A Travellerspoint blog

Swapping spuds for bananas

Montañita, Puerto Lopez, Baños and Chugchilan

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We hadn’t planned on staying long in Ecuador – maybe four or five days post-Galapagos, but the ol’ South American adage of ‘your gonna need mo time and mo money’ has rung true. As I write from the capital Quito – we will have clocked up a month in this relatively small country before our exit north, into Colombia.

Ecuador really has been a pleasant surprise (although to be fair, we (I) don’t tend to invest much in the way of advance planning to our travels – so this is hardly a revelation).

There is far more to this country than the Galapagos Islands and favourable extradition laws. It boasts a diversity of attractions in a small area (not unlike NZ), great bang for your buck (a three hour bus = $3) and possibly some of the best cuisine we’ve dappled in whilst being the continent (you would be surprised how many ways one can serve bananas).

Our first port of call following our return from the Galapagos was a beach town called Montañita, three hours north of Guayaquil. It is a party town where city folk come to let their hair down alongside backpackers, often of the antipodean variety. Our tolerance for doof-doof is pretty low, so we opted to stay slightly out of town in art-studio/beach bach/hippy hovel, which was just the ticket for a cruisey few days.
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View of Montañita from the hippy hovel
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A bit of this
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Cocktail stands line the beach side streets of Montañita. Amazing
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Nuevo sombrero, que elegante!
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Ceviche at the beach!

One of the attractions of heading up this way was Puerto Lopez – a fishing town north of Montañita, which is home to calving whales from June to September. Neither of us had been whale-watching before so we absolutely loved watching these beasts do their thing, although a flip or two would have been nice…

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Puerto Lopez
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Next stop following the beach was up to the hills to Baños (Ecuador’s Queenstown) for a little fun and adventure. It’s a laid-back tourist town where we hot-pooled, abseiled down waterfalls and enjoyed our best curry yet. Alleluia.

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Baños
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We abseiled down this sucker

It was a fleeting visit of just two days before we were on the road again to a spot a little off the beaten track called Chugchilan. This pipsqueak of a town is up on the grassy Ecuadorian Andes at around 3000m. The area has a large indigenous (Quechua) population , which we hadn’t seen yet in Ecuador, but sharing strong similarities to the Quechuas of Peru and Bolivia.

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Agriculture on the hills
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Looking down to the plateau and canyon. Loads of lupins too
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On top of the plateau

Hayley had found an amazing eco-lodge (the Blacksheep Inn) laden with composting toilets, vegetarian food (yes, you read right) and a Frisbee-golf course amongst other delights. The main attraction of the area is some spectacular walking – namely the volcano crater and its laguna in nearby Quilotoa, but also spectacular canyons and plateaus.

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The lovely A-frame we stayed in
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view from the composting loo
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Laguna Quilotoa
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The crater

We were joined by our friend Aritz who we had met on the Galapagos tour for four days of strolling, Frisbee and r&r (from our stressful holiday).
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Put some pants on
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Grainy
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Gave these kids an oreo each = limpits
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Swapping accessories
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Hot tubbing
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Intense game of frisbee golf
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Sophie in the rough. Siempre.
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Was a bit windy

Next stop: Ecuador’s capital; Quito, for a visit to the dentist and to continue the quest north.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 16:12 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls beaches beach volcano whales plateau crater_lake bananas retreat quito banos vegetarian quilatoa montanita rappelling dentist canyoning black_sheep_inn chugchillan Comments (3)

Evolution baby

The Galapagos Islands

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There had been a lengthy debate leading up to this year-long jaunt; if we were to allow ourselves one big ticket item, out of two very special places – The Galapagos Islands or Antarctica, which would we choose?

Both had pretty compelling cases – the home of evolution vs perhaps the world’s final frontier? In the end – timing and the equivalent cost of a decent car ruled out our quest to the South Pole behind a pack of huskies (aka on a comfortable 10 day cruise).

Even so, the Galapagos had seemed like a pipe dream right up until we got on the plane. We locked in 12 days, with eight of those spent on a cruise, island-hopping.

Before getting on the boat we had a day in Puerto Ayora – the ‘big smoke’ of the Galapagos, which is tourist mecca – launch pad to the islands and where you can pick up your ‘I love boobies’ (of the blue-footed variety) paraphernalia. A stroll to the nearby Tortuga bay whet the appetite for what was to come; weird and wonderful animals including marine iguanas, pelicans, sharks and of course numerous khaki-clad Americans wielding enormous lenses.

