Self Guided Colca Canyon Trek

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Colca Canyon, approximately 160 km north-west of Arequipa, Peru. At a depth of 3270 m it is well known for being one of the deepest canyons in the world – almost twice as deep as the Grand Canyon! It is also known for being third most visited tourist destination in Peru, with approximately 120000 visitors per year. In our opinion, the best part of this attraction is the fact that it is one of the very few treks in Peru that can be done without a guide, which is a wonderful way to take a break from the sometimes-gruelling schedule of a guided trek.

When To Go

Rainy Season (December – March) It is possible to trek the canyon any time of year. Crowds during this season are fewer, vegetation is green and lush, and prices for accommodation can be lower.
Dry Season (April – August) Good trail conditions, but pack warm, temperatures during this time can drop down to below freezing at night. Condors are said to also be the most active during this time.
High Season (July – October) Sunny days, cool nights. Night time temperatures tend to be less frigid after the month of August, and day-time temperatures can be scorching.

Attractions

Throughout the Colca Canyon, layers upon layers of stepped terraces can be seen. These terraces are still maintained and cultivated by locals today. The canyon is also home to some unique bird species, perhaps the most notable being the Giant Andean Condor (vulture) which can sometimes be seen in the masses near the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint. As the name suggests, these condors are massive, with wing spans ranging roughly from 2.0 to 2.5 m. Other notable species include the giant hummingbird, the Andean goose, and the Chilean flamingo.

Getting There

 How about another bus ride? To get to Cabanconde, a small town near the canyon, and the main hub for accessing most trailheads leading into the canyon, you have the following options:

 Local Bus

This will cost approximately 17 PEN/person. Note that tickets cannot be purchased online, but are available for purchase from the Terminal Terrestre in Arequipa. The bus schedule tends to change, so it wouldn’t hurt to double check the bus schedule found online here on the Pachamama Hostel website.

The bus takes a short stop in Chivay (commonly known for La Calera hot springs), which is a couple hours from Cabanconde. The trip will take roughly 5-6 hours from Arequipa to Cabanaconde. Being a local bus, it can/does tend to make frequent stops along the way to pick up additional passengers, this may affect your travel time. Despite this, many tourists still opt to take the local bus for the sake of price, and to avoid the early morning wake-up call of the tourist bus.

Tourist Bus

We paid about 45 PEN/person for this bus, but this price may vary depending on the tour agency and your bargaining skills. We purchased our tickets from Kusi Travel Agency located in the Arequipa Plaza de Armas. If your accommodations are in central Arequipa, the bus will pick you up directly from your hotel, hostel or Airbnb. Arriving bright and early at 3 am, the goal for this ungodly early departure is to arrive at the Cruz Del Condor viewpoint in the early morning, when the condors are most active.

Prior to stopping at Cruz Del Condor, most tourist buses will stop in Yanque (another small town on the way to Cabanaconde) for breakfast which may or may not be included in the price of your tour. It wasn’t included in ours and cost 6 PEN/person. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re a glass half full type person), I was too sick from the bus ride to stomach anything that morning except for some tea.

It was another 30 minutes or so of driving after Yanque to reach Cruz Del Condor, where, unfortunately for us, we only got to see three or four condors flying in the distance in our 30-minute time allowance. After Cruz Del Condor we drove another 30 minutes or so to Cabanaconde.

I had never been happier to get off a bus, the road had many sharp turns and climbs above 5000 masl in some sections. This, in combination with a serious lack of sleep, made the drive a real struggle for me, although my girlfriend fended just fine. The entire duration of the trip took roughly 4-5 hours including time for breakfast in Yanque and the stop at Cruz Del Condor.

My recommendation? If you can spare the extra few dollars, take the tourist bus. It was nice to stop for breakfast to re-fuel, and although Cruz Del Condor was disappointing for us, there might be a better turnout for you.

Where To Stay

 If you are feeling up to it, you might be able to begin your trek as soon as you get off the bus in Cabanaconde (depending on when you arrive, and the length of your trek that day). However, in my case, after waking up a 3 am and struggling through the bus ride, I needed the extra day in Cabanconde before starting our trek.

Note: It is highly recommended to start early in the morning at around 5 or 6 am to avoid the scorching heat of the sun directly overhead in the afternoon.

 There are quite a few budget options in Cabanaconde, but we chose to stay at the Pachamama Hostel. The cost was around $24 USD/night when we stayed there in October. Pachamama offered a free trekking map of the canyon packed with information including plenty of sample itineraries to plan your self-guided tour, and staff were friendly and knowledgeable about the canyon. Breakfast was included, and the restaurant on site was well priced and not bad for a convenient dinner destination. If visiting during the high season, or if you simply want a little more piece of mind, Pachamama may also help arrange your accommodations in the canyon.

Note: It is not entirely necessary to book your accommodation in the canyon in advance. We did our trek near the end of October and found it to be surprisingly quiet. We had no problems finding accommodation without a reservation. It is also important to note that not all locations in the canyon provide accommodation, but there are locations with homestays that are not indicated on the trekking maps. Make sure you check with the staff at the Pachamama Hostel or with locals ahead of time if you’re not sure.

Preparation

Boleto Turistico

 You will need to pick one of these up before beginning your Colca Canyon trek. It is your official park pass, costs around 70 PEN/person, and is valid for five days. These passes are checked at the trailheads coming in and out of the canyon, so be sure to pick one up to avoid conflict, and don’t lose it till you’re out of the canyon. We picked ours up on our way to Cruz Del Condor, but they can also be purchased in Cabanaconde.

Note: Be sure to purchase these from authorized personnel (at an official control point or from an authorized official in uniform). We met a few Americans that were sold fake passes and had to purchase a second set of passes before entering the canyon. Also, make sure that the date stamped on the passes is the current date, not a previous date, as this could also cause you troubles.

Gear

 The temperature in the Colca Canyon can vary greatly, with scorching heat during the day to cold nights and cool, crisp mornings. It also wouldn’t hurt to be prepared for rain from December to March. Be prepared for the conditions, but avoid lugging around your 60 – 70 L backpacks in the canyon, keep most of your gear at your hostel (this is what we did) and pack light, you’ll thank yourself later. Here are a few things we took on our three day, two-night trek through the canyon (quantities will depend on the duration of your trek):

  • Backpacks (25 – 30 L) with Rain Cover
  • Water Bottles (2 – 4 L/Day) – (Water is available in the small villages throughout the canyon.)
  • Snacks (Chocolate Covered Peanuts, Puffed Wheat, Dried Fruit, Granola Bars)
  • Electrolyte Powders (Gatorade)
  • Cash (See Cost section.)
  • Water Purification Device or Tablets (Optional – instead of purchasing water bottles along the way which are 2-3 times the cost compared to anywhere else.)
  • Trekking Map (Available from Pachamama Hostel in Cabanaconde.)
  • Basic First Aid Kit
  • Basic Toiletries (There are showers available in most accommodations.)
  • Headlamp or Flashlight
  • Hiking Boots
  • Hiking Poles (Optional – but nice to have for going downhill.)
  • Rain Jacket
  • Sweater
  • Zip Off Hiking Pants/Shorts
  • Swim Shorts/ Bathing Suit
  • T-Shirts X2
  • Underwear X3
  • Socks X3
  • Wide Brim Hat
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera/Camcorder (Both Llahuar and Sangalle had places to charge devices. But not in the dorms.)
  • Toilet Paper (Always)

Plan Your Route

The beauty of a self-guided tour is the freedom to choose your own route, and in the Colca Canyon there are plenty of options. We choose to do a three day, two-night trek, which in our opinion, was enough time to get a decent feel for the canyon. But if you don’t have the time there are also two day, one night trek options. For more details on the following route options, pick up a map from the Pachamama Hostel in Cabanaconde.

