Costa Rica Adventure & Wildlife Special — Rafting, Ziplines, Manuel Antonio (7 Days May-November)

Pure Adventure in Costa Rica – A Green Season Special (May-November 2017)

Join us this Summer or Fall for an exhilarating adventure in gorgeous Costa Rica, sampling the country’s finest outdoor adventures, while staying in comfortable mid-range hotels and lodges. This is a great trip for couples, friends and families with teenage children looking to see Costa Rican wildlife and enjoy some true adrenaline outdoor sports like rafting, ziplines, and canyoning. May through November is a fine time to visit Costa Rica and save some money by traveling in the “green season.” While rain can happen almost any day, typically mornings are fresh and clear, with only a brief thunderstorm in the afternoons and a steady, relaxing drizzle at night while you sleep.  September and October are the rainiest months on the Pacific side – especially for families or couples looking for a romantic trip, we’d generally recommend a visit to the dry Caribbean side of the country instead during those 2 months. No matter when you can go, don’t hesitate to join us and experience some of the best outdoor fun that Costa Rica has to offer!

Starting at $995/person!

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Enjoy Costa Rica’s most famous volcano and beautiful Pacific beaches
  • Whitewater rafting, ziplines, canyoning and an outstanding wildlife hike
  • Comfortable, mid-range hotels
  • San Jose to San Jose
  • 7 days – this makes an ideal Sunday to Saturday trip, so you just use 1 week of vacation
  • Start any day of the Green Season (May 1-November 30)

Remember all of our trips can be customized!

See All Costa Rica Trips >>


DETAILED ITINERARY

DAY 1: Arrive Costa Rica

Welcome to friendly Costa Rica! Today arrive at San Jose International Airport (anytime is OK). Our arrivals representative will meet after you clear immigrations and transfer you to your central downtown San José hotel. The balance of this afternoon or evening is free at your leisure.

Overnight in San José, Presidente Hotel or similar, standard room

DAY 2: San José – Pacuare (Class III / IV Whitewater Rafting)

Prepare for an early start today – your guides will come to your hotel this morning and pick you up for the drive to the river put in.

The Pacuare River is one of the best choices for true adventure in Costa Rica. No other trip in the country exists that offers you such a perfect blend of wilderness exposure and excitement, all in one day.

The Pacuare is world famous for its sheer beauty. A true river gorge, it is flanked by steep, green walls. Here you enjoy the feeling of total isolation from urban life and the realness of being connected with nature. You see waterfalls cascade into the river from both sides as colorful, tropical birds fly right over your head. Amazing views of this virgin tropical rainforest area appear before your eyes as you descend this true exploratory land. Wildlife is abundant, with sloth, toucans, parrots, coatis, morpho butterflies and colorful frogs being common sights.

After your river trip is finished, take out and enjoy lunch with your fellow rafters. Then transfer to Arenal Volcano, with the balance of the evening free leisure to enjoy the hotel’s pools and hot springs.

Note – for families with children 13 years and younger, we can customize this trip and arrange easier, alternative rafting trips and river adventures, for example, on the Class III Sarapiqui (best for ages 9-13) or Class II Rio Balsa (best for kids aged 8-13) or the easy Class I safari float on the Pena Blancas river (ages 4 and up).

Overnight in Arenal, Arenal Manoa Hotel, Junior Suite room (BL)

DAY 3: Arenal Volcano (Zipline)

After breakfast in the hotel, head out for the outstanding Sky Trek & Sky Tram zipline tour. Your tour will start riding an open-air gondola from the ground to the heights where you’ll be dropped off at an observation area for fantastic views. From this area, you will start riding down on a zip line track stretching across canyons and in between treetops, the exhilarating adventure of zip lining down the mountainside begins; ultimately returning you to the starting point at the main building. This is the most thrilling zip line in the country.

The afternoon is free at leisure to enjoy facilities of the hotel or make a wander into interesting little La Fortuna village that is at your doorstep.

Overnight in Arenal, at the Arenal Manoa Hotel, Junior Suite Room (B)

DAY 4: Arenal Volcano (Canyoning)

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, enjoy the awesome Pure Trek canyoning tour, arguably the best of it’s kind in the country. Your Pure Trek Canyoning experience includes 4 Rappels (3 waterfalls and 1 rock wall), Monkey Drop (zip line and rappel) and a Rock Climb in a beautiful rain forest slot canyon. This tour is for young & old and everyone in between! Lunch is included. This afternoon is free to enjoy the hotel or book an optional afternoon tour.

Overnight in Arenal, Arenal Manoa Hotel, Junior Suite Room (BL)

DAY 5: Arenal – Manuel Antonio

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, transfer to Manuel Antonio, situated on the central Pacific coast. This afternoon at leisure to enjoy views and facilities of the hotel or wander to town and take in the long public beach.

Overnight in Manuel Antonio, at The Falls Hotel or similar (B)

DAY 6: Manuel Antonio (Guided wildlife walk)

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, enjoy a guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s most outstanding wildlife reserves. On this tour, a professional naturalist guide walks with you, explaining the mysteries of the rainforest and pointing out wildlife along the way. The trail we take is flat and picturesque and loops through the park making your course about 2 miles long in total. Throughout your hike, your guide will stop and discuss the park’s natural history and habits of the wildlife you’ll see. We recommend sticking around after the hike to enjoy the park’s pristine beaches.

Please note that the park is closed on Mondays.

Overnight in Manuel Antonio, at The Falls Hotel or similar (B)

DAY 7: Manuel Antonio – San José

Following breakfast at the hotel, private transfer to the San Jose International Airport. Departure should be scheduled no earlier than 1:30pm today, otherwise plan to overnight in San Jose and depart tomorrow. (B)


PRICES

2017 Green Season Rates (May 1 – November 30)

  • $995/person
  • $695/child (ages 4-9, sharing with adults)

Prices are based on double occupancy.  Single rooms and triple rooms are also available. Minimum ages apply for some of the adventures above.

Rate Includes:

  • All accommodations per itinerary
  • All ground transportation per itinerary
  • All activities per itinerary
  • Services of local, professional English-speaking guides
  • Round trip transportation for all activities included
  • Meals per itinerary, including breakfast daily
  • Taxes

Does not include:

  • Flights
  • Meals not listed
  • Beverages
  • Items of a personal nature (laundry, gifts, etc.)
  • International departure tax (US$29/person)
  • Late check-in or check-outs at hotels
  • Optional tours
  • Tips

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Wonders of Costa Rica Special – Cloud Forest, Adventure, & Beach (8 Days May-November)

Wonders of Costa Rica – A Green Season Special (2017)

Join us this summer or fall for a wonderful exploration of beautiful Costa Rica, sampling three of the country’s most prized natural treasures along the way, all while staying in comfortable mid-range hotels and lodges. This is a wonderful trip for couples, friends and families looking to see some of the highlights of this storied eco-destination and saving some money while doing it by traveling in the “green season.” While rain can happen almost every day, typically mornings are fresh and clear, with only a brief thunderstorm in the afternoons and a steady, relaxing drizzle at night while you sleep.  It’s a great time to visit and experience some of the best that Costa Rica has to offer!

Starting at $945/person!

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Enjoy Cloud Forest, Dry Tropical Forest, and Pacific Beaches
  • Comfortable, mid-range hotels
  • San Jose to Liberia
  • 8 days – makes an ideal Saturday to Saturday trip, so you just use 1 week of vacation
  • Start any day of the Green Season (May 1-November 30)

Remember all of our trips can be customized!

See All Costa Rica Trips >>


DETAILED ITINERARY

DAY 1: Arrive Costa Rica

Welcome to friendly Costa Rica! Today arrive at San Jose International Airport (anytime is OK). Our arrivals representative will meet after you clear immigration and transfer you to your central downtown San José hotel. The balance of this afternoon or evening is free at your leisure.

Overnight in San José, Presidente Hotel or similar, standard room

DAY 2: San José – Monteverde

This morning, transfer to Monteverde. Cool, misty cloudforest and deep green foliage is what has made mountainous Monteverde a hot spot for eco-tourism in the central highlands region of Costa Rica. This area is home to a string of volcanoes, both active and dormant, with beautiful national parks and diverse habitats. Enjoy a free afternoon to relax at the lodge or venture into town for a stroll. In town, you’ll find a number of interesting natural history exhibits, plus good cafes and outstanding local ice cream and cheeses.

Overnight in Monteverde, Trapp Family Lodge or similar (B)

DAY 3: Monteverde

Following breakfast, enjoy an awesome guided Monteverde cloudforest hike.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve continues to astound visitors with its beauty, bounty and great amount biodiversity. Wind-sculpted elfin woodlands give way to rainforests where tall trees – festooned with orchids, bromeliads, ferns, vines and mosses – rise high into the sky. On clear days, see the Pacific Ocean from the continental divide. Return to the hotel in time for lunch with the afternoon free for an optional activity or rest and relaxation.

Overnight at Monteverde, Trapp Family Lodge or similar (B)

DAY 4 : Monteverde – Rincon de la Vieja

Breakfast at hotel. At morning, transfer to the greater Rincon de la Vieja area, a region famed for its unique dry tropical forest. Check in at hotel and rest of day free to enjoy facilities of hotel and the area.

