Providencia: The Hidden Treasure of Colombia

Somewhere along the Caribbean coast, near by the borders of Nicaragua is a small Colombian island that truly is the definition of untouched paradise. A place where tourists are the minority and the ‘island lifestyle’ is infectious. It’s home to the second largest reef in the world and was once the landing base for the infamous pirate Captain Morgan. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Colombia’s best-kept secret – Providencia.

During my travels through Colombia I’d heard the name Providencia tossed around only a few times. It’s more popular neighbour; the San Andres Island was supposedly the place to go. However the thought of sharing the Caribbean coast with thousands of other tourists on an island that was essentially a floating duty-free shopping plaza didn’t sound so appealing so my two travel buddies and I caught the catamaran to Providencia to find paradise.

Before we begin there is the disclaimer to finding the aforementioned paradise. It takes a very rough 3 to 8 hour boat ride to get there. Depending on the weather you could either have a lovely sail or a ride in something similar to a dishwasher. We stepped on the catamaran at the dock in Providencia after a turbulent 3.5-hour journey a little shaky and seeing green. It wasn’t quite the idyllic start we’d been hoping for however once we had a good look around, the queasiness faded quickly.

“Where you goin’ mon?’

A tall girl with skin the colour of coffee with long braids down her back approached us with a wide smile. Her throaty voice was lilted with the Creole accent that most locals on the island spoke. She pointed to a faded blue station wagon with a young man leaning against it.

“25,000, he take you.”

In the limited information we read about Providencia we knew this – about AUD$11 – was the standard taxi fare for the island, so we climbed into the prehistoric vehicle and set off.

Our accommodation was in Freshwater Bay at the Blue Almond Hostel, which is the only backpacker hostel on the island. There were several other small hotels and haciendas around the island, all owned by local people. One unique quality about Providencia is that only people from the island can have businesses, which means no giant hotelier can come in and take over this little slice of heaven. We spent our first afternoon exploring the area of Freshwater Bay and lolling around in the clear blue water. At sunset we watched the sky transform from blue to yellow to black as we devoured a fresh seafood dinner.

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Cocktails by the beach!
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Our seafood dinner
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Spectacular sunsets

Our second day was spent at Crab Cay, a tiny speck of an island just a few hundred metres off the shores of Providencia. We rented kayaks and paddled from the mainland across the azure coloured waters, jumping out halfway through for a quick snorkel of the world below. We reached the island and were greeted by two park rangers, Christian and Roger – the only inhabitants on the small cay.

“I feel like we’re on Survivor” my pal Lucy said, as we drank from the coconuts Roger cut open for us, whilst dodging the many crabs that scuttled around.

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Kayaking to Crab Key

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Only ones on the island!

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Freshly cut coconuts on an isolated island, don’t mind if i do!

Christian explained to us that the Black Land crabs come here around this time every year from the mainland to lay their eggs. The crabs were famous for descending from the mountains en masse towards the water creating roadblocks and traffic jams but the locals celebrated their journey, making the small crustaceans almost sacred.

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One of the many black crabs we saw during our time on Providencia
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Local signs warning of the crab migration

We jumped off the small dock and snorkelled amongst schools of fish that flitted around the healthy coral. Several turtles swam by, as well as a lone stingray. I couldn’t help dropping a ‘Finding Nemo’ reference into every sentence I uttered. As a long time fan of the movie, this underwater world was absolute quoting heaven. I left the water to walk up to the highest point of the island, where a large rock served as a lookout point. The reef below me shimmered in different shades of blue and the view went for miles. I was jealous of the birds that circled around the cay; they got to witness this view everyday.

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Blue on blue on blue

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The sun started to set and we had to head back to the mainland. Tired, sunburnt and snorkelled out we were reluctant to paddle back on the kayaks. It seemed however there was a light at the end of the tunnel, in the shade of deep blue. As the islands only resort, Deep Blue Hotel was the luxury way to stay on Providencia. While we couldn’t afford the pricey accommodation, their fancy restaurant would just scrape into our budget. We dropped off our kayaks and made a beeline to the ocean side tables to watch the rest of the sunset. As the black crabs darted around our feet, we devoured the fresh catch of the day and washed it down with coconut lemonade – quite possibly the best drink I’ve ever tasted.

