as well as in towns. It wasn’t all that bad though. It just took me longer to get places because I had to stop every 10 minutes to catch my breath. I think I finally acclimated after two weeks. I suggest you drink Coca tea (Mate Coca) whenever you can while travelling in Peru and Bolivia. It has been scientifically proven to help.

Favorite place? I liked exploring Cuzco. If you can ignore the constant badgering of homeless kids asking you to buy their postcards or finger puppets, the Plaza de Armas can be quite nice. If you get tired of saying "no, gracias" to all the requests, head up into the neighborhood above the center and explore the narrow cobbled roads with the locals.

I mainly stayed in hotels while in Peru and Bolivia. There are many levels of accomidations in South America, ranging from a bed in a dormroom all the way up to a 5-star hotel. Since the mid-range in S. America is about the same price as a upper-end accomidation in Eastern Europe, I looked for a clean room with a private bathroom (with constant hot water) for about $5-8US. Since I was traveling during the off-season, I was able to haggle hotel prices to about half of what was usually listed. I only made reservations in the first hotel, to cut down on things I needed to do after landing in a foriegn country. In La Paz, my friends said that the first few accomidations listed in Lonely Planet were full, but there were many hostels not listed to chose from. I’m not sure what availablity would be like during the busier summer months.

Hope this helps!
Happy Travels,
~Kolby

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Would you change anything in your route after you’ve done it? Add / cut something; more / less time somewhere?

Kahunna
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Not really, Andrew. I sat here for a moment and tried to find a day either waisted or too packed with activities… but couldn’t find one! I would have liked another day to explore Isla del Sol and to go on the much smaller Isla de la Luna, but who knows if it would have been worth it. I didn’t get a chance to check out the heart of La Paz (other than passing in a taxi), but with a city as large as La Paz, I’m sure I would be seeing new things even after a month of exploration.

I’m sure I missed a lot of things that other travelers enjoyed, but I don’t regret it. To me, my trip was perfect.

HomeSkillet
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I have three questions:

1) What did you think of Lima? Any good sights?

2) How was the weather in the highlands?

3) What do you recommend as far as # of days to explore Lake Titicaca from both countries?

Thanks,
HS

Kahunna
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HomeSkillet,

1) My first impression of Lima was this: dirty, traffic-congested, polluted, and crime-ridden. It reminded me a lot of the first impression I had of my hometown of Los Angeles. But many people’s first impression of Los Angeles usually isn’t the reality of the city and there are many gems hidden in the rough – one just need to spend time looking for them. Unfortunately, I did not care to explore Lima to find such gems. My loss, I guess.

I stayed at the very cozy[url=‘http://www.hotelespanaperu.com/’]Hotel Espana[/url] and explored Miraflores with other guests until 4am my first day in Lima. Miaflores has a lot of pretty good clubs and is quite clean compared to downtown Lima. The next morning, before leaving on a planefor Cuzco, I got a short taxi tour of Lima which was enough for me. My flight to Lima was delayed from Juliaca in late December, so I just spent the night in the Lima airport before departing for home.

2) The weather in the highlands was unpredictable. Just because December is the "rainy season," it didn’t neccessarily mean that it rained all of the time. The easterly winds at high elevation push clouds quickly over the area, resulting in sunny one moment and rainy the next. Luckily for me, the rainy weather came less often than the sunny weather. While hiking, expect to be rained on when in the RAIN Forests or CLOUD Forests. It rained for a few hours straight on the Choro Trek, but it wasn’t a cold rain and was quite refreshing from the hot weather experienced that morning. I just always kept a light-weight rain jacket handy on hikes.

3) Lake Titicaca is one massive lake. It’s the second largest lake in South America, so you’ll need about 6-8 days to explore its treasures. I suggest taking the 2-day island tour based out of Puno. Although some friends and I tried very hard to do it on our own, we were wrangled into a tour which turned out to be quite enjoyable. The tour covers the famous floating islands, and two more solid islands: Amantani and Taquile. On the island of Amantani, you’ll stay with a host family for a night, where they will dress you like a local for a 2-hour party with dancing and live music. On the way to the party, you will pass houses lit only by candlelight, for the island doesn’t use electricity.

On the Bolivian side, Copacabana is a good base city for exploring Isle del Sol and Isle de la Luna. If spending a few hours on a slow boat full of tourists doesn’t sound like your kind of fun, try hiking to Isle del Sol from Copacabana on the old Inca pilgrimage route. You’ll pass through small seaside villages where children will come out of thier mud brick houses and follow you for a while as if you are the Pied Piper of Hameln. At the end of the peninsula, you will have no problem hiring someone to boat you over to the shore of Isle del Sol. If you are into camping, don’t forget to pack your tent! Most of Isle del Sol is free for campers to pitch a tent on, just find a place that isn’t interfering with the hikers or farmers (see my article on [url=‘http://www.kahunna.net/nondescamp.shtml’]Non-Designated Camping[/url] for tips). Here’s a pic of [url=‘http://www.kahunna.net/temp/sol_camping.jpg’]my campsite on Isla del Sol[/url].

Good Luck!
~Kahunna

alexg456
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Reminds me of my own trip (minus Bolivia). Who was your guide for the Inca Trail? (I also went with SAS) Did the trail live up to expectations?

