We spent 11 nights in Chiang Mai in total, across two visits. This is the longest time we have spent in any one city on our travels, making it a pretty special place! We loved the relaxed atmosphere in the city, the cafe culture, the ability to walk most places and the variety of things to do – there was something for everyone! So how did we fill all these days I hear you ask? Well, here are some of our highlights from Chiang Mai…
We arrived in Copacabana on Tuesday 28th May, after catching a bus from Puno. It’s a relatively small town with only 50,000 residents at 3800m altitude – definitely the smallest town we had visited so far. We got off the bus in the main square – quite unusual, as usually the bus stations are a 15 min bus journey out of town. Driving into town, the first thing I noticed was it was such a pretty town nestled in the hillside over looking Lake Titicaca. Unlike towns in Peru, most of the houses / buildings appeared to be completed. In Peru so many buildings were part completed, although it looked as if people still lived in them unfinished. It was also incredibly chilled – very few cars, hardly any were tooting (which we had got very used to in Peru, the noise was almost constant at times), and everyone seemed relaxed going about their own business – nobody looked in a hurry! This was a place I instantly loved and knew we were going to want to stay longer than the two nights we booked! It was the type of place I had hoped we would find travelling.
The view across Copacabana bay from our hostel
It was also the first time we properly used our backpacks, as everything was so close, we had no excuse but to walk to our hostel with them on! It was 2 blocks north of the square up a very steep hill. La Cupula was tucked in the hillside overlooking the lake – it even had hammocks and deckchairs in the gardens.
After dropping our stuff the first challenge was to find a working cash machine. The first one we found had 3 tourists sitting outside – who we had learnt had put one of their cards into the machine, only for there to be a power cut and their card got stuck inside. They did later get it back, they just had to wait for the power to return and the bank to open! The next few we found were also off due to the power cut, and we were starting to think it may have been a good idea to get some bolivianos before crossing the border! Finally we found one that was working on another square, obviously on a different power network.
Over the next few days we enjoyed the slower pace of Copacabana and the chance to relax! On the first day we climbed Cerro Calvario (the hill behind the town) passing the 14 stations of the Cross. People used to walk up here as part of a pilgrimage. The path was steep, but we had fantastic views across to Isla Del Sol and the town itself. We did the walk with a friend we had agreed to meet in Copacabana, someone we had done the Inca Trail with – it was great to see her and catch up. The three of us sat and watched the sun set over the lake, so beautiful and very peaceful. Our friend introduced us to a great restaurant in the town called Mauraz – and we ended up returning again and again during our stay in Copacabana – the food and the company was great! They also did the most amazing waffles with honey for breakfast!
We spent a lot of time relaxing in the hostel hammocks and recharging our batteries, after a busy few weeks in Peru. But on our third day we did venture across to the Isla Del Sol, which in Inca history is thought to be the birthplace of the sun. We took supplies for breakfast on the boat (UHT chocolate milkshakes and cereal biscuits) and began the 2 hour boat journey to the island. You could only book the boat, not a guided tour of the island, so we were going to explore on our own. When we arrived, we found a map of the island and with the help of some other english speaking tourists we worked out where we needed to start the walk! We walked with a Canadian couple and between us we navigated the route ok! You had to pass through 3 pay stations, as you had to pay for passing through the 3 main villages on the island. You also had to pass several check points to show your ticket, these were the most confusing, as they didn´t look like checkpoints! The walk itself was beautiful – but definitely challenging. At 4000m the uphill climbs were steep and we were walking in the midday sun – but luckily we had supplies of crisps and biscuits to munch on the way – as we walked through lunch. As usual I was thinking about food! Along the walk we could see the beautiful snow capped bolivian mountains (approx 6000m high!) and the lake looked crystal clear! After about 3-4 hours we had navigated from the northern town of Cha´llapampa to the southern port of Yumani on the island. We had walked quite fast and still only had about 45 mins to spare before our boat left for the mainland! I´m sure some people must miss the boat back!
Copacabana was a bit like a ski resort, due to the altitude it was very cold at night and you needed a lot of layers. In the daytime it was hot in the sunshine, but there was still a cool breeze, so you needed factor 50 suncream and a few warm layers! After 4 nights and 5 days we had to say goodbye to Copacabana, it had definitely been my favourite place so far! We headed off at 1pm for La Paz, only 3 hours away by bus, a much bigger city to explore, home to 1 million people!
We had already decided we wanted to visit the Colca Canyon (one of the world’s deepest canyons at 4160m) – the challenge was finding the right company to book this trip with. We did our research well and ended up booking with Colca Treks – who offered a slightly different experience to the other companies.
We were picked up from our hostel at 8am and started the journey to Chivay. Our first stop was the National Park to look at some amazing rock formations – which had been produced by lava from a volcanic explosion many, many years ago. They looked like something from another planet, weathered into unusual shapes by the rain and the wind over the years. From here we went on to Patapampa by bus – the highest point of our journey (and probably the highest we will ever go!) at 4912m! We went for a walk around with our guide, who showed us a green plant which grows mostly between 3000-4000m and is as hard as rock! The altitude was challenging (but manageable) – it just made us very tired and gave us headaches. In order to reduce the symptoms we dosed-up on sugary sweets and water – which seemed to help. Back in our bus we headed to Chivay for a buffet lunch before driving onto Pinchollo, where we would be spending our first night.
