Monthly Archives: April 2013

Bolivia Visa for Indian Citizens (from Santiago, Chile) AND Visa on Arrival for Indian Citizens

Indian citizens/ passport holders will be pleasantly surprised to discover that Bolivia is a very easy country to enter. If you are an Indian passport holder like us, you will know the pain of independent travel which is taken for granted by other backpackers. I hope that this post will encourage you to visit the beautiful country of Bolivia.  The next time we travel to South America, we will definitely visit Bolivia, if only to endorse their hassle free visa policy.
Bolivia has visa on arrival for a fee (please verify the latest fee by calling La Paz airport) AND offers a FREE visa at its consulates world wide.
We obtained our Bolivia visa at the embassy in Santiago, Chile not once but TWICE. Once before our passports were stolen and once more with our new passports. On both occasions, our experience at the Bolivian embassy was quick, pleasant and smooth.

Documents Required

Documents produced during our first visit:

·         Completed application form
·         Copy of yellow fever certificate
·         Copy of most recent bank statement
·         Cost = Free!! (remember, Americans pay $140)
·         Overall time taken: 20 minutes
·         Questions asked: None
This was the most incredibly hassle free visa experience in our life. I couldn’t believe my eyes when the consul guy just proceeded to stamp my passport within minutes of producing our document, and with a smile. We were told that extension is possible in Bolivia and is easy to do.

Losing the visa and getting it again

Unfortunately, fate would soon have its way with us and we would end up using our most important belongings in Calama, Chile. We had to return to Santiago to receive a new passport from the Indian embassy. So we went to the Bolivian embassy once again. This time, we told the consul officer about our loss and were greeted with disbelief. He pointed us to a young Bolivian lady present there and said to us “It will take her two months to get a new passport if she loses hers. You guys are lucky.”
We were able to provide most of our documents, except the yellow fever certificate, which was also stolen. These guys were awesome though – they patiently dug through their records and found our previous visa and made us several copies of our yellow fever certificates.

Bolivia Visa on Arrival at the border (overland between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni) – a different experience

Bolivia does offer visa on arrival for Indians, but for a fee. If you are landing at La Paz airport, this is a great option. But if you are overlanding, getting it from a consulate is really easy and preferable any day.
I traveled with an Indian guy from Chile to Bolivia near San Pedro de Atacama. So I wanted to write about his visa on arrival experience to enter Bolivia. I already had a Bolivia visa from Santiago, so my case was very straight forward.
This person was only going to Bolivia on a four day guided tour and was returning to Chile at the end of it, so this experience may not apply to everyone. We all booked the tour in San Pedro and I was going to continue to stay in Bolivia. All the tour operators in San Pedro will tell you that you can get visa at the border and show you a chart that says how much the visa costs. According to the chart, it costs $30 for us. So, at the border, this Indian guy was told that they cannot issue the visa there and that he would have to get it at Uyuni (the nearest city to the border). They did not stamp his passport. At Uyuni, he goes to the Migracion office and asks them for visa. They say that he can pay the fee and they only give him a stamped tourist card for 4 days. They don’t stamp his passport. They take the $30 and there is absolutely no receipt for it. At the end of four days, they let him get out without another stamp. We all think that this is a quick way to make an undocumented $30 and that this has happened before. Spanish was a big problem here and no one spoke English, so I guess if he insisted and knew how to, he would have had a proper visa on his passport at the border or at Uyuni. This border is nothing more than a small shed in the middle of nowhere, so I am not surprised that they did not have the facilities to issue a visa.
So yes, Bolivia VOA at border is definitely possible. However,
  • Please be sure you get your passport & your tourist card (a little form you fill out at the entrance) stamped and a receipt for your fee. Be persistent!
  • We have been asked elsewhere in Bolivia by Migracion people to show our passports (they do random checks in hotels) and they look for all these stamps.
  • Write out some important statements in Spanish to use at the border (important)
  • If you are part of a tour group, ensure you communicate this to your tour guide at the destination. They will be an important resource in helping you with communication.