Overnight at Buena Vista Lodge, standard room (B)

DAY 5: Rincon de la Vieja

This morning, enjoy the fun full day Buena Vista Mega Combo tour. This tour includes a great zipline adventure with 7 ziplines averaging over 300 feet high, a 1,300-foot waterslide, a sweet waterfall, horseback riding and hot springs all in one adventure! A delicious lunch is included. A minimum of 2 travelers is required to run the megatour, which operates only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If your stay here coincides with a different day, we’ll book and include a different day tour for you.

Overnight at Buena Vista Lodge, standard room (BL)

DAY 6: Rincon de la Vieja – Tamarindo (Pacific beach)

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, transfer to the North Pacific and Tamarindo.  Once a quiet surfing and fishing hamlet, Tamarindo has evolved to be the area’s most accessible tourist town. Located on the central west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tamarindo offers unspoiled beaches and incredible biodiversity. Despite the town’s recent development, it retains the laidback vibe that is so characteristic of the region.

Afternoon is at leisure to enjoy of facilities of hotel or the beach.

Overnight at the Pasatiempo Hotel in Tamarindo, standard room (B)

DAY 7: Tamarindo  

Breakfast at hotel. Today is free at your leisure.

Overnight Pasatiempo Hotel in Tamarindo, standard room (B)

DAY 8: Tamarindo – Liberia Airport

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, transfer to the International Airport in Liberia for your flight out. You can schedule your departure anytime, but a late morning-afternoon departure is going to be the most comfortable.  An alternative is flying out of San Jose International, however you’ll need to fly from Tamarindo in the morning to San Jose by scheduled light air (flights are not included), so you would want an international departure, typically, for some time after 12 noon. Adios Costa Rica! (B)


PRICES

2017 Green Season Rates

  • $945/adult (May, June, August-November)
  • $995/adult (July)
  • $545/child (sharing with 2 adults)

Prices are based on double occupancy.  Single rooms and triple rooms are also available.

Rate Includes:

  • All accommodations per itinerary
  • All ground transportation per itinerary
  • All activities per itinerary
  • Services of local, professional English-speaking naturalist guides
  • Round trip transportation for all activities included
  • Any meals per itinerary, including breakfast daily
  • Taxes

Does not include:

  • Flights
  • Meals not listed
  • Beverages
  • Items of a personal nature (laundry, gifts, etc.)
  • International departure tax (US$29/person)
  • Late check-in or check-outs at hotels
  • Optional tours
  • Tips

See All Costa Rica Trips >>

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Top 7 Mid-Priced Safari Lodges and Tented Camps in Tanzania

If you are looking for a safari price that is “middle of the road”, here are our favorite options.  Remember, you can customize your itinerary and mix-and-match the accommodations on any of our Tanzania safaris.

Endoro Lodge

This is often the first stop on safari as it is near both Lake Manyara and Tarangire.  It is built on a hillside with nice views.  The standard rooms are very spacious for the mid-range price.  It has a swimming pool, and they offer guided walks of the farm.


Tarangire Safari Lodge

If you have 2 days in Tarangire National Park, this is a lovely permanent tented camp built on the top of cliff overlooking a river where the animals come to drink.  They offer a fun happy hour on the patio as the sun sets.  There is also a swimming pool to relax after safari.


Lake Manyara Wildlife Lodge

Located on the escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley and Lake Manyara, this is very popular after a game drive in Lake Manyara or Tarangire.  It has a great swimming pool and nice views.


Serengeti Halisi Camp

This mobile tented camp moves between central Serengeti and Ndutu areas to follow the migration.  Small and comfortable, this offers an authentic “out of Africa” experience.  They have friendly service and great food.


Kati Kati Tented Camp

Also in the Serengeti, this is an intimate mobile tented camp with 10 tents.  The camp also has a spacious dining tent, lounge tent, and evening bonfires.


Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge

There are only 4 lodges on the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.  This is the most reasonably priced one of the lodges.  It has amazing views into the Crater.  It is wonderful place to watch the sun set.


Ngorongoro Farm House

This lodge is located on a farm and coffee plantation.  They offer walks on the grounds, and there is a nice large swimming pool.  Rooms are large with private patios.


See the full list of mid-range safari accommodations >>

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Trip Report: Peru with Machu Picchu, Amazon Rainforest, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Sacred Valley

Traveler: Tina C.
Travel Dates: July 18-August 4, 2014
Destination Visited: Machu Picchu, Amazon Rainforest, Lake Titicaca, Cusco, Sacred Valley

We decided to go to Peru last fall, as we had laid out plans to undertake 3 days in the Peruvian Amazon, the 2-day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, hikes up Huayna Picchu and Putucusi, mountain biking and horseback-riding in the Sacred Valley of Cusco, sea kayaking in Lake Titicaca (which is just fun to say)…all of which was met by my usual angst regarding our capacity to meet the physical challenges, tolerate the heights, not fall of cliffs, or cycle off the edge of the world….

Mountain Biking past ruins

Day 1 (July 18) – Travel to Lima

We left early morning….The Lima guide met us at the airport and I was thrilled to discover that Peruvian winter here was 20 degrees Celsius! We drove to our hotel and soaked in the atmosphere at 1 am…sketchy, rundown, deserted, third-world country neighborhoods. Hmmmmm…this was Lima? We later learned that the drive from the airport is not representative of this beautiful city…very very true. Got to our hotel, found our rooms, kids speaking far too loudly in the hallways, waking the other patrons, and hit the hay at 3ish. Wow…we are in Peru!!!


Day 2 (July 19) – Lima

Lima Tour PeruWe had a good breakfast at the hotel and then set out on foot to explore Lima on our own. Walked through markets and discovered the souvenir and specialty items particular to Peru…including phallic monkey pipes toting giant penises that the boys amongst us got quite the kick over. We walked to Huacca Pullaca, in C.’s words “The Mud Pile”… a pre-Incan historical/ceremonial site that covered large portions of the city at one time….We walked and walked around Lima and discovered it was an awesome, large, bustling city with an active downtown core. It reminded me a little of Mumbai…in the sense of a large coastal city, bustling with people, merchants, and restaurants with the charm of old-world architecture, imperfect store-fronts and oodles and oodles of people. I just love the atmosphere in these older countries…just walking down the street is a feast for the senses. We made our way to the ocean and discovered tons of surfers, a beautiful oceanside boardwalk, and all the American outlets you can imagine…Guess, Nike, Starbucks…you name it!….

Gr. had organized for us to attend a futbol game between two rival Lima teams at the Stade Nacional, and we were all super psyched to go! We had absolutely NO IDEA WHAT WE WERE IN FOR!!!! THANK GOD WE DECIDED TO GET THE FULLY ESCORTED EXPERIENCE WITH LIMO AND GUIDE BECAUSE WE WOULD HAVE BEEN TOAST OTHERWISE!….

We got dropped off at a Japanese restaurant called Osaka, where we were meeting a colleague of the guys living in Davis, CA, and his beautiful Peruvian wife from Arequipa (B. and S.)…. We drank Pisco Sours, lychee martinis, and ate divine sushi…enjoying a very nice late late dinner with this couple. We discovered that just as in Europe, restaurants are bustling at 11 pm far more than at 6 pm for their evening meal!…..


Day 3 (July 20) – Lima City Tour

Lima Tour PeruWe waited for our guide for a city tour of Lima at 9 am, who didn’t arrive until 10 am…mixup at the local office for which they were insanely apologetic. We piled into the coach for a half-day tour of the city and got to see how large this city of 9 million people really is. As we got off the bus at one of the town squares, we happened upon a back street where the members of a parade (taking place that evening) were practicing. Independence Day in Peru is July 28, but the parade was happening today, and scores of young and old from the community, adorned in bejeweled costumes and makeup, danced, sang, and twirled down the street. It was super cool to see…felt like Peruvian Mardi Gras, without the naked women and pearl necklaces flying about! . . . .

We made our way around town, and finally took a tour of St. Joseph of San Francisco (I think…I’m writing this on Day 6 of what feels like three weeks in!), where we enjoyed seeing the catacombs! Walking through centuries-old tombs carrying scores of bones, skeletons, and skulls…all beneath the chapel of a huge beautiful church. At one time, it housed over 2000 (or 3000) monks (can’t recall the number…but what’s a thousand monks between friends?)…and now only holds 20! Far more elbow room at the dinner table in the 21st century! (Do you think they ASK to pass the salt???).

The coach dropped us off at our paragliding adventure cliffside, some of us with knots in our guts…but what the hell…YOLO, right???….We paid the 87$ each to jump off a cliff, and signed multiple waivers clearing the company of any responsibility for their performance….We were literally SOARING through the air…way above the city buildings and far above the beachside highway and ocean! It was SURREAL!….

