Life on the Equator; Puerto Lopez

This cute little disheveled town right on the wild Pacific coast is a great destination and definitely deserves to be a busier…

But, actually, we quite liked having the place to ourselves!

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Boats in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

We spent an incredibly relaxed few days enjoying the enormous beach, watching the fishing boats bob in the bay and getting to know a number of (super-friendly) Ecuadorians.

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Beach to ourselves in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Being almost spot-on the equator you expect Puerto Lopez to be stiflingly hot, but actually, there was always a cooling sea breeze which meant vivid blue skies, burning sunshine and perfect temperatures!

Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to be passing through in whale watching season (July and August) so we felt the day boat trips that ran regardless, offering the chance to see lots of birds and maybe some sea life, weren’t really worth the expense.

Instead we passed the days playing ‘try to avoid the cheese pastry’ for breakfast from the tiny hole-in-the-wall bakery, playing games on the vast beach, occasional dips in the (slightly murky) sea, walking along the shoreline and always, always fresh juices from one of the many beach hut/bars that bordered the beach.

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Fresh juices

 

Each hut had their own area of deck chairs and hammocks which we took full advantage of each afternoon. If nothing else in this post makes you want to pay Puerto Lopez a visit then go for the fresh juices alone; for about a $1 you can pick from dozens of flavours (our faves included lime and strawberry – pictured above) which are whizzed up with lots of ice to create a delish smoothie juicy blend!

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On-the-beach bars

 

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A hammock afternoon

 

Overall, the main agenda in Puerto Lopez is to chill, enjoy the beach, explore the weird and wonderful shops in town and eat plenty of pizza for dinner!

Confused about the pizza? See below…

Where to stay;

Not a great deal of choice but…

Hostel del Mar

A funny little place with odd facilities (tiny, often messy kitchen and a pond-size pool) but with some outdoor seating, a great giant hammock and its unbeatable location we wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else.

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Boats in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Where to eat and drink;

Who knew that Puerto Lopez, Ecuador would have the most incredible pizza!

Casa Vecchia – A great little Italian place that had me thinking we were in Rome. We feasted on focaccia, super garlicky spinach and delicious, topping-heavy pizza two nights in a row outside in the small garden.

What’s more, right by the hostel, a young local guy has setup a little outdoor pizza place – he makes giant pizzas and then sells of each slice for $1 – get in quick though as when the pizza comes out of the oven he suddenly attracts a lot more business! We did have a little issue trying to communicate when I asked whether he could do a bit without the obligatory ham topping, which, eventually, he understood! Delicious, super cheap and the guy who runs it is so friendly (but doesn’t speak a word of English!)

Super fresh ceviche for lunch on the beach (on the far left side as you look out to sea) watching the fishing boats come and go.

A funny little place next door to the hostel (which I didn’t get the name of) that we went to late one night – its specialty is (not great) Colombian food but it had a sweet little garden. Perhaps we would have been better off trying the hostels restaurant… though i’m not that sure after seeing the kitchen!

What to see and do;

The beach – you have it to yourself so make the most of it!

Nature trips – whale watching or to a small offshore island

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Blue sky, blue sea, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Whilst it’s a little bit shabby and we were virtually the only other tourists in town (again, we were there out of season) Puerto Lopez has so much charm and was a really nice contrast to Mancora in Peru, had we spent these four days in Montanita I think we would have been very cheap cocktails, surfers paradise, fake Ray-bans and overpriced accomodation-ed-out!

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Evening stroll on the sand Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Why we didn’t get to explore the rest of Ecuador as we had hoped….

Even though the size of Ecuador (as the crow flies) is relatively tiny compared with other South American countries, you cannot underestimate the disruption to travel that mountains and jungle present. Ecuador’s poor bus system and our tight time and budget situation mean that unfortunately it made much more sense to us to sacrifice criss-crossing the rest of the country and instead to catch a flight to our 3rd country; Colombia.

P.s. If you ever find yourself in Guayquil airport at 4am after no sleep and a day of travel ahead – treat yourself to a Cinnbon (a warm cinnamon bun) it will make your day a whole lot better, I promise!

Where we would have liked to get to see;

Banos – an Andean adventure town full of opportunites to hike, bike, and explore.

Otovalo  – a small Andean town with a huge Andean market

The Amazon – all over South America you can organise trips into the wild of the Amazon, however we never managed to go for a number of reasons

  1. We never passed through an ‘Amazon entry point’ town where the trips ran from
  2. It was the start of our trip and we felt we had to protect our time and our money otherwise the 2nd half of the trip could be tricky!

The Galapagos – Our budget and time scale didn’t stretch to a trip to the islands but it truly does sound like the experience is second to none. Later, friends we met from Holland told us how they managed to get the best deal on their trip

  1. They had flexible dates
  2. They booked last minute and got places on a luxury cruiser with about 2 days notice (for about half the original RRP)
  3. They were flexible on the type of trip (they ended up on a cruise for ‘an older customer’ but the trip is focused on wildlife watching, diving and swimming with iguanas so it didn’t matter who their companions were.
  4. They were (kind of) on their honeymoon so they ‘casually’ dropped it into conversation when booking and got an upgrade, you never know…
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Kids playing beach footy after school, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Whilst it may have seemed like we missed out on these experiences at the time we did think carefully about what we would be doing later in the trip. For example, although we didn’t make it to Banos we still hiked up to waterfalls in Costa Rica and went trekking in the Panamanian mountain jungle. Also, we went on to see hundreds of small markets and in Guatemala went to an enormous Mayan market in Chichicastanengo.