Why you should see the Kuelap ruins in Peru (Kuelap vs Machu Picchu)

In 2011, a million people visited Machu Picchu (MP). That is quite a lot of tourists! And justifiably so… Machu Picchu is old, enigmatic, located amidst immense natural beauty and Cuzco is a really charming base to visiting tourists. It is also draws people who want to simply trek the Inca trail, a really ancient trail used by the Incans to get to MP. When I saw dreamy Che in Motorcycle Diaries years ago, I decided that I simply have to go there one day.

However, there is a gem in Northern Peru – the Kuelap ruins which gave me an entirely different perspective! We saw both MP and Kuelap and at the end of it we decided that we’d rather skip MP, but not skip Kuelap. Again, to put confused minds at rest, both are really beautiful places and you will not regret visiting either of them.


MP is really crowded. Its a world famous attraction and people world wide come to see it. You’ll try to go in a meditative state and visualize life there 300 years ago, only to be brought back to reality by a loud tour guide with his group that just passed by. We had  a tour guide in Kuelap, but the day we visited, 30 people visited the ruins.


Kuelap is a better deal for backpackers on a budget. You have to go spend the night at Aguas Caliente to be able to get to MP early in the morning. AC is a VERY expensive town where rates are in dollars! From AC it is a steep uphill walk for 2 hours (for the unfit) or pay $9 per ticket for the 20 minute ride up. $9 sounds cheap, but in the rest of the country you’ll pay 9 soles for a similar ride. A sandwich at MP food court, the most basic version, cost me 20 soles. Cheapest train tickets to Aguas Caliente from Cuzco cost $48/way.
In comparison, a sightseeing trip to Kuelap including entrance fees, guide, food (excellent veg fare customized for us – placed orders on the way to the ruins, had lunch upon return), transportation all in a day’s time cost us 160 soles or $62 approximately (2012).

Getting There

Its easy to fly into Cuzco, but not Chachapoyas. Getting to Chacha is not as easy to But Chachapoyas to Kuelap is a breeze if you book a tour or even if you just take a taxi/combi. To get to MP from Cuzco, you have to:

1) Book a train ride to Aguas Caliente. Stay at over priced Aguas Caliente so that you can check out the ruins early in the morning. No roads go to AC.
2) Hike the Inca trail. 4 days of walking is great if thats what you want, but a lot of people agree that there are several other fantastic hikes all over Peru (in the Cuzco area, in Colca Canyon and in Huaraz). Inca trail will set you back by $500, while Inca Jungle Trek, a just as much fun option, costs less than $200.
3) Take the bus to some place near Santa Maria and walk 2-3 hours from there to Aguas Caliente along the railway tracks. Not easy to plan with public transport, but not impossible either.

From Chachapoyas, there are collectivos and taxis going to Kuelap.

I loved Machu Pichu itself, but I was not enamored by the crowds, the very high un-backpacker costs or the not-for-public-transport tag it carries.


Kuelap is older and bigger than MP and is in remarkably good shape. 
Kuelap was built by the Chachapoyan people long before the Incans came into the picture. They eventually did and ousted the Chachapoyans and ruled over them, thereby exerting their influences on the the architecture.


W Trek in Torres Del Paine, Patagonia for an inexperienced hiker

To my utter chagrin (and inspiration), I only encounter super fit hikers where ever I go. Why is that? I am the slowest hiker on the trail and never the fittest, so the timings other people quote never applies to me. So here is a very slow and relaxed hikers guide to the W trek in Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile. I also drew a map showing what’s what. It felt great to be able to complete the trek and the next few posts will be about how to accomplish this.

Day 1 – Puerto Natales

  • The bus from Puerto Natales picked us up at our hostel in the morning (I think 8 AM) and drove us to the national park entrance, where we paid our entrance fees of 15000 chilean pesos/person. The bus ticket from Austral Glacier cost 12000 chilean pesos/person.
  • Continued on the same bus to the Catamaran @ 12000/person to Refugio Paine Grande
  • Hiked from 12.30 PM to 6.40 PM
  • Arrived at Refugio Gray around 5 PM
  • Camped at Las Guardas
  • Rained all night!
  • Be the last to enter so that you can get to your backpack first.
  • Pay catamaran fees on the boat itself. 