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Another day, another freshly caught seafood dinner

The following two days we rented a ‘mule’ – a golf cart on steroids – that was the main form on transport on the island and spent our time buzzing around the island. Our attention was drawn to the under-the-sea themed bus stops and amazing viewpoints. We pulled in at Almond Bay where a large octopus shaped bus stop stood and walked down the hilly path to the beach. Here some Rastafarian locals greeted us warmly with freshly cut coconuts and showed us how to make rondon, the islands famous dish. We explored every bay and swimming hole and made plans to hike to the highest point of the island – however the heat of the Caribbean sun lured us to the beach instead of the mountains and we promised to hike it when we return one day.

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Watch out! Gringos on the road

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One of the cool bus stops

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Found Peach!

Our last day on the island, the girls and I separated for the morning. I was off to scuba dive in the second largest reef in the world and the girls were going to Santa Catalina – the small island close enough to Providencia that it can be accessed by foot over a long, brightly painted bridge. They were planning to find Morgan’s Head, the rocky formation named after the infamous pirate Henry Morgan who used the island as a base for raiding the Spanish colonies in the 1600s. There are rumours that there are still undiscovered treasures in Providencia, which the locals will proudly drop into every conversation you have.

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heading to Santa Catalina

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Free mangoes for all
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Old cannons from Captain Morgans time

I, on the other hand was about to witness what treasures Providencia had below the water. As one of the best (and cheapest) places to dive in the world, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. What I didn’t realise was that the ‘treasures’ Providencia had to offer were in the form of very large fish – sharks to be exact! I will admit, these were only Caribbean reef sharks, but as an ocean dwelling Australian, the word ‘shark’ still sends a chill down my spine. Fortunately once we descended into the deep blue waters, my fear faded away as the school of almost doglike sharks swam around us. My dreadlocked dive master pointed out different fish and coral but my attention was drawn to the sharks, the way they glided through the water was mesmerising.

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Not as scary as I imgained

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After two dives we headed back to the mainland, where I met up with my two friends and we floated in the shallow waters, exchanging stories of our morning adventures and basking in the last moments of the Providencia sun.

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One last swim

We caught a ride in the back of a truck to the main dock and chowed down on freshly cook fruit bread while we waited for the catamaran. It had been such a brilliant week in the little piece of paradise and I knew I wanted to return. Providencia is definitely the hidden treasure of Colombia and I hope it has the same fate as the treasures that Captain Morgan once hid on the island and will never be discovered by the rest of the public.

J. xx

 

*Originally posted on the new Covermore Travel Blog

https://www.covermore.com.au/blog/theamericas/providencia-hidden-treasure-colombia

 

 

 

 

Laguna, Lagunas & More Lagunas

It was another early start for us and after breakfast on the salty tables and chairs, we threw our bags in the car and squashed ourselves in for more driving. The landscape had changed dramatically since the white and blue views of the salt flats from yesterday, though it was equally as beautiful. Similar to what you would see in a western movie, with huge rocks sprouting from the dirt ground and tumbleweeds floating past. Several volcanoes sat in the background and our driver said we were super close to the border of Chile – exciting!

Our first stop was a spot in the desert where we warmed up in the morning sun and looked out at the giant volcano of Ollague that surrounded us. It looked like we were back on the worn out tourist trail again, as there were other cars pulling up all the time. Jumping back in the car, we raced off to our next stop in hopes of beating the other cars.

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From salt flats to deserts

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We reached Laguna Cañapa and were instantly in awe of the beautiful sight. The reflection! The flamingos! The mountains! I’d expected to be a little disappointed because the photos I’d seen on the Internet looked so saturated and fake but the colours in the water were on point and just as pretty in real life. I was super excited to see flamingos as I’d never seen them before and they didn’t disappoint, there were hundreds!