In all we loved our flying visit to Ecuador and Puerto Lopez really was a hidden gem, but soon it was time to head off and continue our adventure as we made our way to Colombia…

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Guayquil ; Route Changes, Buses and Crickets…

Our overnight bus from Mancora pulled into Guayquil bus station before the sun had even had a chance to start rising.

Despite it being 5am and dark we were greeted by the inevitable madness; old USA school buses, competing taxi drivers scrabbling for business and sellers flogging everything from snacks to sunglasses!

En route to Ecuador we had been discussing where to go next. We had planned on visiting Montanita, the countries surfing Mecca, first but we had hit a dead-end when we had tried to book accommodation the night before, all that was available was 2nd rate places for around $50/night!

Unsure of whether it would be worth stretching our tight budget for a few days or not we did a quick bit of research. Though Montanita sounded great (surf, beach, party) we couldn’t help but thinking it would just be a continuation of Mancora – but for double the price. This in mind, we began looking at alternatives.

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Taking into account our budget and public-transport-only constraints, we soon came across Puerto Lopez; a tiny, remote fishing village, famous for whale watching, which is just finding its feet amongst the developing Ecuadorian tourist industry.

Unfortunately it wasn’t whale season (July and August) but we decided to go anyway, heading off the beaten track, ready to try something a bit different.

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Boats in Puerto Lopez harbour

 

However, this meant trying to navigate the enormous (and I mean ENORMOUS) Guayquil bus station, at 5am, after a couple of hours of broken sleep, to find the right ticket office, for the bus to Puerto Lopez – easier said than done.

Eventually we found the right ticket booth, which didn’t open for another hour, so we grabbed a seat.

It was then that we noticed THE CRICKET INVASION.

Out of nowhere, a giant, fat, 2inch long cricket landed ‘plonk’ in the centre of my bag. Robbie (almost with no hesitation…) flicked it on to the floor (after a bit of fuss from me) and after a brief moment of celebration we realised they were everywhere!

Our wait for the ticket office to open was now spent in a constant search for, flinching at and flicking away of these huge crickets. Thankfully the office opened early and so began our next challenge:

  1. trying to ask if this was the bus company that goes to Puerto Lopez
  2. trying to ask whether the Puerto Lopez it was going to was the one we wanted (there were around 10 in Ecuador alone…)
  3. trying to buy two tickets whilst finding our when and where the bus left from.

We left a little confused, but happy that our Spanglish conversation had gotten us two tickets on a Jipijapa bus to a Puerto Lopez – we ventured up through the mall/multi-story car park style bus station to the gate where our bus was due to leave from.

In hindsight perhaps we should’ve waited downstairs as up here the cricket invasion was even worse – it looked like the floor was a polka dot pattern!

Despite the intensified onslaught of crickets, we were soon glad that we were waiting by the gate as our bus, disregarding the timetable, was ready to leave almost an hour early.

We parted with our backpacks (hopefully to see them again on arrival) and were loaded up along with a bus full of locals and were making our way back out of Guayquil bus station and back towards the Pacific Ocean.

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I wish I could have taken some pictures of what we saw on the journey (but the grimy, tinted windows didn’t make for a great lense) because not only was it incredible, but it was also incredibly bizarre!

Firstly morning rush hour in Guayquil was utter madness, old American cars, brightly coloured buses and super busy roads all passed thousands upon thousands of houses which made up the cities ‘suburbs’.

Our journey continued and the shabby crowded city gave way to beautiful countryside where the road divided tropical forests, tiny towns and epic mountains. Every now and then the bus would stop, locals would get on and off and the bus would become crowded with sellers. You could get anything you want for breakfast; coconut milkshakes in a bag, empanadas, sweeties, meat and rice’n’beans and a lot of rather suspicious looking deep fried goods….

You had to be quick and have the right change however because the sellers would be picked up at one junction or bus stop or traffic lights and then  dropped at the next! No need to panic though as in every village there was a constant stream of supplies!

Finally, after around 4 hours, the road began to wind down from the mountains and we started to catch glimpses of the sea.

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Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Soon we reached Puerto Lopez and if I’m honest our hearts dropped…. It look as though a bomb had gone off, buildings were only shells, there was no sign of life, no beach and only a few  battered boats – eyes glued on the passing village we almost began to panic, both of us too tired to admit that this might have been a terrible mistake.

However,  a ray of hope began to burst through when the bus didn’t appear to be stopping – a quick chat with the lady next to us confirmed that this wasn’t Puerto Lopez and that we had another 10 minutes and a headland to go!

Relieved (but slightly anxious as to how different the two towns could really be) we waited to really arrive in Puerto Lopez. Oddly the bus station was a little out of town so when we got off we got a tuk-tuk the rest of the way.

Soon enough we realised our worry was for nothing, the town, though a bit ramshackle and not all that pretty, seemed vibrant and lively and the sea beyond was a bright, vivid blue.