Day 2 – Las Guardas campsite

  • Broke camp very late. Very rainy and wet
  • 1 hour walk back to Refugio Gray
  • 4.25 hours to Paine Grande
  • 2.5 hours to Italiano
  • 7.5 to 8 hours of hiking in the entire day
  • Wet in the morning, sunny in the afternoon
  • No turn-back in Italiano if you arrive late. Free campsite, but clean and pretty.

Day 3 – Valle Del Frances

  • Swami hiked up to the 2nd mirador (~5 hours)
  • Niru hiked up to 1st mirador (~2.5 hours)
  • Left campsite at 4 pm.
  • Arrived at Cuernos at 6.45 PM.
  • Rainy, sunny, windy!!

Day 4: Cuernos campsite and view of the Cuernos

  • Longest day of hiking!
  • 10.15 AM – started from Cuernos campsite
  • 2 PM – Arrived at shortcut to Chileno refugio (after one large uphill climb and a downhill. Lot of flat walking after the shortcut, followed by steady uphill)
  • 5.00 PM – arrived at Chileno campsite
  • 6.45 PM – arrived at Torres campsite (mostly uphill)
  • Camped @ Torres campsite

Day 5: Torres Campsite

  • Woke up 4.40 AM to view sunrise at Las Torres, the parks most popular view point.
  • Started walk at 5.45 AM (did a small bit of packing)
  • Reached las torres at 6.50 AM
  • very cloudy and very uphill; could not see the torres at all; very disappointed
  • Returned to campsite, packed and left at 9.15 AM
  • Reached Chileno at 10.15 AM
  • Arrived at W trail entrance @ 12 PM
  • Bus to Puerto Natales at 2.30 PM

Visiting Mt. Chimborazo in Ecuador

Visiting Mt. Chimborazo is an unusual tourist activity. It didnt take us too long to realize that it is not typically done by most tourists. The only folks who want to visit it are serious hikers or people who have hired a car to hike some distance up the mountain and be back by evening.

Construction ongoing at park entrance, mist because of 4500+ m altitude

Getting To Riobamba:

The nearest town to Mt. Chimborazo is Riobamba, Ecuador. It is a 2 hour bus ride from Baños to Riobamba. Its very easy to find $1 taxis here, so we took one to our hotel. It is a 5 to 5.5 hour bus ride from Cuenca. 

Stay in Riombamba:

We stayed at Hostal Oasis – a nice place with pretty rooms, friendly staff and a nice courtyard. 

Eat at Riobamba:

Be wary of finding decent food in the evenings at Riobamba. All restaurants were closed. We finally stumbled upon a lady selling empañadas outside a door and on enquiry, she led us into a family run small restaurant. We quickly found ourselves being approached a friendly group of three young siblings who spoke flawless english. Daniel, the youngest, simply walked up to us and asked “Do you speak english?”

Getting to Chimborazo:

To go to Chimborazo mountain, take a bus going to Guarande from Terminal Terrestre. Buses take about 1 hour up (and 45 minutes back). The bus drops you off in the middle of nowhere, but exposes you to magnificent views of Ecuador’s tallest mountain.
From the road, you can see the entrance to the national park. In 2011, this entrance area was seeing some new construction, probably a new park entrance office with waiting area and a ranger. There are two ‘refugios’ on the mountain – refuge hut. 
  • The first hut is 8 kms from the main road, on a very steady incline. The refuge hut is a well maintained structure, with a friendly ranger who lives there several days a month and takes turns with other park rangers. He sells soup, noodles and other simple foods.
  • The second refuge hut is 200 meters higher than the first hut and is a 40-60 minute walk.
  • Both refuge huts have flush toilets. The first one also has a kitchen with snacks and hot soup for sale.
First refuge hut

Second refuge hut

Inside the refuge hut. What a haven for hikers!