We then made our way back to the beautiful restaurant at Huacca Pullaca where we were meeting our new friends for lunch….The boys immediately chose to order the Peruvian specialties of Guinea Pig and Alpaca….and loved it!….It was awesome to meet this delicious family, and the experience of shared laughter with people you’ve just met from another culture makes you realize that the world is a small place and that family is family everywhere….We said goodbye to our new friends and headed home, preparing for a 2:30 am wake up call to catch our 5:30 flight to Iquitos. The Amazon Adventure Awaits…


Day 4 (July 21) – Lima to Muyuna Lodge 

3-Day Iquitos Amazon Lodge Excursion Muyuna LodgeSoooo much fun waking up waaaay before the crack of dawn to catch a crack of dawn flight! We were flying to Iquitos in the north of Peru, to spend two nights in the Muyuna Lodge 140 kms up the Amazon River, and one night in Iquitos….It was beyond surreal to be in the Amazon…seriously…how are we here??? Thick rainforest brush could be seen from the plane absolutely everywhere, a spectacular view. The humidity hit us immediately upon landing, and C. was quick to find a gargantuan moth in the airport within five minutes. I loooooved the drive from the airport to the offices of the Muyuna Lodge within Iquitos, as it reminded me of Kerala, India. Little tuck-tuck scooters littered the roads, entire families on mopeds with infants between (slightly older) siblings, tropical foliage along the roadside, old, rundown signage everywhere and that general feeling of “this city has existed here forever”!….

We get to the offices of the Muyuna Lodge, where we leave our large suitcases for two nights, and take our essentials in BACKPACKS…soooo not easy for a woman…even if she’s headed to the rainforest! NO…the bugs won’t care what you wear and your hair is a humidity nightmare throughout, but we still need options…long-sleeved/short-sleeved…shorts or pants…etc. etc… We then headed out to breakfast before the 3-hour speedboat journey to the Lodge….We then headed over to the boat dock and made our way down the AMAZON RIVER to our home for three days….I felt like Huck Finn going down the river, and observing the locals, in their hand-made houses, cleaning their clothes and pots at the rivers’ edge; young children in canoes all by themselves, spear fishing for the needs of their family. Our cultures were dramatically contrasted by the sight of a five-year-old boy canoeing all alone in a dilapidated old canoe…no adult supervision…no life jacket…just doing his thing! It was adorable and AMAAAAAAZING to see!

The lodge was a super cool, eco-friendly venue, with exceptional staff and brilliant food. We had four rooms assigned to the eight of us, so each pair got their own spacious hut, bathroom, and deck with two hammocks to lie in and relax between jungle excursions. No hot water but who needs hot water in this heat? Very Amazonian…except for the flushing toilets, showers, and king size beds!!! There was a dining hall where all the guests would enjoy their meals, a game of cards, or just relaxing with a drink. We were assigned a fabulous guide named Carlos, offered a delicious lunch, and given the keys to our huts with a time to return for our first river adventure with Carlos. It was truly surreal. WE JUST COULDN’T BELIEVE WHERE WE WERE!

Headed out down the river a couple of hours later in a comfortable motorboat with Carlos as our guide…He had an uncanny ability to locate the wildlife within the trees…even smelling the monkeys before seeing them….

After dinner, we had the most exciting excursion of caiman viewing in the dark! We headed out after 8:00 pm with Carlos and …an expert at catching caiman. We would slowly approach these smaller alligators near waters’ edge and the guide would literally grab the caiman from deep down in the water with his bare hand! After missing the first few, he caught a white caiman for all of us to admire, touch and hold before releasing him. This was definitely a highlight for everyone, but particularly the kids….The hysterical part of this excursion though, was the experience of being hit by jumping fish as we jet-boated down the river…they would jump in willy-nilly, hitting us by surprise in the darkness…. Sleeping in the huts was very comfortable…no AC or fans but it was very pleasant. Fascinating to hit the hay with all kinds of animal calls, whispers, screeches, buzzes…when are you EVER in a position to sleep with the wildlife of the AMAZON…like seriously?


Day 5 (July 22) – Muyuna Lodge

3-Day Muyuna Lodge Iquitos Amazon Lodge ExcursionIt would seem that Peru, like India, runs on its own standard time. Meals are at set times, but inevitably arrive 30-60 minutes later…but really…where are you rushing to in the middle of nowhere???…We got up early for a river excursion with Carlos at 6:30 am, and saw birds, monkeys, sloths…well…some of us did! We returned for breakfast and then got ready for our jungle excursion…a two-hour hike in the woods! Dressed in long pants, long sleeves and billy boots, bug- and sunscreen-creamed…we were an enthusiastic bunch bug-eyed for the local wildlife! Carlos stops us within the first five minutes to explain that we must walk quietly, in single file, so that he and his assistant, armored with a machete, can keep an eye out for poisonous snakes…an unlikely occurrence, but nonetheless…let’s embrace the boy scout motto…be prepared!

We set off on our hike on a trail through the rainforest pinching ourselves that we WERE IN THE FLIPPING RAINFOREST…and admired the flora and fauna that was pointed out to us along the hike….Shortly thereafter, as we were following the guide in anything but single file as instructed, Carlos suddenly screamed in his native tongue, arms flailing..EVERYBODY STOP NOW!!!!! THE DEADLIEST SNAKE WAS WITHIN A FOOT OF R.’S FEET! We initially didn’t know what the hell was going on, but his assistant was quick to hack it with a stick, stunning it to immobilize it…scaring the sh– out of everyone!….Thin little innocent-looking bugger…but with a deadly venom that had caused deaths…so the lodge now stocked the anti-venom…but only enough to save one small gringo!  After everybody recovered from our near-snake experience…we went on to see tree rats, marmoset monkeys, red ant villages, and drank tree sap called Cat’s Claw that cured everything from arthritis, to parasites living in kids’ bellies…and I think he said AIDS and cancer too…but don’t quote me! Super cool walk…ready for lunch.

After lunch was a highlight for the group…piranha fishing! We took off in a small motor boat and got stuck in some seriously thick floating plants with the motor. It occurred to us that deep in the Amazon, there ain’t no cell coverage so when you’re stuck….As we watch our kids’ noses buried deep in their iPhones…it’s seriously tough to imagine being CYBER-MIA FOR MONTHS AT A TIME!

Thankfully, our machete-toting snake killer was equally handy at releasing us from this thick brush and we were off to our fishing sites! We got super cool makeshift fishing rods…out of a forest stick, some heavy wire (we are seeking man-eating piranha after all), and chicken liver as bait….At various times, the fishing rods would break and a neighboring fishing crew would offer theirs as they floated by…everyone’s so generous and friendly around here!…

We enjoyed some lovely aji galina, a common Peruvian chicken dish served in a yellow, flavorful sauce with their local rice for dinner in addition to our beautiful plate of lightly fried fish…many bones but very tasty!….After dinner the girls and Gl. decided that we’d had enough Amazon for the day and chose to forgo the tarantula- and snake-sightings during a night walk through the jungle, guided by Carlos. It’s tough to get up off your tukhus after wine, a yummy meal and the energy involved in re-anti-bugging oneself for an evening stroll filled with deadly surprises! Non Merci! The night sky in the Southern Hemisphere, unfettered by city lights, is however, SPECTACULAR! I don’t think we’ve ever seen as many bright stars, the Milky Way as clearly, or the constellations one would see at this latitude. Amazing. The boys and Gr. discovered two scorpions (one extremely venomous), tarantulas, a red beetle, and bamboo rats amongst other night crawlers. Everyone was quite happy with their cold-water showers after a great day. Dying to wash some of these clothes we are re-wearing…containing a lovely melange of deet, sunscreen, sweat, the occasional fish spray…you name it! As we packed only for the few days here in our knapsacks, a large variety of clothing was not really an option! Who cares…we are in the AMAZON…can’t stop saying that…


Day 6 (July God Knows What…) – Muyuna Lodge

3-Day Muyuna Lodge Iquitos Amazon Lodge ExcursionWe all marvel constantly at the ability to lose complete track of time….Seriously…when the days are so jammed with activities…time FLIIIIIIIIIIEEEEESSSS…NOT JUST THE BUGS! We had lots to do on our last morning at the Muyuna Lodge so we were up and at ’em by 6:30 with Carlos…! We canoed over to a local village, entitled San Juan de Yanayacu containing the grade school for nearby families, a few huts and a few stalls selling handicrafts, literally right on the river. We explored the small area and offered full price to the ladies selling their wares, trying to buy from each of them so as to spread the wealth… to the locals…and THAT was the point. School was out on break, but we peered into the one-room classroom to discover desks and chairs, chalkboard…some artwork on the walls…no whiteboards, internet, iPads, or computers here! Underneath one of the small huts held up on four sticks was a wooden box…the local jail! If ya done wrong you be holed up in solitary for up to a week!!!

We then jet-boated down the river while Carlos prepared our breakfast trays to be enjoyed under full sun, along the amazon river ride, with scores of white egret birds flying before us…rather surreal. We were heading over to the highlight of our stay…a swim in the river with the pink and gray dolphins!….It was AMAAAAAAAZING! Refreshing water, with a significant little insidious undercurrent that had the three girls miles from the boat within minutes I must say! It was seriously awesome…definitely an amazon highlight! On our way back, we stopped to see the GIANT lily pads in another body of water….

We returned to pack our bags, shower, and eat another yummy meal before our three-hour boat ride back to Iquitos for the night….All in all, a truly memorable experience at The Muyuna Lodge…another great highlight of our Peruvian adventure….Finally reached Iquitos, retrieved our luggage from the offices and got a lift to our hotel close by. Super cool colonial-style hotel…3-star place with some opulent appeal…recommended by Barbara…cool digs for our one night. The BEST part was that they were willing to do laundry for 35 Soles/kg of clothing so we gave them everything but the kitchen sink! Poor guys stayed up quite late and worked early morning to finish the task!