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Marine Iguana
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Pelican aka 'Teradactal'
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Lining up for a taste of day's catch

The next day we embarked on our tour with 10 other backpackers from Spain, Germany, Norway, England, Switzerland and Chile and friendly crew of five lads and our hard-case guide, Ivan - the environmental warrior. We were grateful for having stocked up on seasickness tabs as night one was almost as violent as an overnight bus in Bolivia sans the live chickens.

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Our trusty ship: "King of the Sea"

For the unacquainted – the Galapagos is a bunch of volcanic islands 1000kms off the coast of Ecuador. The reason that the environmentalists, animal lovers etc get so excited about it, is due to a bunch of factors – isolation, cold-water current and the volcanic land make for a unique and perfect place for wildlife to adapt and thrive. This combo makes for tourism-mecca, with hordes arriving every day (mostly in camo and more often than not, Americans).

It's fair to say, the hype was warranted – the landscapes were otherworldly and the animals awe-inspiring and incredible to get up close and personal with. We spent our days on a eat/sleep/snorkel/walk schedule and even Hayley caught the evolution bug – graduating from snorkeling-phobe to snorkeling-fiend. Oh how Darwin would be proud.

It was a snap-happy few days so we will let the pics do the talking and the superlatives simply don’t do the place justice… (and thanks to Aritz Ranero Gulliver aka "España" for lending us some of his fabulous pics to include in this blog). Also - if you make it to the bottom, there will be a video as reward for your efforts!

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Isla Sombrero Chino
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Blue-footed boobie (photo credit = Aritz)
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Sealion
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Frigate
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Iggy the marine Iguana
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Hawk (photo credit = Aritz)
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'new lava' - its only 125 years old!
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Lava lizard
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Norwegian lava lizards
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Aritz, Hayley, Sophie y John
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Oyster catcher (photo credit = Aritz)
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Our cosy cabin
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Scared turtle
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Street furniture is made for sealions in the Galapagos
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Being taken for a spin by the Captain
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Hayley, Sarah, John y Sophie
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Turtlehead (photo credit = Aritz)
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Got something on your face mate
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Tortuga
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The famous finches
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Frigate trying to woo the babes
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Flamingos
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HPL's birthday cake
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30th party celebrations
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One of these things just doesn't belong here
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Team shot
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Paparazzi
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Lady frigate on the move

As a lot of the action was underwater, check out this moving-picture of our antics!

Thanks for making it all the way to the end. . .

Posted by ladiesofleisure 11:42 Archived in Ecuador Tagged lizards santa_cruz iguanas galapagos ecuador sealions blue_footed_boobies puerto_ayora Comments (7)

Dizzying Heights

Peru - Huaraz

overcast 15 °C
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Post Lima gluttony we really thought we would put ourselves through some more altitude training and traipse back up to the Andes for a couple of day walks in the hills. In order to do this, we headed up to central Peru to a town named Huaraz, located in the Ancash region. The spectacular mountainous backdrop to this town is named the Cordilla Blanca and is the second highest mountain range in the world after the Himalayas. Another (perhaps) interesting bit of trivia - it also has the greatest number of glaciers for a tropical region. Yes, apparently, even though it snowed, we were in the tropics.

Thankfully we were not silly enough to sign on to the many four day walks available in the region, but opted for two shorter day trip activities.

Day one was a five hour round trip up to 4650 metres in order to visit Lake 69. The walk was tough but relatively short and we were rewarded with some amazing scenery.

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Enroute to lake 69
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A bit of weather coming in
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Team shot in front of Lake 69 - snowing at this point
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Great day for it
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The next day trip we had planned was a bit more driving than walking which was a lovely change.

First stop was to see these pineapple type plants which only flower once in their lifetimes but can take up to 100 years to flower. Once they flower, they immediately die. They flower usually in May... Unfortunately as we were there in the first few days of June, we had missed the apparently spectacular flowering. The plants alone were very unusual to look at and massive!

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Agua con gas
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Big tumbleweed
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Yep, that was a flower - weird innit
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The drive then continued on until our final destination of glacier Postururi. This involved only a one hour walk up to a very rapidly receding glacier Postupuri. It was a relatively simple walk even though it was the highest either of us has ever been on land and as we now know, breathing becomes a tad more difficult as the air thins out. The glaciers were situated above 5000 metres but I think we must be acclimatising as we coped well (although there was a 64 year old lady who beat us up - she was a machine). The glacier was not big or even typical as far as glaciers go, but it was a good way to spend a spare day.

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Ice ice baby
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Ice melt
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Following a very quick stopover in the surftown of Huanchaco, we have boosted it up to Ecuador in preparation for our trip to the Galapagos. This is where I will be seeing in my fourth decade. Eek.