Three Day, Two Night Options:

Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 4 hr-> San Juan de Chuccho (1st Night) -> 6 km, 3.5 hr -> Sangalle (2nd Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanconde

Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 4 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho (1st Night) -> 12.7 km, 6 hr -> Llahuar (2nd Night) -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Cabanaconde

Cabanaconde -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Llahuar (1st Night) -> 9.5 km, 5 hr -> Sangalle (2nd Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde (Our Route)

Less Popular Three Day, Two Night Option:

Cabanaconde -> 16 km, 8 hr -> Fure -> 1.7 km, 1 hr (1st Night) -> Huaruro’s Waterfall -> 1.7 km, 1 hr -> Fure -> 5.5 km, 3.5 hr -> Llahuar (2nd Night) -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr – > Cabanaconde

Note: Some maps may indicate that there are no accommodations in Fure, but when we visited (October, 2018) there were homestays in Fure.

Two Day, One Night Options:

Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 3.5 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho -> 6 km, 3.5 hr -> Sangelle (1st Night) -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde

Cabanaconde -> 8 km, 3.5 hr -> San Juan de Chuccho -> 2.2 km, 2 hr -> Tapay (1st Night) -> (Via Malata) 11 km, 6.5 hr -> Cabanaconde

Cabanaconde -> 10.5 km, 4.5 hr -> Llahuar (1st Night) -> 9.5 km, 5 hr -> Sangalle -> 4.4 km, 3.5 hr -> Cabanaconde

Route Highlights: (Cabanaconde -> Llahuar -> Sangalle -> Cabanaconde)

On the way to/from Llahuar from/to Cabanaconde there is an amazing geyser near Paclla Bridge, conveniently named Paclla Geyser. But be careful, the ground and water near the Geyser is very hot, so wear appropriate footwear and keep your distance.

In Llahuar there are natural hot springs. The pools are just off the Colca River below the Llahuar Lodge. There is an upper pool that is cooler and refreshing and two lower pools that are hot and relaxing. We spend a good two hours relaxing in the lower pool, while sipping a few cold ones. It was a great way to end the day. Note: If you also decide to spend a significant amount of time in the pool, I would suggest tossing on some more sunscreen; I didn’t, and paid for it.

The hidden waterfall of Huaruro is amazing. It is a bit of trek to get there, but it is well worth the extra effort. Plus, the route to Huaruro is much quieter than the other options, so if you are looking for some seclusion, this is the way to go.

In Sangalle there a many man-made pools filled with cool, fresh water. These pools are an excellent way to cool off after a long day hiking in the sun. Sangalle is the busiest region in the Colca Canyon so be prepared to make some friends.

Cost Breakdown for Three Days/Two Nights (High End)

Item Unit Cost Quantity Total (PEN)
Bus Tickets 45 PEN/Person 2 90
Boleto Turistico 70 PEN/Person 2 140
Accommodations 50 PEN (Private Room) 2 100
Dinner 20 PEN/Person 2 40
Breakfast 15 PEN/Person 2 30
Beer 15 PEN/Person 4 60
Soft Drinks 10 PEN/Person 2 20
Water 15 PEN/ 2 L 4 60
Grand Total (PEN) X2 People 540

(Rough Costs: Hostels – 40 to 50 PEN/Night (Private Room), 15 to 20 PEN/Night (Dorm Bed), Dinner – 15 to 20 PEN, Breakfast –  10 to 15 PEN, Water (2 L) – 10 to 15 PEN, Soft Drinks – 5 to 10 PEN, Beer – 15 PEN)

 


An Insider’s Guide To Hiking The Inca Trail

Believe it or not, the classic inca trail the world has come to know is actually only a tiny fragment of a 30,000 Kilometre trail system making up the Tahuantinsuyo Empire. This empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian history and spans across southern Columbia, western Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and northern Argentina. Unlike the early European roads that were designed for packhorses and wheels, the Incan people and their llamas were adapted to the high altitudes and demanding terrain of the Andes mountains. As a result, their roads were built over mountain passes with stone steps cut or built directly into the bedrock as opposed to the flattened switchbacks we have all come to love on those steep accents. This design, along with an ancient network of Incan settlements nestled in a diverse and lush landscape makes for an incredibly unique hiking experience.

Like the history stuff? https://www.journeylatinamerica.com/travel-inspiration/history-and-culture/history-of-the-inca-trail

The Classic 4-Day Inca Trail

  • Duration: 4-5 Days
  • Distance: 45 km (27.9 miles)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
  • Max Altitude: 4,200 m
  • Cost: Starting at + $600 USD

One of the most famous multi-day treks in South America and an incredible look into an ancient civilization. This trek takes you along the original footpaths of the Incan people with direct passage into Machu Picchu. This trail may also be completed as a 2-day or 5-day trek.

Important Note: Depending on the time of year you wish to go, you should be prepared to book your trek AT LEAST 6 months to a year in advance. There are only 500 permits available each day for the Inca Trail, and approximately 300 of those permits will be allocated to the porters, cooks and guides that will be accompanying you and every other group on their treks. We booked in January for our trek in October.

When to Go:

Rainy Season (November – March) About 80% of the annual volume of rain, anything from a light drizzle to heavy downpour. This is also the time where the weather is at its warmest
Best Months (May-October) Blue skies, warm sun, beautifully magical misty mornings. This time coincides with the dry season.
Busiest Months (June-August) Long lines at the entrance and large crowds can make it difficult to move around. People doing DIY day tours may want to give themselves some extra time to explore. This is also the busiest time on the Inca Trail.

Day-By-Day Itinerary

*Itineraries may vary slightly depending on the tour operator, but the majority will follow the same route and make the same stops

Cusco – Ollantaytambo: Early morning pick-up on the day of your hike from your hotel in Cusco, approximately 2 hours in bus to first stop in Ollantaytambo where you can pick-up last-minute hiking essentials and some breakfast.

Ollantaytambo – Kilometre 82: Continue another hour or so in bus with your guide to the trail head at Kilometre 82 (so named because it is 82km along the railroad from Cusco)

Day 1: Kilometre 82 – Wayllabamba

  • Starting Altitude: 2750m
  • Maximum Altitude: 2950-3000m
  • Distance: 14km
  • Time: 5-7hours

After your bus ride from Cusco to the trailhead, and a brief stop at the control station to show your passport and permits, you can finally begin your hike. Day 1 was fairly pleasant by our standards, only about 200m of elevation gain, and way more rest stops than we would have ever taken on our own. Granted, there are still a few factors here that can make it challenging; firstly, altitude, if you haven’t had a ton of time to acclimatize you might have some issues here (check out “Hiking at Altitude: South America Edition” for more info on how to prepare for this). Second, heat, depending on the time of year, this part of the trail can be sweltering, bring lots of water, and as with all long distance hikes, we always recommend electrolyte tabs. There are also some small merchants along this section of the trail in case you need to buy additional snacks and fluids. Lastly, distance, 14km in a day is still a long way, and you should prepare accordingly. Our personal opinions aside, this is still the easiest day of your trek compared to the days that are to follow.

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Willkarakay & Patallaqta Qentimarka

Day 2: Wayllabamba – Dead Woman’s Pass – Chaquiccocha

  • Starting altitude: 2950-3000m
  • Maximum altitude: 4215m
  • Distance: 17km
  • Time: 7+ hours

We’re looking at over 1200m of elevation gain on this part of your trek, making it considerably more difficult than the previous day. Altitude sickness along this section of the trail is much more apparent, and can zap your energy levels quickly. Key here is to keep a slow and steady pace, avoid over-exerting yourself (particularly in the early stages of your hike), drink plenty of fluids and eat high calorie snacks. As you approach Dead Woman’s pass (the highest point of your hike), you’ll also notice a significant temperature drop (emphasis on SIGNIFICANT), be sure to keep your warm layers in your day pack and not with your porters who will likely be far ahead or slightly behind you. This section can really make it or break it for some travellers, and demonstrates the importance of trail preparation. Be ambitious, especially for something as amazing as the Inca trail, but for the sake your health and safety, and the money it costs to do this, do your research and prepare for the journey.