We headed out to dinner and I just loved the feel of this small Amazonian city…it reminded me of India. We passed stalls of merchants selling the same souvenirs we purchased from the village near Muyuna (go figure), and we strolled along the local boardwalk, choosing one of the restaurants recommended to us….


Day 7 (July 24) – Iquitos Tour, Belen Island, and Flight to Cusco

Got out around 7 am after breakfast at the hotel, for a quick tour of Iquitos with our guide Mario, and a stop at one of our favorite things to do on vacation together…VISIT THE LOCAL FARMERS’ MARKETS…WITH ALL THE LOCALS SELLING THEIR MEATS, FISH, VEGETABLES, FRUITS, WORMS, ENTIRE PIGS, CHICKENS, COWS, GUINEA PIGS, AL PACA, STILL-MOVING CATFISH, SPICES, SHAMAN MEDICINAL PRODUCTS, TEA…YOU NAME IT, YOU CAN FIND IT! Gr. was determined for us to see Belen…one of the districts of Iquitos that housed this famous market and it was soooooooo worth the early wake-up call! People were all set up by 5:30 am…ladies wearing their jewelry and dresses, scaling and gutting fish…then turning to their daughters to brush their hair or mind their babies swinging in the famous Peruvian blankets that DO EVERYTHING! Seriously…properly knotted, these blankets will cradle a newborn-to-toddler on your back for the whole day, a sack of potatoes, be a hammock in the market for a small child, etc etc…! We marveled at all the food, took tons of pics and thoroughly enjoyed our early morning walk! I don’t know too many friends who would enjoy such experiences on holiday…another incredible compatibility between our families! This is like Disneyland for us!!!

We then hopped on a boat and got a tour of the floating islands of Belen, with a boat driver and Mario as our guide. Super cool experience…saw the village along the water with their straw hut homes, satellite dishes and apparently, 52-inch TVs…within walking distance of their wooden box outhouse located at river’s edge! Floating school, bar, disco, wow, wow and wow! We all sat on the roof of our boat and marveled at how some people live their lives…absolutely fascinating to me! Sooooo cool…all of it a feast for the senses and a great education for all of us! We all reiterated that these types of holidays are indeed, our favorites because ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING IS NOVEL, STIMULATING, AND JAW-DROPPING…TRULY UNFORGETTABLE!….

Trips to Peru: Cusco/Sacred ValleyOff to the airport we went…headed to Cusco for a few days before our trek to the incredible Machu Picchu…Peru’s jewel in the mountains! Arrived in Cusco around 5:30 and we were met by Nick, the local agent who picked us up and delivered us to our hotel for three nights. He was super friendly; offered a few bits of history during our drive; suggested ways to acclimate well to the higher elevation by having a light meal, drinking coca tea (but not too late as it’s considered Peruvian Red Bull) and taking it EEEEEAAAASSSSY! It gets dark very early in the Southern Hemisphere at this time of year, so we arrived at our hotel at dusk, with all the city lights in the town square making Cusco look absolutely BEAUTIFUL! There were homes situated up along the mountains with a large town square in the “valley”, lined with beautiful cathedrals, shops, restaurants, and hotels. It was stunning. It reminded us of a ski village to some extent, with the mountains in the backdrop, and the cooler evening air necessitating warmer clothing. Gl. noted an immediate shift in his breathing capacity, and a faster heartrate, as did K. within a little while. We headed out for dinner after settling into our Casa Andina classic, ideally situated in the heart of all the action. We ate at The Inka Grill, and I was very very much on the lookout for altitude sickness symptoms, and as such, mildly uptight! We elected to wait on considering the Diamox medication to see if we acclimated on our own accord. Hit the hay early…we were in Cusco! Huuuuuuge temperature shift from the Amazon!!! M. and I were FREEEEEZING…it was ridiculous considering what we deal with at home!


Day 8 (July 25) – Cusco

1-Day Cusco City Tour and Ruins (half day)We had the morning to ourselves so we slept in until 7:30…oh my…what a treat! Walking outside our hotel, we were floored to discover hoards of people right outside our hotel, and effectively all over the square, preparing for the grand festivities of the day…the ceremonies and parade associated with Peruvian Independence Day….We walked around on our own all morning, ending our time in the Inka Museum, where Gr. organized an English guide. We learned about the Inkan Empire, enjoying the tour, but eventually finding ourselves grabbing bench seats wherever we could to sit down. I suppose we were all feeling the altitude. We decided to head for a short nap before meeting our guide, Harry Salo, who would accompany us throughout Cusco, and onto MP…thereby spending 6 days with our group….we headed out to lunch with him prior to an afternoon of walking about town, visit to the large cathedral in the town square, and other things I’ve since forgotten because I’m now 47 and writing this a week later!!!

[We] headed over to Uchu, a Peruvian Steakhouse, and the number 4 resto on Trip Advisor for Cusco! Gl. discovered this gem…we all ate like kings…perfectly grilled beef tenderloin kebabs for the men, a trio of meats for Ch., shrimp in a yummy glaze for the boys and myself, and the local stuffed potato treat for K. (as well as half of Gr.’s beef!). It all came served on a big wooden block, with four delicious side sauces, a fantastic fresh salad with avocado and peppers, and your choice of potatoes…hot chili/peanut-infused mash, sweet mash, fries, or regular mash. OUTSTANDING!…The only bummer was the fact that they placed us in an unheated section of the restaurant, outside the main building with a few other patrons…it was Saturday night of a long holiday weekend in Peru and the town was buzzing, women were dressed to the nines, and the restos were active. Oh well…it’s all an experience!


Day 9 (July 26) – Sacsayhuaman & Horseback Riding Excursion

Unfortunately, altitude symptoms have no mercy and I had a wicked night of chronic headache despite my trusted friend Advil. Manageable pain the day prior…albeit still a drag to experience…but the night came with greater intensity and I finally succumbed to the Diamox. Gl. and K. also started taking it today…R. was symptom-free. After a short while…the edge was off the pain and I felt much better.

Horseback riding at Saqsaywaman

Harry met us early today for a tour of Sexy Woman…or Sacsayhuaman? We took our coach up to this large archaeological site, where we saw the large stone constructions of the Inkas over 500 years ago. He was a great historian, and we enjoyed our tour of this large expanse of land and lookouts over Cusco. We also had an opportunity to explore some caves in this area…a definite hot spot for the kids! Shortly thereafter, we headed over to the horses, and all hopped on our vehicles for a couple of hours’ tour of the Sacred Valley on horseback! TOTALLY COOL experience! We were horsebackriding in Peru! Within the beautiful mountains, rolling hills, and guided by a lovely woman carrying her toddler daughter in one of those all-purpose multi-colored blankets on her back, as well as a young man who kept the horses in line. We would get off our hosts every so often to go explore some Inkan ruins and then resume our ride through the hills. I only freaked out once or twice when my horse bit the ass of the horse before him, suddenly changing direction and causing me to yelp! Thankfully…everybody is used to me by now…

After our ride, we went into Cusco for lunch at LIMO, a great spot in the central square recommended to us by Harry, where we enjoyed more yummy Peruvian fare. Despite the original agenda of free time after lunch, Harry offered to accompany us to the local markets for great shopping…so sweet of him. The Mercado was bustling with stalls…ladies selling everything from alpaca sweaters to futbol jerseys, to all of the local handicrafts, fruits and veggies…you name it! Most of us enjoyed trying on and buying some cozy, soft alpaca sweaters…I had to buy two! We then enjoyed a nice rest before heading out to PachaPapa for dinner, where we sat outside near a heat lamp and enjoyed EATING AGAIN!!! Not much exercise accompanied by three full meals per day…starting to feel a little rolley polley!!! Always fun navigating the narrow streets of Cusco…sidewalks are two feet wide at most (so large crowds are walking in single file along narrow streets), and motorists enjoy their right of way so good luck to ya! Good times!


Day 10 (July 27) – Chincera to Maras Mountain Biking Expedition and Ollantaytambo

We are checking out of The Casa Andina in Cusco today to head out to Chinchera, Maras, and ultimately Ollantaytambo for our mountain biking expedition. I was somewhat (okay…seriously) anxious about this ride as I didn’t know how technical, steep or flipping scary the experience would be…given my limited mountain biking experience and nervous disposition next to steep cliffs! Looking good so far, as we stopped on a wide dirt road, got outfitted with all the appropriate gear and took off at over 12000 ft altitude! Yuri and Harry were our guides for the day…very impressive riders…and flat tire changers! OMG…just a minor incline can leave you quite breathless at that altitude…but the ride was lovely with the spectacular array of mountains all around us, and sheep and cattle sharing the road! Suuuuuuper cool experience until the lunchtime stop…even with the insane uphill climb we conquered around a hairpin turn and narrow road. We enjoyed our boxed lunch that Harry provided nearby the 500-year-old Inkan agricultural site, Moray. The latter was an experimental project involving a series of circular terraces of increasing height within a large field, to determine what crops grow best at what altitudes/temperatures. Very impressive for 500 years ago!