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Laguna Cañapa
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Team GoPro and our group

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We continued onto our next Laguna, the Laguna Hedionda, which wasn’t as pretty but had way, way more flamingos. Here we had lunch and laughed at the signs advertising Wi-Fi for 10 Bolivianos. It seemed so pointless to have Internet this deep into the desert but I guess some people really have to check their Facebook. After lunch we headed to the next stop, Laguna Chiakorta and while it was absolutely gorgeous, my tummy was starting to disagree with me. Unsure why I was starting to feel bad, I ignored it and trying to enjoy the stunning drive to our next stop – the Arbol de Piedra. This famous rock formation is known as the ‘Stone Tree’ and sat at around 7 metres high. It’s shaped from the strong winds carrying sand and eroding the soft sandstone structure. Just another funky bit of nature in Bolivia, this country was full of it! We climbed up a giant rock and looked out at the view. By this time I really was feeling awful and just wanted to crawl into a ball but I didn’t want to let it get me down.

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This was bloody hard to climb up!
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Arbol de Piedra – so not in the mood for photos

We drove onto our accommodation for the night at Laguna Colorado, which was the windiest place on the planet! We had the option to walk out to the lookout of the Laguna, but all I wanted to do was sleep. Forcing myself out the door with the others, we walked the half an hour to the lookout where I took photos and tried not to get blown away. I don’t know what brought on the wind, but it was intense! After getting back to the hostel, I hid in bed and prayed for the pain in stomach to disappear. I hadn’t been this sick since Christmas in Vietnam two year prior and I’d forgotten how much it sucked. My night was just as bad and I skipped dinner and spent quite some time wrapped around the toilet bowl. Not exactly how I planned my last night on the trip! Luckily a couple of girls from the trip had some pills to knock the sickness out of me, hopefully!

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Laguna Colorado
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So many flamingoes!

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The next morning I woke up feeling better but not 100%. We had woken up at the ridiculous hour of 5am to reach the geysers and hot springs by sunrise. The geysers were pretty spectacular in the early morning light – the smell however wasn’t. It was absolutely freezing so I spent most of the time watching the geysers from the warmth of the car. Team GoPro was definitely losing its enthusiasm; four days of desert living had worn us out! We drove onto the hot springs and quickly changed into our swimmers. As hard as it was to strip down, once we were in the hot springs I felt instantly better. Definitely worth getting naked for! We got to stay in the hot springs for about half an hour before having to haul ourselves out and back into the car. Time was against us a little as we had to catch a bus from the border at 9:30am. A quick stop at Laguna Verde, which was the most hyped up Laguna but definitely the least impressive and we were back in the car for the final time.

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Early morning geysers

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Cold, sick and still smiling .. Just
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Last efforts of Team GoPro
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Morning swims in the hot springs
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Laguna Verde, not so impressive.. And no flamingoes 😦

Racing to the border we got our passports stamped and were loaded into the bus to San Pedro de Atacama. There was only the four of us from the trip heading to Chile, the rest of the group were heading back to La Paz so we said our goodbyes and headed for Atacama. On our bus we met up with our friends from Copacabana and made plans to stay together in Atacama.

The bus ride took about half an hour to reach the town of San Pedro de Atacama, where we were officially stamped into Chile – I had now ticked off 29 countries! Woohoo! We found a hostel just outside of the main part of town where we were the only guests and promptly took over the entire place. The view from the hostel was awesome and looked out at the mountains in the desert. We wandered through the town of Atacama and bought supplies for dinner. It was a very touristy town and way, way more expensive than Bolivia, which was a shock to our wallets! We spent the rest of the washing clothes, catching up on the real world and relaxing. After four solid days of touristing, it was time to chill out – I could already see that we wouldn’t be doing too much in this place!

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Afternoon views from our hostel

J. x

Uyuni Salt Flats – Day 1

With Machu Picchu, Rainbow Mountain and La Paz crossed off the official bucket list, I was ready to tick another big item off my agenda. The Uyuni Salt Flats was one of those places I’ve dreamed of being at for a long time and finally my time had come! With my travel buddies Alex, Tommy and Sean, I caught the bus from Potosi to Uyuni.

