Titicaca Lake, Copacabana vs Puno

  Holding the title of the highest navigable lake on the planet, as well as on my list of the most beautiful water basins in the world, tucked away high in the Andes between snow-covered peaks, Lake Titicaca is one of the most popular places to see in South America. Known for its unique panorama during the day and the night time, crystal-clear air and water, combine with mountain range around. Believed to be the birthplace of the first Incas, along with the sun, moon and stars, when creator came out of the lake.

  The main two bases to explore Lake Titicaca (and other sites in the region) are Puno, in Peru, and Copacabana in Bolivia. I did visit these two mentioned towns, and I stayed a minimum of two nights in each, which gave me some time to look around and discover them. If you’re backpacking and having loads of time, you can stop in both to see the Bolivian and Peruvian side of Titicaca, as they are very different. However, if you’re rushing a bit, I would definitely suggest staying just in Copacabana in Bolivia. Why? Well, for few reasons really. From there, most tour operators run a day trips to the Isla del Sol, with a quick stop at the Isla de la Luna. Bolivian town is way smaller and cutter. Very touristic too, which I don’t always like, but can be handy when it comes to accommodation and organized trips. Lake is looking really amazing (way better) from this side as well, you can hike some mountains around to spot the stunning panorama of the pool and surrounded areas. In Puno the lake side can`t be really accessible properly, there is no beach to sit and enjoy, and there’s not so many hills from where you can get a good grip of Titicaca. Having said all that, I loved Puno for its truly Peruvian vibe. There is loads of street food stands around, loads of mercados to grab a very tasty local meal, stand with fresh fruits, vegetables, colorful ladies with coca leafs…everything really. 

This can not be found in Copacabana, I was really struggling there to find a proper local food, and once I even ended up ordering a pizza. Not so cool. However, It’s just a food, and I think exploring the lake is the reason we are there in the first place, so again, that points us towards Copacabana over Puno. There is also loads of hotels by the lake (I was lucky to be in one), when in Puno you can hardly find any so close to the water. So I think we have a winner at the end-Copacabana. However, again on another side, Puno hold a very strong argument of having a famous Floating Islands, a must see while there. Yet, I think the trip can be booked from Copacabana too. The other reason (to cheer you up really, if you cant do both) to stay at just one place is the fact that any route you will take to get there, you will be able to have another good look at the lake, as streets are usually around the lake. If you will come from  La Paz, like myself, to Copacabana, you will even cross Titicaca on the boat.

Verdict:

Just for the lake and islands Copacabana is a winner, but if you want to feel the true vibe, less touristic place, traditional food and real life more than lake, then Puno is definitely for you! 

Either way you will choose, the bottom line is not to skip this place. Trust me, Titicaca will stay in your heart forever.

DIY Machu Picchu as a must choice

 Machu Picchu. We all heard this name before. Most popular place in South America, maybe even in the world, that attracts thousands of visitors every week, and my biggest mistake ever.

 Arriving at Cuzco already gives you the idea on how many travelers, from all around the world really, do come to see this biggest remaining side of ancient Inca town. Streets of this Peruvian town are just packed with many agencies that offer an organized tours to see Machu Picchu, that include everything. Sounds nice and easy, why not? Well, no. As soon as I arrived at Cuzco, I went to the first agency, I spotted, to buy a 2 days trip. I did not plan on doing so, but as soon as I saw the price, I did. I paid only 95$, and in this price I`​ve had a transport, one night in a hotel, ticket to Machu Picchu side, lunch, dinner in the evening and an English-speaking guide. I did some research before on prices, and it was always coming as a 200$ all together, that`​s why as soon as I saw the price of 95$, I just booked a trip. The problem was that we have been given only max of 5 hours at the side. This is not enough! You need a whole full day to properly explore it! I did not hike the mountain, I did not go to see the Sun Gate. I didn`t even see the Aguas Calientes, closest village to Machu Picchu, properly. That is a big hole in my heart, and I just do not want you to experience it. Yes, maybe there are some agencies that do offer a 3-4 days trips, where you can spend the whole day at the side. Not a problem then, just book it. Otherwise never book a 2 days tour. Here, remembering planning on getting there myself, I will share with you how to reach Machu yourself.

 Step one and most important. Please do book your ticket for Machu Picchu side in advance. Thought, I bought a tour just 3 days before going, I`ve read that it is more difficult for solo visitors to purchase one. You can do it online, and you need your passport to process. Here is a link to click. You can also do it in the office in Cuzco and Aguas Calientes.



Option number one (cheap)

  1. Lets start from Cuzco, town in Peru, as a nice and easy option to begin, thought very beautiful itself. So take a bus from Cuzco to Santa Maria (towards Quillabamba) as early in the morning as possible. The bus will take 5-6 hours.
  2. Catch a collective from Santa Maria to Hidroelectrica (an hour of journey).
  3. From Hidroelectrica just walk following the rails to the town called Aguas Calientes. Shouldn’t take longer than 2.5 hours. Of course you can take a train, but the area around is way to beautiful just to do it.
  4. Stay minimum for two nights in Aguas Calientes (loads of dorms available).
  5. Start the scent of Machu Picchu early in the morning. I would say 4-5 am.
  6. Climb the steps to the entrance and wait in a queue to enter (have a passport with you). Climbing should take around 2 hours. You can also take a 20-minute bus ride that operates every 15 minutes starting at 5:30 a.m. (24$ adult round trip, 12$ child round trip, 12$ one way). Side is open from 6 am till 5 pm.
  7. Stay there till they will close the door and return to spend another night in Aguas Calientes.


