Trekking the Santa Cruz Trail

After a solid but not long enough sleep, L and I woke at 5:30am to be picked up for our Santa Cruz trek. Still tired from the day before I stayed awake long enough to put my bags in the van and find a window seat before falling asleep again. When I woke a short time later, the van had filled up with seven more people all joining us on the trip. The bus ride went for about two hours and I spent that time drifting in and out of sleep. It was a bumpy old ride, which didn’t make for ideal sleeping conditions but the rest of the passengers in the bus and myself seemed to make it manage.

We were woken abruptly to stop for breakfast at the same place we stopped at yesterday. Having already packed breakfast because we were organised, I ordered a coffee and stocked up on the delicious chocolate bars I discovered there. We were ushered back into the van and driven for another two hours, high into the Cordillera Blanca. The scenery was absolutely gobsmacking; we switch-backed up a high mountain range and reached up to 4,800 metres above sea level. Stopping near to the top, we had a quick photo stop and were in awe of the view below up. The Cordillera Blanca stood majestically before us and the windy road we had just climbed up zig-zigged below. There were so many snowy peaks that I just couldn’t even deal – and this was only day one!

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Amazing colours on the drive to the National Park
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Just part of the view from our drive up to 4,800m
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L and I looking rather perky after a 5:30am start!

We drove on for a bit longer until we reached the starting point of the trek. We stopped in a small village called La Vaquería and gave our bigger bags to the Sherpa’s and got acquainted with the rest of the group. There were five 18 year British boys that were on their gap year who were hilarious and just adorable and a German couple, who were doctors on a short hiking holiday. For the next couple of hours we went up an down grassy slopes passing small villages, where the local Peruvians were going about their everyday lives. It definitely would be a peaceful existence out here in the Andes, with all the fresh air and no worries of the modern world. After about four hours of hiking we reached the campsite in the Paria Valley.

Our camp was right near a rushing creek and surrounding us were huge mountains, some covered in snow. A large waterfall cascaded down a mountain and despite the thin air, I felt well and truly alive. While this was supposed to be the easy day of the trek, the sudden incline into higher altitude knocked us around a bit and we were so glad to finally be here! One of the perks of doing a trek with a tour group is that they set up camp for you and cook you all your meals. Call me a princess but after a day of hiking, I was in no mood to set up a tent! We settled into our tents and then had tea and biscuits while waiting for dinner. As the sun dropped behind the mountains it started to get very chilly and we huddled in the meal tent until dinner was served a little awhile later. It was amazing what our cooks could make out here in the mountains; we had delicious soup and meat with rice and vegetables – very Peruvian and very delicious. After dinner we chatted for a while before slowly all sneaking into our tents to sleep. It was only early but we were on all energy-conserving mode for the following day, which was supposed to be the hardest hike.

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Day one of the hike, so many gorgeous valleys!
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One of the pack horses for the trek

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Our campsite for the night

We were woken early the next morning by our guide Ricardo and wiped the sleep from our eyes while we had breakfast. Toast and eggs with coca tea and we were good to go. During todays hike we would climb over 1000 metres and walk about 12 kilometres. L and I had psyched ourselves up for this day and took it slowly as we climbed the rocky tracks higher and higher. Stopping every couple of metres, I stopped to admire the view and to suck in whatever air I could. The ten of us were the only ones on the trail and it felt like we were lost somewhere on the set of the Lord of the Rings. Lush green mountains surrounded us and grey clouds sat low, covering the snowy peaks. We climbed higher, passing small lagoons and rocky peaks. I was glad my Kathmandu hiking boots had good ankle support, this track was definitely ankle breaking inducing!

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Where’s Frodo?
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The grey clouds made for great reflections!
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Up, up, up

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Hiking on for a couple more hours, we slowly made the climb up to the pass, Punta Union. The last stretch of the climb was the hardest as the thin air made it nearly impossible to climb up the uneven, rocky path. Once I reached the top however all my previous pain disappeared. 4,800 metres have never been more worth it! The view was absolutely stunning! 360 degrees of mountainous beauty. A turquoise coloured laguna sat below a snowy peak and a massive valley encompassed by more huge mountains stood to the left. The wind was howling this high up so I found a little perch that blocked the wind and allowed my to eat my lunch in front of this amazing view.We stayed at the top of the pass for about forty-five minutes – even though it only felt like five – before starting the descent down to our next campsite. Now that we’d tackled the hard part of the trek (which actually wasn’t as hard as the trek to Laguna 69 to be honest) we had a downhill run for the rest of the trip.