Chincera to Maras Mountain Biking Expedition

We then took off for the more hair-raising and exhausting part of our mountain biking adventure…along some steeper cliffs and rocky terrain…I had to walk some of the more technical elements…The gang continued on after that for the final ride down the mountain to the 2000-year-old salt pans. After hemming and hawing on whether to continue, I decided to quit while I was ahead…and apparently, I made a good call. As K. exclaimed, “Fearing you’re not gonna make it is what I loved the best!”…this is MY child??? Gotta find me some of that moxy…

After visiting the really cool salt pools, we headed to our hotel in Ollantaytambo for the night, prior to our day-long trek to Machu Picchu the next day. A crazy volume of traffic had us abandoning our coach in favor of a walk to this little village from which thousands board the train, or choose to trek to Machu Picchu. After settling in, we headed out to eat at what appeared to be a sports bar in the village. Headed back to pack all of our needs into two small duffle bags and our backpacks for the next few days in Machu Picchu. Thank God for Harry’s experience and advice here…M. and I would have packed down jackets and wool hats/mitts for the hike…when shorts and short-sleeves were more appropriate! TRUST YOUR GUIDE!!! NOT THE FOLKS AT ‘SPORTS EXPERTS’ AND ‘SAIL’ THOUSANDS OF MILES AWAY WHO SOLD ME SNOW PANTS FOR THE TREK!!!!!!!


Day 11 (July 28) – 2-Day Inca Trail Express to Machu Picchu Trek

2-Day Inca Trail Express….We had to take off at 5:30 for the train to km104, from which our trek would begin. I was nervous as hell….The hike was SIMPLY SPECTACULAR…exceeded all our expectations. We started out at the train station waaaaay down below, and every hour we reached new heights…often hiking along edges of cliffs, amongst the most breathtaking array of mountains…going higher and higher! Often, I had to focus on the path ahead rather than look down or really take in my surroundings…when the treeline disappeared, we could feel the cliff’s edges!….

We finally arrive (about 5.5 hours and 12kms later) at THE SUN GATE, and come across tons of people enjoying the view of Machu Picchu from a vantage point far above. It was like turning a corner and getting the surprise of your life! IT WAS SOOOO BEAUTIFUL! WAAAAAY MORE GRAND AND SPECTACULAR THAN MY EXPECTATIONS! WOW….WOW….OMG….AND WOW…!!!!!! Like a jewel in the sky, with the most spectacular mountain backdrop…our jaws were dropping BIGTIME at its beauty. M. and I chatted with a couple from Oregon who had done the four-day alternative trail…Salkatanay?…the trail selected by trekkers when the original Inka Trail has sold out. They said it was flipping steep, scary and difficult…with many hikers literally CRYING on day 2…the steepest, most challenging, hands-and-knees part of the climb! I was VERY VERY GRATEFUL that we got to have the opportunity to enjoy the trail for one day, saving both time and energy for other activities in Peru…not to mention my nerves (don’t particularly wish to CRY on vacation!). After a million pictures cliffside…, we made our way over to MP, to revel within its stone walls, multiple terraces, hundreds of steps, some llama and sheep, and thousands of visitors.

Trips to Peru: Machu PicchuA zillion pics later (thank God Harry had the patience of a saint), the skies which had threatened rain for a few hours, darkened and (thankfully) ONLY AFTER our day’s hike and arrival…the rain came. We slipped on our rain ponchos purchased in Ollantaytambo the night before…each of us in a different color, and enjoyed Harry’s informative tour of MP in the rain! It was suuuuuper cool…a very different experience…the crowd thinned and we had a hoot of a time giggling at our colorful, goofy, cone-head outfits, touring a wonder of the world! We even saw a rainbow in the mountains…beautiful! Eventually, we headed down to the shuttle, and the rain fell in sheets as we waited for the bus. Took the shuttle to the quaint little village of Aguas Caliente, the town that hosts travelers to MP, and settled into our Andina Luxury Hotel…a lovely venue with rooms overlooking a beautiful stone-filled river, at the base of the mountains. Harry made reservations at a funky, warm, inviting restaurant, and joined us for dinner. We had a great night and felt pretty damned awesome about where we were, and how we got there…we hiked the INKA TRAIL!!!


Day 12 (July 29) – Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu

Trips to Peru: Machu PicchuAfter breakfast, Harry met us to return to MP for more exploration, pictures, and the Beattie’s hike to Huayna Picchu. The latter is the steep mountain seen in all MP pictures, hosting 1192 steps to the top, where your view of the entire site is spectacular and flipping terrifying at the same time! This was the hike I had YouTubed in advance of our trip, and had vertigo at my desk, as I watched various hikers’ GoPro images of their hike up, their terrifying experience at the top, and their hike down this massive structure. Having seen the videos themselves, the kids and Gl. equally agreed that we would sit this one out! Apart from any concern for cliffside danger, we were also exhausted from the previous day’s hike…finding every step quite physically challenging today…general fatigue at this altitude. So 1200 steep steps uphill were not on my wish list today!

They returned from their hike, sharing that indeed, the steps at the top were about 10 inches wide, and only thick enough for part of your foot, no handrails or ropes, in the open with 100 meters fall to one side! NON MERCI!!! M. was surprised that it was as scary as it was, as she was not typically anxious with heights…needing to engage those steps backwards, facing the mountain, so as not to be aware of her POSITION ON TOP OF THE WORLD! I WOULD HAVE FLIPPED OUT FOR SURE!!! SOOOOOO GLAD WE ENJOYED MP FROM BELOW FOR THOSE COUPLE OF HOURS!!!

We then spent the remainder of the day taking goofy family pictures from various terraces onsite. One of the guards interrupted our photo shoot when we were having too much fun climbing on top of each other for silly snaps! So pics were taken whenever he turned his back and walked in the other direction! It was a silly, goofy, fun afternoon in the sun…at MACHU PICCHU! Surreal…

Headed out to another great dinner with Harry at The Tree House…a sophisticated, beautiful restaurant in Aguas Caliente where I had the most delicious meal of my trip…a spectacular quinoa ravioli filled with walnuts, parmesan and Andean cheeses, and covered in a delicious pesto cream sauce…OUT OF THIS WORLD!!! HARRY DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Our boxed lunch today was also from this resto and it was delicious! Finally, M. got a great gluten-free lunch that wasn’t bags of potato chips and crackers! We had a lovely evening….


Day 13 (July 30) – Return to Cusco

….We walked and walked and walked this morning along the railroad tracks, with the kids placing one soles coins on the tracks to flatten as the trains went by. It was a beautiful warm day, and it was nice to walk on flat land for a change! . . . . We enjoyed a lovely lunch beside the train tracks with Harry, before heading over to the train station for our 90-minute ride back to Ollantaytambo, to retrieve our suitcases from hotel storage. We regrettably discovered that our almost 6-hour hike to MP could have been replaced by a measly 10-minute further ride on the train! ARE YOU KIDDING ME??? WE HIKED FOR HOURS TO COVER A 10-MINUTE DISTANCE??? We said goodbye to Harry, our guide for over six days of this fabulous adventure, and thanked him for being, in the kids’ words, A BEAST! We loved having him with us, and I particularly enjoyed a long chat along the tracks today. He was a fantastic guide, and we will miss him heaps!

The VISTADOME train was another cultural experience…and one I was much happier in than on the way TO km104 with my tummy bugaboo! We all got to sit facing each other, enjoyed coffee and snacks, and a FASHION SHOW by the train staff who were both modelling and selling their warm wear…sweaters, coats, and shawls. They also dressed as joker clowns and danced, tickled and surprised the passengers to Peruvian tunes…particularly engaging the kids who were trying desperately to pretend they were asleep! Never a dull moment on this trip…full of surprises!

On arrival in Ollantaytambo, our driver met us at the train station, guided us back to our luggage, and…we were off to Cusco for one last night.

We decided that Uchu was a must do-over for our final night in Cusco…this time in their restaurant proper!…….probably the priciest meal of the trip, and yet very reasonable in North American standards for the quality of the cuisine! We were a VERY HAPPY BUNCH TONIGHT!!!


Day 14 (July 31) – Puno

The coach retrieved us this morning for our drive to the bus station, for our WONDERBUS adventure to Puno…our final destination on this trip. Upon arrival, we discover that instead of our 4-6 hour expectation, we would be embracing a 10-hour drive today…with multiple stops at Inkan ruins, lunch, churches, and burial sites! WTF??? SERIOUSLY??? TEEEEENNNNNN HOURS??? At this point, we were at the end of our trip, and all the ruins start to look the same, and we don’t really care anymore!!!….Surprisingly though, the day passed quickly, and I was able to blog our trip throughout…an opportunity I had not had to date in our busy schedule!

….We arrive in Puno at dusk, and are met by our guide Roya, and coach. We laugh as we drive through Puno to our hotel…None of us were particularly enthralled by Puno, but our hotel was very nice, and centrally located…and we were here for Lake Titicaca. A bit nervous about reexperiencing altitude symptoms as we were now at the highest elevation yet…13500 feet!….We went out to Pizza Andina for dinner and enjoyed pizza for the first time on this trip, as well as pisco sours and red wine. Lima Street in Puno is a pedestrian-only street, hosting shops, restaurants, coffee houses and banks…and was attractive in the evening lights. Definitely cooler here when the sun goes down!


Day 15 (August 1) – Taquile Island

After breakfast, Roya and coach picked us up for the 90-minute ride to our kayaks for our trip to Taquile Island. We were outfitted with gear, including waterproof (haha) jackets, kayak skirts, life jackets, paddle and double kayak for our 2.5-hour trip. I paddled with K., who controlled the rudders from behind…and managed to soak myself through my waterproof wear! The kayak was more comfortable than I had anticipated, particularly with my sore tailbone, and it was a beautiful, warm, sunny, calm day on the water….The island never seemed to get any closer despite our intense paddling but we FINALLY got there!….