The Lake Titikaka tour description mirrors almost precisely my experience. Smile

Kahunna
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The Inca Trail was what it was. I didn’t have any expectations other than not to slow down the rest of the group. Although I was slow (due to the altitude and photos I stopped to take along the way), I never slowed down the group. I usually made it into camp about 20 minutes after the person in front of me arrived. My guides, Omar and Havier, were great and one usually stuck around with me on the trail. They knew when I wanted company and when I wanted time to myself (so they fell back a 100 yards or so). If the meals weren’t so damn good, I would say that the guides were the best part of spending close to $300 on the trek.

kentish girl
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Thankyou so much Kahunna…a great thread! You certainly answered my questions! Very helpful…..

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What about transport between places? I assume $33 per day doesn’t include it?

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And once again, I really despise you, Kahunna, I look at your webpage, your pictures, I read your stories, and I feel like I need to leave at this very moment, and it’s so frustrating. Nevertheless, keep on doing it please.

Kahunna
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Andrew – yes, $33 a day includes local transportation, but not airfare. If you stay away from the tourist traps, local transportation costs can stay very low. For example, from La Paz to the border town of Desaguadero (half as long as through Copacabana, BTW) cost me 8 Bolivianos, or about $1US. From Desaguadero to Puno cost just 6 Soles ($2US).

Jester – Sorry about the website, man. It’s just there to inspire, not to create frustration. All I can say is to just save some money and then go! Set a date, get the time off from work, and buy the ticket! It’s like learning to ride a bike: you’re scared, you’re falling down a lot, and with every fall, your elbows get bruised as well as your pride – but after you’ve done it once successfully, you feel confident and in no time riding a bike becomes as natural as… well… you know.

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Sorry, Kahunna, I didn’t mean for it to sound so harsh. You know us girls, when we see a top model, we instantly hate her for being so perfect, and it’s not really that we hate her, we just hate ourselves for not being that perfect. Sort of like that.

I just came back 4 months ago from a nice trip, and my present job doesn’t even pay my rent at this moment, but it’s a job I really like, and that’s the frustrating part, I’m at a crossroads right now. But please keep delighting us with pictures and stories, sometime I’ll be able to take off again.

Kahunna
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Ah yes – the cursed Post-Trip Depression. I’m suffering from that as well and, in fact, even my photos are making me sick that I’m still not there, let alone other people’s photos.

PS – sorry for calling you a rookie. And a man.

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No probs, I’m used to it Wink

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Looks like I may have to postpone my own planned Peru trip from September ’05 to early 2006 (long story). I guess my questions, for anyone who’s been there during the rainy season, are 1) how muddy is the Inca Trail, and 2) does the rain really make things cold (Kolby, you said this wasn’t the case on your Bolivia hike, but I’m asking b/c of the altitude)?

Also, Kolby, how did you get from Cuzco to Puno? I’m wondering if it’s better to fly (saves time but maybe expensive) than to train (longer but a beautiful journey).

Thanks!

HS

Kahunna
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Sorry to hear your trip was postponed, HS.

Although I was on the Inca Trail during the rainy season, it didn’t rain that often. I don’t think the trail would become too muddy because a good percentage of the trail is paved with stone. However, make sure to wear shoes/boots with good treads. I was slipping around on the stones on El Choro during the rain, but that was a bit steeper and without as many steps as the Inca Trail. But even a slip on one do the Inca trail’s many staircases has the potential for a serious injury.

It’s hard to say if it will be cold when you go (rain or no rain). I didn’t stop as much as others did so I was constantly hot and sweaty, not matter what the weather was like. Just wear layers (a couple t-shirts and a jacket, for instance) and you’ll be ok. The tents SAS gave us did a good job (for me, at least) in keeping in the heat at night. Others complained that it was cold so I have to believe it had something to do with the ground matresses SAS gave them. I brought my own [url=‘http://www.rei.com/outlet/product/47912807.htm’]Pacific Outdoor Equipment Insul Mat Max-Lite[/url]) and was fine.

There are two ways to get from Cuzco to Puno – bus or train. Although there are airports in both areas (Juliaca airport is less than an hour outside of Puno), I believe all of their flights go through Lima. I took the bus while some of my friends took the train. They both have their qualities. My friends said that their train would stop at small towns on the way and everyone would come and greet them as if they were rock stars. Kids would wave at the train as it passed like it was the first time they have ever seen one. The downside of the train is the unexpected delays and all-around sluggishness. My friend’s train took 11 draining hours to get to Puno… and it was an hour late! I, on the other hand, spent 6 hours on the bus ([url=‘http://www.cruzdelsur.com.pe/itinerarios.htm’]Cruz del Sur[/url]; $7-8USWink, which included a meal and three cheesy American films all while relaxing in nice reclining seats. Both my friends and I noticed that the main road from Cuzco to Puno parallels the train tracks during most of the journey.

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Thanks for the thorough reply, Kolby. I really appreciate it.

HS

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One more question – do you speak some Spanish? If not, were there any language problems?

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There are a couple of buses from Cusco to Puno — one direct (cheap, $7-8 as Kolby mentioned) and the other, more expensive, but still not bad for the distance ($25) which includes a guide and makes stops on in places of interest on the way and also includes a lunch stop — basically a tourist mini-bus. I took the latter. Our guide kind of sucked, but I thought it was a good value to see a few things on the way instead of non-stop.

For the most part, one can get by in Peru (Peruvian places of interest to be precise) with minimal (just key words) knowledge of Spanish.