    Option number two (most expensive)

  1. Take a train from Cusco straight to Aguas Calientes. It is quiet expensive, but if you can spare some money, it will be quickest and most convenient option that will take less than 5 hours (1h to Poroy+3.5h in the train). The so-called Cuzco train station is in the nearby town of Poroy. I will take an hour to get from central Cusco to the train station by taxi. Bus is an option as well.


Option number three (the cheapest)

  1. Take a van/collective from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo (less than an hour of journey).
  2. Take a van to the Kilometre 82 train station, a 30-minute journey from where you will start walking to Aguas Calientes.
  3. Walk 30 km to Aguas Calientes, following the rail line. You can take a rail too from there, but the whole path is just amazing, and it should take just less than 8 hours.



South America in numbers-cost of accommodation, transport and food

 Backpacking, as a new way of life for loads of us, or just as an episode, always requires loads of planning ahead. It is probably the fastest growing way of traveling nowadays, especially for young people. Costing, creating your trail and allocating the amount of time, you are planning to spend in each place, is something every traveler came across. ffffdd I know it from autopsy, especially from my 6 months trip in South America. Budget was as important to me as a discovery of every possible amazing place in this colorful continent. It is not easy to find this balance, but well possible. I, myself, spend more time in Bolivia and less in Argentina, to keep my finances in place. Luckily, Bolivia became as the highlight of my journey, and I found Argentina least attractive. Mathematics and rational thinking is laughing at as at this point, as of the fact that longer you are planning to travel, the cheaper it will get. I did my backpacking in 2015-2016, but I have rechecked the recent, as of May 2017, prices, to provide you with a very current information on Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. So where do we stand with the cost? Lets have a look.


Argentina

Overlook: Most expensive in South America and expensive in general. Difficult to fully explore and enjoy for a budget backpacker, but possible to survive.

Accommodation: Not as expensive as food and transport. Hostels starts from just 7$, hotels from 14$.

Transport: Extremely expensive as of South American pricing.

   Buses: Thought, the distances in Argentina are great, and you know you will need usually 10-20h to get from A to B, buses are still way more expensive than expected. If you are brave, try to hitchhiking. Otherwise expect to pay around 100$ for a 10-12h of a journey. I paid around 180$ for a fully recline chair from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires, and it took 22 hours.

     Public: 0.40$ in Buenos Aires for a single ride. Please note that you need to buy a Sube Card, or you can pay to someone to swipe you in.

    Taxi: Since there is one official tariff, you are not going to be charged more. Relatively  cheap at 0.92$ for 1 km.

Food: Hot-dog and burger stands are on every corner in Buenos Aires, and usually cost 3$, but meal in restaurant is for 15-20$.

Daily budget: You can easily make it at 35$ a day, but this does not include traveling between cities, going and eating out.


Bolivia

Overlook: One of the cheapest countries in South America. Please do enjoy, buy organized trips, eat only out, stock up on anything you need (clothes, backpack, etc).

Accommodation: Hostels start at 4-5$, hotels at 8$.

Transport: Very cheap, especially between cities (but dodgy buses with no toilet), very cheap to travel around the city too.

    Buses: Depending on the comfort, 1-3$ for 1h of journey.

    Public: 0.15$ for micro bus for single journey, 0.40 $ for single ride in a minivan      (La Paz).

    Taxi: 1.43$ for 1 km, as official info, but it can be way cheaper!

Food: Main meal in the market (with drink) cost 1-2$. Soup 0.50$.

Daily budget: Possible to make it with just 15$ a day.


Brazil

Overlook: Not cheap, not expensive either. Buses tend to be pricey, but accommodation and food are affordable.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 12$ (Sao Paulo).

Transport:

    Buses: 40-50$ as the cheapest sit for 11h of journey (Catarinense company).

    Public: 1$ for single journey by metro, 0.74-1.10$ for the bus (Sao Paulo).

    Taxi: 0.82$ for 1 km (Sao Paulo).

Food: Kilo shops are the cheapest, it is a buffet style restaurant where you dish the food yourself, and you pay for the weight of it. Approx 7-8$ for 1 kg.

Daily budget: Can start from 20-25$ a day.


Chile

Overlook: A bit more expensive then Brazil, cheaper than Argentina. Capital Santiago a bit expensive. Buses and restaurants are pricey, accommodation is not so cheap as well.

Accommodation: Hostels start at 9$, hotels at 25$.

Transport: Relatively expensive.

   Buses: Expensive, but you can save by buying in advance (around 20% cheaper). Around 90$ for 22h of journey (Santiago to San Pedro).

    Public: You have to buy a Bip card that cost 2.24$. Micros always cost 1$ per trip, and the metro ranges from 0.90$ to 1.05$, depending on the time. If you ride the bus then transfer to the metro within 60 minutes, you will just be charged the difference in fare.

    Taxi: 0.97$ for 1km. Please note that its normal to cheat on tourists. I did not watch the tariff, and I paid 35$ for 5 km!!!

Food: Expensive to eat out in a restaurant in Santiago, easily 15$ for a lunch for one person. Fast foods and food stands (hot-dogs, empanadas, churrascos, chips, burgers, pizza slices) are cheaper (2-5$) and can be found very often. There is a big, main mercado, where you can eat a big main meal for 5-6$ in Santiago.

