Author Archives: Nirupama Srinivasan

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Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

For the unplanned visitor to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail is often not the best way to go. The Inca trail gets booked months in advance, is closed in February and is very expensive (at least $500 per person and climbing up each year). We did not want to be restricted by booking the inca trail in advance as we had no idea when we’d be in Peru.

Yes, we biked down that road!
Relaxing on hamacas at one of the lunch stops after long hours of hiking
Cat – powerful but effortless hiker, most of us struggled to keep up with her
Steep narrow verdant hiking paths
Our patient and charismatic guide, Ebert
Relaxing at a hot spring towards the end of the day

When we arrived in Cuzco (we used the 20+ hour Cruz Del Sur bus service) it was already February and the Inca trail was closed. We have heard about a lot of other beautiful treks in the region, so we didnt think it was particularly important to go on the Inca trail. Some of the other treks offered from Cuzco are:

  • Salkantay trek – long, hard and very beautiful
  • Choquequirao trek – leading to the ruins of the same name. A shorter, far less common trek. I came to know about this when it got featured on the New York Times years ago. You can continue from the ruins for a few more days to get to Machu Picchu.
  • Ausangate – Ausangate and Vilcabamba are harder and more off the beaten track.
  • Vilcabamba
In addition to these treks, the Huaraz region in Peru offers fantastic trekking (Cordillera Huayhuash/Blanca etc.). Keeping all this in mind, the structure and complexity around the Inca trail didnt really appeal to us. Given it was February, none of these options were open to us anyway. We finally discovered the Inca jungle trek – a biking/hiking combo trek through tropical jungles that leads to Aguas Calientes. And it cost a fraction of the Inca Trail at $180.
Other aspects of the trek:
  • No camping. You get to stay in small family owned lodges every night. The lodge will prepare your meal based on your request.
  • You carry your own stuff – we packed a very light day pack with just a change of clothes.
  • In the villages you can buy stuff
  • You’ll walk next to the roaring river on several occasions, sometimes crossing it on bridges
  • The food was really good. Simple vegetarian fare was very easy to get.
  • Its not cold! Except for the first day and the last day, the weather is tropical and heavenly.

Inca Jungle Trek

The Inca Jungle Trek sees four days of fun filled action and costs ~ $180. We booked our tour at the Loki hostel tour booking desk. Anyone is welcome. They pick you up in the morning of day 1 at Loki and other designated spots and here is a rough overview:
Day 1 – pick up from Loki hostel, drive past ollantaytambo to a high altitude spot at 4200 meters + at Abra Malaga. Crazy and fun downhill bike ride from here. When the ride ends at a village, you get lunch and a small walk later, rest for the day.
Day 2 – long walking day. Involves a very beautiful section on an old Inca trail. One of the rest stops is a small house with hammocks and a monkey. A visit to a hot springs along the way. Mostly in jungle, so the weather is great.
Day 3 – Some more walking and you arrive at the hydroelectrica station near Aguas Calientes. You can take the train if you are tired, but we walked along the rail road tracks for a few hours. Sleep at Aguas Calientes.
Day 4 – Early AM walk/bus to Machu Picchu. Bus cost is not included. Guided tour at MP. Return to Aguas Caliente for evening train back to Ollantaytambo (train fare included). Bus transport to Cuzco (included in fare).
More details here – we booked it through these guys by simply walking to the hostel where our British friend we met in Iquitos was staying.
The trek was really well organized and was a great experience. We had excellent company – in fact, there were two Chilean girls whom we met again in Santiago and an English girl who visited us during her travels in India much later. It rained a lot, but we’d dry off quickly once the sun came out.

Inca Jungle Trek or Inca Trail?

Everyone who visits Peru want to try the Inca trail. While I dont deny for a second that it would be a great experience to be on the historic trail to Machu Picchu, I think its not an easy trek to plan, unless you are exclusively visiting Peru or have rigid timelines. If you are looking for simply a great experience and an opportunity to be amidst natural beauty to forget the rigors of daily life, the Inca jungle trek works just as well! I am quite sure you wont regret doing either trek. Given a chance, I’d happily do the Inca jungle trek again.
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Cuzco and Machu Picchu…assorted thoughts and pictures

After two months of backpacking in South America, some of it through really off tun-touristy areas, we finally reached Cuzco and the first thing we noticed were the number of tourists/travelers/backpackers. The semi cama seats on the Cruz Del Sur bus from Lima to Cuzco was luxurious and I was pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian food served to me on the bus. Yes, the bus has an attendant, a restroom and food served to your seat! I slept through most of the 20+ hours from Lima. The bus was filled with foreign tourists, mostly carrying heavy backpacks and the bus station at Lima has a check in facility for bags. Its not much different from an airport really.