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Dead Woman’s Pass & Chaquiccocha Campground

Day 3: Chaquiccocha – Winaywayna

  • Starting altitude: 3600m
  • Maximum altitude: 3600m
  • Distance: 10km
  • Time: 6 hours

Personally, this was the worst part of the trek. All downhill for what seemed like an eternity, and with the Inca trail designed the way it is, it’s a lot of steep downhill steps that gets really hard on the knees really quickly. On the plus side, you get to see quite a few Incan archeological sites on this day, and is also the densest part of subtropical rainforest, perfect for spotting all kinds of beautiful wild flowers and birds. Temperatures start to come back up a little as you approach your next campsite.

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Runkuraqay, Sayaqmarka, Puyupatamarka, Intipata, Winaywayna

Day 4: Winaywayna – Sungate – Macchu Picchu

  • Starting altitude: 2550m
  • Maximum altitude: 2700m
  • Distance: 4km
  • Time: 2 hours

Wake-up call at 4-4:30 am. You’ll scarf down your breakfast and get in line for the last control station before it opens at 5:30. Once we were through control, it was pedal to the medal to get the Sungate for that first glimpse of Machu Picchu down below. Started out a bit misty, but quickly cleared to reveal the citadel with its early morning glow. From the Sungate it was another half-hour of intense speed-walking and giddy smiles to the bottom.

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For more information on Machu Picchu and alternative treks and day tours check out “Everything You Need to Know About Machu Picchu”

Booking Information: There are quite a few reputable tour operators you can book with, some based locally in Peru, some internationally, ranging from $600-$1500+ USD (these tours can get quite luxurious if you’ve got the budget). There are many great guides out there that can help you choose a tour operator, our advice would be to decide on a budget, then go from there. Key features to look for in a tour operator:

  1. Equipment: Does the company offer all the equipment you need? Tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, pillows are some of the basic necessities
  2. Food: What kind of meals will be provided? A reliable mid-range operator (between $650-$800 USD usually provide a full breakfast, lunch and dinner), don’t settle for much less.
  3. Fees: Make sure you inquire about what fees are included in the price of your trek. As a start, you’ll want to make sure the cost includes your transportation to the trailhead, all trail fees (there will be a few control stations along the trail), your Machu Picchu entrance fees, your train tickets out of Aguas Calientes, and transportation back to Cusco.
  4. Group Size: This may matter more to some than to others. For us, and for many others, your pace may significantly differ from that of the other members in your group. We would usually arrive at our campsites in the early afternoon, and still see large groups coming in after dark. Why does this matter? Despite the time you arrive at camp, you are still waking up at the crack of dawn to get moving again, and this can make an already difficult hike that much harder. Smaller group sizes usually mean more flexibility to hike at your own pace.

We booked with Guiding Peru (Cost: $695 USD ) – a newer tour operator founded in 2015 with an office in the United States and in Peru. Here’s what we liked:

  1. The company boasted small group sizes, but we were SHOCKED when we got picked up the morning of our trek and it was only the two of us. We were slightly bummed about this at first, thinking it would have been nice to have some fellow tourist companions, but it turned out to be awesome. We have done a lot of multi-day treks at home, and had been doing other hikes in Peru for about a month by the time we hit the Inca trail, so with just the two of us and our guide, we were able to really gun it up those mountains and spend a little extra time at the archeological sites
  2. Start dates were flexible. At the time of booking, we could literally choose any day of the week to begin our trek.
  3. The food was AWESOME. Best we had eaten our entire time in Peru, being on a backpacker budget and all, we were usually eating a simple breakfast, skipping lunch, then having a big dinner. On the Inca trail, however, we were eating three full meals a day, more food than I even wanted to eat, and it was all absolutely delicious, perfect fuel for a long day on the trail.
  4. No hidden fees. Everything was taken care of in its entirety, all we had to do was show up, hike, and enjoy.

What to Bring: Keep in mind, you should be leaving most your things at your accommodation in Cusco. This shouldn’t mean that you’re paying for accommodation in Cusco while on the Inca trail, many hotels, hostels, and Air BnBs offer luggage drop-off (be sure to check this in advance). If your accommodation doesn’t offer luggage drop-off, some tour operators will offer storage for your belongings at the company office (this is what we did). One other thing to note, your porters will usually only carry a certain amount of baggage per person (measured by weight), double check your tour details, but either way, be nice to your porters and pack light.

  1. Day-Pack with waterproof pack cover
  2. Water reservoir or large water bottle: (water purification shouldn’t be necessary, ask your guide or cook to boil some water the night before, you’ll have clean cold water for when you hit the trail in the mornings)
  3. Electrolyte tablets and some high calorie snacks (always a good idea on any hike)
  4. Headlamp (if getting to camp late at night or for early mornings)
  5. Poles (optional). We managed to survive all our hikes in Peru without them, but would still be put to good use on the Inca trail. There are lots of options to rent hiking poles on arrival to Peru
  6. Sleeping bag liner (optional). Not all tour operators will provide extra blankets with your sleeping bag, and the second night at camp was SUPER cold. A sleeping bag liner will increase the thermal performance of your sleeping bag, if you opt to not bring one, sleep in your warm layers and you’ll be fine.
  7. Camera/phone and accessories. Bring extra batteries or a power source for your phone, there are no options to charge anything on the trail.
  8. Sunscreen and bug spray. Those nasty little buggers don’t look like much, but they’ll make your life miserable anyways
  9. Cash (in soles). There are small local merchants along the Inca trail if you need additional fluids or snacks. You’ll also need some cash to tip your guides, porters and cooks
  10. Passport. Mandatory. You’ll need to show your passport at a couple control stations along the way, as well as when you reach Machu Picchu.
  11. Trail permit. Your guide should have all your necessary paperwork on them for the duration of your trek, or should give it directly to you (you will also need to present these documents at the control stations)
  12. Clothes. Keep it simple, you only need one outfit for when it’s cold, and one for when it’s not. We were sweaty messes on the first day, then again down in the Machu Picchu citadel, but everywhere in between was cold and wet, so pack for variable weather conditions. Absolutely musts include a rain jacket, down jacket or vest, fleece sweater, toque, sunglasses, gloves, quick dry pants, and extra socks.
  13. Hiking boots. Be sure to buy a pair of waterproof ones, the worst thing on multi-day trek is wet feet
  14. Basic toiletries. You may have the opportunity (depending on your tour operator) to take a “shower” with a portable shower system (it’s pretty much a water bag with a foot pump and a small handheld nozzle), good enough to rid yourself of any sweat, sunscreen or bug spray, but I’d leave all the bulky toiletries behind.
  15. Basic first aid supplies. Band-aids and any important travel or personal medications,
  16. Toilet paper/hand sanitizer. I mean, can you really go anywhere in South America without it?

The Ultimate Packing Guide for South America

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South America, wonderfully diverse, and a real pain in the ass to pack for. Think you could be one of those people who travels for months on end with nothing but a carry on? Well for us, the answer is simple… absolutely not. Now, depending on where you’re going and what you plan on doing, packing can be a little more straight forward, but for those who know us, they know that we like to do everything and anything, not a stone left unturned. If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place.

Our South America trip includes Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil between the months of September and January. Between these places alone, you’re looking at going through the snow-capped mountains of the Andes and Cordillera Real, dry dessert heat in southern Peru; rain, humidity and temperatures in the mid 30s in the Amazon Jungle, and endless stretches of beach along the coast of Brazil. We have found ourselves needing 5 layers of blankets one week, then being too hot to even think about sleeping the next. Disclaimer, we have not received any endorsement for recommending the products listed below, we have tried and tested many great brands over the years, but these are some of the ones we’ve really come to love.