Daily budget: Starts from 20-25$, and can be done for 20$ only when cooking by itself.


Colombia

Overlook: One of the cheapest countries.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5-6$, hotels at 10$.

Transport: Public, taxis and domestic transport is very cheap.

    Buses: 11h of journey starts at 25$ (Cali-Bogota).

    Public: 0.49$ for single journey.

   Taxi: 1.54$ for 1km. Please use only licensed taxis, ideally recommend by hotel

Food: Very cheap to eat out. Rice, beans and meat can be found at 1.5$.

Daily budget: You can survive at 15$ a day.


Ecuador

Overlook: Vary from very cheap (in less touristic places) to more expensive (Montanita, Banos).

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 10$ (Quito). Hostels starts at 10$, hotels from 25$ in very touristic Montanita.

Transport: Cheap in general.

     Buses: 1-1.5$ for an hour of journey.

     Public: 0.25$ for single ride (Quito).

     Taxi: 0.40$ for 1km (Quito)

Food: Loads of very cheap places to eat, but need to be found in less posh streets. Rice, meat, salad with drink can be found for 3-4$.

Daily budget: Can start from 20$ a day.


Paraguay

Overlook: Very cheap, the cheapest next to Bolivia when it comes to food, transport and accommodation.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 5$, hotels at 8$.

Transport:

      Buses: starts at 1$ for 1h of journey.

      Public: 0.40-0.60$ for a single ride (Asunción).

      Taxi: 0.94$ for 1 km (Asunción)

Food: Very cheap, if not the cheapest in South America. Main meal can be found from 1.5$ in mercado area.

Daily budget: 20$ a day, but can be done from 15$.


Peru

Overlook: Peru is very affordable, just a little bit more expensive than Bolivia, cheaper than Ecuador. Cusco, from where you can do Machu Picchu, is most expensive along with Miraflores area in Lima.

Accommodation: Hostels start at 6$, hotels at 8$ (hotels at this price are in a very dodgy areas in Lima).

Transport:

     Buses: Can be found at very affordable price or for twice more for the same standard bus, so it is good to do some research. Starts from only 35$ from Lima to Mancora (18h of journey). Here I have to recommend a Civa bus company as of a cheap price and very good comfort.

   Public: Starts at 0.15$ for single ride (Lima).

   Taxi: 1.52$ for 1 km (Lima)

Food: Very cheap. In mercados possible to find a main meal for 1.5$.

Daily budget: Same as Bolivia and Paraguay starts at 20$, but can be done even from 15$.


Uruguay

Overlook: Expensive, just a little bit cheaper than Argentina, thought the size helps to explore it better.

Accommodation: Hostels starts at 12$, hotels at 16$.

Transport:

     Buses: Around 7$ for 2h of journey.

     Public: 1.10$ for a single ticket (Montevideo).

    Taxi: 0.74$ for 1 km (Montevideo).

Food: Very expensive to eat out, especially in the evening in the restaurant. Lunches starts at 8-10$, but as the cheapest one in a dodgy place.

Daily budget: Can start from 35$, very similarly to Argentina.


Bolivia in one finger

  Bolivia is, and probably always will be, one of the most diverse, colorful and simply amazing places I have ever visited. I felt in love with the landscape, people and atmosphere as soon as I crossed the border on the desert between Chile and Bolivia. It was one of the nine countries, I have visited during my six months backpacking trip through South America. Even planning this trip at home, I already knew that Bolivia will be my favorite destination. The one, I will remember forever. And it happened to be one indeed. In this section, I will briefly write you about my experience, but my main goal is to give you an overall look at prices, transport and food in this absolutely stunning country.

  Probably the hardest thing to deal with in Bolivia, and pretty much in every Latin country, is zero to minimum English-speaking people around. I have to admit that it was difficult at times with my limited Spanish. You really have to learn basics to travel there around, otherwise you may miss or lose on loads of things. Thought, in most hotels or hostels receptionists speak English, it’s not always guaranteed, and remember that they are not going to be with you everywhere anyway. But here’s something to cheer you up. Bolivia is one of the cheapest places in South America, I think only Paraguay is cheaper, so enjoy! That can also be handy in taking Spanish classes there. Sucre, capital, is most popular for it, with prices starting at just under a 5$ for a day long course. Apart from study, once there, if you need a new clothes, buy them. That’s the best place to stock up on anything you need. Don’t also waste your time in the hostel’s kitchen to cook. You can get an amazing main meal for just 1-1.5$ that comes usually with drink and sometimes even with a soup. Trips are very affordable, even that I prefer always to do everything on my own, I bought few, and I was very pleased with them. Plus, I have met other travelers too, while doing so. Prices depends on season, agency and your negotiation skills, but let’s say one day trip to the jungle can cost around 20$, including all meals, transport and guide. Ha, almost forgot to mention how important negotiations are. Try to do it if possible, especially while dealing with travel agents. You can always get a discount. I never done it while buying food or meals, simply as It was cheap already. I was even paying more, just as I felt that they deserved a little bit extra from us, tourists. But hey, do what you want!