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Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

 

Keep reading the next post to hear all about our stay in Puerto Lopez.

Travel in Ecuador;

Bus website – Latin Bus but just don’t rely on the times to be accurate!

Jipijapa – our tickets were $4 each… a great deal ($1/hr) but don’t go expecting luxury – this is Ecuador for real.

Navigating the bus station – on one side of the ground floor (where we arrived) you have two long rows of ticket offices – above the window they offer a combination of company name and destination, they work alphabetically within a colour coded system (which I think corresponds with the region of the country they are going to). The rest of the ground floor is a shopping mall. Upstairs (there might be a 3rd floor too) is where the buses go from, each leave from a designated numbered gate.

Tips for crossing a border;

This advice section will definitely be continued and expanded…

Make sure you have researched what currency your new destination country uses and the rough exchange rate then, always, the first thing that needs to happen is for you to take out cash!

Dreamy Summer Denim Hitlist

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Net-A-Porter Adam Lippes Wrap-Effect Denim Midi Skirt £490

Unfortunately this look doesn’t quite fit in with my life at the moment but I still l love it so had to include it anyway!
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ASOS Denim Shirt in Retro Wash £22 

Love this casual take on the boyfriend shirt

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ASOS Blue Chambray Broderie Shell Top £22

This cue top is just begging to be worn everyday this summer from festival to beach to beer garden!

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ASOS Denim Aline PInafore Dress £30

Super cool, super versatile, super wardrobe envy-inducing

Net-A-Porter Frame Denim Le Apron Dress Stretch-Denim Mini Dress547567_fr_xs (1) £280

Yes, I am a little bit obsessed with denim dresses at the moment

Unfortunately my current post-travel cash situation doesn’t allow me to go on the spending sprees that I would like to, so for now I am having to do with making endless wishlists – hope you like my picks!

Mancora – Surfer’s Paradise?

Mancora – Peru’s Surfers Paradise?

After the madness of Lima, high altitude life in Cusco and our exhausting Machu Picchu adventure we were ready for our first taste of backpacker beach life – so off we went to Mancora, on the northern tip of Peru’s coast.

Our journey north was typically crazy; we flew out of Cusco (via Lima, again) to Piura on a bumpy cross-Andes-and-Amazon flight – inevitably our best laid plans fell apart as our connection was delayed. Even so we were glad to arrive in Piura, despite it now being well after dark and having no transport sorted for the final 3hr drive leg to Mancora.

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Our first of many Avianca’s

 

The tiny one-room airport was pretty easy to navigate so soon we had to face up to the fact that it was now well after 10pm, pitch black and we were 3hrs drive from our destination. Having been prepared and done our research we knew that our late flight had caused us to miss the last bus of the day so (wincing at how much it might be) we decided to search for a taxi to take us.

After doing a little scout around the terminal we realised there were no taxis, nevertheless we cracked out our broken Spanish to chat with the lady running the cash exchange to ask her advice. Before we knew it she was calling up her friend and telling us that if we slept in his truck overnight he would take us in the morning… Somehow we decided this didn’t feel quite right so not really sure what to do next we headed back out into the warm evening air.

At that moment we bumped into a lady wearing an I ❤ Mancora t-shirt, she told us she was offering rides to Mancora (and for pretty cheap). Inevitably we were hesitant but, along with an Argentinian couple who were on our flight, we took up her offer.

She showed us around the corner to her ride – an old Range Rover Sport! Spirits lifted, we handed over about £10 each and started to load up. Suddenly the spacey car seemed pretty tight as 3 more travellers joined us, thankful for the ride all 8 of us squeezed in, backpacks and all!

The ‘short’ drive up the coast felt more like a never ending journey with 4 of us sharing 3 seats and our bags on our laps – well after midnight we finally pulled into town and began dropping everyone off at their hostels.

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We had booked in advance as the town seemed super busy, but the usual 1 or 2 days notice wasn’t long enough so we had settled for one night at a dingy, back alley hotel before moving to somewhere else. Rio Hotel was really, really rough but after travelling all day from high in the Andes to the Pacific coast anywhere to sleep would do.

With a bit of rest we were soon packed up, ready to move on to Kon Tiki Bungalows and start adventure in Mancora. With the sun already scorching we grabbed a tuk-tuk to take us and our bags across town – we expected a five minute ride (as we could see the place just back up the hill behind the main street) so were a little surprised when the guy had no idea how to get there.

Here’s the thing about Mancora – it’s a fairly big town but it literally only has 1 street – all the rest of the town feeds of the main street following tiny sand-covered alleyways. So, from the tuk-tuk, on the main street we showed the driver where it was but he still didn’t know how to get there. Eventually we helped him to find the right little alley which took us close to the entrance, by now the tuk-tuk guy was our best friend cracking jokes and fist pumping us.

We left our happy tuk-tuk and, with our bags, began the short, near vertical, climb up the sandy cliff to where Kon Tiki stood. The cute, simple little bungalows perched right on the edge of the cliff were a welcome break from the madness of downtown Mancora. After a few quick introductions to the Dutch owner, his Peruvian father-in-law and their dogs we had time to sit and enjoy the view.