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Made it! And made a furry friend! I’m getting good at adopting animals on hikes

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Our group at the top of Punta Union

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My new furry little mate
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Please ignore my dopey face – so happy!
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Stoked as! L and I hamming it up for the cameras

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Slowly making our way downhill, I had to keep stopping to enjoy the landscapes around me. I’d taken to walking alone with my headphones on and pretending I was in a music video. It made the downhill trek easier and took my mind of my aching knees. It also meant I could stop whenever I like to do a little happy dance because I was so damn pleased with myself! On this fine Thursday afternoon, here I was somewhere in the Andes mountains when my friends back home were at work – how could I complain with that!

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L and I with the British boys who were absolutely adorable!
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These views though!
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Taking a well deserved break (ha!)
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The road to our camp

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It took about an hour to trek down to the campsite, which was in the heart of the lush valley. I kept turning around to catch one last glimpse of the beautiful snowy mountains, but needn’t have worried because our camp was set up with a 360 degree view of the Cordillera Blanca. Our meal tent looked directly out to the infamous peak Artesonraju, or more commonly known as Paramount Mountain. Yes, that very mountain from the Paramount Pictures logo was standing right before me as I threw back coca tea. Dinner was an early affair and we huddled in the meal tent out of the frigid cold. It wasn’t as chilly as the night before despite being higher in altitude but it was still bitterly cold. Just before I went to bed, the sky cleared and Paramount Mountain glowed in the full moon’s light – it was a perfect way to finish the day!

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One of the boys enjoying the scenery
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Ah the serenity!

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Sweet little mountain ponies

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Paramount Mountain in the fading daylight

The following morning we had another early start because we planned to reach the end of the trail.While we were on the four day trek, it was possible to finish in three and meant we could enjoy the hot springs in the small town we finished in, winning! We started our hike by heading up to the view point to see the Paramount Mountain properly. Despite the clear skies though, it didn’t quite look like the logo – but that didn’t mean it wasn’t any less cooler! I guess I’m just a nerd when it comes to things like this, the smallest things excite me!

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Paramount Mountain – not quite like the famous logo
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Views of the valler
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The token alpaca

The hike down was beautiful as we crossed an empty river, fully of ankle breaking stones and headed into the valley that we had seen from Punta Union the day before. We were flying through the trail and had made it halfway before 10am. We stopped for a food break and continued on where to trail starting to descent rather abruptly. I have to say, hiking downhill has to be worse than going uphill. The pressure on my hips and knees is going to bite me in the butt when I’m older I just know it! By early afternoon we were reaching the end of the trail and the hot sun starting pounding down on us. By now we had been walking for about five hours and the novelty was starting to wear off. I was tired and my toes hurt from squishing into my hiking boots from every step down, but just as I was ready to break we reached the small town of Cashapampa where our camp was set up ready for us!

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More animal friends

Celebrating with a hard earning Cocoa-Cola and chic-chip bikkies, we were stoked to have made it. It was still only early and our guide Ricardo was impressed with our efforts, he said we absolutely smashed it (well the British boys said it, but you know) We spent the afternoon chilling out at our little campsite before devouring a feast for dinner and talking late into the night. We didn’t even go to the hot springs that have enticed us the day before, it was a 35 minute walk away and we were so done with walking!

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Our little tour group

The following morning we had an easy start as the bus wasn’t coming to pick us up until 10am so we ate breakfast and lazed about until the van arrived and took us back to Huaraz. My first overnight hike was definitely a success and I’d happily do another one in a second! However I was ready to get back down to sea level and get some beach time in! It’s been a long time coming and I couldn’t wait to hit warmer weather!

J. x

Lost My Breath at Laguna 69

Laguna 69 is a place that I’ve never heard of before I stepped onto South American soil. It was in Lima the first time when I heard about this incredible place. A couple I had met had just come from Huaraz and told me it was an absolute must-do in Peru. After seeing their photos I had to agree, Laguna 69 was officially on the bucket list. Three months after I learnt about the Laguna, I was finally on my way to see this magical place.

My new French friend L and I caught the night bus from Lima to Huaraz and after a bumpy ride we made it into Huaraz early in the morning. It was a little chilly here which was a big change from hot Lima so we rugged up in whatever gear we had on hand and walked into the town to find a hostel. Akilpo Hostel seemed like a good option, mainly because it was the first one we came across! We checked in and luckily got to go to the room straight away, where we passed out for an hour or two. The thing about catching a night bus is that it is good in theory to use it as not only a way of transportation but as a bed for the night. However usually you don’t get much sleep anyway and spend the next day tired as hell.

We stirred around 9:30am and headed out in search of breakfast. Huaraz had a similar feel to Bolivia with its crazy, hectic streets, unfinished buildings and women in traditional clothing. It was definitely a big contrast to modern Lima but I liked it as it made me feel like I was back in the ‘real South America’. We found a little sandwich shop and ordered breakfast sandwiches, coffee and fresh juice for the bargain price of $1.50AUD – I liked this place already! After breakfast we went out in search of a travel agency to book our trips. Not only did I want to do Laguna 69 but also the Santa Cruz trek which is a four day hike through the Andes mountains. We managed to negotiate a good price for both tours and all of a sudden, our next five days were booked up!