  Transport.  When it comes to transport you wallet is happy, but your back not so. Buses are very cheap, but that reflects on the comfort you are getting. There is not much choice around too. Well, loads of companies, but with the same standard buses (as of Feb 2016), so there is no need to look around too much, check just few to get the cheapest price (they don’t differ that much neither) and buy a ticket. Average bus ride for 8h will cost you no more than 11-12$. 80% of the bused do not have a toilet, or there is one, but permanently closed to the public view. Don’t panic. Bus driver will be stopping very often next to the toilets, restaurants and shops, so you will be able to stuck up on food or use a loo. Your intake and outtake will be well taken care of on the road. You don’t even have to go to the shop really, there will be loads of colorful ladies popping in to the bus to sell all kind of food and drinks. From hot meat, corns (my fav, miss them with all my heart), vegetarian or meaty delicious pastry, to nuts, all kind of fruits and sweets. Try saltena, they are all homemade and extremely delicious!!! Anyway, even that I mentioned how uncomfortable buses can be, with minimum recline chairs and no toilet in, there will be nothing more amazing and beautiful than what you will see through the window on the road. Landscape is just breath-taking. You think you are getting from A to B, but what you’re really doing is having an amazing cheap trip thought the Andes, valleys and jungle.

  Now few worlds about city transport. Don’t hesitate to take a taxi if you need one. It’s very very cheap, but always remember to agree on the price before getting in. I am not saying they will try to cheat on you, as I found Bolivians more than fair, but just in case. For example 5km will cost you around 3$. Buses and minibuses are way cheaper…surprise, surprise ;). It is very difficult to get your head around, but once you will master that, just go for it! See yourself the real Bolivian transport system, extremely dodgy buses full of amazing people. For example, in La Paz you will be shock how buses do run, but they always have a destination shown on the front window, and they do go to the main “backpacker interest” places, so chill out. From minibus you can get off where you want, and get in where you want, just wave your hand or tell the driver to stop. They will cost you around 0.20$.

 Hostels and hotels are very cheap too. Usually I was paying max 8$ per night. In one of the best Hotels, with balcony and view on Titicaca lake in Copacabana, I paid 35$ (oh well, I need that from time to time), so you can see that good ones are affordable too. There are loads of places to stay around, and I mean it! It is like a backpacker`s dream land, so you will not look for too long to find a place you like. Bolivia is elevated, so the temperature range tend to be as the lowest in South America. That’s why in most hostels you will get a hot water, so enjoy till last, as in other countries that’s like a rare pleasure.

  At the beginning of my trip (in Brazil, Argentina and Chile), I was using a booking.com, but I quickly discovered that I am just paying more, as of booking.com fesses, so do look yourself or look online and then just go to your accommodation. There is hardly any hotel, hostel that is fully booked. As I mention before, it`s loads of them, especially in the city canter area and near all bus stations, so you won’t end up walking with your backpack for too long.

  Maps.me. Please do get a maps.me app. It saved my life many many times. You can use maps with no internet connection, and even, as because it uses a GPS, it will show you your location in most of the places. Plus, it has hostels, shops and all places of interest on it, which make it easier to find your way around.

  Food in Bolivia is like a dream. I loved it a lot. I guess, I still do, but it’s not a culinary side, so I will spare you writing much about it. However, it’s cheap, homemade, delicious and it’s available on every corner. Always go to the big markets (Mercados) to eat. Everything is there, and usually (at least in every place I visited so far) is divided in sections for stands selling fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes, cosmetics, and then there is that amazing food area, I am talking about. Oh, public toilets are there too. Well, to be honest, they are very dirty, smelly and not nice in general, but please don’t act with your nose up. It is a third world country. People live in this condition and often don’t have a choice. Think how lucky and fortunate you are. Use it, pay and leave. Anyway, coming back to my favorite topic, please do visit mercados and try the food there. Its traditional and made in front of you.

As I wrote above, the average price for the main meal and drink is 1.5$. Though, it’s not much of vegetarian range there, you can find something anyway. Otherwise you can have a delicious meat (chicken, beef) with salad and rice or potatoes. Pasta is very popular too. Dishes differ from very mild to very spicy. The most amazing thing is that you will eat with locals. They are all very nice, and they will always talk to you. I really would like to highlight places like that, as usually I was the only traveler there, and that gave me the chance to truly experience a daily life in Bolivia and atmosphere. Don’t be scared and don’t listen about food poisoning, upset tummy etc. For the whole 6 months (and trust me, I ate the cheapest street food, sometimes even sitting on my bum on the street..see pic under), and I’ve never ever experience anything like that!! Be brave and don’t act posh, but if you are like that, then Bolivia is definitely not for you!!

 Girls, now you can relax, finally. There will be non to minimum harassment from Latinos in Bolivia towards you. It’s very interesting about that place, and I still don’t understand why. People are very distant there, not pushy at all, but nice when it comes to interaction. I think Nicaragua and Salvador are on the top of the list, when sometimes I was wishing I could just give them a good old face palm. So, enjoy it and walk around without unwanted attention. At the same time, I felt like Bolivia is the safest place too.

 

Must do activities while in Baños, Ecuador

  Without a long beginning about Baños, you can find here, I will take you straight to the best activities to do while in this marvellous Ecuadorian town.