The beautiful Pacific Ocean looked beyond inviting so soon enough we were making our way back down the hill, through the alley, across the main road and onto the beach.

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Our Pacific view from Kon Tiki

 

Mancora, we thought, is a bit of a funny old place; incredible natural beauty, ramshackle Peruvian town, endless backpacker-based businesses – all with an uncanny similarity for Magaluf or Kavos…

The town was packed, mostly with Brazilians, who I am imagine were doing exactly what hundreds of young Brits do every summer and descend on sunny party towns across the continent.

Even so, it was easy to kick back and enjoy a couple of days here (largely thanks to Kon Tiki and the beach), however it is very much a place to make the most of cheap, inebriating cocktails and stock up on fake Ray-bans.

The most confusing thing of all though was the fact Mancora had been marketed left, right and centre as a ‘Surfer’s Paradise’, when, if I’m honest, I have seen bigger waves in the bath! Nevertheless there are plenty of surf and body board rentals which, if you fancy learning, would be a great (and cheap) place to do it.

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Kon Tiki Bungalows

 

How to get there and away;

Fly – we flew from Cusco (via Lima) to Piura. Using Avianca we managed to secure pretty cheap flights (about £120) which saved us 2 whole days (and nights) of travelling by bus! I know our journey from the airport sounded pretty crazy but the lady who drove us told us that she does it nearly every day because there are always backpackers in need of a ride!

Bus – you could get any number of buses overnight (18hrs) from Lima for around $50. In Mancora itself there are lots of bus companies offering trips across Peru or up into Ecuador or Colombia. The most luxury, Cruz del Sur didn’t offer a route to Guayquil, Ecuador overnight so instead we went with CIFA. For around $30 the 8hr ride left at 9pm, took you through the border no problem and arrived at 5am –not the lap of luxury but it had fairly good seats which reclined a bit!

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Kon Tiki Bungalows

 

Where to stay (and where not to…):

Kon Tiki Bungalows – a great little spot, just away from the main hustle and bustle of the main street. We had our own little ensuite hut with mosquito net and two deck chairs for £16/night. Listen to the owner though when he tells you which way to walk at night, Mancora is infamous for its tourist-targeting crime and even though the little alley between the houses can be terrifying (especially when there is an old, homeless man and stray dogs living there) but it is the quickest and safest route onto the main street. We never had a problem.

Rio Hotels – I think I would rather stay up all night in a busy bar with my backpack than repeat our stay here.

The Point – whilst we didn’t actually stay at this hostel as it appeared to only have huge dorms we heard it was great, a friend we later met said this place made his stay in Mancora. It’s a mega hostel which seems super sociable and has its own bar and swimming pool.

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Kon Tiki Bungalows

 

What to eat and drink;

BBQ – there are so many little pavement restaurants with a BBQ out front, pick any as they all seem to serve the same, we had swordfish and tuna with the obligatory gallo pinto (rice and beans), salad and chips. It was super cheap, nothing special, but pretty tasty!

Although it seems tempting I would really recommend avoiding the beachfront restaurants – they are pretty dirty, hounded by street sellers and all sell the same overpriced below par food!

Supermarkets – be careful what you get when shopping as your attempt to save money my come back to bite you – the prices varied massively and inexplicably e.g. a 2l bottle of coke about 80p whereas a can of coke zero was about £1.50…

Look out for the mojito cart on the main street – unfortunately we couldn’t sample them as it was never open whilst we were there but I hope they are back up and running now because the cart looked incredible!

Stay tuned to check out what we got up to in Ecuador!

Machu Picchu Madness

Having talked to a few different tour companies and eventually booking our two-day Machu Picchu trip we woke early and excited on the morning of our adventure.

8am was the meeting time and having left half our stuff locked away in our hostel we grabbed our lightened bags and went to meet our collectivo (minibus). Being the keen beans that we are we arrived first, despite only being five minutes early our arrival made the guy running the agency look even more flustered than before. Despite this potential warning sign we happily waited for our group to arrive.

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THE view – Machu Picchu

 

Soon we were joined by a friendly Dutch couple, a Chilean guy and his Russian girlfriend, a guy from Japan and another from Germany. As time ticked by our multi-national group got more and more anxious to get going as we knew we also had a long journey followed by a long hike to complete that day. Eventually after a bit of too-ing and fro-ing our collectivo eventually arrived, looking a little bashed up and 2 hours late…

Never-the-less we all piled in and began the 6hr journey through the Andes. Our collectivo wound its way through Cusco’s cobbled streets and up through the shanty towns that covered the surrounding hills. After an hour or so of speeding through remote villages and vast valleys the bus pulled over, expecting just a quick loo break and a stretch of the legs everyone was ready to get going again within 5 minutes, the driver had other ideas… We returned to find that our minibus, just a sixth of the way into the journey, was now missing a tyre.

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Our collectivo minus a tyre

 

After watching with trepidation as the wheel was fiddled with and the axel was bashed a bit with a spanner (totalling about an hour of work) our group could do nothing but laugh in disbelief at our situation. Eventually the driver put the wheel back together and declared the bus fixed (even though there had been no apparent problem before) and we all crammed back on. Speedy Gonzalez was obviously keen to make up for lost time, especially as we were now more than 3 hours delayed, so we set off once again on the tight, twisting, steep mountain roads at an average speed of 100kph!