Kayaking at Lake Titicaca

Alejandro, our host, guided us to his lovely home on the island, uphill…again…:) It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and the lake looked spectacular. We arrived at the family lodge, our home for the night, and our jaws were dropping! It was the coolest venue ever, perched on the edge of the lake, a multi-room facility with bathrooms shared between pairs of double rooms, a separate dining hall and a lovely terrace overlooking the beautiful lake. We were so excited to be there…it just felt like a surreal experience to be staying with this family, and learning about their lifestyle. Soon after settling in, we were invited to the dining hall for a DELICIOUS lunch of quinoa/vegetable soup, homemade quinoa bread, and fantastic grilled fish, rice, mixed vegetables and potato. It was all beautifully presented and served to us on a lovely long table, garnished with their textile table linens that we later purchased! Papa Alejandro joined us for the meal, and Roya translated his boisterous and warm invitation to our stay. We learned all about the customs of the Ketchwa people here; their dress, how they present themselves if married, single, engaged; how to identify the “authorities” in the community by the color of their stitched caps and belts. We discovered that there was a two-year dating cutoff for the young lovers…if you haven’t decided whether you’re going to marry your partner in two years…you’re out the door…or off the cliff!….

After lunch, we headed over to the Catholic Festival…yet again, Peru seemed to have waited for our visit to host a festival/parade!!! EVERY SINGLE PLACE WE VISITED HAD THEIR YEARLY PARADE THE DAY WE GOT THERE!!! WTH??? TOO MUCH… So the inhabitants of this island celebrate only once per year, enjoying their moonshine alcohol, over a few days during the Catholic Festival. It was taking place within a kilometre of our lodge, at the town square….

Upon return from the festival in daylight, we had 2.5 hours before dinner at 7:30. In the southern hemisphere at this time of year, the sun goes down around 5:30, so it was about to be dark, and as such, much cooler. Without heat, electricity, wifi, or hot water, we all went to our rooms to lie under the warm alpaca blankets until dinnertime!….Dinnertime finally arrived, and we had been looking forward to another meal that paralleled the yummy fish lunch, but instead we were served white pasta with salsa and cheese…hmmm…a new combo! The soup was good, as was the homemade bread…but the meal was a wee bit disappointing…especially for poor M. who couldn’t eat any of it due to the gluten! We all accepted the invitation for more alpaca blankets and we were off to bed by 9:30. Wearing every damn piece of clothing we brought, and buried under several layers of llama, we actually slept very soundly, and had the ability to remove layers over the course of the night. Well, most of us did…K. had six blankets all night! Too cute…

R. woke up at 5:30 to watch the sunrise over the lake, so he and I sat outside on the terrace for 40 minutes waiting for the sun to peer above the shoreline. It was spectacular, and an enjoyable moment with my wonderful boy! In all honesty, I was so enjoying R.’s enthusiasm since our arrival at this lodge! He was attempting to speak Ketchwa from the list of statements we were given by our guide, and was most enthusiastic to give back to the community that worked so hard for their daily bread! It was a pleasure to watch him take such an interest in this community…I was a proud mommy! Equally excited by K.’s enthusiasm to buy a table cloth…he was determined and on the lookout for me…too cute!


Day 16 (August 2) – Uros Island

We enjoyed quinoa pancakes for breakfast and more homemade bread and jam, instant coffee and mint tea. We then decided to purchase the tablecloths made by the family hosting us, and felt really really good about being able to give back to the community by doing so. We learned that all proceeds are shared equally in this community, to go along with their simple good life motto…DON’T STEAL, DON’T LIE AND DON’T BE LAZY! As a psych, I would have rewritten it as a positive, but otherwise…WORDS TO LIVE BY!!! We walked down the path to the dock late morning and took the motor boat back to Puno. En route, we stopped at the floating islands of Uros…a series of 86 islands made out of straw and mud, housing mud homes, floating toilets, and a community of people that did not own shoes!!! Another fascinating experience! We got a brief lesson on how they constructed their mud homes, visited the small hut for a photo or two, and purchased some souvenirs from the young children before returning to our boat for the remainder of the journey to Puno. Apparently, when disagreements transpire between members of the community, the president of the island can simply cut that individual’s home right off the straw island…so this week there were 87 islands rather than 86!!! TALK ABOUT OSTRACIZATION! Again, the desire to just give these people the shirt off your back is intense…so we spent a few bucks on souvenir items from the two families selling their wares.

On arrival in Puno, we refreshed in our hotel, and while Gl. chose to recuperate with a long nap, the rest of us were treated to a lunch with Roya at the same pizza venue we enjoyed our first evening in Puno. Pisco Sours all around for the last time, and a nice lunch was enjoyed as we chatted with Roya about family life in Puno….After lunch, we walked the streets of Puno, purchasing alpaca blankets to take home, and greeting some “interesting” salespeople in the public markets that lined the streets. Later, we enjoyed the final meal of our trip … at a nearby restaurant, Ekekos. We had eaten our way through Peru…and yet my loving husband and great friends lost tons of weight…whilst I gained a pound!!! Dammit… 🙂


Day 17 (August 3) – Silustani and airport

Our final morning walkabout found yet another parade…a military one that takes place weekly on Sundays. After purchasing a few more souvenirs, hitting a coffee shop for a light lunch and cappuccino, we were off to Silustani, a burial site, on our way to the airport… As if we hadn’t had enough excitement, a volcano was erupting in our flight path from Arequipa to Lima, necessitating a change in direction…pretty damn cool to see a volcanic eruption from one’s airplane seat!!! And many many hours later, following airport madness, and waaaay too many customs lines, baggage checks, and security gates, we were once again seated on our far-too-small-for-my-sore-tailbone-economy-fare-plane-seat-on the original Boeing aircraft, ON OUR WAY HOME!!!


Day 18 (August 4) – Going Home

Another wondrous, incredible, exciting adventure under our belts with our great friends and fabulous travel companions!…I find it absolutely delicious that…the kids’ favorite experiences have been in third world countries!!!…We thank you Adventures Within Reach for creating such a fantastic adventure!

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Posted in Family Travel, Inca Trail, Kayak, Machu Picchu, Peru, Trekking, Trip Journals | Leave a comment

New Trip: 9-Day Treasures of Colombia with Bogota, San Agustin, Coffee, Cartagena

Come join us on our newest trip in Colombia – 9-Day Treasures of Colombia.  This is a truly wonderful trip for travelers who have joined us previously for Machu Picchu by train, loved it, and want to explore more untouched corners of beautiful Latin America, especially for its archeological treasures, vibrant South American cities, and beautiful colonial towns. Colombia’s bad reputation was valid 20 years ago, but things have changed – a lot: starting from around 2006, the nation has made amazing progress and peace now reigns in all of the areas AWR trips visit.  Travel with us and find out the truth for yourself — the only harm done is you’ll be kicking yourself for not coming sooner!

You will start in Bogota, with its bustling, creative energy, then travel to San Agustín Archeological Park, a UNESCO world heritage archeological site, considered one of the top two such sites in Colombia. UNESCO says the San Agustín Archeological Park boasts “the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America (and) stands in a wild, spectacular landscape. Gods and mythical animals are skillfully represented in styles ranging from abstract to realist. These works of art display the creativity and imagination of a northern Andean culture that flourished from the 1st to the 8th century.” San Augustin should be on anyone’s radar who dreams of Easter Island, Machu Picchu, and the like.

We continue on to the beautiful, colonial, living spiritual pilgrimage town of Popayan; the scenic, authentic heart of coffee country in Armenia; and end this amazing tour in Cartagena, the crown jewel of colonial cities in Latin America.

You can start this trip any day of the year. It makes an ideal Saturday to Sunday trip. The dry seasons in the interior, traditionally, run from December through March, then again in July and August. While it rains other times of the year, people still travel and have an amazing time. In the rainy seasons, expect short but powerful rains in Cartagena but largely skies are clear. The country is equatorial, so temperatures remain static throughout the year for the most part, with the main fluctuations caused by altitude. Only in the thick, jungle rain forests of the Colombian Amazon does rain really become profound. Our advice: the times to truly avoid travel in Colombia are Christmas-New Years and Easter Week. This is because native Colombians love to travel in their country and tourist numbers peak at famous sites, parks, hotels, cities, etc. and it is better to avoid that level of crowding.

You can easily add days to the trip, for example, in Armenia, with its hot springs, parks, and more to explore, or Cartagena, for those who are interested in scuba, photography, and the like.  Here is a summary itinerary for those of you interested in visiting the highlights of Colombia in nine short days!


Day 1: Arrive in Bogota

Bogota CathedralThis is the start of your exciting journey through a country that has so much diversity and beautiful places it will take your breath away. On arrival, you will receive a warm welcome at the airport and your private driver will take you to your centrally located hotel in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. Bienvenido a Colombia! Welcome to Colombia!