1. Cycling day tour trough the waterfalls.

 Ruta de las Cascadas is the name you want to remember. This road goes via all the beautiful waterfalls ending right at the biggest one, called El Pailón del Diablo. Yep, the name perfectly describes the evil powers of these wild waters. But starting from the beginning, the road itself makes a perfect bike trial that you will need just half of a day to complete. The whole path is only 18 km long, and mostly downhill, which makes it easy to explore. Even that you will cycle mostly on the motorway (no worries, the nature will accompany you all the way trough), you will be safe, as it is a very touristic road, and you will probably see many cyclists on your way too. Alternatively, you can walk there as well, but that will be a day long trip, so really up to you. Whatever way of doing trial you pick, you will be fulfil with the stunning fauna (many eagles) and flora of this amazing part of the world. I personally would suggest renting a bike, as the whole way has been especially remake for cyclists, and that’s not so common in Ecuador ;). Please note that there is another option, bus, that can take you right by the entrance of El Pailón del Diablo, but you wont be able to see all other waterfalls on the way, just the biggest one at the end, thought, most impressive one. Surprisingly, there are also minibuses, well vans, where you can put your bike in and ride back to Baños, if you are tired after your trip to el Diablo. They are easy to find, usually waiting just next to the entrance, and they leave once are full (5-6 people). I waited just 20 minutes and was first on the board.fdfdfdfdfd.jpg

You can hire a bike from every singe corner in Baños, loads of hostels provide that service too. The price depend on the quality of the bike and the length of the rental time, but usually range from 5 to 10$ for the whole day. You will be given all the needed gear like: helmet, pump and spare tube. Look after your helmet, I’ve left mine somewhere on the road (dunno how) and had to pay 40$ to the agency. Even my Shrek like a smile did not help. Oh well….happens. Once you ready, you can head off. Every agency or hostel will provide you with a free map, you can fallow. Frankly, the road is so straight forward, with all the sights pointing the way, you really wont be needing it much. Just to locate all the waterfalls.

  From the city center you will take a main road to the west. The name of it, surprisingly same like this trial, is Ruta de las Cascadas. During the course of the trip you will also get a chance to do a quick zipline or ride an old rickety cable car. I even saw a little bungee jump spot. Food stands with drinks are also on your way. Before the main attraction, El Pailón del Diablo, you will see many other waterfalls, but please note that not all of theme are visible from the road. To spot some you may have to walk downhill a bit or up. Just fallow the map you have been given, it should explain how to get the best view of them.

  Once you are at your final destination, you will have to leave your bike somewhere. The hostel or agency will provide you with a good lock, or you can climb right at the top of a tree to leave your bike there. The fee for the entrance is just 1.5 $, and that’s for the bottom part, from where you will see the whole waterfalls anyway. Please remember to bring a waterproof jacket, if you’re planning on getting very close to the falling waters. There is another option too (with the fee of another 1.5$) to see the falls from the top, but by the time I was there, that part was closed due to some maintenance (April 2016). Wait! I think I know now who took my helmet.ecuador.jpg

Now after seeing all the waterfalls, you can either cycle back or take a van, I mention previously. Just remember, while making your mind, that the way back will be uphill.

  Just quickly at the end, I would like to add that el Diablo was second most magnificent waterfalls, after Iquazu Falls in Brazil/Argentina, I saw in South America.

2. Swing high on Casa del Arbol.

  Fancy a swing right up to the sky? Why not! Seems like everything is possible in Baños. So called Swing at the End of the World is one of the most popular attractions there. Basically, you are getting (by food, bike or bus) right to the top of the mountain 2600 meters above sea level. Once there, if the weather is good, you will get an amazing panorama of the surrounded area, town beneath and mountain range around that will include the volcano itself. As of 2017 is still active, so you will be able to see the eruption that is accompanied by bursting ash clouds from caldera. So that’s pretty amazing already, but you still have to face swinging in to the air, don’t you? Yes you do! The tree-house is located just 200 meter above from the entrance to the side. Once you will see a little cute wooden building, you will see the swings too that are attached to it. There are two of them. The interesting fact is that nobody knows who set this whole thing up. I personally have a theory that it has been built by the aliens as a catapult, that was used by them to shot them back home. Well, whatever the destination of it was, or is, go for it, have some fun, feel some adrenaline, swing. It is safe (relatively) and not as scary, as it may looks on the photos. Close by restaurant is nice and not too pricey. I can’t say that they have a rich menu, but hungry and thirsty will find something for sure. Probably after an hour you will be done, since there’s not much to do around. Now you can cycle, walk or take a bus back to the town.

 So In order to get there by bus, you have to catch one from Rocafuerte and Pastaza stand, with first leaving at 6 a.m (for vampires). There is a more realistic option at 11 a.m. The ticket cost just 1$ each way and the bus, that will take you all the way up, will wait for you there. The return time is 1 p.m. That’s pretty much all the time you need there to spot the volcano, panorama and to have a swing.

   You can book a tour there too, but really, it is so easy to get there by yourself that in this case it is just a waste of money. The bus will, as I mentioned, costs $1 each way per person, and entry to the side is an additional $1 per person….so that’s 3$ for the whole trip. Whaaaaat?

   Again, cycling and hiking is always an option. Regarding the bike ride, it really is for a fit person, as you will have to cycle right up. Having said that, road is nice and smooth.

  Walking? Much possible, but It will be a day tour, and I have heard of a better hiking paths than this one, so I would really suggest bus over the foot.

3. Relax in hot spring.

  Since the Baños means bath in Spanish, you can not go there without soaking in a hot spring. The town is well known for it, and loads of people come here for its natural healing goodness from all around the country. You don’t have to look to far to find one. Spring pools are very cheap, and they are open all they long everyday. If you are not keen on sharing the bath with too many visitors, try to go early morning. Maybe even that’s better, when the temperature of the air is still low. Either time you will pick, you will enjoy a lot both: the water and the background around. I personally couldn’t stay for too long in hot, but if you do like it, it is a perfect place for you. The price for the entrance is 2$ before 16.00 and 3$ after. The hair cover is available for borrowing with a fee of 1$. One of the most popular pool to choose is called Las Piscinas de la Virgen.