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Rain and mist on the mountain roads

 

In all the journey was pretty horrendous; the mountain roads, whilst stunning, are treacherous and our driver was determined to speed along, even if that meant whizzing through fog so thick you couldn’t see more than 10m ahead, overtaking lorries on one-lane roads and taking speed bumps at full speed! The last hour of the drive however was by far the worst – never have I been more scared in my life. Fact.

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Winding mountain roads

 

You turn of the main road and drive the last 30km or so along the craziest, most dangerous excuse for a road. Carved into the edge of a sheer cliff face with a cascading river hundreds of feet below I defy anyone to feel comfortable racing along the eroding single track lane, especially as the tight corners meant a few near-miss head-on collisions.

Thank god we made it along the deadly road to the drop off point.

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Epic Andes views

 

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Cascading mountain rivers

 

Here’s the thing – the disorganisation of the whole transport scenario is verging on unbelievable, but nothing can take away from the spectacular surroundings. So you get dropped off at the bottom of a valley (even though you are still around 2000m above sea level), right by the river and the hydroelectric plant.

Then, after signing in at the giant Machu Picchu visitors books , the guys ‘organising’ the groups pointed to the railway tracks heading up into the mountains and in very minimal English instructed us to follow for 2/3 hours until we reached the tiny town of Aguas Calientes.

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Following the rail tracks

 

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The Machu Picchu train!

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Hiking up to Aguas Calientes

 

All our delays throughout the day had begun to add up so we were now starting our hike later than expected. By the time we got going It was around 4pm, knowing that it would be dark by 6pm we liberally applied bug spray and set off up in to the mountains once again. After such a long day of travelling in the minibus it felt so good to stretch our legs, we decided to tackle the hike at quite a pace so as to get to the village before sunset.

A couple of hours later we were rounding the final corner to discover the most incredible, higgaldy-piggaldey village of Aguas Calientes perched high over the cascading river. The glinting village lights were definitely a welcome sight after the day’s adventures, delays, journey and hike.

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Aguas Calientes

 

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Aguas Calientes

 

We headed to the little town square and tried to find our guy who (hopefully) would tell us where we were spending the night. Whilst we were waiting, a young family asked, in shy broken English, if we could take a photo of them. Obviously we were more than happy to but as I went to take their camera the mum corrected me… no, she had wanted us to be in a picture with her two children!

After our slightly odd photo request we stumbled across the guy who just a few hours before were directing us up the track, he then told us to follow his friend, who showed us to a tiny little room in a guesthouse, door open, keys inside and told us that was our place for the night.

This sounds so surreal now – but after the day’s madness we were so tired and just really wanted a wash and a sleep! First though we had to reunite with our minibus group to hear the plan for tomorrow – we sat through a strange dinner and tried to follow the rapid Spanish instructions for the next day.

Everyone was keen to go and rest their heads knowing we had a 4:30am start the next day and we were fast approaching midnight.

After a quick rest, the alarm was soon blaring and we were shuffling around in the dark getting ourselves ready for the climb up the Machu Picchu. We set off through the sleeping village and made our way to the start of the infamous climb. Soon we were in amongst other early risers and making our way up the 2000+ steps…

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Sunrise over the Andes

 

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Welcome to the top!

 

Needless to say it was hard work; especially at 5am, after only 4hrs of sleep and having barely eaten the day before. Nevertheless we powered on and remarkably we mad it to the top in about an hour. After a quick rest and refreshment we were making our way to the entrance.

We made it in to the site around 6am, just as the sun was rising over the top of the mountains and the clouds were dispersing. We found our guide who spoke incredible English and set off, luckily there were only about 10 of us in our group so we had really intimate and detailed tour. In the past I have been a little sceptical of such strictly organised ‘tours’, however, to make the most of your time, I would really recommend a guide – there a so many hidden features and little facts that you would never be able to discover on your own!

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Machu Picchu

 

If your planning on going to Machu Picchu, I can’t describe enough how worthwhile it is going for when the gates open at 6am – you do the climb in the relative cool before sunrise, you are the first to see the spectacular sight, the sunrise is magical and by the time your tour is done and you have taken your pictures hordes of tourists begin to arrive. Trust me 6am-9am is the peak time!

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Machu Picchu

 

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Machu Picchu

 

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Machu Picchu

 

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Machu Picchu

 

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Machu Picchu

 

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Resting our legs at the top

 

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Machu Picchu

 

The pictures do a way better job of describing the sight than words ever could.

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It is a long way down

 

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Machu Picchu

 

After a long morning exploring, snapping away and befriending the alpacas it was time to begin the long hike back down to the hydroelectric plant pick-up point.

We made our way down the 2000 steps and followed the track between the river and the railway all the way back down to the valley. Exhausted after the two day adventure we were ready to hop back in a minibus and tackle the crazy mountain roads once again for the 6hr ride home.

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Alpacas!

 

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Alpaca

 

Inevitably it wasn’t that simple, there appeared to be mix-up after mix-up and mass disorganisation which meant everyone was waiting around for ages. Eventually they managed to load all the tired travellers onto the collectivo’s, with us inevitably being last and we began the long ride, starting with the death road, back to Cusco.