From the main square of Pinchollo we walked for about 30 minutes down the hill to get our first view of the edge of the canyon. It was just magical – it was just our group (11 people) looking into the depths of the canyon as the sun was setting – this is what we had come for! Not another tourist group in sight, as no other groups stayed in this village. We then walked back to the Colca Trek Lodge (our accomodation for the night). After several weeks in hostels, I was super excited by our accomodation which had hot lovely showers, a hairdryer, a beautiful room and a spectacular balcony overlooking the mountains! To top this off we also had a yummy 3 course meal prepared for us before heading to bed with a hot water bottle!
I set my alarm for 5.30am as our room had panoramic views of the mountains and I wanted to see the sunrise over them. It was a beautiful start to the day! After breakfast we headed out to Cruz de Cura – a quieter look out point to spot condors (by quiet I mean only our group was there!). We saw so many condors and some were flying so close! Apparently their wing span from tip to tip can reach 2.8m across! They can also live to 50-60 years old in the wild. After plenty of photos we headed to Cabanoconde to start our descent into the depths of the canyon. We had a team of mules who would carry some of our stuff – so we just had to carry our day packs. It was a beautifully hot day, with very few clouds. It was a steep 3 hour descent in the heat and our walking poles definitely came in handy! Despite it being a challenging descent, it was worth it for the views of the canyon – amazing!
We descended from 3200m to 2000m at the bottom of the canyon, where we found Sangalle Oasis. It looked like paradise – lots of beautiful huts, a swimming pool and palm trees – all set in the breathtaking landscape of the canyon! I opted out of the afternoon walk, to sit and chill and read my book… perfect!
Up at 4am for a quick breakfast and then start the hike back up the canyon. We started the climb at 5am in the dark with our headtorches and all you could see is a stream of lights climbing up the canyon wall! It got light very quickly but luckily we avoided the sun for the 1st 2 hours of the climb- we set our pace and plodded on-much easier in the cool! We got to the top in 2 hrs 40mins – much quicker and easier than going down the same path yesterday! Once back in Cabanoconde we started the 6 hr journey back to Arequipa via the hot springs and a stop in Chivay for lunch!
Trekking into the canyon had been amazing – the views had been spectacular – being out in the highlands is beautiful and very magical.
Mon 6th May – The Adventure begins! We´ve done it, Flights booked, Machu Picchu trek is looming, rucksacks are packed, we´ve said our goodbyes – Peru here we come!
Checking our baggage in, my rucksack weighed 19.4 kgs and Andy´s was 18.2kg. Still a heavy load – but a massive achievement for me! Over 10 years ago I had a 40kg suitcase for a 2 week holiday in Florida (and the wheel snapped!) and I usually don´t travel light for weekends – so for me to pack 19.4kg for 4 seasons of weather and 7 months is quite amazing!
Sitting in the plane from Madrid, somewhere over the Atlantic, I realised there is no going back now – I´m very excited and nervous at the same time! When we arrived at the airport in Lima there were 2 challenges. Number 1, work out what the customs declaration was saying, as it was all in spanish – with a bit of help we worked it out! Number 2, spot our name from about 50 boards at the arrivals area. Lima has 8 million people and it appears they all like to drive their cars at 6pm when we were on the roads – I´ve never seen such busy roads and I´m so glad we weren´t driving! We arrived at our hostel at 7.30pm, in the district of Miraflores, a nice part of town. Rooms were just want we needed, clean beds and hot showers!
Tues 7th May – Clear Blue skies and 18 degrees – not quite what we expected, but glad we didn´t ship our summer clothes straight to Australia! Walking round the city I´m learrning that using your car horn in Lima is very common – you constantly hear them – for other drivers, for taxi drivers trying to get your attention – and it will always remind me of Lima now! We had a very lazy first day, relaxing on the hostel patio, walking to the beach and we had our first meal in Peru! We went to a small restaurant in Miraflores recommended by Lonely Planet – 3 courses for about 3 pounds! I had white fish (Seafood is very big in Lima), refried beans and rice – and I really enjoyed it! Then it was back to the Hostel to chill out!
Wed 8th May – We woke quite early – so we headed to Huaca Pullana in Miraflores – Ruins from the Lima Culture in approx 400AD (1000 years pre-Inca). We had the first tour of the day, which meant we had our own tour guide! These buildings were made completly by hand from mud – which in Lima isn´t a problem as it never rains. Unlike the Inca´s who worshipped the sun, the Lima Culture worshipped th Moon and the Ocean, in part because the ocean provided them with much of their food. It was a really interesting tour and start to our visit to Peru.
In the afternoon we headed to the Cruz de Sur Bus terminal – with plenty of food and drink for the 24 hr bus journey ahead! The bus was a lot better than I was expected, and in fact we had more space and better seats than I have ever had on a UK bus or plane! One of the added bonuses of taking the bus, was that we got to see a lot of Peru on our Journey to Cusco. The first 8 hours went very quickly – but then we started the climb into the mountains. We were constantly weaving up bendy roads and climbing higher and higher – when we ascended above the clouds I think we were at about 4000m! And I definitely felt it and I now know what altitude sickness feels like! We arrived at 2pm on thursday and spent most of thursday afternoon and friday relaxing and taking things slowly. Luckily in total we have 5 days to acclimatize before our trek, which is going to be much needed. Well Bueños noches mi amigos, Tengo hambre….dinner calls!