Soaked well? Feeling relaxed? So it`s time for the activity number 4.

4. Hiking

  I will be honest with you on this one. I did not do any hiking once in Baños. I was just simply lacking of time to do so. I don’t really like writing or giving tips on something, I did not experience. However, since the hostel kitchen is better than Vikitravel, I got to learned that the area is full of great hiking trials that are easy to fallow and complete. Please ask locals or other travellers at your accommodation for some advice on it. I am sure most hotels will have a map with best ones to do. I can assure you, yet, that the entrance fee is as much as free, and you will be able to spend a day in a stunning Ecuadorian nature in peace.

5. Bike ride to Puyo

  This bike trip is very similar to the first one, I wrote about. It is just that the distance is way longer, finishing right at the village called Puyo. The whole road is 60 kilometers long, so if you are planning on going, I would suggest starting in the early morning. For a fit person is around 4 hours on a bike. Again you are taking a road towards west (Ruat de las Cascasas), and again, you will have loads of wonderfully waterfalls (yep, they are still there) on your way, combine with stunning Ecuadorian nature that will reward you with its magnificent beauty after all the cycling you will do. This time I am not so sure if you can get back on a van from Puyo, but surly from the entrance by El Pailón del Diablo.

The End

 

Baños de Aqua Santa

   Ever experience the duality of activeness that collaborates between land and humans? Sounds crazy? Ten you have to visit Baños. But first let me explain my phrase, starting with the land.

   Baños (from Spanish bath) is a town in central part of Ecuador, the country I have visited during my six months backpacking trip around South America. It is located in the land of Tungurahua province and serve also as a gateway to the nearby Amazon Basin. The area close by the town itself is absolutely unique. Volcano, high mountain range, rich in minerals hot springs, surrounded rivers and powerful, almost violent, waterfalls, that shapes the rocks around, are responsible for this fact. The volcano I mentioned is called same as the province, Tungurahua. It lies on the plateau just south of the town, and as of 2016 is still active. The pick of this stratovolcano, on 5,023 meters high, belongs to the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes of central Ecuador, and it`s located 140 kilometers south of the capital Quito. The interesting fact is that Tungurahua’s top was previously snow-covered and did feature a small summit glacier. As of increased activity from 1999, melted away. Nearby impressively high summits are: Chimborazo (6,310 meters) and El Altar (5,319 meters). These statistics can already give you the clue that this landscape must be magnificent. The fact that the volcano spectacular eruptions are visible from the town participates in it too. When the sky is clear at night, you can spot a red lava on the top, and trust me, that looks absolutely unreal. Combined with small earth shakes, that always accompany the eruption, can make you a bit thrill, but that feeling can be easily overtaken by the thoughts that you are witnessing and feeling something you have never experienced before. Its worth adding that when volcano is exploding is able to shoot an ash cloud 5,000 meters into the air. During the eruption dogs are barking all the time. How surreal is that? Volcano is so close to the town, yet you are in a safe environment to watch and enjoy this very rare moment, the moment when our earth shows you its real potential.

  It is not a secret that magnificent volcanoes are usually surrounded by little, probably everyone favourite, hot springs. Baños is well known for its hot baths with the temperature that range from 64 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and are reputed to have healing properties. These waters are very rich in minerals and many contain sulfur as well as calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, zinc and many more. Baños is full of them, and they are open everyday all day long. You can soak your body and relax, and if you still not convinced, remember that you will be surrounded by a very pretty panorama. All hot baths are very cheap (2$ for the whole day till 16.00, 3$ for the evenings), so really once there, there is no excuse for you not to try it.

 So you can clearly feel the power of this place. It display itself by recently active volcano, powerful high waterfalls and hot springs. I don’t think there’s more I need to add, to convince you that this area is fulfilled with force. The force that strikes through all the earth layers to finish right at the top, at the very soil you stand on! Its like almost this place is screaming for attention, exhibiting its magnificent strength. To show us that this land is overpowering the humans around, and we can not win!

   I started this blog by mentioning the duality. Are travelers really visiting Baños just to sit down to sip a cup of tea? No, of course not. This area is perfect for adventures people. The whole town is full of agencies where you can buy a kayaking trips, hiking tours etc. Some walking paths, up to the high hills, are so easy and straight forward that can be done without any guide. Baños is known as a good starting point for exploring the remote Llanganates National Park, surrounded mountains and hills. The city itself has a beautiful main central park with few waterfall close by. Area is also perfect for a day biking trial that goes by loads of beautiful waterfalls nearby including: Virgen de Agua Santa, Inés María, Agoyán, El Manto de la Novia, Pailón del Diablo and Machay. It is worth adding that this town never sleeps. The cute narrow streets are packed with bars and restaurants that stay open till early hours of morning. Baños is small which also helps to navigate your way back to your hotel after night out, to be ready for the next adventures day! Ok, ok….if you really enjoyed your night out, then perhaps soaking in wonderful hot springs the next day to recover would be a better idea. Either way, you will love that place like me! And for sure, your time there will be far away from lazy, sleepy holiday. But that’s what we love, don’t we?