Once in Cuzco, it hit us quickly how much more expensive everything is compared to the rest of Peru we’ve been in. The food, the lodging, the tour prices are in dollars, the shopping! Cuzco is a vibrant tourist base – you can see that its a really old city and has so many plazas and beautiful buildings and museums. One can wander around for a few days and still not see everything. Machu Picchu is mentioned everywhere – tour operators abound near the central plaza and one has to be careful before choosing one. We made several trips to iPeru office on the plaza to understand how the tours work and whats the best way to pick a good company. As I described in a different post, we finally settled down for the Inca Jungle Trek from Loki hostel to visit Machu Picchu. iPeru has been a reliable source of tourist info for us across Peru. They are very hard to locate on the central plaza – do ask around, I think it is the same building as the BBVA continental office. There are many other tourist info offices nearby and the information is not all that good.

To see all the ruins nearby and museums in the city, you need a Boleto Touristico which costs 130 soles. We gave this a skip as we’d recently seen many ruins and wanted to just take some day trips out of Cuzco.
Just the train ride to Machu Picchu costs $70 round trip. All tour prices are in dollars in Cuzco. A budget trip to Machu Picchu is not very easy to do! Entrance fees cost 140 soles and 70 soles if you have an ISIC card.
Cuzco has great veg food options. There is a popular Indian restaurant here called Maikhana at Av El Sol on the 2nd floor. El Encuentro has 6 sole dinners and is located on Santa Catalina Ancha 384. There is a very nice Govindas on Saphy street. The folks at Maikhana own Om Cusco on Calle Saphy 661, where you pay for the meal at your discretion. All proceeds go towards feeding poor children in the area. Our favorite though which we repeatedly went to was Prasada – literally a hole in the wall spot in an apartment building on 152 Choquechacha. Awesome lentil burgers here and very pleasant people staff the place. No place to sit, so be prepared to stand or take away.

Chinchero market find

Lentil burger with guacamole at Prasada
Markets in Cuzco are fun. Explore and spot all the cool products made out of quinoa, maca and amaranth that you will not find elsewhere.
We took a day trip to Chinchero. Bus rides cost 2.5 soles per person one way. The market is small and interesting, but there are some lunch ladies who will sell you food. I snagged a plate of greens with broad beans for <2 soles.
From Aguas Caliente, bus rides to Machu Picchu cost $9 one way. At the top, a simple sandwich costs 20 soles.
For our stay in Cuzco, tucked away in a small alley, we found a family run hotel called Jardines Del Inka. They have a kitchen and private rooms for 40 soles after a small bargaining session. Mostly frequented by Chilean and other south american tourists.

Protecting Against Loss During Long Term Travel (and What Travel Insurance to buy)

I wrote about getting robbed in Calama, Chile here and here. A recent comment from a reader reminded me to write this post about how to protect yourself from theft.

In a nutshell, its nearly impossible to make your travel 100% theft-proof. But you can plan so that its nothing more than an unfortunate inconvenience.


I may be the most careful, paranoid person in the world, but someone out there is smarter and is making a living out of stealing. That guy is hard to beat, unfortunately. Swami and I went through a period of retrospection during those countless bus rides immediately after the theft, where we’d keep telling each other “Never again will I do this….” or “Next time, lets not forget to scan that document…”. I wanted to compile some of those lessons learned here, for when you need them, you really really need them.


Here are some tips to ensure that if a theft does occur, you get back on track quickly.

Buy Travel Insurance

Like I said before, we are incredibly glad we got trip insurance. There are plenty of companies and plans out there to choose from, but we purchased ours from worldnomads. They ended up being great to deal with and covered our losses up to the limits specified in the policy, just as they promised. The insurance we bought covered the following:

  • Things we lost – laptop, DSLR camera, lenses, tablet, other electronic accessories
  • Trip interruption – food and hotel costs for the days it to took to recover our travel documents, eg. passport, green card etc.
  • Airfare – one of us had to reschedule our flights, so the insurance covered some part of the cancelled fare/new fare.
  • Documents – passport application fees and Transportation letter fees
Keep policy number and phone number very handy!