Tips for Chimborazo:

Leave after a heavy breakfast. Pack lunches, snacks and water to last the day. Hike if possible, the altitude is really really high and you feel every bit of it.

What To Do in Baños, Ecuador

Baños is located on the slopes of a volcano. People here are used to volcanic activity and treat it like just another part of life. Its very common to see signs of escape routes along the town. BUT – with all that volcanic activity comes rich soil, incredible verdant scenary, great produce and a cool climate. While you enjoy that, there are all these adventure activities to try out that cost a fraction of what they cost elsewhere. Paragliding for $60? Yes!
Then there are the baths the town is named after. These are baths fed by thermal springs due to the volcano, but we did not get to try it out. I did go for a massage and a pedicure – massage centers and spas are plentiful, do try them out.
Getting there:

From Latacunga to Baños, take a bus to Ambato and then to Baños. ~2hrs and $2

To see/to do:
  • Hiked up to bellavista and back. Go straight on Av. Maldonado toward the mountain and keep going up the trail. ~40 minutes to go up. Incredible views.
  • Downhill biking. $4-$7/day. Go up to Cascada Pailon and get a truck ride back with bike for $1.50. Do not use tunnels while biking. There are paths on the side.
  • Two ways to enter cascada – When coming from Baños, enter the way after the bridge. Not before. Lot of restaurants near the restaurant for a meal before the truck ride back.
  • Canopy or bridge jumping – no need to go through a tour operator. Just go to the spot where the activity takes place and pay and do it right there. You can see all this while biking to Puyo.
To Eat:
  • Helado de Paila. Very cheap and sin leche. Ambato y Maldonado.
  • Meeting point coffee shop – owned by German (yes, no article – thats the owners name). Many veg choices. German is great to talk to. He has been all over the world. Alfaro entre Ambato y Oriente
  • Casa Hood – Great variety of vegetarian food, vegan friendly. Has a small library in the store which offers book exchange. While Swami went rafting and I didnt feel like going, I got a leisurely lunch here and then went to the spa for a massage.
  • El Paisano – Highly rated vegetarian restaurant on Tripadvisor. Offers wholesome and unprocessed meals. The friendly owner is also an artist and sells some of his artwork in the premises.
  • Cafe Good – Like casa hood and veg friendly, but we didnt eat here.
  • I saw a lot of street stalls selling jugo de caña.
  • Check out the indoor market – tons of cute stalls selling produce, juice and snacks.
MTS adventures (av 16 de deciembre y Luis A Martinez)
Rafting – $20
Ziplining – $17
Parapente/paragliging – $55
Bridgejumping – $10 while downhill biking
Downhill biking – $4/pp
To Stay:
Maria Princessa. $7 per person per room. A typical dinner at El Paisano costs $13 for two.
This is a really cool hostel – its a bit of an uphill walk from the main plaza, but Baños is so perfect, you wont mind it. The owner is Ecuadorian, but studied in Ukraine and hence fluent in Russian, English and German for some reason. Really smart and enterprising fellow. He will give you very good travel tips. Look for the wall that has greetings in all languages from past travelers. I left my mark in Tamil and Sanskrit. :)

Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Every now and then during our sojourn in South America, we’d go on a multi-day trip that leaves us disconnected from the rest of the world. When we ’emerge’ from such trips, for lack of a better word, our perspectives about life in general changes a lot – there is something about being unplugged. One such trip was the Quilotoa loop in central Ecuador.
For almost a day, Swami and I part ways where he goes trekking from one village to another and I choose to take the bus. Both of us end up having a very good experience, but I’ll mainly write about mine.

Lake Quilotoa

The loop can be anything you want – a trek, a walk, a bunch of loosely connected bumpy rides – all through the rugged countryside of central Ecuador, in Cotopaxi county. During the time we went, we saw only a handful of travelers after day one, and even those folks had hired a car for a day trip.