Once again our delayed departure had some knock on effects – bad weather was rolling in, heavy rain and mist were making the roads even more dangerous than before and our driver was determined not to use his lights or windscreen wipers. Eventually we managed to communicate with him before we shot off the side of the mountain.

Finally, after our truly nerve-wracking ride home, we made it back to a rainy Cusco just after 11pm – shattered and starving we grabbed some food and headed straight to bed.

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View from the top

 

After our crazy epic adventure I do have a couple of top tips to pass on…

  1. All the tour agencies seem to offer the exact same options, from just transport to a full 4 day tour – we shopped about, but needn’t have bothered as for our 2 day trip (transport, entry, overnight stay and some food, which we didn’t actually get) was $100 each.
  2. If you get car sick you MUST take plenty of remedy to help you along the journey – thankfully we don’t but the journey can most definitely not be underestimated!
  3. Ask to leave most of your stuff in your hostels luggage store in Cusco as you have to keep your backpacks with you at all times and it really pays off to have a lightened load.
  4. Take plenty of cash and snacks – we underestimated how much we would need – therefore we barely ate on day 1 and on day 2, after hours of trekking, we didn’t have enough cash to afford both a trip to the loo (which always costs) and a drink or snack – which resulted in 2 very hungry, thirsty, tired and irritable travellers on the way home.
  5. Make sure you go crazy on bug repellent – even though we did we got eaten alive which led to big, sore bites and crazy itching!!

Hope you enjoyed the epic story of our adventure and all the beautiful pictures!

The Andean City of Cusco

How does it feel to live at 3500m above sea level?

Well, you’re often short of breath, the evenings are chilly and the vast city of Cusco is unbelievably remote, but…

The mountain air feels pure and clean (especially after Lima), the city itself is beautiful, with epic cathedrals and hilly cobbled streets and the locals are extremely welcoming to the huge mix of cultures who descend on this city due to its proximity to Machu Picchu.

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Cusco Cathedral

We enjoyed a relaxed few days, acclimatising to the altitude in Cusco and planning our Andean adventure to Machu Picchu. We spent hours wandering the winding streets discovering little markets and craft sellers, cosmopolitan restaurants and ornate churches.

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San Pedro

In total contrast to Lima, Cusco is totally focussed on the tourist industry, which is the life blood of this town. The city is so much more than just the starting point for a trip to Machu Picchu, though it is a good start, so I would really recommend enjoying a few days in Cusco because there is plenty of crisp, mountain charm to experience.

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Plaza de Armas

A great day in Cusco has to start either with some hot coffee from one of the many cafés or a fresh juice from the market – or both! Then the best way to see the city is on foot, make your way around the cute hilly streets and take a look at the various museums and market stalls that you’ll discover. You can look into planning your onward trip to Machu Picchu to, surrounding the main square are hundreds of little travel agencies who sell all sorts of trips from $50 for a day’s transport to $600+ epic week long trips. Finally, it is time to put on an extra layer as high altitude Cusco gets chilly at night and go for a drink at Paddy’s Irish Pub, the highest on the planet at 11156ft, which overlooks the Plaza de Armas, try to get a seat on the tiny balcony to get a great view of the sprawling city by night.

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The cutest little lambs

What to see and do:

Mercado Central de San Pedro – lively, colourful, full of food and local crafts and definitely worth a visit

Plaza de Armas – you can see the beautiful square, epic cathedral and local ladies in traditional dress with the cutest lambs and llamas – be careful though, you pay per picture so always ask first!

Another thing to take time to appreciate is the spectacular, sprawling mountain city by night – from the Plaza de Armas you can see how the city’s lights stretch up the surrounding mountains

Take the time to research and book the best Machu Picchu trip for you

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Robbie meets an alpaca

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Cusco by night

Where to stay;

Dragonfly hostel – a mix of private and dorms (double about £12/night)

The location is unbeatable, right around the corner from all the main attractions, though it is pretty basic it has all the hostel features you would expect and a cute courtyard area. A nice touch too is that they also provide several thick alpaca blankets to keep you warm in bed – an essential!

How to get there;

Bus – full of backpacker spirit fresh from our arrival we booked onto a 24hr bus from Lima to Cusco. Despite the luxury of Cruz del Sur (make sure you take snacks, esp if you’re a veggie), even the endless films and enormous seats couldn’t salvage the journey from speedy Peruvian driving and the unbelievable winding mountain roads.

Plane – with a little research we found an Avianca flight (with 1 days’ notice) back to Lima – for virtually the same cost as our outward bus ticket. Granted the flight is pretty bumpy over the Andes* but when you cover that distance in just 50 minutes the choice is obvious.

*note: I am not at ease when flying, if I can do it on these small planes anyone can!

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Plaza de Armas and Cusco Cathedral

Where to eat:

Mercado Central de San Pedro – incredible fresh juices and worth a look around – keep an eye out for the enormous 10ft high piles of Coca leaves (for the local speciality coca tea, obviously… it is supposed to relieve altitude sickness too – tastes like a strong, earthy green tea).