The bus ride in itself was gorgeous, huge valleys and massive mountains surrounded the road and as we got closer to Uyuni the landscape changed dramatically to desert and the excitement started to build up inside of me. We arrived into Uyuni right before sunset and were ambushed by people selling salt flat tours. One lady sold us with her offer of free accommodation for tonight so we followed her into her office and bargained for the best price. Deciding to do a four-day tour we whittled her down to 900 Bolivianos, which covered everything – that’s about $165 for four days, not too shabby!

We were led to the hostel, which ended up being the same hostel we intended on staying at anyway and dropped our gear off to go find dinner. Tired from the bus ride we opted for the easy option and found a restaurant and ordered some (expensive) burgers. As the tour didn’t leave until 11am the next morning, we decided to just head back to the hostel to chill and organise everything in the morning.

The following morning we packed up, grabbed breakfast and supplies for the trip (cookies and chocolate!) and met our tour guide and car. We had scored and gotten a Lexus four-wheel drive however were told we would only have her for the day because we were joining another group tomorrow. Naming her Sexy Lexie we chucked our bags on the roof, hooked up the speaker and began our journey! The first stop was the train cemetery, which seemed to be the first stop for every trip as there were about forty other cars there! The four of us had nicknamed ourselves Team GoPro because we were all proud owners of GoPro’s and selfie sticks so as soon as we got out of the car, Team GoPro was rearing to go!

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Playing at the train cemetery

If you could imagine four adults running around like dickheads with cameras attached to a stick than you’ll get an idea of how we looked. Not ones to be ashamed we climbed all over the decrepit trains and took more selfies than Kim Kardashian. It was a little hard to capture the train cemetery without a bunch of tourists milling around but we tried our hardest. Afterwards we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove onto the next stop.

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Train cemetery
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On the road to nowhere
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Day One = too much energy to tourist properly

This next stop was a repeat of the train cemetery as we parked up next to another row of four-wheel drives. My dreams of a desolate salt flat were slowly fading as I walked through about six peoples photos. This stop was a quickie, just to look at the salt mounds. Luckily our car was a little slower than other groups so after we waited 10 minutes of so we only had to share the place with a few other people. Despite the hordes of tourists, it was magical being on the salt flats. This weird and wonderful landscape blew my mind and burnt my retinas – going without sunglasses is a big rookie error!

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Salt mounds left out to dry for collection
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Yoga pose on point

Jumping back in the car, we drove for another 15 minutes or so until we reached our destination for lunch. Another place overrun by tourists, we managed to park out the back and enjoy our lunch looking out at a quiet salt flats. After lunch Team GoPro assembled and proceeded to take about another thousand photos and videos. The excitement of finally being at the salt flats was too much for the four of us and we couldn’t contain ourselves. However I think after a day or two of this intense GoPro-ing we won’t be so enthusiastic.

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Sahh happy to be here!
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Spreading the Nicholas Cage love around the world

After lunch we jumped back in Sexy Lexie and drove for an hour and a half across the salt flats to our hostel for the night. It was a crazy feeling speeding across the flats, with only one another car passing us in the that time. This was starting to feel more like an adventure, not like being herded around like sheep. We arrived at the hostel are the place was desolate. The small village was squashed between the salt flats and the large volcano that sat behind it. We waited in the hot sun until the owners of the hostel came to greet us. I have to say; Bolivians aren’t the most welcoming of people. I guess they aren’t as used to tourism as the other countries are. After experiencing the warmth and friendliness of the Peruvians, it was hard to adjust to the somewhat frosty reception we had been receiving from the Bolivians. Nonetheless, the hostel owners took us in, showed us our rooms and left us to it. We had all afternoon to ourselves, with the only thing on the agenda being to see the sunset. With all this free time and space we did what any self-respecting tourist would do – run around like losers on the empty salt flats. We took our GoPro’s and music speaker out to the desolate flats and danced and ran around like small children. We were the only four people on this part of the salt flat and the unusual landscape brought out a wacky side in all of us. As silly as we must have looked to the locals, it was one of the most fun afternoons I’ve had.

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Alpaca love
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So cute!

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Team GoPro – dropping an album within months
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My first flamingo sighting!