So bye bye to Peru for now, it was a wonderful place and up there as one of the best to date.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 19:28 Archived in Peru Tagged landscapes peru mountain lake glacier glaciers scenic huaraz altitude cordillera_blanca ancash glacier_postururi lake_69 Comments (2)

Deserts and Desserts

Peru - Huacachina and Lima

sunny 22 °C
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This blog is going to cover two things.

1. Sand boards and dune buggies in Huacachina.
2. 72 hours of Gluttony in Lima

Of course as always we will include loads of photos.

1. Huacachina - what a really weird little place this is. Although it's an "Oasis", as in "a lake in the middle of a desert," upon arrival it appears that although very striking from afar, at ground level it is a dated, dusty town full of young travellers following the gringo trail. All good though, we got in amongst and had a good couple of days there with the hightlight being the sandboarding and dune buggying over massive sand dunes.

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This was our attempt to walk to the top of one of the dunes - we stopped about 10 metres in. In fairness to ourselves, it was midday and really hot

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The rolling dunes we were free to play upon

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Our vehicle of choice for the dunes

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This is a pic of the largest of the dunes which we boarded down - it was so steep and amazing. Thankfully the dune buggies retrieved us at the bottom so no uphill walk required

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View of the "Oasis" from the dunes. Looks good huh?

Video of the Sandy exploits

Needless to say, after this adventure we had sand everywhere.... Like everywhere you could imagine. We are still finding sand in our pockets one week later.

2. Lima - I think we put on about 10 kg's (which we really didn't need) while eating our way around world class restaurants.

Let's talk about food, baby.

We haven't spoken a lot about food on the blog - because for the most part, it has been good, not great food. Sure there have been some highlights and good finds along the way, however, South America has not inspired our tastebuds as much as other regions. A notable exception and perhaps the home of the continent's best cuisine is Lima, Peru. Knowing this, we were not going to pass the opportunity by to indulge perhaps our favourite past-time; eating bloody good kai.

Restaurant 1: La Lucha (This also falls into Restaurant 5 as we returned). This highly recommended sandwicheria lived up to expectations with fabulous pork sandwiches and the best fries ever tasted. Side note for the spud enthusiasts out there: there are approx 3800 potato varietals in Peru. The fries at La Lucha were these white/red marbled numbers. Fantastic!

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Restaurant 2: Astrid and Gaston. This restaurant recently made a jump from number 35 to number 14 in the world restaurant rankings. We were expecting big things.

The only booking we could get was for 10.30pm. It is actually quite difficult to maintain an apetite till this time, even for the likes of us who will eat at anytime of the day. But we went along planning to give it our all and devour a degustacion menu. We ordered only to be told that it was unavailable at this time. Still happy, we turned to the menu all in fancy spanish (we struggle somewhat with everyday spanish let alone trying to decipher a fancy spanish food menu) but we knew some key words so planned to just roll the die and hope for the best. A spanner was thrown when we were once again told that actually, the degustacion menu was still available. Perfect, two of those with matched wines thanks. Five minutes later found us perusing the menu again... Seems it was not available. After a couple of suggestions from the waiter we had chosen a few dishes which were found on the degustacion menu and could be ordered separately. Perfect.

The bread basket given to us before the meal deserves a special mention. It was full of a vast range of breads which were devine. It was quite large however and we were left feeling full before the proper eating had begun.

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Still not 100% sure what this was but was artfully presented and tasty. We didnt order it - we think perhaps it came as part of the original degustacion menu??
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l-r; 3 x ceviches & Guinea pig at the front, sexy seafood risotto, lumps of delicious beef
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Incredible desserts; namely the apple basket thing (2nd) which was a caramelised apple in brandy snap case with amazing condiments

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Tower of sweet given as a complimentary surprise at completion of the meal

Restaurant 3: Central. This restaurant is ranked number 50 in the world but with the previous nights' experience still fresh, we went not knowing what to expect. All our doubts were quashed immediately as we entered into a haven of fabulous service. We even got a rooftop garden tour and a visit from the head chef at the completion of our meal. Really and truly an amazing dining experience which we would repeat in a heartbeat.

The bread basket although not as extensive as A & G, deserves a mention for the fact that it came with butter (not margarine) which had been slowly burnt. It was incredible and a good sign of what was to come.

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Entrees and mains consisting of (l-r); Tuna tataki, Seared fois-gras, Amazonian Arapaima, Suckling goat

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Eucalyptus and dry ice
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Desserts were a highlight as always

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Cup of Peruan Chai to finish off
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Our garden tour where they grow herbs atc

Restaurant 4: La Mar. This restaurant is part of the Astrid y Gaston stable. It is a more relaxed, lunch only cebicheria (place where the focus is on ceviche which is a peruan raw fish dish). We rocked up nice and early to beat the rush and had exemplary service and incredible food. We loved this place and it was really good to be back on the coast to have access to amazingly fresh and delicious seafood.