If you are ever in Ecuador, forget about time, go the full loop – either by road transport or by walk (if you have company) and it will show you an unforgettable side of Ecuador and travel in general. I have so much to say about these few days that I hope you will bear with me and read the entire bit.

What is the Quilotoa Loop?

It is a path that travelers take that mostly originates in Latacunga, Ecuador and winds eastward towards Laguna Quilotoa (lake Quilotoa) and after an overnight stay there, leads to the village of Chugchillan. From Chugchillan, one can go to the tiny town of Sigchos. From Sigchos there are regular buses back to Latacunga.

Laguna Quilotoa is a beautiful crater lake. The transportation in the entire circuit is very infrequent, so its best to carry warm clothing, rain proof clothes and snacks (dried fruit, bocadillo etc.).

Bus Latacunga to Quilotoa

Enroute scenery

Latacunga to Quilotoa

Latacunga is the base for this trip. Infrequent buses from Latacunga reache Quilotoa early in the afternoon – inquire at the bus stop as soon as you arrive at Latacunga. When we reached the lake, it was raining heavily. So we decided to check out one of the restaurants there. To picture the place, it really looks like the middle of nowhere with a few hotels near the entrance to the lake. The village is really small with one or two roads and a few establishments that advertise food and stay. These hotels are family owned and we stayed at Hostal Chukirawa right by the lake. The room cost includes a home cooked meal by the owners. The people here speak Quechua and are dressed in the traditional attire of a black skirt with embroidery, white blouse, colorful jewelry and long socks!

Our accommodation in Quilotoa

We walked down to the base of the lake – its about 30 minutes down and 1 hour up. The views are incredible all around – the scenery here is unparalleled. If you just want to stay here an entire day and trek the entire rim, thats possible too.

Hiking up – I am striking a pose, though in reality it is to mask my exhaustion
The path to the bus stop is on the left, the lake is on the right

Quilotoa to Chugchillan

While we were there, it rained a lot. So the following morning, amidst heavy rains, Swami spotted a couple from New Zealand who were setting out to walk to Chugchillan. We decided to part ways here. Swami continued forward by foot, while I stayed back to take only bus for the day – a 2 pm bus to Chugchillan.  But the bus can be up to one hour early! Afraid of missing the bus, I walked to the road where the bus passes, only to be met by steady rain and no place to take shelter on the isolated village road. Not even a single awning. Finally, after walking a bit more, I found a little shop, more a house really. A very small house. Two men were waiting there. After confirming that the bus is yet to pass, they invited me to share the tiny space to stay dry. Eventually, I was where I was from. (We always see wonder when we tell we are from India, and the next question invariably is how far it is to fly there.) We swapped family stories. The young Quechua man had 10 siblings! He taught me how to say a few words in Quechua. It helped pass time while the bus arrived. 
On the way during Swami’s walk

Getting stuck and unstuck in the mud

The road to Chugchillan is really bad and not a tourist in sight. The locals are mostly indigenous Quechua people living in the villages around the loop. I realized that the locals rely on this bus for so many things. It was very interesting to watch life unfold around me. Moms in their typical traditional attire cart kids around on their backs. Old men with sun ravaged skin huddle close in their jackets to stay warm. The bus is the only way to transport essentials – sacks of rice, maize, corn and even a bag of live chickens made its way to the bus. People are ever courteous – they shout “gracias” loudly to the driver when their stop comes. The gratitude comes first you see – no stop, no excuse me, just thank you.
Due to heavy rain and road building activity, the bus had to be helped out of potholes twice. Once it was helped by a forklift nearby and once all the women got out of the bus and walked ahead while the men pushed it out of the pothole. People do this all like clockwork – clearly they didnt get stuck for the first time. 
Elsewhere, such delays would be inconceivable. I cant help but marvel at how easy people take things far far away from big cities. My camera stayed inside all this time due to the rains, so my words will just have to suffice in painting the picture my mind now sees.
A $1 ride that I will never forget!
When I reach Chugchillan, I see Swami waiting for me by the road. He had secured a place to stay at the lovely Mama Hilda hostel. I was ready to wind down for the day. We settle by the fire in the common room, swap stories over hot tea and relax for the rest of the day.
mama hilda hostel