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We headed back inside for tea and bikkies and to layer up for the upcoming sunset. While it was scorching hot during the day, the chilly weather comes to play at night. We rugged up and got the camera ready for an epic sunset. Racing out just as the sun dropped, we watched as the sky turned into a kaleidoscope of colours. The blues, the pinks, and the purples – it was gorgeous! The salt flats glowed under the last embers of the sun and it truly was one of the most surreal sunsets I’ve seen. We headed back in for dinner once it got dark and then headed back out later that night to witness the unreal sky, full of so many stars that even Coldplay would be impressed. It was funny to hear the others gush over the star-filled sky, as it was a rare occurrence for them to see some many because they are from the city. I forget how lucky I am having grown up in the country where a starry sky is the norm. Not saying I wasn’t impressed though, the clear sky had brought on a seriously cool lightshow. We headed back inside frozen from the chilly air and headed to bed. Tomorrow we were planning to hike up the volcanic mountain and see some more of the salt flats, so we needed some serious shut-eye!

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Salt flat sunsets

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Stay tuned for tomorrows events!

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

Machu Picchu – Finally!

Todays the day! The sun is shining , the tank is clean (actually it was pouring rain but I just wanted to use a Finding Nemo reference) and we were going to Machu Picchu! I had barely slept a wink all night because I was too excited. Before last night I hadn’t really thought about seeing Machu Picchu because we were doing some many activities but after wandering around Aguascalientes and knowing we were so, so close the excitement got to be too much.

We packed up and walked down to the meeting point about a 15 minute trek out of town. Despite the  pouring rain, nothing was going to ruin my good spirits – I was going to see Machu Picchu! At 5am they opened the entrance gate and we were off, it was a race to be the first up there. What I stupidly hadn’t realised that the hike to Machu Picchu would be a direct uphill ascent. I was still half asleep and my body couldn’t comprehend standing up, let alone tackling stairs! Within minutes I was out of breath and sweaty from the humid jungle temperature. Peeling off my jumpers and jacket, I hiked in just my singlet top and plastic poncho – it wasn’t exactly the most fashionable way to trek!

The hike took about an hour and I was one of the first of the group to get to the top to the next entrance point. It was such a relief to be there, despite my wet hair and soaked through clothes – the photos later on were going to look interesting! I met with some others from the group and we waited until the entrance point was open and the rest of the group arrived. The sun had come up by now but the morning air was still chilly, I rugged up again in what dry clothes I had left and we entered the gates to Machu Picchu.

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Walking into the Machu Picchu site

I can’t describe the feeling of seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. It was a combination of elation, amazement and excitement. It was like a scene out of Avatar, the massive mountains floated around the misty clouds and Wayna Picchu stood majestically in the background. It was funny because the most common touristic image of Machu Picchu is actually of Wayna Picchu Mountain. But it is such a grand looking bit of stone; so its understandable why they promote using this view. We had a two-hour tour around the Machu Picchu site but I didn’t take a word in, I was too busy soaking up the atmosphere. I was finally here! By now the sun had come out fully and the cool air had disappeared. My hair and clothes dried out and it was obvious that we had picked a perfect day.

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I’m here!
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Soaking wet and super excited!

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Beautiful, so beautiful!
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Machu Picchu

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Work of the Incas

We walked around the site for for awhile and I took more photos than necessary but nothing could capture how it really looked. The tiredness from this mornings hike started to kick so a group of us found a perch n the sun to lay down in until it was our time to hike Wayna Picchu. By now the sun had fully come out and the heavy clouds were now just small blobs of white fluff floating in the sky and the entire site was now clearly in view. We sat and people watched for an hour or so before putting our bags in the lockers and mentally preparing for the next hike.

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Excuse me sir, you’re in my picture!
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Having a break from walking

Wayna Picchu or Huayna Picchu means ‘young peak’ in Quechua and is 360 metres higher than Machu Picchu. Only 400 people a day are allowed to climb up the steep and dangerous mountain and after slowly making my way to the top using the cables provided I can understand why. It was a tough hike to the top but once we got there, the view was more than worth it. Looking out over the Machu Picchu site, we could see everything from a bird eye view and it was amazing to see how big the site actually was.