We were doing the Laguna 69 trek first as an ‘acclimatisation’ to the altitude even though I’d heard it was the harder of the two treks, but after spending the last month or so in high altitude in Bolivia I was sure I’d be able to handle it. We checked out Huaraz for the rest of the day and got organised for the two trips before heading to bed early ready for a big day.

The following morning at 5am we were picked up and driven a couple of hours to the starting point of the Laguna 69 hike in the Cordillera Blanca. A quick stop for breakfast and toilets and to pay the National Park fee and then we were on our way. The first part of the hike was nice and cruisy as we walked through lush fields surrounded by snowy mountains. Despite the lack of oxygen at 3,900m above sea level, I felt like I could really breathe here. After being in stuffy Lima for a couple of days, it was nice to get back to nature and suck in all the fresh air that I could!

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The drive through Cordillera Blanca to the starting point of Laguna 69
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SO MUCH SNOW!
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Views from the start of the hike

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We slowly inclined up rocky path, jumping over flowing creeks and admiring nearby waterfalls. Yet again, I was overly excited about the snow on the mountains and couldn’t believe I was spending the next four days surrounded by them. For years I have thought that I was a beach girl however after travelling through South America I was torn between the beach and the mountains – and at this point, the mountains were winning!

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Can’t breathe, still smiling!

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We hiked on and up, slowly inclining to a higher altitude and lack of breath. We reached the top of the first incline and the trail flattened out into a valley, where we caught our breath and shed some clothes. The sun was starting to bear down and despite the chill in the air, I was getting clammy! We hiked on, our group dispersed all over the trail. L and I were one of the first few and I didm’t want to lose my spot, I wanted to be one of the first to see the Laguna! The second incline was a lot tougher than the first and it took a lot of stopping and promising myself with chocolate bars to keep going!

Finally, finally after many stops and wondering why I decided to like hiking we made it to the top. Racing down the stony path I knew what I would be seeing in a matter of steps. Within a hundred metres I could see that infamous turquoise water shining in the morning sun. Overwhelmed with adrenaline and excitement I raced closed and squealed with delight – the Laguna looked even better in real life! 4,600 metres above sea level and no oxygen but all the views! Clambering onto a big rock away from everyone I sat down to catch my breath and to take in the view. There were no words to describe the view – actually there are hundreds but words don’t do it justice. Photos don’t either but here are a couple for you to get a little idea of the magic I was witnessing.

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Made it!

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So, so blue!

I got closer to the Laguna and we ate our packed lunch by the clear waters. A lone cow was roaming around looking for food so I bribed her with cookies to get a selfie! We stayed for about an hour and just took in the amazing beauty that Mother Nature had shown us. Peru truly has every kind of environment possible. It was hard to believe two days ago I was at the beach and now I’m deep in the mountains. It’s one of the reasons why its my favourite country.

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Making pals everywhere :p

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The healthy part of my lunch. The rest was chocolate bars and biscuits!

Reluctantly after an hour or so we had to head back so we slowly made our way down the mountainous trail. The views were still spectacular this way and the vision of Laguna 69 was still deeply imprinted into my retinas. If this was an indication of the next few days to come, I was going to be constantly in awe of nature. It took us considerably less time to hike back down and by the time we reached the bus I was tired but happy. Stuffing my last chocolate bar down, L and I gushed over the magnificent scenery before passing out on the bus journey home. We reached the hostel around 7pm and had to organise our bags for our next trip.

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On the way back down

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Last stop before the bus back to Huaraz

If you make it to Peru, add Laguna 69 to your list ASAP. It’s not that hard of a trek if you’re relatively fit as long as you give yourself a bit of time to acclimatise to the altitude. You won’t regret it!

J. x

 

 

At the Copa..Copacabanaaaa!

After a lazy start by yours truly, I checked out of the Cozy Hostel and headed into the main square of Puno in search of coffee. I had a few hours to kill before my bus to Copacabana left so I wandered the streets of Puno and found a café to spend some time in.

Around 1:30pm I headed to the bus station with some others from the hostel and found my bus to Copacabana. It was only a 3 hour journey through the Peruvian countryside and I actually managed to stay awake for the entire journey for once. We reached the border of Peru and Bolivia and were all herded out of the bus and put through customs. It was an uneventful affair, but hilarious as they make you walk up the hill to the Bolivian border while the bus to drives straight on through. As i stepped into Bolivia and I was super excited to add another stamp to my passport but as I was travelling alone, I had no-one to share the moment with. Sadface 😦

The drive into Copacabana took another 15 minutes and before I could stash my belongings back in my bag I was being ushered off the bus and onto the street. It was nearly sunset and I still had to find my hostel. ‘Safety-first Jess’ had pre-booked a hostel online because she didn’t want to roam the streets at dark in search of a bed and because her parents 10,000km away would worry. It seemed like a good idea in theory however after passing a couple of other hostels on the way to mine,  I was paying way, way too much for it! Patting ‘Safety-first Jess’ on the back, I forked over the credit card and called it a luxury treat. Then I converted it back to Aussie dollars and realised I was only paying about $30 for a private room, so I didn’t feel so bad.