Keep online copies of all important documents

When you lose a passport or green card, embassies will require a lot of documentation to replace them. Its best to have them handy on portable hard drives and/or online storage. Here are things to have VERY handy:
  • Passport – copy of ALL pages. Not just front or back page. We had only the front and back page and could not prove to the US embassy on what date we left the country last. We also had to prove to the Chilean police when we entered the country. We also lost all our visa stamps!
  • Other ID’s – drivers license, voter ID, student ID etc. Secondary IDs are sometimes asked.
  • Financial documents – bank and credit card statements. Easy to get online, but you may not have a fast internet connection to accomplish all your online needs. I was planning to use my credit card statement to show I was at LA airport on a given date to prove my residence in the US, as supporting documentation.
  • Visas of resident country – In our case scanned copy of US green card. We had green cards, but we also had all our green card application documents on online storage. Very useful.
  • Entry/Exit stamps – When traveling abroad, whenever your passport is stamped, please take a picture with your smartphone/tablet/camera and email to yourself. You will thank yourself later. We wish we did this with our Colombia entry stamps as the US embassy asked for this.
  • Other travel and identification documents – vaccinations, yellow fever certificate (required for Bolivia), copies of tickets, important receipts etc. Marriage certificate if you are married.
  • BOARDING PASS – most important! Boarding pass stubs are very important documents to store until you are done with your trip. Just a clear picture with a smartphone will do. The US embassy wanted either this or our entry/exit stamps. We had neither and had to frantically figure out other ways to prove our exit dates.

Portable hard drives in different bags

Swami did a very clever thing by getting us each a portable hard drive and backing them up regularly. By doing this, we only lost about a week’s worth of pictures on our DSLR, as our laptop was lost too. Thankfully our compact camera preserved our memories from Torres Del Paine. I highly recommend carrying portable hard drives and/or pen drives placed in different bags with some backup data.

Keep a handy list of information in your travel notebook

Dont have a travel notebook? Its better to start one and keep things like 
  • frequent flyer numbers, 
  • membership numbers and 
  • coded passport numbers etc. 
  • Numbers to your credit card and debit card institution. Our stolen backpack had a bunch of cards that had to be cancelled and we didnt have access to these numbers.
  • Insurance policy number and their phone number

Cheaper and fewer gadgets

We love technology and went overboard on the expensive toys we carried. A macbook pro, a very good Nikon DSLR and a wide angle lens, a tablet, a compact camera…the list goes on. Next time I travel, I will exclusively be using a netbook or a used old laptop just for this purpose. The MBP was meant for storing large amounts of data and video/photo editing which doesnt happen as often as one would like. Infact, I am still updating the blog a year after we completed, so the MBP was not mandatory at all! I am no travel blogger or full time writer. My blog and picture editing can wait until I return from the trip. 

Protecting in layers

Some things are very painful to lose. Passports and documents like green cards. Our passport was really easy to get, but the green card process is much much more complex. And its just a card which we could have protected easily. We have a hidden wallet, but we did not use it at that time. Having fewer critical things to protect is easier than watching a heavy backpack with gadgets. I didnt lose my hand bag and I could have kept the passports in it! You dont need one of those weird wallets, but just make sure that what needs maximum protection is lightweight and close to the body.

Carry less

A lot of what we lost was unnecessary for the purpose of travel. We simply got carried away. If we had lighter, fewer packs (one big pack, one small pack, etc), caring is much easier. You lose less, cant really refute that!

If you have had a similar experience, I’d be really eager to hear about your lessons learned.

Protect your data

  • Password protect all devices. 
  • Encode all important documentation in a folder preferably. 
  • Change all email passwords and bank passwords immediately
  • Sign up for a service that tracks devices/automatically purges information (or just bring a chromebook!)








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Packing list for the w trek in Patagonia

As a vegan trekking in Torres Del Paine, I wanted to share our food and gear list. All items are easily available in the chain supermarket called Unimarc. Since the W trek is a completely independent trek, you are responsible for carrying everything in and cooking for yourself.

Food list for W-trek, patagonia:

  1. Candy
  2. Trail Mix
  3. Dried Fruit
  4. Spicy peanuts
  5. Oat cereal bars
  6. Cereal mix oat cookies
  7. Costa muesli cookies
  8. Energy bars from Peru – found vegan energy bars in Lima!
  9. Soya cookies
  10. Dark chocolate
  11. Maggi stock cubes – checked ingredient list multiple times
  12. Soup packets
  13. Dried noodles
  14. Rice primavera instant food
  15. Tea bags
  16. Hot chocolate – 1 bar
  17. Hot breakfast drink pack from Cuzco containing local grains – excellent buy!
  18. Raisins
  19. Oats
  20. Jam (sold in blocks)
  21. Instant juice packets. Mix water to make juice.