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Hiking Huayna Picchu
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All smiles at this stage!
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Rest stop

We sat on the edge of the mountain for awhile, letting our eyes take in the landscape and our heart rate to slow up. The people milling about below looked like ants and the heavy flowing river that we hiked along yesterday looked like a small creek. Even the zig-zag road from Aguas Calientes looked like a small path, it was unbelievable how high we were really were.

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Views from the top of Huayna Picchu
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Machu Picchu looks so tiny!

Climbing up further past the stone buildings, I sat on a rock at the highest point of the mountain and basked in the hot sun. At this point in time, there was no place else I’d rather be. The picture of Machu Picchu that I had seen for years was finally a reality and I wasn’t about to let that go quickly. As I made my way slowly down the small and narrow steps to the first lookout, I didn’t even want to blink so I wouldn’t miss any of the view.

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At the very top!

Hiking back down Huayna Picchu was considering quicker than hiking up, though it didn’t mean it was any easier! I’ve always thought hiking downhill was worse than going uphill – not only because you know how far you have to go but its also a killer on your hips and knees! (thanks Mumma for the dodgy knees! :p) We made it down to the starting point within an hour and by then the hunger pains were out of the world. With my housemates E and C, we took the lazy way and caught the bus down to Aguas Calientes, which went super quickly because I slept the entire way.

We were starving by the time we reached the bottom so we found the closest restaurant and ordered a feast of Mexican food. It cost a bomb but I wasn’t bothered, we deserved it after our massive day! After lunch we walked one street to a French patisserie and had coffee and chocolate cake to completely put us into a food coma. Luckily we didn’t have to go far to get to the train to head back to Cusco.

I was sad that the trip was over, we had seen so much and done so many cool things in such a short period of time. I’d made new friends and a bunch of new memories.. And I’d been to Machu Picchu – nothing was going to make me happier at this point! By the time we got back to our home stay it was 11pm at night and we all fell into bed without even getting changed. Real life could wait until tomorrow!

J. x

 

 

 

Horse-Riding Through Cusco’s Inca Ruins

It was my first Saturday in Cusco and after a full on week of volunteering Teaching English and learning Spanish, I was ready to play tourist. With my housemate C we went off in search of San Pedro markets to meet up with some other volunteers. It had looked like a sunny day but within two hundred metres of leaving the house, the skies darkened and I suddenly regretted not bringing a rain jacket.

We met with our new pals at the front of San Pedro markets and quickly decided to have coffee as the rain started to fall. I was happy to see none of them had brought rain jackets either; I wasn’t the only stupid gringo. We went to a café recommended by my Spanish teacher called La Bon Diet, just the next square down from San Pedro. It looked uber fancy and expensive but with three of the five of us being Australian coffee snobs, we were desperate for some decent coffee. Much to my delight it was actually cheaper than the coffee place I had been going to all week so I could smell a new favourite of the cards. Deciding to lash out, we ordered coffee and fancy cakes for a mid-morning sugar hit.

The cakes tasted as good as they looked and the coffee was definitely the best I’ve had so far in Peru. Thumbs up for La Bon Diet! We stayed in the café, chatting away until the rain disappeared and that pesky sun decided to return. Making a run for it, we grabbed a cab that took us up to San Cristobel – a church that overlooked the whole of Cusco. It was a spectacular view, the burnt orange roofs that made up Cusco sat in unison in the valley below. We could see Plaza De Armas and San Francisco square and tried to work out where our home-stays were.

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Always time for coffee and cake!

After taking in the views, we negotiated a price to take a horse-riding tour through the ruins even further up. Managing to whittle the salesman down to 55 soles each (about AUD$22), we jumped in their battered Mini and headed towards the stables. It was starting to sprinkle again and I was cursing myself for not being smart enough to bring a raincoat – it’s the rainy season here! Of course it will rain every day! Passing the ruins of Saqsayhuaman and Cusco’s version of Christ the Redeemer – Cristo Blanco we went high and higher into the mountains. We were dropped off at the ‘stables’ and the young men working there led out our steeds for the day. I had expected little mountain ponies but these hardy looking animals looked so sad and sorry, I almost didn’t get on.