Settling into my own room (I had two beds!) I promptly flung open the curtains, took off my bra, emptied my bag on the floor and watched the sun set over the water. This private room business wasn’t so bad after all! Hunger kicked in within 10 minutes so I changed clothes and headed out to explore the little town of Copacabana.

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Beautiful way to end my first day in Copacabana

I’m gonna be the first to admit it, I did initially think that this Copacabana was the one infamous for parties and glorious beaches and had that irritatingly catchy song written after it. Though I was quickly mistaken as learnt that the famous Copacabana was the beach in Rio, not Bolivia. Ahh well.. The Bolivian Copacabana was a little seaside hippy town that’s main purpose was the starting point for those travelling to Isla Del Sol. It’s laid-back vibe is alluring and before you know you’re running on Bolivian time, not really worrying about a thing. I found dinner at a little cafe and then headed back to my private room ready for a solid night of sleeping.

The following morning I slept late again (see Copacabana does relax you!) and reluctantly packed my gear up and changed to a cheaper hostel. This hostel wasn’t quite as fancy as the other one but I had a twin room sharing with another girl for a mere $5AUD per night – can’t complain with that!

I spent the day wandering around Copacabana and just generally chilling out. It had been ages since I’d had a lazy day so it was lovely to just hang out and do my own thing. Late in the afternoon I met a trio of travellers (Alex, Lottie and Matthias) also staying at the hostel so we went out to dinner and organized a trip to Isla Del Sol for the following day. I had the most delicious garlic trout that topped the trout I had on Isla Taquile easily. Bolivian cooking was turning out to be better than I expected!

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Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana
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Streets of Copacabana
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View from the wharf
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Bienvienados to Copacabana!

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The following morning we woke early and grabbed breakfast before jumping on the boat to Isla Del Sol. This island – which translates to Island of the Sun in English – is the largest island on Lake Titicaca and has no motorized traffic. It took about an hour and a half to get there but it felt way longer. The boat was going so slow I reckon I could have swum faster than it! But the views were spectacular. The sapphire coloured water shimmered in the sunlight and in the distance we could see snowy peaks. I may have lost it a little bit, snowy mountains are still a huge novelty for me – I can’t get enough of them!

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Boating to Isla Del Sol
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Snowy mountains! What! How?!
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Arrived – still can’t deal with the snowy peaks

We reached the south of the island and paid our 5 Bolivanos to enter the island and off we set on our hike. We planned to hike across the island to the north side, which was about 8km, and then stay the night. The north side was supposed to be the better place but after seeing the south it had some stiff competition! The start of the hike was an absolute killer – stairs after stairs after stairs, however once we reached the top we were rewarded with a killer view! The lake was absolutely glorious and there was hardly a cloud in the sky, it was a perfect day for a stroll.

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Reached the top of the island and scored some amazing views

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South side of Isla Del Sol
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Isla Del Sol
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Traffic on Isla Del Sol

It took us about three hours to get to the north side. We passed small villages, lots of sheep and lots of beautiful views. I think my favourite was the last part of the hike as we hiked down towards to the north side. The white rocks glowed under the hot sun and made the water seem even bluer. As we got down towards the small town of Cha’llapampa it seemed a little quiet and desolate. After the stories we’d been hearing about how the north side was amazing, we were a little disheartened to find not much happening there. Plonking ourselves down by the beach – which was pretty gorgeous – we took off our shoes and rested our weary feet. Matthias jumped in to test the water whereas the three of us girls settled for sunbaking by the shore. While it wasn’t quite what we expected, it was still lovely to just chill out by the water.

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Across the island
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Making friends (aka trying to steal piglets!)
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Almost at the north side!
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The beach on the north side – super chilled!

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Deciding to head back to Copacabana we just made the last boat leaving the north side. It took an hour to reach the south side where we had to stop for an hour before making the journey back to the mainland. Taking the opportunity for lunch on the south side we had quinoa soup and chicken before jumping back on the boat. Another slow (very slow) boat ride back and we were in Copacabana in time for the sunset. Grabbing a couple of cervezas, we perched up in the sunroom of our hostel and watched the sky turn from light to dark.

Tomorrow we’ve off to La Paz! I’ve wanted to go to this city for so long so I’m super excited!