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Degustacion of ceviche - five different ways to serve raw seafood. Amazing

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BBQ tuna steak - yes please!

We topped our 72 hours of gluttony off by watching two movies back to back - fatties much? We loved our time in Lima and to be honest we saw very little of the city aside from the amazing restaurants. Seemed like somewhere you would not need to spend too much time though (unless you up for some weight gain).

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One thing we did come across was a park which housed loads of cats. Super weird. They are all healthy and content so I do not know who is responsible for their upkeep but they do a good job. Dotted all around the park you can find people sitting in the sun on park benches with various cats on their laps.

Posted by ladiesofleisure 12:46 Archived in Peru Tagged food restaurant peru lima central eating huacachina sandboarding ceviche gastronomy degustation dune_buggies astrid_and_gaston la_mar cebicheria Comments (2)

Following the Incas

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and Cusco

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Who told them we were coming?

The infamous Incan ruins of Machu Picchu are by our guestimation – on the top of the collective South American tourist’s to do list. This was no more apparent than in Cusco – the main launchpad to the ruins, where festy backpackers coexisted with fly-in, sanitised, polo-wearing types and entrepreneurial locals clamber to make a buck or three from them all.

Our game plan was to get on a tour doing one of a handful of alternatives to the Inca trail –“Salkantay”, a five-day tramp ending at Machu Picchu.

After locking in the trip with a local agent, we stashed our packs with chocolate, walking sticks and altitude tablets, all the while wondering why we were going to put ourselves through more inevitable pain and sleep deprivation at altitude.

Day one kicked off at 4:30 am with a drive to where it would all begin (after a hearty brekkie of course). Once we got started ambling up the valley to campsite #1, it became apparent that the previous 3 weeks at altitude had not provided enough in the way of altitude training. Our lungs were burning. In-lieu of an Armstrong-esque blood transfusion, we popped some altitude tabs and soldiered on, arriving at 5pm.

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Views of where we were to attempt to walk

Day two was to be our Everest. The walk up to 4600m was certain to be no picnic. Unfortunately Hayley suffered a (conveniently-timed) gastro-upset before we kicked off, and was thus slung onto a mule for the ascent. As it turned out – the tricky part was the 6-hour downhill stretch down from the top, which resulted in jelly-legs and temper-tantrums. Nevertheless, a ‘refreshing’ cold shower and some argentine drinking games soon lifted the mood upon arrival at camp.

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Mules are the only option for some people suffering from gastro

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All safe at the top - only gets easy from here right? Wrong. Downhill is agony!

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Very impressive mountain views

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Well worth the hard work walking up (or mule ride for those too lazy to try)

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Ice capped mountains make for stunning scenery but very cold breezes

Day three was far easier on the body – down to circa 2000m and an easy undulating stroll through the forest made for a cruisey day. The highlight though, was a few hours spent relaxing in some hotpools in Santa Teresa.

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Nice down in the tropical valley only one day later

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So lush and warm

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Group playing in the hot springs

We mixed it up a little on day four – opting to spend a few hours zip-lining instead of walking in the morning, no doubt akin to how the Incas used to do it. The afternoon was spent following the train tracks to Aguas Calientes - the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. The walk was stunning and wound around the bottom of the towering mountains upon which the ruins sit.

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Last day is a lovely walk along the train tracks. If real estate was this stunning next to train tracks at home I would love to buy next to the tracks.

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Back view of Machu Picchu

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Reacquainting with some old travelling buds Helen and Andy. (Andy's Mum also came along on the walk - super impressive feat from Lourdes)

Finally day 5 was upon us, as was another stupid-o’clock start. We clambered our way up the steps as the sun rose and were treated to that picture-perfect view with a smattering of morning fog. As we had decided a touch more punishment was in order – we walked up to Machu Picchu mountain behind the ruins in the mid-day sun. And as the punters promised as they past us on their way back down – it really was worth it.

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Tiring walk up the inkan steps...

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To finally arrive at the piece de resistance... So moody and covered in fog

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Proof we were actually there

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Picture perfect day

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Our tour group on the terraces

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View from afar

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Woohoo. Made it up to Machu Picchu Mountain. Extremely gruelling climb up but so worthwhile

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How do they cut these bricks so perfectly with no tools? Remains a mystery.

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Touristy cusco street art

Another fabulous video for entertaining viewing

Posted by ladiesofleisure 18:07 Archived in Peru Tagged waterfalls mountains hiking peru trekking machu_picchu glaciers salkantay cuzco inka altitude mules tramping thermal_poolcusco tramps machu_picchu_mountain Comments (4)

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