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Views from San Cristobel
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Smile! This poor little pony had to lug my ass around all day!

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I told myself that these ponies do this everyday and I jumped on and off we went. The first part of the trail was uphill and due to the rain, the thick mud made it difficult for the ponies to walk in. We sludged uphill until we finally reached a flat area of green grass for them to walk on. Being trail ponies, they followed each other nose to tail and didn’t like to stray off the path – I tried some of my basic horsemanship skills of them, but they were too far gone – trail ponies for life. Our first stop was Puca Pucara otherwise known as the ‘Red Gate’ which was the entrance gate to Cusco during Inca times so we dismounted and went for an explore. These ruins were a cluster of rocks that created caves and led up to a great viewing point. We explored the area and were asked to be in photos of a Peruvian family vacationing from Arequipa. Nothing like being tall and blonde to attract attention!

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Admiring the view at Puca Pucara
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Exploring with C

When our impromptu photo shoot was done, we headed back to the horses and jumped on to ride to the next stop. There was no doubt that the view was incredible. The lush green mountains stood before us and despite the grey, cloudy skies the scenery was perfect. We rode past a little house and further into ruins. By now the wind had picked up and combined with the rain, we had turned into shivering, soaked messes. All of us laughing at ourselves for forgetting rain jackets in rainy season, we continued riding until we reached the Temple of the Moon. We dismounted once more and hightailed it to the Temple of the Moon, I was so cold and wet that seeing it wasn’t that interesting and the others seemed to have the same thought. We huddled behind a rock that blocked the wind until it was time to get back on the horses.

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Beautiful scenery to ride to

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The poor ponies were soaking wet and shaking in the cold wind. We made a group decision to head back out of this weather so jumping back into the wet saddle off we went. Reaching a small forest that protected us from the wind, we walked along until our tour guide told us to stop. Here we could walk down to Cristo Blanco, while they took the horses back. They sure had a unique way of taking the horses back; the guide took off the bridles of all of the horses bar one, jumped on him and let them run – he disappeared before we could even say ciao!

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Walking down to Cristo Blanco
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I have no idea..
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Hillside villages 
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Awww ❤

The rain had ceased by now and we were still protected from the wind, so life suddenly wasn’t so bad. We walked down towards the asphalt road and to another set of ruins. C and I continued walking to Cristo Blanco, we’d seen enough ruins for the day. Cristo Blanco is like a mini version of Brazil’s Christ The Redeemer and in my usual dorky ways, I was super excited to see such a blatant tourist attraction. We took about a thousand selfies and suddenly realised we were starving. It was about 3:30pm and the coffee we had at 10am seemed like a distant memory. We started to walk down the hill towards Cusco, not entirely sure if it was the right way, but hoping to flag down a cab. Of course, no cabs were coming down, so we jumped on a colectivo (shared bus) and made our way to the city. Still not entirely sure where we were going, we paid our 0.70 soles and flagged down a cab. For 4 soles he drove us into the centre of Cusco, right past our house! We weren’t far away after all!

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Walking down to Cristo Blanco
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Hola! Cristo Blanco!

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Not a bad view!

By now it was close to 4pm and the hangriness was getting out of control. We planned to lunch at a nearby café but it had shut for the day. Holding in our despair we speed-walked to Jacks Café, which is the Western travellers version of heaven. Ordering burgers and tortillas, I could actually feel the world starting to make sense again with the first bite of my burger. After our pig out, we headed home to shower and change, both of us resembling drowned rats that had been chucked in front of a fan, not your best look for a Saturday afternoon!

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This was the best thing about the day – I was starving!

It had been a fun day exploring the ruins above Cusco and learning that you probably shouldn’t ride horses that aren’t your own and that you definitely should take a rain jacket with you, no matter how blue the sky looks!

J. x

 

Barranco in Pictures

Every city needs a neighbourhood where the creative folk gather, where opinions are expressed on street walls and the best bars and cafes exist. In Lima, this neighbourhood is called Barranco and it is every bit as bohemian and artsy as they say.

This groovy part of town is better shown through pictures than words, so ladies and gentlemen… Meet Barranco.

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J. x