Bolivia

Amazing Bolivia

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My route: Uyuni-Potosi-Sucre-Cochabamba-La Paz-Copacabana.

Bolivia is, and probably always will be, one of the most diverse, colorful and amazing county I have ever visit. I felt in love with the landscape, people and atmosphere as soon as I crossed the border on the desert between Chile and Bolivia. It was one of 17th countries I visited during my six months backpacking trip through South and Central America up to Mexico. Even planning this trip at home I already knew it will be my favorite destination, the one I will remember forever, and it happened to be one indeed.  In this section I will quickly tell you about my experience, but my main goal is to give you, especially I am targeting solo female backpackers, as many tips as possible and to give you an overall look at prices, transport and food.


Few words to start.

      Probably the hardest thing to deal with in Bolivia, and pretty much every Latin country, is zero to minimum English speaking people around. I have to admit that it was hard at times with my limited Spanish. I even felt like Italian sometimes with all my extra gesticulations I was using. That’s right Italians…you do that! You really have to learn basics to travel around; otherwise you may miss or lose on loads of things around you. Thought in most hotels, hostels receptionists speak English, it’s not guaranteed and remember, they are not going to be with you everywhere.  But here’s something to cheer DSC_0023.JPGyou up, Bolivia is one of the cheapest places in South America, I think only Paraguay is cheaper, so enjoy……  If you need a new clothes-buy them, that’s the place to get them. Don’t waste your time in the hostel kitchen to cook, you can get an amazing main meal for 1£, usually with drink and sometimes even with the soup.  Trips are very affordable too, even that I prefer always to do everything on my own, I bought few and I was very pleased with them, plus I met other travelers too. Prices are depending on season, agency and your negotiation skills, but let’s say one day trip to the jungle can cost 20-30 £, including all meals, transport, guide.  Ha…almost forgot how important negotiation is. Try to do it if possible, especially with travel agents, you can always get discount. I never done it while buying food or meals, simply as It was cheap already and I was even paying more, just as I felt they deserved it from us, tourists. But hey…do what you want!

       Transport, well when it comes to transport you wallet is happy, but your back not so. Buses are cheap as hell, but that reflects on the comfort you get. There is not much choice around too, well..loads of companies, but with the same standard buses (as of Feb 2016). No need to look around too much, check just few to get the cheapest price (they don’t differ that much neither) and buy a ticket.  Average bus ride for 8h will cost you no more than 8£. In 80% there will be no toilet, or there will be one, but permanently closed to public view :D. Don’t cry, bus driver will be stopping very often, next to the toilets, restaurants and shops to stuck up on food. Your intake and outtake will be well taken care of on the road. You don’t even have to go to the shop; there will be loads ofCSC_0050.JPG colorful ladies in the bus to sell all kind of food and drinks. From hot meat, corns (my fav, miss them with all my heart), vegetarian or meaty delicious pastry to nuts, all kind of fruits, and sweets. Try pastry, they are all homemade and extremely delicious!!!  Anyway, even that I mention how uncomfortable buses can be with minimum recline chair, there will be nothing more amazing and beautiful than what you will see through the window on the road. Landscape is just breath-taking…you think you are getting from A to B, but what you’re really doing is having an amazing cheap trip thought the Andes, valleys and jungle.

Now few worlds about city transport. Don’t hesitate to take a taxi if you need one. It’s very very cheap, but always remember to agree on the price before getting in. For example 5km will cost you around 1.5-2 pounds. Buses and minibuses are way cheaper, difficult to get your head around, but once you master it, just go for it! For example in La Paz, you will be shock how they do run, but they always have a destination shown on the front window and they do go to the main “backpacker interest” places, so chill out.  From minibus you can get off where you want and get in, where you want, just wave your hand or tell the driver to stop. They will cost you around 0.20£.

       Hostels and hotels are very cheap too.  Usually I was paying max 5£ per night. In one of the best Hotels with balcony and view on Titicaca lake in Copacabana I paid 20£, oh well I needed that. There is loads of places to stay around…I mean looooads. It is a backpacker land, so you will not look for too long to find a place you like. Bolivia is elevated, so the temperature range tend to be the lowest in South America, that’s why in most hostels you will get a hot water, so enjoy till last, as in other countries that’s like a rare pleasure.

At the beginning of my trip (in Brazil, Argentina and Chile) I was using a booking.com, but I quickly discovered that I am just paying more, as of booking.com fesses, so do look yourself or look online and then just go there. There is hardly any hotel, hostel that is fully booked.  As I said its loads of them, especially in the city canter and near all bus stations, so you won’t end up walking with your backpack for too long.

Maps.me. Please do get a maps.me app. It saved my life many many times. You can use maps with no internet connection and even, as because it uses a GPS, it will show you your location in most of the places. Plus it has hostels, shops and all places of interest on it, witch make it easier to find your way around.