Chugchillan to Sigchos – riding in the back of a milk truck

After a beautiful, refreshing stay at Chugchillan’s Mama Hilda Hostal, we get to know that we can take the milk truck back to Sigchos. The milk truck is our only way as the bus to Sigchos goes past at 4 AM!!! Yes, 4 AM. But the milk truck goes by Chugchillan anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30 AM. After breakfast, we wait for the milk truck from 8 AM. It finally makes it way after a long wait. Turns out, the milk truck is the way all the locals sell their milk. There are huge containers in the truck and it makes frequent stops all along the way and collects milk in anything from plastic water bottles to huge metal tins. The milk is then filtered through a cloth into a tub and there are many such tubs. People huddle around the bus to catch a ride and so did we. The ride to Sigchos was an adventure by itself. At Sigchos, we found a place to eat – we had the company of the Kiwi couple, who we’d continue to meet during our travels – all the way south in Patagonia!
Milk Truck
Ecuadorian ladies and a milk truck
Milk truck!
From Sigchos, there are many buses to Latacunga. Just find the way to the bus terminal and ask!

Iquitos: Back to Land

When we arrived at Iquitos, I was tired and ready for a few days on land. We had spent way too much time on the river and I was craving decent vegetarian food that wasn’t made of plantains and wanted to just enjoy a nice air conditioned room (remember, it was really hot, but it would also rain every now and then). So you can never really step out without your rain jacket.

We checked into a hotel that we randomly found, as we hadn’t done any research. But we headed to the restaurant “Dawn on the amazon” for this meal:

A meal with fresh guacamole after forever!

Sam, one of our travel companions and I wanted a very specific vegetarian pizza at Chez Maggi, Iquitos. Not knowing how to explain to the waitress, we drew her a circle on our notebook and indicated the toppings on each side. The pizza was perfect! Mine is the cheese-less side, with mushrooms. Sam’s is the cheesy side, minus the mushrooms. Say that in Spanish, now!

Pizza at Chez Maggi

Riding the local bus from Quistaquocha

Las Boras – a day trip on the boat from Iquitos

The floating village of Belen

How will they bring this out?

The market at Belen

Interesting ways to buy oil. I like the variety.

Just like India

Another vegetarian meal

Mamey – the local version of sapota

We discovered Iguana Haus shortly after our first day. They had excellent air conditioned, clean rooms for 40 soles, with wifi and kitchen. We cooked several meals here. We decided to fly to Lima from here on as time was running short and our visa for Chile would be expiring soon.

So we walked around the airline companies and finally bought tickets to Lima for USD 170 for two people. Not a bad deal within a few days notice. We just hung out with Sam and Law and eventually met Cat for the first time! We’d go on to meet Cat later in Peru and go on the Inca Jungle Trek with her and almost eight months later, she’d come to India and stay at our place in Bangalore! Travel friends are so much fun!

Vegetarian food to try out at Iquitos:

  • Dawn on the amazon
  • Yellow Rose Texas
  • Pizza Chez Maggy will make Pizza whatever way you like
  • There is a veg resto on Jr. San Martin between Jr. Prospero and Ramirez Hurtado
  • Rest. Vegetariano Darshan on Jr. 2nd De Mayo between Av. Elias Aguirre and Av. Miguel Grau – near plaza 28 de Julio.


  • We went to Las Boras and Quistacocha. Las Boras is an Amazonian tribe which tourists can see and interact with the tribe members. I dont think we’d go specially for this, but if you have time to kill, why not?
  • Quistacocha is a big zoo and entertainment park. Okay to go. Kids will enjoy.
  • Belen – the market is very interesting. The floating village is okay, but gives a very different perspective on how people live. I would recommend going as a group.

Complete Guide to Quilotoa Loop, Ecuador

Some information about the Quilotoa Loop and how to go about doing it. There are many ways to do it. Here, with this plan, you can do it even if you do not want to trek, but just want a very different experience.