Our Packs

Osprey 65-70 L Backpacks (Ariel 65L, Aether 70L)

What We Love: Osprey has a huge line of high-quality packs in all shapes and sizes. I love these packs so much that I actually have the 10, 22, 33, and 65L packs. Both the Ariel 65L and the Aether 70L have the following useful features:

  • Internal Hydration Reservoir: This is self-explanatory.
  • Isoform Harness and Hip Belt: At the retailer, they put your bag into a heated machine that softens the foam in the harness and hip belt. You will then put the bag on, adjust to fit, put some weight in it, then walk around the store for about 15 to 20 minutes as the foam takes your shape. The purpose? Your new backpack is now perfectly formed to your body, almost completely eliminating the break-in process.
  • Convertible Top-Lid Daypack: We’ve seen a lot of other packs with a similar feature, but this little daypack is legit. It has its own reservoir for your water bladder, chest strap, mesh shoulder straps, and trekking pole attachment. When the top-lid is removed, the main-pack still has an integrated flap with buckles to protect your gear inside.
  • Main Compartment Zipped Access: This one has proven to be pretty awesome. Hate having to take everything out of your pack to reach something near the bottom? Yeah, we did to. With a large J-shaped zipper on the front of your pack, you can access everything inside, similarly to how you would use a suitcase.

Osprey 22 L Day Packs

What We Love: Lightweight, functional and with a large stretch mesh front panel and side pockets, you can really pack a lot in there. Not everyone will choose to bring an additional day pack, but for us, these packs have been essential, and we use them every day. Our day packs ensure that all of our most valuable items (i.e. the stuff we really can’t afford to lose) remain with us at all times (at least while flying or busing from one point to the next). This includes: camera gear, laptops, tablets, chargers, passports, wallets and phones. Key features to look for in a day pack:

  • Waist Strap with Pockets: Anybody who does a lot of hiking will understand the importance of a waist strap, even in a day pack, especially if your lugging around camera gear and other heavier items. A waist strap takes the weight of your pack off your shoulders and onto your hip, where you can carry much larger amounts of weight with much less discomfort and strain. When your struggling to get up to that mountain peak at 5,200 m above sea level, you’ll be thankful for any help you can get. As for pockets, they can be incredibly handy on your waist strap, it’s the perfect place to store items that you want quick access to such as your phone, lip balm, cash, important medication, headlamp, etc.
  • Comfy Straps and Mesh Panels: On a hot a humid day, no matter where you are, you’ll be glad to have a pack that’s comfortable and that breathes.

Pack Organization

Packing Cubes: This one is a MUST. We didn’t know how great these were until we started travelling, but about a week into our trip we both looked at each other and thanked God we decided to buy these. Whether you’re travelling for several months like us, or travelling for a week or two, an organized pack means one less little annoyance in the stockpile of your future travel annoyances. To get the best use out of these, buy them in a couple different colours, then pack the cubes according to use. For example, my cubes are packed for casual wear, active wear, underwear and bathing suits, and warm layers. No more rummaging through your bag and making a mess of your pack and hotel room every time you need to find something.

We Recommend: Sea to Summit Travelling Light Garment Mesh Bags and Packing Cells. They are ultra-lightweight, durable, pack flat when empty, and water resistant.

Dry Bags: Always a good idea if you have loose travel plans and may not know exactly where your travels will take you, or if you know exactly what you’re doing and what you’re doing includes WATER! Going to the ocean? Down a river? To a giant waterfall? Who knows! And who cares so long as your stuff doesn’t get soaked. Your clothes and other soft items will live, but your camera might not, and why risk it, just bring a dry bag. We brought one 35 L dry bag for each of us, big enough to line the inside of our day packs and put all our electronics safely inside. These bags have also come in handy for other random tasks such as hand washing clothing, or bringing dirty laundry to the laundry mat.

We Recommend: Sea to Summit Lightweight Dry Sack. Durable, lightweight and rolls up small when not in use.

Compression Bags (Optional): If you find yourself needing some bulkier items (i.e. sleeping bags or down jackets) a compression bag can save you a lot of space. They can also be used for similar functions as a packing cube but I find it doesn’t offer the same organizational potential.

We Recommend: Outdoor Research Airpurge Dry Compression. These are the compression bags we use for multi-day hiking and we love them. In addition to being a compression bag, they are also waterproof and fully seam-taped, ensuring your items remain dry in the unpredictable mountain weather.

Clothes/ Accessories

Men Women
X1 Hiking Pant X1 Hiking Pant
X1 Khaki Pant or Jeans X1 Leggings and/or Jeans
X2 T-shirts X2 T-shirts
X1 Collared Shirt X1 Collared Shirt or Blouse
X4 Tanks/Sleeveless X4 Tanks (2 cotton, 2 active)
X4 Shorts (Combination active, swim and casual) X4 Shorts (Combination active and casual)
X1 Fleece sweater or Hoodie X1 Fleece Sweater or Hoodie
X1 Rain Jacket X1 Rain Jacket
X1 Down Vest X1 Down Vest
X1 Hiking Shoes X1 Hiking Shoes
X1 Sandals (Functional, waterproof with a heal strap) X1 Sandals (Functional, waterproof with a heal strap)
X1 Casual Shoe X1 Casual Shoe
X1 Sunglasses X1 Sunglasses
X1 Toque and Baseball Cap X1 Toque and Baseball Cap
X7 Underwear X7 Underwear X4 Bras (3 sport, 1 reg)
X5 Socks X5 Socks
X2 Swim Suit (One bikini, one cute one-piece)
  X1 Scarf (Buy when you get there)
  X1 Dress (Something that can be dressed up and dressed down)

Toiletries

Men Women
Hanging Toiletry Bag Hanging Toiletry Bag
Shampoo/Conditioner Shampoo/Conditioner
Toothbrush/Toothpaste Toothbrush/Toothpaste
Body Scrub Towel Travel Sized Hair Brush
Bar Soap Body Scrub Towel
Razor Bar Soap
Nail Clippers Razor
Lip Balm with SPF Nail Scissors/Stone Nail File
Skin Cream/Face Cream Lip Balm with SPF
Sunscreen (SPF 60) Face Wash
Hand Sanitizer Sunscreen (SPF 60)
Deodorant Skin/Face Cream
Insect Repellant (Min 30% DEET) Hand Sanitizer
  Diva Cup/Sanitary Products
  Deodorant
  Insect Repellant (Min 30% DEET)
  Basic Make-up

For the ladies – stay tuned for an article on “Health & Beauty On The Road” for my economical, space saving, and natural alternative health and beauty picks for hiking and travelling.

Everything Else:

Electronics Miscellaneous First Aid Kit
Laptop or Tablet Headlamp Band-Aids /Polysporin
Cellphone Travel Pillow Tylenol/Advil
Kindle Silk Sleeping Bag Liner Benadryl Tabs & Topical Cream
Headphones (Leave the bulky sets at home) Locks (Combination lock for lockers at hostels, and small pack locks for your zippers) Gravol/Pepto-Bismol tablets
Camera and Accessories Plug Adaptor Probiotic
SD Cards X2 Bug Net (If headed into the Amazon) Diamox and Other Prescribed Medications
External Hard Drive to Back-Up Photos Canteen/Large Plastic Water Bottle Tape
Headphone Splitter (If travelling as a couple or group) Travel Documents – Passport, Visas, Immunization Records, Travel Insurance After-Bite
Chargers Ear Bugs & Eye Mask Tweezers
Full Size Travel Towel

Other Purchasing Recommendations:

Travel Pillow: For those long journeys on the plane, in a bus, or in a train. We recommend the Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Traveller. It packs impossibly small, and has a multi-function valve to control firmness.

Sleeping Bag Liner: This one is optional, but something I’ve found useful on a few occasions. Super lightweight and packs to be about half the size of a paperback book. I used it primarily on our multi-day treks where we had to use company owned or rented sleeping bags. Not only do they increase the thermal performance of the sleeping bag (which comes in handy on those frigid nights at high altitude), but it also protects you from potentially sleeping in somebody else’s night sweats. I’ve also used the liner as a blanket for overnight bus trips. We have the Sea to Summit Premium Silk Travel Liners.