       Food in Bolivia is like a dream. I loved it a lot, I guess I still do and sometimes I have these wet dreams about it, but it’s not a culinary side, so I will DSC_0275.JPGspare youDSC_0280.JPG writing much about it, however it’s cheap, homemade, delicious and it’s available on every corner. Always go to the big markets (Mercado) to eat. Everything is there and usually (in every place I visited so far was like that) is divided in sections with fruits, vegetables, meat, clothes (but not everywhere), cosmetics and food areas. Oh public toilets are there too. Well to be honest they are very dirty, smelly and not nice in general, but please don’t act with your nose up. It is a third world country, people live in this condition and often don’t have a choice. Think how lucky and fortunate you are and, damn, don’t show your ignorance to them. Don’t be an idiot.  Well anyway, coming back to my favorite topic, please do visit Mercado and try the food there. Its amazing, different and very very cheap,  as I wrote above, the average price for the main meal and drink is 1£. Though it’s not much of vegetarian range there, you can find something anyway. Otherwise you can have a delicious meat (chicken, beef) with salad and rice or potatoes. Pasta is very popular too! The most amazing thing is that you will eat with locals. They are all very nice and they will always talk to you. I really would like to highlight places like that, as usually I was the only traveler there and that gave me the chance to truly experience life of Bolivians and atmosphere.  Don’t be scared and don’t listen to that bullshit about food poisoning, upset tummy etc. For the whole 6 months (and trust me I ate the cheapest street food, sometimes even sitting on my ass on the street) and I’ve never ever experience anything like that!!  Be brave and don’t behave like from royal family, but if you are like that, then Bolivia is not definitely for you!!

Amigos.  Girls, now you can relax, finally. There will non to minimum harassment form Latinos in Bolivia towards you. It’s very interesting about that place and I still don’t understand why. I think Nicaragua and Salvador are on the top of the list, when sometimes I was wishing I could just give them a good old face palm. But let’s take it, enjoy it and walk around without unwanted attention.     At the same time I felt like Bolivia is the safest place too.

Colombia solo? To go or not to go

  This little section is designated mostly for females that travel alone, like myself. There are loads of concerns, as always, whether It is safe to travel around Colombia without any company. I completely understand it, as I remember when I’ve had the same thoughts regarding my safety at the beginning of my solo trips. I remember well when I wasn’t sure if I will be fine in Morocco, and if I should travel there on my own, so I felt the doubt before. Somehow, at the same time, I felt that It is my responsibility to simply help and share with you my observations, as because I consider myself as an experienced solo traveler by now. Perhaps, other reason may be the fact that I was often relaying on tips from other bloggers. So allow me, please, to prove that with proper attitude you will be just fine there.

  My beloved Colombia was never a casual destination, well… if you can call it like that. Though, it is starting to win the title of the backpackers second favorite destination in South America, after Bolivia, the reputation that originate from bloody 90s still stops some solo females from visiting this truly amazing country. Don​`​t let the past stand between you and the land full of relax, passionate, dance and music loving people, one of the richest fauna and flora in South America and, if it`s not enough, sandy, crystal clear Caribbean cost line. So girls, maybe boys, the answer is easy, and it is a big fat YES. If you wont go, you will miss a lot, trust me. Loads of backpackers, I have met, completely felt in love with Colombia and stayed way longer that originally planned. Shouldn’t even just this fact directly turn on the green light in your head to cross Colombian border?

Safety

    I have to admit that, from my observations, Colombia is an extremely dual place. The diversity of the safety strikes when the sun goes down. Yes, it is very dangerous at night. You should never walk alone in the dark, even Colombians don`t do so. The robberies happen mostly at night and, even that there`s loads of police around, it happens on a daily basis too. I haven’t been robbed there, but my friend from hotel told me that he got gunned down and been theft. If this will happened, don’t panic and just give them what they wont. I understand it might be scary, however, it is very unlikely that they will do any harm to you. But again, he was walking alone at night from party. Don`t turn yourself to an easy target, so don’t do such things. It is very improbable to happens if you are walking in a big group. For example, when I stayed in Cali, we were going out every night to the clubs or different hostels, for a party, and nothing like that happened, nor I did whiteness it. Bigger group then better. Clubs are usually in the city center, so I would recommend to limit your night life just to that area. Here, I want to mention a Salsa Club in Cali, very cool place! And I learned to dance it in one night…. yeah me. So yes, the bottom line is to always go out at night in a big group and to avoid dangerous places in any city you are in. Remember that the hotel or hostel always can arrange or recommend a trusted taxi company for you too. Please note not to carry to many valuables with you, it is safer to leave it at hostel`s locker.

  During the day, please do what you like. It is relatively safe and very safe in all touristic areas. The police is on every corner there. Some places are branded as not so safe to wonder alone around. I know, as I was there, nothing happened, but there`s no police around. Why did I go there? Well, I told you in other posts how much I love local street food stands, and it happens that there was loads of them only in that dodgy areas. But guys, I guess it is better to stick to crowded areas. Colombians are extra nice, and if you’re lost, they will always point the directions to you. Never be afraid to talk to them or ask anything.

Harassment

  Well, sorry girls, but you will face it on a daily basis. Especially if you have a light-colored eyes.  Just ignore it, apart from calling you names, inviting for dinner, asking for number, you shouldn’t come across any unwanted physical contact. That`s my experience, I was just ignoring it!! But please, always fallow the ultimate rules of not accepting any free drinks or food, never go anywhere with someone you don’t know and maybe ask for directions, but don’t let anyone to walk you to the place, you are looking for. But remember that people are wonderful there, don’t make few comments towards you, from local guys, to change your opinion.

SO REMEMBER TO

  • First: decide to go to Colombia.
  • Second: don`t walk with many valuables on empty streets and never alone at night!
  • Third: never accept invitations or any beverage from someone you don’t know.
  • Fourth: use only recommended taxi companies.
  • Fifth: Enjoy and love Colombia 🙂