Day 2: Bogota city tour, then travel to San Agustín Archeological Park

Today you will visit the historic downtown of Bogotá, “La Candelaria,” with its magnificent churches, the government palace, and the “Plaza Bolivar.” Furthermore, you will visit the museum of Botero (closed on Tuesdays) where you can marvel at the many great artworks of the famous Colombian artist – for example, the “Mona Lisa” in exaggerated shape. Then, you will head up the Monserrate hill. The cable car will take you up to the top of Monserrate, where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the bustling metropolis of Bogotá. Here you will visit the church which is located on top of the mountain and enjoy an amazing view of the huge capital city.

Bogotá is an inspiring city that has something new to offer every day. In 2010, Bogotá was selected as a Must See Destination by the renowned newspaper, The New York Times. Dive into a city that offers a variety of art & culture, recreation, sports, and science. Following the tour, we will transfer you to the airport, where you will catch a flight to Pitalito (flight not included), where we will meet you and transfer you to the San Agustín Archeological Park proper.

Day 3: Visit archaeological sights in San Agustín Archeological Park & surroundings

San Agustin Archeological Park ColombiaGet to know this fascinating area and be inspired by the pre-Colombian culture which can be found in San Agustín Archeological Park. Today you will go on a tour by jeep to discover all the archaeological sites in the surroundings of San Agustín and the narrowest part of the river Magdalena. The archaeological park San Agustín consists of two parts: Alto de los Ídolos and the hills Chaquira La, La Pelota and Puruta. Alto de los Ídolos is the archaeological part that belongs to the Isnos region, and is characterized by artificially erected grave mounds, which are connected with each other by raised paths. The hills Chaquira La, La Pelota and Purutal are part of the Huila department, which is characterized by different symbols which are carved into stone. Outstanding are the figures at the edge of the Magdalena River.

Day 4: Travel from San Agustín Archeological Park to Popayan / afternoon walking tour

We will explore the cultural treasures of Popayan, also known as the White City. Since colonial times, Popayan has been the religious center on the road from Cartagena to Quito, Ecuador. On this tour, you will visit several important churches, the Parque Caldas, the Puente del Humilladero, and other representative sights in Popayan, which is also known as the city of faith. Popayan was also home to many poets, presidents, and writers from Colombia.

Day 5: Hike in Puracé Volcano National Park

Just half an hour away from Popayan, we will find the beautiful Puracé National Park. You will enjoy hiking through amazing landscapes and observe condors. You will be astonished by volcanoes, many lakes, unusual flora and fauna and a friendly Indian population. The volcanic character of Puracé is reflected in numerous sulphur hot springs, like the Termales de San Juan and the waterfall Cascada del Bedon. Explore one of Colombia’s most beautiful national parks!

Day 6: Full day leisure drive to the coffee heartland

Colombia Coffee TourFollowing breakfast, we will start a scenic and interesting 6-7 hour drive from your San Agustín hotel to Colombia’s lush coffee heartland. Settle into your hotel and enjoy the quiet lush green and romantic atmosphere of the coffee landscape.

Day 7: Free day in coffee country

You can choose to take it easy and stroll the area and take it all in. You may want to choose, however, from among a number of interesting optional tours available, at extra cost. Among the available tours are: a coffee experience tour, a day tour to attractive Salento and the Cocora Valley, a visit to the orchid farm, or a botanical gardens visit. You may also want to visit the hot springs or the nature parks in the region for birders and hikers.

Day 8: Transfer to airport, depart for Cartagena

Tour of Cartegena ColombiaToday, we will transfer you to the airport, where you will catch your flight to beautiful Cartagena. Here, grab your bag, enter the easy taxi queue, and head to your central hotel, maybe a 20-minute taxi ride away. You will check in and have the evening to enjoy Cartagena which really comes alive at night as musicians, dancers, and more fill the public squares.

Day 9: Depart Cartagena

Many international flights depart in the evening, so try to take one of those so you can enjoy a day here, strolling the colonial streets. Let us know, however, if you would like to add a night here and extend your stay in Cartagena.

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Exploring Lima: A Welcomed & Unsuspected Surprise

We arrive back in Lima in the evening and embrace the humidity and heat that greets us as we exit the plane; such a dramatic contrast from the cool, misty days and nights in the high Andes, just a short hour flight away. We are picked up by guide and driver, Carlos and Glenn, and whisked down the Limeña coast, the crashing waves of the mighty Pacific, on our right side, still carrying some eager night surfers. 

Lima

Lima’s inviting coastline

We arrive in the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco: our base camp for the next five days. After settling in, we decide to explore our surroundings a bit. The streets are lined with tropical trees bearing bright red flowers; the neighborhood is alive with children running down the sidewalks, beautiful couples heading out to any one of the various bars in the area, men and women selling fruits (most of which I don’t recognize) and juices from little carts and busses filled with people heading home from work and ready for the weekend; the ocean is two blocks away, just below the bluff that the Malecón (Lima’s gorgeous and inviting pedestrian path) traces, and it’s salty spray can be felt everywhere. 

Lima

Lima’s Malecon

Excited to check out Lima’s culinary reputation, we turn down two blocks from our rented apartment and get a little table at the local hot spot, La 73. This neighborhood staple restaurant, with brightly tiled floors and walls and small wooden tables, has been around for years and has a changing menu based on what’s fresh. Trout ceviche, grilled octopus and two frosty glasses of Pilsen (the local PBR) and you can’t go wrong ! 

Lima food

Ceviche and Pilsen…mmmm!

After feeling more than slightly over-full, we follow the flow of the vibrant streets to the plaza in the heart of Barranco. A local band has taken the small stage in the middle of the plaza and is drawing a crowd. Salsa beats mixed with reggae are infectious and people of all ages start to swirl each other around, happily sway and shake their hips. The antique street lamps create the perfect soft light for the scene. We explore further and walk part way down the Barranco stairs past lines out the door for restaurants, artists selling their crafts and happen upon a Brazilian capoeira circle. We watch for a while as the dancers feign combat in rhythm with their musical counterparts. Finally we end our evening back near the plaza at the Barranco Beer Company- a haven for all lovers of great artisanal beer! 

Barranco

Barranco’s street art is colorful and always inspiring

The following afternoon, we are met and set off for a half day tour of Lima’s important historical sites. We start at the famous Huaca (pyramid), from the ancient Lima tribe, located in the middle of the San Isidro neighborhood. The massive adobe brick structure seems quite alien after having visited so many Incan sites in the high Andes. 

Lima

Exterior of San Francisco Church

We continue to the historic center, predominantly Spanish colonial architecture, where we visit the San Francisco church, monastery and its maze of catacombs. The elaborate frescos, tiled walls (tiles brought from Sevilla), lush courtyards and ornately carved cedar ceilings and balconies were an utter surprise based on the more simplistic exterior of the complex. 

We head next to the central plaza, which, unfortunately this evening, has been closed off to visitation. The reason for this, we find out, is awesome: the national symphony will be playing for several hours later at night in the middle of the plaza; entrance is free as long as interested viewers bring food and clothing items to donate to those affected by the flooding in the north of the country. 

Larco Museum

Larco Museum

We end our city tour at the famed Larco Museum- my personal favorite museum in Peru. Our guide walks us through the historical periods in Peru and art pieces that have been carefully collected from all over the country from each of these periods. Extraordinary textiles, carvings, ceramics and metal works fill the entire old-mansion-now-museum. Our guide leaves us on our own to visit the well-known erotic wing regarding all forms of sexuality as portrayed by Peru’s early ancestors. We exit through a gorgeous garden lined with soft, candle-lit lanterns and fiery rouge and peach colored flowers in full bloom. 

Lima surf

Surf’s up in Lima!

Brranco Lima

Sunset at Barranco beach

Our final day in Lima starts early on the water- surfs up! During the day, the little beach below Barranco, Los Yuyos, is filled with families sitting under large umbrellas, playing in the water and building sandcastles, while men and women weave their way through selling ceviche, roasted corn with cheese (a local favorite snack), cold beers, sodas and ice cream; in the morning, the beach is almost empty except for surfers eager to catch the morning swell before the sun becomes too strong. After several hours we have to retreat and head back to collect our bags and take off to the airport. 

Barrnaco Lima

Street art from Barranco

Peru is such a phenomenal and unsuspecting melange of adventure, history, culture, food, people, language, climates and architecture. While we are excited to be heading to Chile, it seems that after two and a half weeks in Peru, we’ve only scratched the surface! Numerous return trips are order- Peru, you’ve managed simultaneously awe us, captivate our adventurous spirits and pique our curiosity! 

Want to add Lima to your next Peru adventure? Check out some of these exciting excursion options:

 – 1-Day Lima City Tour with Museum Visit (half day)
1-Day Lima Culinary Tour (Full Day)
1-Day Nazca Lines Day Tour / Budget from Lima (full day)
1-Day Caral Archaeological Site near Lima (full day)

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Family Travel, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America, Travel Advice, Trip Photos | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which Route on Kilimanjaro is Best for Me?

Which route is best for you?  It depends on what you are looking for!

Climb Kilimanjaro in a groupI want to join a group:

If you want to join a group, the best option is the 7-day Machame Route.  We offer group treks 2-4 times a month.  One departure will be to summit on the full moon, some departures summit on the new moon (good for stars), and all match up with our group safaris.  You can also climb Kilimanjaro in a group on the 6-day Machame Route.

I want a route that is less crowded:

Summit Mount KilimanjaroFor a less-traveled route, we recommend the 6-day Rongai Route.  This route starts on the northeast side of the mountain and then descends on the southeast side.  This is our second most popular route on Kilimanjaro.