J. x

Hiking to Rainbow Mountain

There are many famous sights to see when travelling around Cusco – Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail, the alpacas – but there is one place that hasn’t quite hit the tourist radar yet. And I’m so glad to have experienced it before it has.

Vinicunca (or more commonly known as the Rainbow Mountain) is a particularly astonishing act of Mother Nature just a few hours out of Cusco. It is close by to Peru’s largest mountain Ausengate and is one of those places where a photo – no matter how filtered – will do it justice.

I booked my trip through American Inca Trail in Cusco, who were the same company that I booked my Machu Picchu trip and the ATV-ing with. The owner, German, is fantastic at what he does and ensures you can get the best possible price. A trip to Rainbow Mountain doesn’t come cheap as it’s not a well-known tour and the road to get there is really rough. For a single person to go to Rainbow Mountain with a car and a guide it can cost between $140 – $200, however if there is more than one person on the tour the price can drop to $105. Luckily German had found another guy wanting to go to Rainbow Mountain the same day as me so I didn’t have to fork out so much moolah – though I still would have paid that much to see this natural wonder.

I was picked up from my hostel at the lovely time of 4:30am and driven three hours out of Cusco. The first two hours were smooth and sleep inducing but the last hour however was windy, slow and at times a little scary. We carefully putted alongside the edge of a mountain, which provided us with spectacular views and racing hearts. We passed a small village where the locals were out watching their alpacas and kept driving until we were in the middle of a huge valley. Our driver stopped the car and our guide told us this was the starting point. – the middle of nowhere. Still half asleep, I wasn’t sure if he was joking but obliged and got out of the car anyway.

We loaded our backpacks up and followed our guide across a field until we reached a potato crop growing on the mountain that we had to hike through. It was a direct uphill hike and at 4,000 metres above sea level, it knocked the wind out of me straight away. The altitude hit me like a tonne of bricks and within steps I was dizzy and gasping for air. I hadn’t been affected by the altitude too much before now and was slightly worried that I might not be able to complete the hike.

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If you look closely you can see our car on the road – thats the starting point

However as we walked at an steady incline, I managed to continue on. Stopping every set of twenty steps, I focused on not passing out and trying to enjoy the scenery – which even in my altitude-affected state, couldn’t help but be amazed at the view. After an hour (felt like 12) we reached a valley and finally I could breathe properly again. I guess I took for granted the fact that I hadn’t been affected by altitude much in Cusco, it was a horrible thing to fight. We hiked through the beautiful valley, past some small adobe houses with small children running around outside. The silence in the valley was deafening, a pleasant change to the constant noise I’d become accustomed to in Cusco. I don’t know where to start with the scenery – it was just too beautiful. The green carpet of grass that we trod on was lush and thick, every so often fluffy cactus poked out from the ground and small streams diverting many ways kept us guessing on where to step. The huge mountains that surrounded us ranged from colours of black to red to brown and in the distant I could just see the tip of Ausengate and its snow capped peaks. Bar the couple of farmers that were nearby, we were the only people in the valley and it was awesome – like we were discovering something new.

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Finally reached the valley where I could breathe properly again
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Adobe structures

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Shy but sweet kiddies looking for chocolate
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These views… OMG <#3

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Alpaca land

We passed through the valley and reached more of an incline, we were over half way to Rainbow Mountain but I knew this last slog would suck immensely. Telling myself to harden up I dragged behind my guide and the other guy Jason, stopping every few steps to catch my breath. We were nearing 5,000m above sea level, which is the highest I’ve ever been. Step by step we got closer to the mountain and I was in disbelief that the view could get better than it already was. By the time we reached the last ascent, I was ready to pass out from the altitude but the determination to make it there was too strong. Even though I was hiking with two men, I still wanted to get up there at the same time as them so I pushed on and reached the top. Breathless from the altitude and the view, I stood at the mirador and just grinned like an idiot. We’d made it!

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Almost there.. 
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Beginning of Rainbow Mountain
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Alpacas everywhere!
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No filter, just natural beauty
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Vinicunca 

The Rainbow Mountain was even better in real life. The different layers of colours were bright and distinct. The different hues of red shone in the sun and I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Still sucking in lungfuls of air, I suddenly had a burst of energy and when our guide said we could go higher for an even better view, I practically ran up the hill. Whatever issues I was having with the altitude disappeared as I leapt quickly up the hill to a higher viewing point where the impossible occurred – the view got even better!

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Sahhh happy!

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We had 360 degrees of Mother Nature’s hard work surrounding us. From the layered colours of Rainbow Mountain to the snowy peaks of Ausengate, it was definitely the most beautiful place I’ve been to and to have the entire place to ourselves was truly magical. Jason and I bounced around like idiots, exclaiming about the view and how awesome it was. Our guide must have thought we were complete nutters as we whooped and jumped around – a huge change from the wheezing, out of breath girl I was only half an hour earlier.