Nearest big city is Latacunga. From the terrace of Hostal Tiana, you can get a clear view of the Cotopaxi. Latacunga has a vibrant market and plenty of ‘peluquerias’. 

Quito to Latacunga:

From Quito’s Terminal Quitumba – its the last stop on the troll bus on circuits C2 and C4. Buses are color coded and 25 c a ride. Wait for empty trole. 1.50 ticket + 0.20 terminal fee. Really swanky bus terminal. Looks better than many airports sans long security lines. Ticket counter 20/21 have tickets for Latacunga. 1.5 hr bus ride. Hostal Tiana very cute place to stay. Bunks are really spacious and have reading lamps.


  • Bus from Latacunga departs at 11 AM. Terminal #16 Vivero bus.
  • Bus costs $2.50 per person and there is a bus later in the afternoon. There is also a minivan that leaves for Latacunga around 3 PM.
  • Around 1.30 PM to 2.30 PM, there is a bus that goes to Chugchillan from Quilotoa. Need to wait from 1.30 pm on the street.
  • Latacunga to Quilotoa bus timings – 10, 11.30, 2 and 3.30
  • Hostal Chukirawa @ $10/person including breakfast and dinner. Clean rooms. 


  • Mama Hilda hostel – food + stay @ $30/2 people. There are other hostels too.
  • Lovely hostel with great hosts
  • Milk truck leaves at 8.30-9.30 AM in the morning to Sigchos. Or early AM bus ~ 4.30 AM. $2/person.
  • Bus ride to Chugchillan @ $1


  • Bus from Latacunga to Sigchos @ $1.80/person. Easily available from the bus terminal. 
  • We walked into a nice restaurant at Sigchos and requested them to make me a vegetarian meal. $3.60 for 2.

Lagunas – where time stands still

We finally made it Iquitos, 12 days after we left Chachapoyas. I felt like we had lost a sense of time and left all that we knew far far behind. Being in the Amazonas makes you feel very isolated, even when you are surrounded by tons of people. Life is so laid back out here, but people have jobs and lead real, full lives. There are many foreign tourists in Iquitos, enjoying a laid back life. I couldn’t help but wonder, how will I ever move back to busy corporate world after this?

Main street, Lagunas

Jungle tour office information

Boat office timings – Lagunas

Breakfast at Lagunas

Near the “port”

Village boys throwing water balloons at the boat to Iquitos

Our boat

Waiting to get off!

Finally, Iquitos!

 When we finished our jungle trip in Iquitos around noon on 31st Jan, 2012 – there was a moto waiting to take us back to Lagunas, a 25 minute ride through extremely bumpy roads. We walked right up to the port, only to discover that there are no boats the following day! Apparently, this is very normal. There are simply no boats to Iquitos on all days! And here we were, stuck in charming, but severely limited in choices Lagunas. Its very important to find out the boat timing schedule ahead of time. The rest of our travel companions were still in the jungle, choosing to stay one day longer than that. So, we decided to chill in Lagunas. There are power cuts here and there is no internet, so really not much to do other than read, write or just hang out.

Lagunas is so unlike any other place we have ever been to. Its incredibly basic and hot and there is nothing much to do except walk around. There are a few stores on the main street leading to the really small “port”, and a few hotels for people who work on development projects. There is a plaza de Armas and the restaurants are really hole in the walls or homes converted into makeshift eateries.

Amazon Jungle: Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Lagunas, Peru

There are many ways to experience the Amazon jungle in South America. Before we started our travels, the Amazon was one of the top things we wanted to see. When I mention Amazon throughout this blog, I usually refer to the Amazon basin, not the specific river itself, though we did get the opportunity to go on the river once in Iquitos.
Cute little monos in Pacaya Samiria NR

The Amazon basin is so big, you can take a trip through it from one of several COUNTRIES. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia all have huge areas of “selva” or jungle that tourists can go to. This is not an exhaustive list, I am sure. We skipped Colombia right away as we had researched that selva trips from there are not safe. Ecuador didn’t work out due to timing issues. But in Peru, we were finally able to realize our dream. We zeroed down on the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, as it is not far from Chachapoyas, and it is also on the way to Iquitos, a city that is connected to the rest of the world only by water and air, not land. 