Papachos – An incredible burger place that overlooks the stunning main square. We sat on a tiny little balcony, had a quinoa and broccoli burger with sweet potato fries (for me obvs…) and Rob devoured a veal burger and fries – washed down with a proper homemade lemonade – enormous portions, unfinishable, even for exhausted travelers who had been on a 24hr bus fast!

Pizza place – didn’t catch its name but its right on the Plaza de Armas – this cute little mock-Italian trattoria serves up pretty decent pizzas and salads, it seems to always be busy and even served us at 11pm after we got back late from Machu Picchu – simple, yummy and fairly cheap.

Big supermarket – opposite the Mercado Central de San Pedro – perfect stop to pick up supplies for a hostel cook-in and/or

picnic essentials!

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Fresh mango and orange juice

My Top 10 Travel Must-Haves

My Top 10 Travel Must-Haves:

  • Sudocrem – it heals all – bites, blisters, cuts etc. and is essential to help you prevent infection
  • Duct tape – from ripped bags to rubbed feet – you’ll need to do a few DIY repairs on any long trip, for about £3 you can invest in a decent tape that will hold together bags and also, top tip, for bad blisters, cover a standard plaster with an extra layer of duct tape for super secure and super cushion protection (for a fraction of the cost of proper blister plasters)
  • Notepad + Pen – whether you’re keeping a budget, need entertaining on a long journey, hurriedly scrawling down an address or creating a travel journal this is a definite must!
  • Microfibre Towel – we bought a 3-pack of these from Amazon for £11 – they saved a huge amount of space and because they were so cheap we even ditched one halfway around when it got a bit tired
  • Sarong – another key space saver; a light weight sarong is way more practical and multi-functional than a beach towel, other uses include a pillow for long journeys and a cover up if girls need to be a little more conservative

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  • Padlock – pretty self-explanatory – whether it is for your bag when on the move or for a locker whilst staying in a hostel it is a simple and practical security solution – make sure you get a code access one so you don’t have to worry about losing the key
  • Sunglasses (that you don’t mind breaking!) – trust me, we got through about 6 pairs, it’s a pain but when you are packing, repacking and constantly on the move things get sat on or left behind – only take a starter pair each because every ‘tourist stop’ we made had someone trying to sell you a new pair
  • Portable Charger – I don’t have to sell you the advantages on this one, it’s an essential, especially when in areas with unreliable electricity supplies e.g. Panamanian jungle and Little Corn Island
  • Coconut Oil – admittedly we picked this up whilst we were out there for just a couple of dollars but it is amazing – a must for moisturising (skin and hair), repelling insects and even as a natural SPF!
  • Small Pair of Scissors – you will find some many uses for these – a total and original must-pack!

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And What I Wish I Had Taken…

  1. Waterproof Camera – in water this clear, with such amazing wildlife we really missed out not being able to take some scuba shots
  2. Goggles – even though we managed to buy some for cheap in a supermarket (eventually) we regretted not having them from the beginning

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And One I’m Not Quite Decided On…

  1. Selfie Stick

Pros: when travelling as a 2 it would be nice to get a shot of you both that isn’t a selfie!

Cons: you are in public and using a selfie stick…

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What do you think?

Hope this helps any future packing troubles!

Lima – Peru’s Big Bad City

Arriving in Lima was madness.

After our 16hrs of travelling finished off with the wacky races taxi ride through the crowded city streets, we desperately needed a mornings rest before we were ready to get stuck in and discover what this city had to offer.

We had two days in which to explore Lima before we made our way up into the Andes. As our hostel was slap bang in the middle of the city we decided to focus on seeing the old, colonial-style historic centre.

We soon discovered that the majority of Lima’s streets aren’t too pretty – it is a rough and tumble city, with streets of crumbling buildings and not a lot catered to tourists. We worked our way about a mile through the heart of the city, using a slightly distorted map, and trying to negotiate the unbelievably busy roads, to where the narrow streets opened up to two beautiful Plazas.

Plaza San Martin – a beautiful break in the streets with an impressive statue and even more impressive surrounding buildings; here we met some friendly old men just passing the day by who were keen to hear all about the journey we had just started.

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Plaza San Martin

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Plaza San Martin

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Plaza San Martin

Plaza de Armas – sided by the city’s dramatic cathedral and stately government building; this is definitely worth a stop, a sit down and a look around! The epic palms and buildings are supported by a backdrop of Lima’s epic favelas that sweep up the side of the surrounding mountains – a reminder of where you really are.

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Plaza de Armas

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Plaza de Armas 

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Plaza de Armas

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Plaza de Armas

To our surprise, as the cathedral bells marked 12pm, the uniformed guards came to life outside the government building and began band practice!

After the days musical interlude we wandered back through the city’s streets, which we noticed were now being very heavily guarded, with traffic being diverted all over the place. After a while we were commenting on how busy the streets had become, busier than ever, noisier than ever – were people chanting, why are some people waving banners and flags?

We had suddenly found ourselves in the heart of a protest – an anti-developed nations protest…

Suddenly feeling extraordinarily out of place we darted down a side street away from the heaving crowd… and straight into a row of fully equipped riot police – very politely (in typical English fashion) we apologised left, right and centre, squeezed through the row of confused police, and headed for home!