Canteen: I’m all about buying things will dual purposes, so naturally the Yeti Rambler was a good fit. With double-wall vacuum insulation, it keeps cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot, and gives you the flexibility to use it for ever you decide.

Pack Towel: Now there are much smaller pack towels out there, and we use them for our multi-day hiking trips at home, but for travel purposes I opted to use a pack towel that was still lightweight but plush and nice to use for the beach. The Nomadix Go-Anywhere Full Size Towel still packs small compared to a traditional towel, is ultra-absorbent, quick drying, and anti-microbial.

Shoes: You’ll need a good pair of trekking shoes if you plan on doing any hiking in South America. We both have great boots, but really didn’t want to bring those bulky gargantuans with us for eight months of travel. What we brought with us instead are the Saloman XA Elevate GTX trail running shoes (comes in both men’s and women’s). They’re Gortex and therefore waterproof and have great traction in the sole for slippery conditions. The only thing we miss is the ankle support you get in hiking boots, but these are much more versatile and pack friendly overall.

Clothing: Over the years we have tried and tested a lot of different active wear, but we both agree, nothing compares to the functionality, flexibility, style and comfort of Lululemon and Merino Wool. We have a few other specialty brands we really love for more specialized gear but always come back to these two for our basic clothing needs.  When packing for long haul travel, you need clothing items that are going to last, that are going to wick away moisture and odours, that can be layered up to keep you warm, and that breathe when layered down. As an added bonus to all these things, both brands have always done a great job at combining style with function, so with a few strategically placed accessories, you can avoid looking like that grungy traveller we all feel like on the inside.

Hope this was informative! Feel free to send us a message with any of your packing questions!


Travel Apps – Tech That Makes Travelling Easier

As we all know, there are apps for everything these days, but what about for making life easier while travelling abroad? As you might have guessed, there are many apps for this and within this article I will mention several that I have found very useful while travelling.

We will be continuously adding to this article as we go, so please feel free to leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels.

Disclaimer: We received no compensation for recommending these apps. These recommendations are made based strictly on our own personal experience.

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We are now part way through our eight month trip through South America and South-East Asia and I would like to say that I came prepared for this trip, but unfortunately this would not be the case. The minute I stepped off the plane in Lima, Peru, I knew I was in trouble. As we walked out of the terminal, we were almost immediately bombarded with taxi drivers shouting at us in Spanish. I felt helpless as I tried to converse with the drivers in English, but thankfully I had my girlfriend to bail me out with her Spanish. That evening, I went right to the App Store to see what I could do about my situation, which brings me to my first two app recommendations.

Google Translate (Free)

Google TranslateThere are numerous apps that provide translational services, but I found Google Translate to serve my purposes perfectly. A couple useful features apart from basic text translations include voice and picture translations. I have yet to use the voice translation feature but I have used the picture translation feature on restaurant menus as well as grocery items. The picture translation feature is not perfect, but it gives you the general idea. Another feature that I have found useful is the ability to download select languages to your device so that you can use the app offline (which is key since wifi is not always available).

Babbel (Free Trial, Subscription for Full Access)

BabbelBabbel is an app that attempts to teach you a language through lessons using various interactive techniques. These lessons typically involve repeating words, and completing sentences and conversations. Doesn’t sound too exciting, but I was surprised how easily I was drawn into this app. These lessons can also be downloaded offline, so that you can learn on the go, for instance, on those long bus rides we all love. Obviously, it would be ideal to learn the language of where you are travelling before you leave. But since that is easier said than done, it is better to start late than never with Babbel.

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Okay, so moving onto logistics. I am sure the value of these apps will vary depending on where you are travelling, but here are few that we have found useful in South America.

Uber (Free)

UberI am sure most of us are familiar with Uber. The app is very user friendly and makes getting from one point to another so very simple. It is just a matter of jumping in the car and everything else is taken care of. You simply type in your destination, your Uber comes and picks you up, the driver follows directions provided by the app on their phone, and payment is collected by the app upon arrival using your registered credit card.

We have found that Uber has been less expensive than taking local taxis. Perhaps it is because we are not the greatest with bartering, but in general our Ubers have been less expensive. The only downside to Uber is that it is not available everywhere, so be sure to check on your map in the app; also, sometimes you have to wait a few minutes before your Uber arrives, which is not the case for taxis (in Peru at least), where a taxi drives past you every 30 seconds.

Hopper (Free)

HopperHopper is an app that essentially monitors the flights you are looking to take in the future and notifies you when the flight is expected to be at its cheapest. Similarly, you can also look at the calendar provided in the app to plan your trip around when your flights are expected to be their cheapest. In addition, you can use Hopper to book your flights directly. But how does it work? Well, Hopper relies on a large amount of data to make its predictions and claims to have 95% accuracy within six months. All we know is that this app has saved us some big money in the past, and every dollar counts when you are backpacking!

Busbud (Free)

BusBudBooking bus tickets through the BusBud App could not be easier. Buses are often a huge part of any backpackers travels and are often required to reach more remote locations, especially if you are operating on a tight budget. The beauty of BusBud is that it provides prices and schedules of hundreds of bus companies registered with them. That way you don’t need to waste time comparing prices between different bus companies, rather, everything is right in front of you. We have used BusBud for booking all of our buses and have had no issues. After booking your tickets, BusBud will send you an email with your itinerary, electronic tickets, and payment information.

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Alright, now let’s talk about apps for accomodations.

Airbnb (Free)

AirbnbWe have used the Airbnb App for booking almost all of our accommodations. Why? Because it is the best app for booking accomodations? Maybe. Actually, we have noticed that when travelling as a couple, it has been less expensive for us to stay in bnbs rather than hostels. As an added bonus, you are usually in a private room with a private bathroom for what you would normally pay for a dorm bed in a hostel (if you’re travelling as a couple, bnbs are definitely the way to go).

Anyways, the Airbnb App like many of the other aforementioned apps is very user friendly. When booking a bnb the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. The transaction is simply made with your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. Depending on how soon your reservation is, there might be the option to pay only a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. In addition, if you or the host changes the reservation, a notification is sent to the host or yourself in which you or the host can either accept or decline the change. The app also provides a messaging feature between you and the host as well as less painful reviewing process for you to review the host and vice versa.

Hostelworld (Free)

HostelworldHostelworld is another very common app essential in any backpackers app artillery. Although we have not used the Hostelworld app as frequently as Airbnb, it is just as user friendly. Simply search where you want to stay and the number of guests you are travelling with and just like that you have numerous hostels at your disposal and their corresponding prices. In addition, we particularly like that the hostel rating is one of the first things you see when browsing through your options, this makes it quick and easy to filter out the duds. Again, once selecting a hostel, the app clearly communicates what is included and what is not at the property. Oftentimes there is a selection of accommodations (ie: a dorm or a private room) and a corresponding change in price. Again, the transaction is simply made using your registered credit card in the currency of your choosing. And depending on how soon your reservation is you may have the option of only paying a portion of the principal amount and the remaining amount upon arrival. The app also features a less painful reviewing process for you to review the host.

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Okay, onto a few more apps that I have found useful for more general tasks.

Google Drive (Free for 15 GB of Storage, Subscription for >15 GB of Storage)

Google DriveTo be honest, I am a big supporter of all Google Apps. I find them all to be very useful, user friendly, and it is also nice how many of the apps sync together. Your Google Drive can be accessed on you computer by logging into your Google Account or on your other devices by using the app of course.

There are many perks to using Google Drive. Firstly, if by some horrible stroke of luck all your devices are suddenly destroyed or stolen, you simply have to log into your Google Account or your Google Drive App on another device and voila! You still have all your documents. Secondly, all of your documents are available on all of your devices (as long as you have downloaded the Google Drive App). Thirdly, you can even make your documents available offline (without wifi) for editing, which essentially means that Google Drive downloads a temporary copy of the document to your device while you are offline and automatically uploads the altered document when you are back online! Lastly, Google Drive is wonderful for sharing documents, which allows others to edit or contribute to your documents.