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From the mirador
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Ausengate is hiding behind those rocks
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Views for days

After taking a thousand photos we hiked back down to the mirador and had a snack before making the trek back. I was sad to leave; this place was too amazing to part with just yet. Luckily the entire hike back was absolutely stunning to look at and as we powered back down to a more pleasant level in altitude, I kept turning around to try and lock these views into my mind forever.

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Mountain ponies
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Hiking back down
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Farm kids
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Even the hike back had glorious views

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It took about an hour and a half to reach the starting point and by the end of it I was truly knackered. It had been a big day, not only physically but also mentally draining. The car ride back was a short one as I slept most of the way and before I knew it we were back in Cusco and into the hustle and bustle.

Tonight I’m catching a night bus to Puno where I’m going to explore Lake Titcaca and the floating islands. After being in Cusco for a month, I’m excited to get out and see some new things!

J. x

Machu Picchu Jungle Trek – Day 3

Like clockwork, we woke to the sound of pounding rain. I know it’s the rainy season and all here in Cusco but couldn’t the Gods hold out for a few days! We had breakfast at the same place as dinner and chowed down on banana pancakes and coffee. After a quick talk about the day’s activities, we loaded our bags into the van and off we went. Today we would start with zip-lining and then hiking for the afternoon to Aguascalientes – Machu Picchu is getting so close!

The drive to the drop-off point was only about 15 minutes and then we had to hike uphill with our entire luggage for about 20 minutes. It was still raining as we crossed a rickety, wooden suspension bridge and hiked further uphill until we were met by another van to take us to zip-lining. It felt like they had just dropped us off for the sake of it because of all the chopping and changing with the vans, but the breaks out of the rain were a nice touch. We reached the zip-lining place within half an hour or so and by then the rain had disappeared and the blue sky had decided to come and play – thank god!

We were harnessed up and shown how the proper techniques for zip-lining before hiking up a small hill to the first starting point. I was a little nervous; this was the longest zip-line in Peru and went right across a massive canyon. I’d zip-lined once before in New Zealand, but that went for about 30 seconds whereas this one was much longer and higher up – I was prayed that the cables were strong! The first few people went and I watched in nervous anticipation as they screamed their way across the canyon. Finally it was my turn and the guide hooked me up to the wire and sent me on my way. Squealing like a small child, I braved opening my eyes and was amazed by the view. No longer afraid, I soaked up the gorgeous scenery as I whizzed by it. Before I could comprehend my nerves, the wire finished and I was at the other end. Eager to do more, I lined up for the next one with the others ready to go again. There were five different wires in total and on each one we could do different things. One had the option of going upside down, which I was too chicken to do but the last one was could lay flat on our stomach like Superman and whiz though the canyon face first. I was having so much fun that we were finished before I knew it.

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When you don’t make it all the way on the hipline..

Once everyone had unharnessed and calmed down from their adrenaline rush, we were loaded back into the bus and drove for about 45 minutes until we reached our next destination close to the base of Machu Picchu. The scenery was starting to get totally crazy as the mountains got bigger and bigger. Coming from flat country, I was in constant awe at the size of these mountains – how it is possible is beyond me!

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Hello Machu Picchu (well at least the back of it)
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Our lunch spot

We lunched at a café and again had another 3-course meal. I was loving all the food despite the loads of carbs, but I figured I’ll be walking it all off so it was fine. After lunch we had to hike uphill for half an hour before we set off on our three-hour hike along the railway. It was a pleasant jaunt; the cool air made lugging a backpack much easier and the sound of the rapid river beside us was calming. I walked in silence with my two housemates for most of the way, only talking to comment on the different changes in scenery. Above us stood the backside of Machu Picchu and it was surreal to think we were so close!

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This river was insane
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Butterflies along the trail

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By the time we reached the start of Aguascalientes I was definitely sick of hiking. Twenty more minutes uphill and we were right in the centre of this sweet little town. Aguascalientes had a really cool vibe about it and even though I was so tired I still wanted to explore. After a quick shower I met up with some other people and we wandered through the busy streets. It was such a sweet town built around the fast flowing river, the buildings were old and rickety but had a charm about them that I couldn’t get over. We stopped in one of the restaurants for some pre-dinner guacamole, which cost an arm and a leg but tasted so good it was worth it. The townsfolk sure knew how to take advantage of the masses of tourists coming to town; everything was twice the price of Cusco!

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Aguas Calientes
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Almost there! One more sleep!

Once we finished the guacamole and played a game or two of Jenga, we wandered through the market and picked up snacks for tomorrow before meeting everyone for dinner. Dinner was another three-course meal except this time I had trout and it was delicioso! After dinner it was an early bedtime because we had to be up at the god-awful hour of 4am for our hike up to Machu Picchu – but I was too excited to sleep!