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Cathedral San Pedro

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Around the Plaza de Armas

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Around the Plaza de Armas

After a bizarre few days in the big bad city it was time for us to grab a taxi, zoom through the polar opposite, stark business quarter of the city, to the Cruz del Sur bus station ready for our trip up into the heart of the Andes.

Lima left us feeling a little confused – whilst we had spent our days in the heart of the ‘real’ city, the historic centre and surrounding area, we had been disappointed by this city, which with its huge footfall of tourists severely lacked atmosphere.

We understood that the majority of Lima’s citizens are extremely poor, however, neither of us could account for the amount of missed opportunity we saw in our short time here.

I hope, that if I were to return to Lima in the future I would see people enjoying their city, the scenery and the climate – a little service industry in Lima’s centre could transform the feel of the town!

As we travelled on and spoke to others we discovered that a ‘tourist friendly’ area had developed in Miraflores, a suburb of the city, an hour by bus from the centre.  Perhaps we would’ve had a more positive, ‘café culture’ experience had we discovered this earlier, but, in hindsight we were happy to have been immersed into the Lima as experienced by the majority of its 8 million inhabitants.

What to see;

To make the most of Lima you have to explore by foot – grab a map and just wander – there are very few shops/cafes/bars so just enjoy exploring the rough-around-the-edges parks, busy central squares and taking in the madness of the town!

Everyday at 12pm a uniformed marching brass band play outside the main government building – it is quite a spectacle and you might even recognise the songs…. (Think tension building X Factor music…)

Where to stay;

1900 Backpackers – yes this in the city centre and not in the ‘more tourist friendly’ Miraflores area and yes it looks a little rough from the outside. But don’t be put off – it is opposite Parque de la Exposition, the colonial building is beautiful and airy once inside, it is within walking distance from all there is to see, they offer a decent, simple brekkie, clean simple rooms, a kitchen and super friendly reception and travel information centre (all for £11/night for a double)!

Where to eat;

If you find a good eating spot then you are on to a winner – the concept of vegetarianism was pretty alien in Peru and their specialty is cremated guinea pig… therefore I would recommend going to the new, huge inside/outside Centro Commercial Plaza mall; here you’ll find a supermarket and every fast food outlet imaginable; plenty of fried chicken, of course and even sushi and frozen yoghurt!

Stay tuned to follow our trip up into the magnificent Andes – that’s all for now!

Welcome to Peru!

Somehow we had survived the long trip over the Atlantic on the bumpy, over-crowded, old plane and touched down in Lima, bleary eyed and exhausted. We hauled our backpacks on for the first time and made our way out through the maze-like Jorge Chavez International airport.

Despite it being the crack of dawn, the city was already loud, hot and crowded – so we joined in the madness. A couple of days before we had tried to be proactive and had arranged a taxi through our hostel to save ourselves some trouble. Unfortunately, as we were about to discover, nothing is ever that simple when backpacking.

We (unsuccessfully) searched and searched for our names on a little sheet of paper but after doing several laps of the arrivals terminal and repeating ‘no gracias’ to thousands of eager taxi drivers we decided it was best to make our own way to the hostel.

After eventually finding a cash machine which accepted our cards, we had to guestimate the exchange rate, find our way back through the terminal, tried (and failed) to get a payphone working before a kind local taxi man offered us his mobile. Finally, after getting through to our hostel, our taxi driver arrived looking a little flustered and before we knew it we were bundled in the back of his barely working cab and were racing through Lima’s noisy streets.

We looked on stunned as miles of bright, ramshackle homes, shops and roads passed us by. I could not believe the crazy driving; racing other taxis, almost getting run off the road by buses and only narrowly missing millions of pedestrians on their way to school and work.

Exhausted but exhilarated by the culture shock we arrived at our hostel; 1900 Backpackers Hostel – welcome to Peru!

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Plaza de Armas

The Big Trip

So far in my 21 years I have visited 32 different countries… that is only about 13% of this world.

I’m beginning this blog, however, not with a focus on the 32, but on the 11 that made up my epic trip from Peru to Mexico. I hope you enjoy hearing about the weird and wonderful and everything in between…

As my boyfriend Robbie and I boarded our Air Europa plane (more about THAT flight later) from London Gatwick to Peru we had no plans for the next 4 months except to explore. So off we went, pale from a rainy British winter, to start our adventure on the other side of the world (after a quick stopover in Madrid of course).

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Peru to Mexico

After starting in Peru we loosely followed the Pan-American Highway for over 3900km –  somehow we managed this epic distance using a crazy combination of planes, coaches, chicken buses, boats, taxis, tuk tuks, quad bikes, bicycles and more!

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Chicken buses in Guatemala

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Sailing in the San Blas, Panama

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Adventures on a quad, Nicaragua

Over the course of 4 months we criss-crossed our way through this incredible corner of the world and discovered some incredible places along the way. From the stunningly treacherous Andes mountains to the picture-perfect, screen saver ready San Blas islands of the coast of Panama, the powerful and intimidating volcanos in Nicaragua and the epic Mayan ruins at Tikal, Guatemala to name just a few of the highlights.

Hopefully I am going to be able to fill in some of the major information gaps that we encountered on our trip (we thought that the current Central America Lonely Planet was dramatically out-dated, already!) and share a few top tips of what is not to be missed.

Stay tuned!