Clothes list for one person, male or female

  1. Quick dry pant, 1
  2. T-shirt for hiking, 1
  3. Fleece pant for sleeping, 1
  4. Synthetic base layer shirt, 1
  5. Synthetic base layer pant, 1 – available at REI
  6. Rain pant
  7. Rain jacket
  8. Fleece shirt
  9. One extra t-shirt – optional
  10. Innerwear – as required

Gear:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Stove
  • One pot for cooking. Utensils. Plastic cups for drinking hot/cold.
  • Gas canisters
  • Matches

Other very helpful items to have:

  • Large plastic bag to cover the tent fly as it gets wet in the rain
  • Hooks/carabiners outside the pack to strap things
  • Camp slippers
  • Fingerless gloves
  • Minimum toiletries
  • Spare camera battery
  • Candy is great to carry handy
  • Small empty water bottle. The water in TDP is amazingly tasty and refreshes immediately, so no need to carry water.
  • No need for plates – can eat from pot directly.
  • Many plastic bags for rain proofing
  • Hiking poles
  • At least one pair of quick dry clothes
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Chilean Patagonia for Indian Citizens

You might wonder why I titled this post “Chilean Patagonia for Indian Citizens”. Torres Del Paine national park is one of South America’s most visited national parks with good reason. It brings to mind the image of rugged, uninhabitable terrain that only a few have conquered, windy weather, wild horses and glaciers. Its extraordinary beauty can only be experienced and visiting this place is one of those memorable moments that sticks to you for a long time.

However, an Indian backpacker who prefers overland travel to air travel will not find Torres Del Paine a straightforward place to visit.
The only roads leading to Torres Del Paine are from
a.       Punta Arenas
b.      From Argentina
There are no roads to TDP from Santiago which do not traverse into Argentina.
·         An Indian backpacker wanting to travel to Torres Del Paine by land should have not only a Chilean visa but also an Argentinian visa.
·         If you want to visit the rest of Chile, Torres Del Paine and Argentina, this will require multiple entry visas for BOTHcountries. This only applies to those who want to do overland travel.
·         If you only have a Chilean visa (like we did) and want to visit Patagonia, the only way to do so is to fly to Punta Arenas from Santiago. Bus travel was out of the question  as we did not have a visa to Argentina.

Punta Arenas
The super friendly owner at Don Santiago hostel  helped us book our tickets to Punta Arenas via LAN online.  Once you arrive at Punta Arenas airport, there are buses outside that will take you to the center of the town. Once there, you can get to your hostel and start preparing for your trip to Torres Del Paine.
Punta Arenas is a good place to stock up on groceries. The Unimart here is well stocked with groceries. We bought candy, cookies, dried noodles, dried pasta, nuts and dried fruits etc for the w-trek. The food choices for vegetarians in Punta Arenas were slim pickings, but I did come across on vegetarian restaurant that was closed for the weekend. Sigh! Only in South America do we find restaurants in tourist destinations closed for the weekend.
We stayed at the Blue House hostel, an Israeli bastion with mostly Israeli backpackers and signs in Hebrew and cooked at the hostel.
Isla Magdalena
From Punta Arenas you can go on the boat tour to Isla Magdalena and see the Penguins. This is as south as we’ve ever been in our lives. To our very pleasant surprise, we bump into a very friendly Indian couple from Bangalore, of all places, on the boat. Priya and Rohit live in Santiago with their dog and were enjoying a vacation to Patagonia. It was a very fun and pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The penguins are very very loud and were molting when we were there.
Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
There are many bus companies that ply buses between PA and PN. We used Fernandez Sur for …
By now, we’re used to finding hostels after arriving at a town/city. Once we got here, we just walked around the central area and looked for hostels. We found a great cheap one at Refugio Esmeralda. Just a block from it is a convenience store with all essentials – El Virgel.
Puerto Natales is a typical trekking town. You will find people walking around with extra large backpacks either going to or return from treks in TDP. It lives and breathes TDP. Every second store is an outdoor outfitter or rents/sells camping equipment. And then there are nice restaurants to celebrate your return from the trek.
If you want to do the W trek or the full circuit, head to Erratic Rock hostel for their daily briefing. It is a great information session that tells you how to do the trek. You can rent equipment from them, but we got ours from a shop here (use satellite view)  and we got excellent rates for good quality gear.
Enquire around the shops in the centro area about things like gas canisters for stoves, last minute food purchases etc. We packed our backpacks for the trek, purchased tickets to Puerto Natales, rented our equipment and left the remaining stuff at the hostel. Off we go to the W trek, something I’ve been dreaming about for years.

Some pictures from the W trek:

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.

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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.

Crowds

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.

Costs

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.

Culture

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.

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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
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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.