J. x

Machu Picchu Jungle Trek – Day 2

The sound of heavy rain woke us in our little hostel and the desire to get out of bed was non-existent. Laying in until the very last minute we made a dash to The Last Bar for breakfast and to get the lowdown on the day ahead. Due to the pouring rain, we made a group decision to drive to our first stop – a decision we would be stoked with by the end of the day! After a half hour drive we were dropped off and told to hike uphill. The rain had stopped but the steamy jungle turned us all into sweaty messes within minutes. Hiking uphill for about an hour we finally reached a small village in the mountains where we could rest for awhile.

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Our first stop on todays hike

Our tour guides Leo and Ronnie showed us all different types of Peruvian foods and drinks, such as cacao and Inca tequila! Only the brave sampled the tequila, which had a fermenting snake in the bottle. They dressed us up in traditional Peruvian clothing and showed us all these different animals. My favourite was the capybara, which kind of looks like a giant wombat with a tail. This placid animal is the biggest rodent in the world and was particularly fond of rice crackers. They also had a macaw and spider monkey called Lisa. We stayed in the village for an hour or so before continuing on with our hike.

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Peruvian goodies
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Inca tequila – not for the faint hearted!
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A capybara! So, so cute!
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Lisa the spider monkey

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Modelling the latest in Peruvian fashion

By now we were walking along the Inca Trail, which is a pretty cool feeling! The views were amazing as we hiked along the cliff edge. The flowing river that we had rafted in the day before now looked like a tiny stream and the fresh mountain air was a pleasant change from the steamy jungle. We stopped at a lookout, which was a peak that jutted out from the mountain. The phenomenal viewing point gave us views for miles. We could see the Inca Trail where we had walked and it was insane to see where we had come from. I’m not sure why but I preferred this to yesterday when we were mountain biking and rafting, this just felt more like we were actually trekking to Machu Picchu.

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The Inca Trail! Woohoo!
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Steps on steps on steps
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Inca Trail

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Inca Trail

Our lunch stop was at this small café somewhere along the trail. We were loaded up with a massive bowl of guacamole with bread (the best ever!) and pasta. Perfect combo for carbo-loading! Having a quick break to digest, we then had to hike uphill for another hour – not so great on a stomach full of pasta! Luckily the hike was over before we knew it and we were met by a bus to take us to the next stop. Unfortunately due to it being rainy season, some of the trails weren’t accessible, so we were catching more buses than normal. However after that strenuous uphill stretch, I was glad to be sitting down!

We were dropped at the next point and had to walk downhill for a couple of hours. This turned into a longer as several of us had taken a wrong turn and ended down by the raging, chocolate milk river. Our stop at the hot springs was just across a small channel of water but we had to re-trace our steps and find the correct way because the current was too strong. It was late afternoon by this stage and the whole situation was too funny for us. Of course the stupid gringos would get lost!

Finally reaching our stop for the day, we pulled up at the hot springs and quickly got changed and jumped in. I’m not usually a massive fan of thermal baths but this felt amazing on my sore legs and back! It was such a beautiful location for the hot springs as well, tucked into the mountain edges by the flowing river – they had chosen well! We wallowed in the warm water for a few hours before it was time to go to our hostel for the night.

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Finally reached the hot springs – worth the hike!

The drive to Santa Theresa took about 20 minutes and probably ten years off my life. The driver was dead set on getting us there ASAP and despite the slippery, windy road that only went one way, he sped around the corners honking his horn furiously. We arrived to Santa Theresa and leapt out of the van, glad to have two feet on the ground. Ronnie and Leo took us to our hostel and we were assigned our rooms. The hostel was basic but better than the one before – still no hot water though!

We met for dinner at a restaurant a few shops down and devoured our meals like there was no tomorrow. They gave us popcorn, soup, alpaca steak and chocolate cake for dessert. There’s no doubt about it, we weren’t going to starve here! After dinner we had a few drinks and a boogie at the local nightclub before retiring to bed, ready for the next day.

Fingers crossed the rain stays away!

J. x

Machu Picchu Jungle Trek – Day 1

Before leaving for South America I had heard mixed reviews about whether I should be booking a Machu Picchu trip or not. Some were saying you have to book before you go otherwise you’ll miss out and others were claiming that’s its fine to book once you’re there. I bit the bullet and left it to chance (read: was too lazy to book anything) hoping I would be able to book once I got to Cusco.