Getting to Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, Peru

There are different ways to book a trip into this reserve – either from Iquitos or from Yurimaguas. When booking the trip from Yurimaguas, your starting point will be the tiny village of Lagunas, which is an eight hour boat ride from Yurimaguas. There are different authorized tour agencies who can take you into the selva (jungle), and all of them have a presence in Lagunas and Yurimaguas.

We booked our selva trip with Huayruru Tours. We first contacted them via email and received a quote from them before visiting their office in Yurimaguas. We also joined a few other travelers in Yuri – Sam and Law – the cousins from England and an English couple who all made excellent travel companions. We stayed overnight in Yurimaguas as the boat to Lagunas leaves early in the morning and we needed a day to get money and supplies – hammock, a lunch box, medicines (moquito repellant), snacks and other sundry items. Definitely make sure you are well stocked on toothpaste, mouthwash and other hygiene items. There is nothing available in the jungle and Lagunas is not a safe bet – you may/may not find things.

The boat from Yurimaguas to Lagunas

If possible, go to the port the previous day to confirm the boat leaves the following morning. The boat may or may not leave the following day. The ticket cost us 25 soles. Hammock is compulsory as there are no seats on the boat (or lancha, in spanish). There is plenty of space to hang hammocks in an organized manner in rows.  Get to the boat well ahead of time as you’ll find a good spot for your hammock. There are people available to help you hook up a hammer for 3 or 4 soles on the boat. Or you can do it yourself. The boat ride is typically 8-10 hours long. Restrooms on the boat use river water and are not the cleanest. They will do for an emergency, but its best to be planned. :)

Hammocks strung in the boat to Lagunas
The path to Lagunas

In Lagunas, someone from Huayruru tours will be available to pick you up and take you to the office, if you have notified ahead of time in Yurimaguas. In the office, you will get details about the jungle trip and you can negotiate a bit. This is where you will state your dietary preferences, decide how long your trip should be and this is where you will leave your bags. They put us all up in a couple of local hotels. Lagunas doesnt have too many of those! Breakfast is provided the following morning before starting the trip.

The Jungle Trip

Transportation to park entrance

We started early next morning from our hotel and the tour company will take us in a moto-taxi : a motorbike outfitted with a cart of some sort. We then stop at the park entrance and get our permits. Our canoes are loaded with food for the next 5-6 days. All our bags are back in the tour office and we are asked to bring very limited luggage. Just one or two change of clothes for the night, rain gear and medicines, mosquito repellant etc. When we went, the water level was very high – so we did almost no walking during our trip. It was all on the boat and we stopped at campsites along the way for the night. We returned to Laguna after a 5 day stop in the jungle.

The Huayruru tours office in Lagunas. Hammock space on top for travelers to wait.

Accommodation for a night in the jungle

Our transport for the next 5 days

Victoria Regis – strong enough to hold a baby without sinking!

Gear for the trip for the customers and the guides

Food – clearly, we mostly ate plantains

 Our jungle trip was a very low key experience. We were very close to the water throughout, on canoes. We ate simple food and stayed in very basic lodging. And we encountered very few tourists (<10). Our guides were fantastic and we spotted some really beautiful bird life and monkeys. Our choice of timing was a bit unfortunate, as the water level was too high to see jaguars or puma, but when we went to sleep, we heard the mono rojo (red monkey) which roars like a lion and one hot evening, we stopped by a secluded part of our campsite and dipped an old mug into the river and bathed like in an Indian movie from the 70’s. The memory was truly unforgettable!

Cost of Jungle trip: ~100 soles per person per night. Includes three meals. Vegetarian possible, though you will all get sick of the food by the end of the trip. Interestingly, everyone opted for a vegetarian meal on our trip. But some folks chose to have some freshly caught fish right from the river.