Tag Archives: peru

The islands of Lake Titicaca

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60% of Lake Titicaca (or Titikaka) belongs to Peru and 40% to Bolivia. The Peruvians jokingly say that they kept the “Titi” and gifted the “Kaka” to the Bolivians. The name of the lake means “grey” or “stone Puma”, because apparently the shape of the lake looks like a puma if you look at it from a certain way. You really have to use your imagination though!

We visited two islands on the Peruvian side of the lake. The first, an island in the Uros group of islands, which are all man-made floating ones. The second, Taquile – the the most visited island on the Peruvian side and completely natural.

Uros
House
Boat

The floating Uros islands (there are between 40 and 50 in total) were constructed with totara reeds. The roots are what makes them float, the shaft/stems of them are laid on top and are also used to build the homes and boats, and the fleshy white part of the stalk is consumed as food. The people on these islands travel to the mainland to trade their handicrafts and fish for other consumer products. Although many of them only sleep on the islands one or two nights per week, they suffer from rheumatoid arthritis due to the humidity and moisture of these islands. They do not have electricity but they have embraced solar power, which they use to listen to the radio or watch TV. What astonished me the most was the simplicity of their homes. When I asked them if they are cold at night they said that they don’t feel it, but that outsiders definitely would.

Taquile

On Taquile island all of the inhabitants (who are southern Quechua speakers) are required to weave. In fact, a man must be able to weave his own hat before he is to marry. Single men wear a half-red, half-white hat and married men wear a full-red hat – with a shape not unlike Santa Claus’. Before marriage, the wife weaves an intricate belt-like item for her husband, who will wear this with pride after they are married. The inhabitants on Taquile base their society on the Inca moral code “do not steal, do not lie, do not be lazy”. Their weavings are considered as some of the most intricate and best quality in Peru – I would have loved to take some large items with me but I settled for a small bracelet instead. 

I wouldn’t have objected to waking up on this island every day to a beautiful sunrise over Lake Titicaca, but then I learnt about the deal-breaker: No dogs are allowed on Taquile. My perfect island search continues! 

Sunrise

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All images appearing on this blog (solange.posterous.com) may not be reproduced, copied or manipulated without the written permission of Solange Francois© 2010

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The definitive guide to doing Machu Picchu

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Machu Picchu – one of the world’s most visited and photographed attractions, yet there is very little constructive information out there about how to actually do it. We’d heard the usual advice for those doing the Inca Trail: “Shop around for the right tour agency when you get to Cusco.” Easier said than done. There are tour companies absolutely everywhere and the prices are all generally very high. We had decided that we weren’t going to do the Inca Trail, but we were going to spend one night in Machupicchu Pueblo, otherwise known as Aguas Calientes, in order to be able to get to Machu Picchu early the next morning and have the chance to climb Wayna Picchu.

There are four main ways to do Machu Picchu:

  1. The Inca Trail (4 days)

  2. The Inca Trail (2 days)

  3. A 2-day tour (transport from Cusco to Machu Picchu, accommodation and guided tour of the ruins)

  4. A 2 or more day trip to the ruins on your own. (You cannot do the Inca Trail without a tour)

Note: A day trip from Cusco is really cutting it short and not recommended, plus you won’t get the chance to climb Wayna Picchu).

We would have liked to do it all by ourselves but with the lack of information out there and the feeling that Machu Picchu is better geared to tour companies, we chose a 2-day all-inclusive tour at USD235 each. However, you need not do this because now I will tell you exactly how you can do it all on your own.

Let me prepare you, though. It is not cheap, even if you do it yourself. Let’s break it down:

  • Train transport from Cusco to Machu Picchu = between USD80 and USD140 return depending on which train class you can get

  • Accommodation in Aguas Calientes = approx USD60 for one night in a private double room with bathroom 

  • Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (25 mins each way) = USD14 return

  • Entrance to Machu Picchu = USD45

  • Water and snacks over the 2 days = USD8

  • Meals in Aguas Calientes = approx USD12 each, for a total of about USD36

  • A sandwich at the Machu Picchu cafe = USD9

  • Tour Guide (recruited at Machu Picchu) = approx USD20 – USD30 per person and you are expected to tip on top of this

So as a minimum you’re looking at approximately USD189 if you don’t eat or drink anything, which is unlikely considering the energy you’ll need if you climb Wayna Picchu (the taller of the two mountains that you see in photos) like we did. Including water and food you’re looking at a figure closer to USD225 if you’re careful.

If you are going to take one of the first three options or do an alternative trek to Machu Picchu, Frommers has some tour company recommendations. We went with Inca Explorers.

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However, if you want to get to Machu Picchu and climb Wayna Picchu by yourself then follow these steps:

  1. Buy your return train ticket from Cusco to Machu Picchu on www.perurail.com. Note that until July 2010 the first part of the tracks will be closed due to the flooding damage, so you will be taken by van or bus from Cusco to the temporary Piscacucho station. Click here for details.

  2. Purchase accommodation at Machupicchu Pueblo (Aguas Calientes) – hostelworld.com has a good listing of hostels including ones with private rooms.

  3. Buy snacks and water in Cusco before you go – prices are even higher in Aguas Calientes.

  4. When you arrive in Aguas Calientes go to the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre to buy your ticket to Machu Picchu, which costs 126 Soles at the time of writing. Supposedly you must pay in Soles and not USD and note that you CANNOT purchase this at the entrance to Machu Picchu.

  5. Then go to the bus stop and purchase your ticket for the early morning bus up to Machu Picchu the next morning – this is USD7 one-way and the tickets are applicable for any of the buses.

  6. Go to bed early and be at the bus station between 4.30am and 5am to be on one of the first buses up.

  7. Get your Machu Picchu entrance ticket stamped at the entry gate in order to be able to climb Wayna Picchu. There are only 400 people permitted to climb this per day – 200 at 7am and 200 at 10am. I recommend 7am as there will be less people up there and the sun won’t be as high in the sky. 

  8. Recruit a tour guide there and bargain on a time and price for your guided tour of the ruins. (Of course, this is not necessary but we did not find any good books that would allow us to conduct a self-tour.

Ruins
Guide

The Machu Picchu entrance ticket gives you access for 3 days so you can stay in Aguas Calientes for more than one night if you like. There are camping facilities at Aguas Calientes too, othewise if you want to stay at the only hotel on Machu Picchu and you’ve suddenly come across heaps of money you could stay at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge at the very modest price of USD825 per night in high season (minimum). But fear not – breakfast IS included!

However you decide to carry out your visit to the peaceful and spiritual Lost City of the Incas, take lots of water, sunblock and fully-charged camera batteries, because no visitor to Machu Picchu can walk away with a lack of beautiful images. 

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Llama
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Photos and the verdict: Roast guinea pig

During our time in Cusco (Peru), Nick braved the local delicacy dish – the guinea pig. The verdict? He won't be doing it again. 

I tried a small bite and I'd have to agree. It resembles chicken but is chewier and has less taste. It was an experience but we'll be sticking with more familiar flavours in future!

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