I want a longer route for better acclimatization:

The best route for a longer trek is the 8-day Lemosho Route.  You can even add a day to make it 9 days.  Other routes that are excellent for acclimatization are the 7-day Rongai Route and the 7-day Machame Route.

I want to summit on a full moon:

Climb Mt. KilimanjaroYou can summit on the full moon on any of the routes.  Plan the full moon date on the second to the last day of the trek.

I want a luxury Kilimanjaro experience:

This is a great option with extra comforts and safety equipment.  Our Luxury Kilimanjaro Upgrade includes many nice features including:

  • Personal porter to carry your day pack
  • Oxygen and hyperbaric bag
  • Portable toilet and camp shower
  • Extra pad and camp pillow
  • Many other extras!

I am traveling in rainy season (April-May):

In the rainy season, we recommend the 6-day Marangu Route as this is the only route where you sleep in huts.  The other option is the 6-day Rongai Route as it tends to be drier on the north side of the mountain.

Climb Kilimanjaro on the 5-day Marangu RouteI want something short and cheap:

The shortest and cheapest trek is the 5-day Marangu Route.  However, we recommend at least 6 days on the mountain for better acclimatization.

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Introduction to The Luxury Salkantay Lodge to Lodge Trek

Trekking in Peru is one of the best and most sought-after adventure opportunities in South America. To elevate your trekking experience, there are currently two lodge-to-lodge luxury trek options to Machu Picchu: The Salkantay Trail and The Lares Trail. Both ancient Inca trails, each offers unique views on Peru’s incredible landscapes and Andean cultures- come experience the first day of the Salkantay Trek with our South America specialist, Gretchen!

Salkantay

Salkantay Peak: One of the coveted vistas throughout this trek

SALKANTAY LUXURY LODGE TO LODGE TREK

This morning, we set off on a four hour drive from the Lamay Lodge (start of the Lares Trek), along winding bumpy roads, past verdant peaks and gushing rivers, through several valleys and small mountain villages to finally arrive at the Soray Lodge. Located in Soraypampa, this lodge marks the beginning of the famous Salkantay Trek- a gorgeous alternative original Inca trail to Machu Picchu.

The lodge sits on an unlikely flat little plateau between several enormous green mountains with epic hanging glaciers dominating the background of the picturesque scene. I never wanted leave.

Salkantay

Soray Lodge Entrance

We have the afternoon to relax so we advantage of the hot tub and sauna beside the lodge while conversing with other guests who are getting ready to embark on the Salkantay Trek. We have dinner next to cozy fire places and retire early to get rest for our hike tomorrow.

This morning we rise early and head off with Johan and our local guide Antonio. Antonio has his horse, Justin (short for Just In Case- in case a hiker, one of us, needs assistance), and two dogs, Draco and Chico, in toe.

Salkantay

Starting Salkantay trek at Soray

As the morning clouds lift, we begin our way up the valley sides towards the base of a moraine. Here, we cross a glacial stream (that ultimately feeds into the Amazon River !) and continue up, over another rocky hill to our final destination: Humantay Lake.

The lake sits just below the largest hanging glacier in the valley and is an electric turquoise color. We can only see parts of the glacier as the fog dances along the boarder of the lake; it is eerie and mesmerizing.

Salkantay

Humantay Lake

We have a snack and then continue our way back down to hot showers awaiting us.

By 11AM we are back on the mountain road to the Cusco airport – only three hours this time. As we leave the valley we excitedly discuss our plans to return to do the entire trek- if we experienced only the beginning, and it was that awe-inspiring, doing the entire trek must be beyond incredible!

Want to book your own Salkantay Luxury Lodge to Lodge Trek? Contact us!

Check out our previous blog for more information on how the Salkantay and Lares Treks vary:

Difference Between the Salkantay and Lares Lodge-to-Lodge Treks

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

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Posted in Family Travel, Inca Trail, Luxury, Machu Picchu, Peru, South America, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Airport Lounges Make Travel Special

Airport Lounges are a great way to make traveling more enjoyable.  Here are some that AWR staff has visited recently.

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San Francisco – United Red Carpet Club

  • Light snacks – breakfast items then lunch
  • Bar with free house wine and beer
  • Latte machine
  • WiFi
  • Outlets everywhere

San Francisco – Centuriun Club

  • $50/person, Kids 14 and under free
  • Buffet a chef, changing, lots of fruit (peaches, plums, Asian pears)
  • Latte machame
  • Bar
  • Wine Tasting
  • WiFI
  • Lots of different sitting areas (some good for sleeping/privacy)
  • Shower

Brussels

  • Hot and cold food items, fairly extensive (6 jams, for example)
  • Bar
  • Latte machine
  • wiFi
  • Outlets
  • Smaller rooms with couches and TV’s
  • Show
  • Spa for extra charge

Zanzibar – Dhow Lounge

  • $24/person
  • Small lounge, but better A/C than in the airport
  • Snacks, drinks, toilets
  • WiFi
  • Comfortable chairs

Dar es Salaam – Tanzania Lounge

  • $30/person for 2 hours
  • Lots of seating
  • Samosas, soup, small snacks – really pretty good
  • Free drinks and alcohol
  • 2 TV’s (English news)
  • WiFi
  • Massage chair
  • Toilets

Paris CDG – Star Alliance Lounge

  • Large, modern, different seating styles
  • Outlets at bar-height counter
  • Good food buffet
  • Free beer, wine, alcohol, soda, coffee
  • TV’s (French news)
  • WiFi
  • Showers
  • Newspapers

San Jose de Cabo

  • 2 levels for seating, snacks and drinks on both levels
  • Snacks including fruit, sandwiches, and salads
  • Free beer, wine, alcohol, soda, coffee
  • TV’s
  • WiFi, lots of outlets
  • Spa
  • Newspapers

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An Introduction to The Luxury Lares Lodge to Lodge Trek

Trekking in Peru is one of the best and most sought-after adventure opportunities in South America. To elevate your trekking experience, there are currently two lodge-to-lodge luxury trek options to Machu Picchu: The Salkantay Trail and The Lares Trail. Both ancient Inca trails, each offers unique views on Peru’s incredible landscapes and Andean cultures- come experience the first day of the Lares Trek with our South America specialist, Gretchen!

Lares

Lares Trek

LARES LUXURY LODGE TO LODGE TREK

We leave Cusco this morning when the clouds and fog are still hanging low. Our friendly guide, Johan, meets us at the quaint new boutique hotel: El Retabolo and escorts us up the narrow, cobblestone street to where our van is waiting. We pass a local church crowded with people and shooting off fireworks (a local soap opera was being filmed there today). We continue on, up over the crest of one of the hills standing tall above Cusco, and then begin our journey back toward Chinchero.

Upon arrival, we follow in Johan’s wake to the Incan terraces that skirt the town. Here we find the beginning of another Inca Trail leading down to the town of Urquillos in the Sacred Valley.

Inca Trail

Entrance to Inca Trail from Chinchero to Urquillos

The trail is still damp with the morning dew and small orchids blooming all along the trail seem to be even more vibrant when contrasted against the steep green slopes and low-hanging mist. The trail meanders for several kilometers downhill until we reach the sleepy town center with three local women gossiping on a bench and selling chicha, the local beer.

Chinchero to Urquillos

On the trail from Chinchero to Urquillos

Our driver meets us here and escorts us further south in the valley to the village of Lamay, where we arrive at the first of the luxury Mountain Lodges along the new Lares trek.

We feel beyond spoiled, as we are shown the lodge and all of its elegant comforts- we are the only ones here at the moment and feel that we have a castle to ourselves.

After a three-course lunch of exquisite local dishes, we head off walking toward the heart of the small town. Johan recommend a local bar for us to try so we steer ourselves in that direction- the promise of a cold beer sounds more than welcome on this sleepy afternoon.

Lares

One of the incredible lodges along the Lares Trek

We arrive at the bar and bow our heads to make our way through the short, simple wooden door. Six men line the four walls of the small adobe room all drinking large glasses of chicha. An antique radio sits on a makeshift shelf high in one corner of the room. We find two spots among our fellow patrons and are quickly greeted by a petite old woman with braids down to her knees. She is wearing traditional Andean skirts and flashes us a smile as she asks for our order. Deciding that our stomachs might not be able to handle the chicha, we opt for a bottle of the local beer, Cusqueña, instead. Our host quickly returns with a bottle and two glasses. The beer wasn’t cold but the experience was well worth it. At first regarded by our fellow patrons with something like suspicion, the din quickly picked up again after we had our own beer in front of us and the talk went back to what had been going on with local soccer teams and with such-and-such’s property.

Lamay

Soccer game in the quaint village of Lamay

After finishing our beer, we left the bar, saying adieu to the collective bar crowd and headed toward the town center. A small soccer pitch was set up next to the church and several young boys were playing and shouting to one another. Everyone was coming home for the evening from the terraces and fields.

We circled the church, crossed a small river winding its way through the village and went back to the cozy lodge for a deep sleep under thick down comforters and an epic sky full of stars.

Want to book your own Lares Luxury Lodge to Lodge Trek? Contact us!

Check out our previous blog for more information on how the Salkantay and Lares Treks vary:

Difference Between the Salkantay and Lares Lodge-to-Lodge Treks

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

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