We have kept all of our travel documents in our Google Drive, that way we never have to worry about losing them and we know where to find them if needed. We have a budget tracking spreadsheet that we update everyday and by keeping it on our Google Drive I have the option of updating the spreadsheet from my computer, tablet, or phone, online or offline!

Google Photos (Free)

Google PhotosThe Google Photos App is similar to the Google Drive App, except that it is specifically designed for – you guessed it, photos! Again, you can access Google Photos online through your Google Account or directly through the app of course. And, again you can access your photos on all your devices, and share your photos and albums with your friends and family through a link that is generated by the app. The app also includes an activity log for each album, which records which photos were added to the album and when, as well as any comments made by friends and family on the photos that you’ve shared.

One of the biggest advantages of the Google Photos App is that you get unlimited storage for photos. You read that right, unlimited storage, and it’s free! There is one catch, in order to have access to unlimited storage your photos will be limited to 16 MP resolution and your videos to 1080P. You can store higher resolution photos and videos, but unfortunately this will count towards your Google Drive storage quota. On the bright side, the majority of phone cameras are less than 16 MP, but of course, photos taken on DSLR cameras will likely be greater than 16 MP, in which case, your photos may lose some quality, depending on the size and detail of the photos.

Another advantage of the Google Photos App is that you can free up storage on your phone by only making your photos available online (with wifi). This might not be ideal for everyone, but it has been a huge space saver for me, that way I can download more tunes for those long bus rides.

xCurrency (Free)

xCurrencyxCurrency is just one of many apps that provides real time prices for other currencies (if you have wifi). The app also works without wifi but the exchange rates might not be up to date. There is nothing particularly magical about this app and like I mentioned previously there many other apps that are similar, but we have found having an app to quickly see the prices of items in other currencies is a key tool for travellers.

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The end! Thanks for tagging along this far, I hope you enjoyed the read. Just a friendly reminder to please leave a comment with any apps that you yourself have found useful along your travels. Safe travels friends!


Hiking At Altitude – South America Edition

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Now, we’re aren’t going to pretend to be expert mountaineers, but we’ve spent more time in the high peaks of the Rocky Mountains than the average hiker. And after some time at altitude in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia, I think we’ve got enough of a knowledge arsenal to let you in on some of the basics, and maybe save you some grief. Please keep in mind, this post will not cover health considerations for at risk populations, please consult with your physician if any of the following applies to you:

  1. You have an underlying health risk or concern
  2. Have a chronic illness
  3. Are of older age
  4. Plan to get pregnant or are currently pregnant
  5. Plan to travel with young children or infants

See http://www.altitudemedicine.org/altitude-and-pre-existing-conditions/ for more information.

Altitude Sickness: It’s pretty well common knowledge that hiking at altitude has its risks. But what exactly is altitude sickness? It is a group of symptoms that are brought on by a sudden increase in altitude. Even with adequate acclimatization prior to your hike, altitude sickness can still effect you, as it does many others.

Early Symptoms Severe Symptoms
Headache Confusion
Dizziness Extreme dizziness and vertigo
Nausea Vomiting
Trouble breathing when active Trouble breathing and shortness of breath at rest
Weakness or fatigue Pallor
Increased heart rate Chest tightness and pain

Please be advised that severe symptoms can be life-threatening, don’t try to tough it out for the sake of that view up-top, get yourself back down to a lower altitude right away. More serious forms of altitude sickness can occur where fluid accumulates in the lungs and brain, this needs to be taken VERY seriously.

See http://www.altitudemedicine.org/altitude-illness/ for more information.

What Causes Altitude Sickness? For the sake of keeping this simple and informative, IN GENERAL, what causes altitude sickness is this: The lower atmospheric pressure at high altitude results in lower levels of available oxygen in the air, and therefore lower quantities of oxygen taken in with every breath. Lower quantities of oxygen in our lungs means lower quantities of oxygen are available to be delivered by the blood to all the parts of our body. Oxygen is one (very important) component involved in creating the energy the body requires to carry out normal functions, without energy, our body cannot function as it normally does.

Our body has several magically efficient mechanisms to adjust to these changes in our environment, and this is why acclimatization is so important. Giving your body time to adjust at gradually higher altitudes before hiking several hundred metres in a day can really save you, and increase your chances of making it up that mountain. For those who think a little bit of a headache never killed anyone, tell that to someone who’s really had altitude sickness. Some Advil or Tylenol won’t take this headache away, the only real cure for altitude sickness is getting back down to lower altitude, and even then, you might still feel pretty awful that day.

I’m sure your itching for the part where I tell you HOW ON EARTH ARE YOU GOING TO AVOID THIS AWEFULNESS. But first, let me put into perspective just how drastic of a difference the altitude can be compared to home (and these are popular spots).

Location Altitude
Victoria, British Columbia 23 m above sea level
Golden Hinde, British Columbia (highest peak on Vancouver Island) 2,195 m above sea level
Vancouver, British Columbia 1-152m above sea level
Edmonton, Alberta 645 m above sea level
Calgary, Alberta 1,048 m above sea level
Mount Robson, British Columbia (highest peak in the Canadian Rockies) 3,954 m above sea level
Location Altitude
Laguna 69, Peru 4,500 m above sea level
Machu Picchu, Peru 2,430 m above sea level
Rainbow Mountain, Peru 5,200m above sea level
Ausangate, Peru 6,384 m above sea level
Lake Titicaca, Peru/Bolivia 3,812 m above sea level
Huayna Potosi, Bolivia 6,088 m above sea level

Being the true Canadian that I am, I still have to give us some credit. A lot of the popular hikes in South America, although magnificent, do not always boast the same kind of elevation GAIN as some of the hikes were used to back home. Meaning you start at high altitude, and can reach much higher altitudes in a short amount of time without necessarily having to hike all day till your feet bleed. Unfortunately, this still won’t save you from altitude sickness.

Preventing Altitude Sickness: Disclaimer: These are simply recommendations based on personal experience and knowledge we’ve acquired over the course of our travels. This should not replace professional medical advice.

We were lucky, with the help of a well-known local trick and adequate time acclimatizing, we’ve been able to avoid taking our altitude sickness pills all together. However, not everyone will have the same luxury as we did, and by luxury, I mean weeks to months to acclimatize. We did experience some mild altitude sickness on our first couple hikes in the first week our trip, but by the time we got to Cusco to do the Rainbow mountains (peak at 5,200 m) we were running up the mountain no problem. Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. Acclimatization Starts on Arrival: Spend a few nights if possible in the neighbouring city or town closest to your hike. While you’re there, walk! Walk everywhere! If you want to make the most of the acclimatization process you’ve got to get moving.
  2. Hydration: This may seem obvious, but it’s harder than you think. At altitude, humidity is lower and sweat evaporates quicker, and with the changes in atmospheric pressure (as discussed earlier) respiratory rate increases, increasing water loss from respiration. As a result, water loss from exertion is significantly expedited at altitude as compared to the same activities closer to sea level. To make matters worse, high altitudes, in combination with cooler temperatures, can blunt your thirst response, making it even harder to stay hydrated. The take away message? Drink up! Depending on how high you are, you may have to aim at guzzling back between 1-4 litres of water daily with added electrolyte and carbohydrate supplementation.

See http://www.altitudemedicine.org/training-at-altitude/ for more information.

  1. Ascend Gradually: If you end up doing any guided treks, you’ll notice a common trend (at least we did). Slow and steady really does win the race, especially for those multi-day treks. The goal should be to avoid overexerting yourself, especially in the early stages of your hike, getting progressively stronger as your hike continues.
  2. Last resort. The most popular prescription for preventing altitude sickness is Diamox. It is designed, in short, to help speed up to acclimatization process and therefore prevent or reduce the symptoms of altitude sickness. Keep in mind, to prevent altitude sickness, Diamox should be taken 1-2 days before you start your climb, not once symptoms have already begun to establish. In addition, this medication cannot completely prevent serious forms of altitude sickness and therefore you should descend to lower altitudes if you begin to show serious symptoms. Like any medication, it has its own set of risks and possible side effects.