The stars were aligned in my skies, as it turns out it easy to book a trip once you’re there, but there are a few catches. The first one is that the Inca Trail is closed in February for maintenance. The second is that the Inca Trail is also by far the most expensive. I really only had my heart set on seeing Machu Picchu so I wasn’t too fussed about how I got there. There were two other trek options – the Jungle Trek and the Salkantay Trek, which were at opposite ends of the spectrum. The Salktantay Trek is a four-day hike through mountains, notoriously the most difficult way to get there. The Jungle Trek however, consists of not only hiking on the Inca Tail, but mountain biking, white water rafting and ziplining. Its marketed as the fun way to get to Machu Picchu. Not one to pass up on fun, I booked the Jungle Trek with my three housemates for the following weekend.

Early Friday morning we met our tour group in Plaza De Armas. Having gone out the night before, we were a little worse for wear and potentially still a little intoxicated. It was fine for my housemate C and I, who passed out on the bus straight away. My other housemate L wasn’t so lucky and was carsick on the journey up the windy mountain. We had our first stop at a general store about an hour and a half out of Cusco. Sobered up, I downed a coffee and was ready to face the world and meet others from our trip. There were 18 of us on the trek, mostly all doing the same volunteer program as me.

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Views from the drive up the mountain

We got back in the van and chattered to each other for another hour and a bit until we reached the mountain biking start. This really was just the side of the road, but the crew unloaded the bikes and we got dressed up in our protective gear, ready to ride down the mountain. I hadn’t ridden a bike in awhile and was a little nervous to jump on the rusty old bikes. After a quick briefing we set off down the mountain, ensuring to keep out of the way of passing trucks. After a few minutes I got back into the swing of riding a bike and started to enjoy the magnificent scenery around me. Huge mountains loomed around us and fluffy white clouds floated mid-air. Rain fell sporadically, creating waterfalls every hundred metres or so. One thing our tour leaders forgot to mention was the fact we would get soaked during the ride. Due to the mass of rain, there were huge puddles over the road that we had to cross, getting drenched in the process. It was hilarious, except for having soaking wet hiking boots which we would need the following day!

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Preparing for the bike ride
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Looking like a tough bike rider – not feeling like one
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The end point! 

After about three hours we reached the stopping point and met up with the van. I was glad to be done because my butt was aching and my clothes were soaked. It had been an awesome ride down, but I was ready to get off the bike! We stocked up on Gatorade and snacks at the little shops in the town and jumped into the van ready to be taken to our next destination. Driving for about half an hour we reached the tiny village of Santa Maria, this is where we would be staying for the night. We were dropped off at a place on the outskirts of town called ‘The Last Bar’ where we would be having lunch. The bar was an eclectic mix of a western saloon and a backpacker bar. There was memorabilia everywhere and funny paintings on the wall. We had a lunch of soup and meat and rice followed by dessert of chocolate cake – nothing like the Peruvians to fill you up!

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The Last Bar – kitschy as

After lunch we were taken to our hostel to quickly change for the next activity –white water rafting. Judging by the rivers I’d seen so far, the water wasn’t exactly white but I had my hopes! Driving about half hour out of town we reached the point where we would start the rafting and as expected, the water was the colour and consistency of chocolate milk. Suiting up in the attractive yellow wet-shirts, helmets and life jackets, we were ready to raft. The river ranged between a level 2 and 4, which wasn’t that difficult – thankfully, because I had no intention of falling into the muddy water! We were briefed by our guide and then let off into the fast moving rapids. Within the first minute we hit a huge rapid and had to crouch inside the raft, the brown water dumping over us. Between laughing and trying to sit up we realised we had lost our guide in the process! He had fallen out when the rapid hit and we were now floating alone! Luckily he was a strong swimmer and quickly pulled himself back into the raft. By then I had completely lost it into a fit of giggles and couldn’t paddle properly. We paddled on (well, laughed on in my case) tackling each rapid as they came. While it wasn’t the most intense of rides, it was a very scenic raft; the huge mountains surrounding us captured the low-hanging clouds and the blue sky shone brightly against the afternoon sun.

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After about an hour of rapids, our guide told us to stop paddling and get out of the raft. Confused by the language barrier, we stared at him blankly until he repeated it and indicated to jump into the muddy water. Still not sure whether he was joking or not, we slid into the cold, chocolaty water, shrieking at the frigidness and the fact we might get swept away. Clutching onto the side of the raft I fell into a fit of giggles again and was absolutely no use when our guide tried to pull me back into the boat. Hands down worst white rafter ever! We rafted for a bit longer until we reached the end point where we had celebratory (or survival) cervezas by the riverbank.

The bus ride back to Santa Maria took about an hour and it was a race to the showers once we got back to the hostel. However the showers were ice cold, so the only difference between rafting and showering was the colour of the water. We headed for dinner at ‘The Last Bar’ and had a similar meal to lunch. Heading back to the hostel, we prepared for the next day and hit the sack early, knackered from a long day.

Tomorrow we doing some hiking along a little trail known as the Inca Trail and relax in hot springs! Sounds tough!

J. x