See https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-6753/diamox-oral/details for more information.

  1. Best for last. In some parts of South America including, Peru, Bolivia, and parts of Argentina, the locals have a trick, and we SWEAR by it. Even better part is, it can come in the form of candies, and is readily sold in just about every little bodega we’ve come across so far. It’s called Coca, most commonly in the form of Coca Leaves. If you didn’t already know, this is the same plant that contains the psychoactive alkaloid that people use to make Cocaine. Don’t go thinking you’ll be flying back home hooked on cocaine if you try this, it takes about 370 Kilograms (or approx. 800lbs) of Coca leaves to make one Kilogram of Cocaine. In the form of a raw leaf, the locals have long used this plant to combat the effects of altitude sickness. Some additional benefits are said to include: increased energy, strengthened immune system and alleviated indigestion. Try as a tea, or chew on the leaves like the locals.

More tidbits on Coca Tea https://www.livestrong.com/article/478795-what-are-the-benefits-of-coca-tea/.

 

 

 

 


Everything You Need to Know About Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu, certainly on most travellers’ bucket list when visiting Peru, and for good reason. Since it’s official rediscovery in 1911, Machu Picchu has undergone some major clearing and restoration and is now a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site, and one of the New Wonders of the World. It is a true testament to the sophistication and beauty of Incan architecture and culture.

Location: About 112 km northwest of Cusco, between Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain ranges in the central Cordillera of the Andes, the vista really can’t be beat, it’s a perfect mixture of the rocky mountain ranges further south, and Amazon Jungle. At 2,350 m, it sits lower than Cusco at 3,339 m. With some time in Cusco, altitude sickness really shouldn’t be a problem here, similarly if you decide to trek into Machu Picchu through either Salkantay or Inca Trail routes, (discussed later) as altitudes along these hikes may reach as high as 4,600 m.

When to Go:

Rainy Season (November – March) About 80% of the annual volume of rain, anything from a light drizzle to heavy downpour. This is also the time where the weather is at its warmest.  
Best Months (May-October) Blue skies, warm sun, beautifully magical misty mornings. This time coincides with the dry season.
Busiest Months (June-August) Long lines at the entrance and large crowds can make it difficult to move around. People doing DIY day tours may want to give themselves some extra time to explore. This is also the busiest time on the Inca Trail.

Our opinion? The best time to visit is between September and November, the shoulder season, where the days can still be sunny, the crowds are fewer, and with the rains coming in, orchids are blooming everywhere. Keep in mind, no matter what time of year you go, Machu Picchu is still part of the rainforest, and can receive fog and rain any time of year. Go when you can, enjoy it for what it is. In our experience, some of the best photographs we’ve taken have been in bad weather.

How To Get There & What It Will Cost: The answer to this varies GREATLY, but day tours to Machu Picchu can definitely be done on a backpacker’s budget. Firstly, you should note that there are two main locations to start from (whether doing treks or day tours), one is Cusco, the other, a small city called Aguas Calientes which is about 30 min by bus from the Machu Picchu Citadel. I’d also like to mention, and as you’ll soon find out, there are NUMEROUS options to explore Machu Picchu, you do not need to be an experienced hiker, fitness fanatic or die-hard traveller to enjoy this experience in all its glory. Moving forward, there are four popular ways to get there (keep in mind that despite the prices shown, there are great deals to be found for some tours when booking locally):

  1. The Classic Inca Trail Trek: To do one of the most famous hikes in the world requires some preparation, 6 months to a year in fact. There are 500 permits available each day, but 300 of those permits will be allocated to porters, cooks, and guides. Do not let this discourage you, with several Incan sites along the way, a sunrise view above the clouds, and direct passage into Machu Picchu, it is truly an amazing experience.
    • Duration: 4-5 Days
    • Distance: 45 km (27.9 miles)
    • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
    • Max Altitude: 4,200 m
    • Cost: Starting at + $600 USD

Take Away Message: Lower costs may mean larger groups sizes, poor wages for porters, and low quality food. A reliable midrange operator (between $700-$900 USD) will usually provide all the essentials for an enjoyable trek.

Other Trail Options: If you’re wanting to do a more traditional trek, but couldn’t book so far in advance, there are also the following options:

  • Cachicata Trek:
    • Duration: 4 Days
    • Distance: 25 km (15.5 miles)
    • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
    • Max Altitude: 4500 m
  • Huchuy Qosqo Trek:
    • Duration: 3 Days
    • Distance: 8 km (11 miles)
    • Difficulty: Easy
    • Max Altitude: 4,300 m
  • Vilcabamba Trek:
    • Duration: 5 Days
    • Distance: 60 km
    • Difficulty: Difficult
    • Max Altitude: 4,500 m
  • Lares Trek
    • Duration: 3-5 Days
    • Distance: 34 km (21 miles)
    • Difficulty: Moderate
    • Max Altitude: 4,780 m
  • Condensed Inca Trail: Starts at Kilometer 104 of the Inca Trail
    • Duration: 2 Days
    • Distance: 10 km (6.3 miles)
    • Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
    • Max Altitude: 2,730 m
  1. The Salkantay Trek: Considered the best alternative route to the Inca Trail. This is a popular one amongst travellers, and depending on the time of year, you do not usually have to book in advance. At this time, Salkantay has no daily permit limitations, making booking on a whim extremely flexible. Many backpackers will book once they get to Cusco. If you are tight on time, look to book when your travel plans are made.
    • Duration: Usually 5 Days (Some 4-8 day treks available depending on the operator)
    • Distance: Approx. 74 km (46 miles)
    • Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
    • Max Altitude: 4,600 m
    • Average Altitude: 3,000 m
    • Cost: Starting at + $400 USD

Take Away Message: Less may not always be more on these treks, and the cost may heavily influence what is included and what is not. The hike itself is challenging, what would make it more challenging is leaky tents, skimpy meals, and shitty sleeping pads. Do your research and ask questions before booking.

  1. Day Tours (With Guide) from Cusco or Aguas Calientes: Hiking not your thing? No problem. Tight on time? No problem. There are ALWAYS day trips available to Machu Picchu, either from Cusco, or Aguas Calientes.
    • From Cusco: Approx. $350 USD and includes:
      • Local English and/or Spanish speaking guides
      • Roundtrip train tickets
      • Bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
      • Entrance fee
      • Hotel drop-off and pick-up
    • From Aguas Calientes: Approx $115 USD and includes:
      • Local English and/or Spanish speaking guides
      • Bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
      • Entrance fee

Take Away Message: Day tours are easy to book once you arrive in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. With booking any tour locally, there is always some flexibility in the price. Be sure to shop around and get a feel for what people are charging, then negotiate. Booking with local tour companies in local currency can save you some money.

  1. Day Tours (No Guide) from Cusco or Aguas Calientes: This is where you can really pinch your pennies, and still have a great adventure. Important Note: As of 2018 it is said that everyone will be required to have a guide with them in Machu Picchu, whether this has been enforced or not I’m not sure, but guides can be hired on arrival at the entrance to Machu Picchu.
    • From Cusco:
      • Roundtrip private taxi from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and return: Approx. $50 USD. Roundtrip local bus Approx. $18 USD. (This is if you choose to leave from the Ollantaytambo train station and not Cusco)
      • PeruRail or IncaRail train ticket (see details below).
      • Roundtrip Bus Ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: $25 USD
      • Machu Picchu Entrance Fee: $47 USD
      • Accommodation: As low as $12 USD/night in a Hostel or Air BNB
      • Food: Approx. $10.00 USD per meal in a local restaurant in Aguas Calientes
    • From Aguas Calientes:
      • Rountrip Bus Ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: $25 USD
      • Macchu Picchu Entrance Fee: $47 USD
      • Accommodation: As low as $12 USD/night in a Hostel or Air BNB
      • Food: Approx $10.00 USD per meal in a local restaurant in Aguas Calientes

Some Additional Tips: If you wish to pinch your pennies even further and are not with a guided tour, you can opt out of taking the bus altogether and hike up the road to Machu Picchu, this takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half. In addition, if you are staying in Aguas Calientes and have some flexibility with time, it may also be worth your while to head up to Machu Picchu later in the evening, when most of the guided groups have already made their way back down. We got to Machu Picchu from the Inca trail at 0730 in the morning, and were shocked by how many people were already there.

If you do plan to do all the booking yourself, keep in mind that although doable, a day trip to Machu Picchu from Cusco isn’t ideal, and quite frankly, you’d be doing yourself an injustice if you did. With the earliest train arriving at 1000 and the last train for Cusco at around 1730, this will only give you a few rushed hours during the BUSIEST time of day. If catching the train to Ollantaytambo, you have much more time, as the last train to this station leaves at 2150, you can then take a taxi or local bus back to Cusco from there. I must also add, there are usually long line-ups for the bus going back to Aguas Calientes, and you should plan your time accordingly.

Your Day Trip To Machu Picchu:

STEP 1: Buy your ticket to Machu Picchu – It is important to note that you cannot actually buy your entrance tickets at Machu Picchu, you will need to purchase them beforehand, and in the high-season (between June and September) it is possible for tickets to sell out. If you are going to Machu Picchu through a guided trek, it is likely all your entrance fees are built into the cost of your trek, be sure to double check with your tour operator. Regardless of the manner in which you get to Machu Picchu, you WILL need your passport to enter, and as an added bonus, there is a small station in the citadel where you can add a Machu Picchu stamp to your passport.

If you must purchase tickets yourself, you may do so in person in Aguas Calientes in the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre, or in Cusco at the Ministerio de Cultura. Be prepared at both locations with your passport, credit card, and cash. Lastly, you may also purchase tickets on the Ministerio de Cultura Website.

STEP 2: Buying your train ticket – If you are heading to Machu Picchu, it is more than likely (unless you found a way to drive) that you will have to take either a PeruRail or IncaRail train into Aguas Calientes. Some things to note about these operators:

  1. Both train operators share the same track that winds along the Urubamba River.
  2. Both will bring you to Aguas Calientes where you will then take a bus or hike up to the Machu Picchu citadel.

Peru Rail: 

Service Description
Expedition Budget option. Not a huge difference between this and the Vistadome. Complementary drinks and snacks are not included. Bathroom on train. Cost approx. $54-63 USD for a one-way ticket.
Vistadome Midrange option. Offers panoramic views, complementary snacks and beverages, Saqra dances and fashion show on the return trip from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo and Poroy Stations. Cost approx. $86 for a one-way ticket.
Hiram Bingham Luxury option. Live music, dances and cocktails for welcome. Travel bag as a gift. Lunch and gourmet four course dinner. Alcoholic beverages and hot drinks for the entire trip. Roundtrip bus to and from Machu Picchu. Two-and-a-half-hour tour with professional tour guide. Afternoon tea at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge Hotel. Entertainment on board with local and international music. Cost approx. $415 USD for a one-way ticket. Roundtrip costs approx. $875 USD.
Departure Locations Time to Aguas Calientes Departure Times Price Range
Poroy (30 min from Cusco) 3-4 Hours First Train in – 0640

Last Train out – 1723

Approx. $63-450 USD one-way
Urubamba 3 Hours First Train in – 1030

Last Train out – 1930

Approx. $86-150 USD one-way
Ollantaytambo 1.5 Hours First Train in – 0505

Last Train out – 2150

Approx. $54-86 USD one-way

See https://www.perurail.com/ for more information and updated pricing.

Inca Rail:

Service Description
The Voyager Budget Option. Comfortable seats, folding tables, panoramic windows. Complementary snacks and a hot or cold beverage. Cost approx. $59-69 USD for a one-way ticket.
The 360 Midrange option. Taller and wider panoramic windows and outdoor observatory wagon with bar. Complementary snack and hot or cold beverage. In-train entertainment. Cost approx. $77-92 USD for a one-way ticket.
First Class Luxury option. Maximum comfort and space. Panoramic windows and large observatory with balcony. Gourmet menu with bar and complementary drinks. Live music. Bus to Machu Picchu Citadel included. Cost approx. $230 USD for a one-way ticket.
The Private Super luxurious option. Available only by special request. Entire carriage exclusively for you and your travel companions. Gourmet menu with bar and complementary drinks. Live music. Private bus to Machu Picchu Citadel included.
Departure Locations Time to Aguas Calientes Departure Times Price Range
Poroy (30 min from Cusco) 30 minutes in taxi to Poroy

 

3 hours in train

First Train in – 0555

Last train out – 1900

Approx. $63-230 USD one-way (not including taxi fare)
Cusco (by private bus from ticket office in Cusco to train station in Ollantaytambo) 2 hours in bus to Ollantaytambo

 

1 hour 40 minutes in train

First bus in – 0910 for train at 1130

 

Last train out – 1900 for bus at 2100

Approx. $69-230USD one-way
Ollantaytambo 1 hour 20 minutes First train in – 0640

Last train out – 2130

 

Approx. $59-230 USD one-way

See https://incarail.com/ for more information and updated pricing.

STEP 3: Buying your bus ticket – As for the bus tickets, they are easy to buy in Aguas Calientes, just look for the Venta Oficial de Ticket de Bus across the bridge from the train station. Buses leave every 10 minutes starting at 0530, but be careful about grabbing those extra few minutes of sleep that morning, the line-up for the first bus will start early.

Extra Tidbits: This isn’t always an option for those doing multi-day treks, as there simply just isn’t enough time in your already jam-packed tour schedule, but if you’re one of many who opt to do day tours in Machu Picchu, these day hikes may be the best thing you do that day.

  1. Huayna Picchu: About 50 minutes to summit. With Inca structures on the top at 2,693 m it is truly an unforgettable site, but the views of the main square of Machu Picchu are not something everybody gets to see, making it just that much more incredible. Limited to 400 tickets per day, and must be purchased in combination with entrance ticket.
  2. Machu Picchu Mountain: About 1.5 hours to summit. Located at the southwest end of Machu Picchu, and towers 3,050 m above sea level. Its less steep and less crowded and offers great panoramic views over Machu Picchu and the surrounding area. Limited to 400 tickets per day, and must be purchased in combination with entrance ticket.
  3. Sun Gate: Once the main entrance to Machu Picchu, this hike follows an original piece of the Inca Trail and offers stunning views of Machu Picchu. Summit sits at 2,720 m and takes approximately 3-4 hours roundtrip to complete.

Personal Note: I was overwhelmed with information when writing this article, AND I’VE ALREADY GONE TO MACHU PICCHU. My advice? And this is solely based on my opinion.

  1. Unless you’re staying in Aguas Calientes, just book the damn tour. Save yourself the headache. Especially when it comes to day tours, there are so many tour operators in Cusco I’d be truly surprised if you couldn’t find a good deal with everything you needed included and taken care. As for us, we opted to do the four day Inca trail, not our usual scene, we’re used to grueling climbs, dehydrated meals, and all our gear on our back. The fact that we had someone to carry our belongings and cook three full meals a day made us feel like royalty. Post about this hike coming soon!
  2. Stay a night or two in Aguas Calientes. If we hadn’t done a trek, this would have been plan B. The town is small, has some great local eats, a sweet market for shopping on the way to the train station, hot springs, and of course, quick access to Machu Picchu. If you’re looking to do some DIY tours, get off the beaten path, and take your time in Machu Picchu, staying in Aguas Calientes is the way to go.