Spud on the Run https://www.spudontherun.com We’re just a couple of dreamers who are in love and leaping into the next adventure. Mon, 16 Jul 2018 18:34:57 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.7 https://www.spudontherun.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/cropped-Logopit_1510608247348-1-32x32.png Spud on the Run https://www.spudontherun.com 32 32 A visit to Bempton Cliffs – Searching for puffins in England https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/06/29/visit-to-bempton-cliffs-puffins/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/06/29/visit-to-bempton-cliffs-puffins/#comments Fri, 29 Jun 2018 08:34:39 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=1140 Welcome to the first Spud article based in the UK, Spud’s homeland. Recently, Vicky got the opportunity make a visit to Bempton Cliffs, a nature reserve run by the RSPB on the East Coast of England. During the spring and summer months over 250,000 sea birds make these cliffs their […]

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Welcome to the first Spud article based in the UK, Spud’s homeland. Recently, Vicky got the opportunity make a visit to Bempton Cliffs, a nature reserve run by the RSPB on the East Coast of England. During the spring and summer months over 250,000 sea birds make these cliffs their home. Here Vicky talks about her visit and the search to find the comical little puffin among the chaos.

What are the Bempton Cliffs?

Bempton is a small village nestled in East Yorkshire, which is famed for the nearby chalk cliffs which run for several miles along the east coast of England. The breath-taking Bempton Cliffs are one of the many nature reserves lovingly run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which are open to visits from the general public.

During spring and summer, the cliffs are a popular attraction for both birds and bird lovers alike. Over a quarter of a million seabirds (yes, you read that right, a QUARTER OF A MILLION) make the vertical cliff face their home from March all through to September. During this time they mate and rear their young, forming the largest mainland seabird colony in the UK.

Our visit to Bempton Cliffs

The drive there from South Yorkshire took around two hours, and afforded us with wonderful views of the British countryside. After all Spud’s traveling, I still can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be than in the UK on a crisp, sunny day in spring. The British are notorious for complaining about the weather, but all that rain we have to put up with turns the land around us into patchwork carpet of luscious greenery.

Driving along we passed tiny little churches, sheep grazing in the open with their lambs, fields full of wheat, vibrant yellow rapeseed and deep red poppies, and villages with strange-sounding names such as Bainton, Burton Agnes and Haisthorpe.

Arriving

Arriving a little after 11am, we were surprised to see just how busy the site already was. Despite planning a mid-week visit, outside of the school holidays, the main car park was full and we had to put the car in the overfill area.

Having never visited before, we were worried that the car park signaled the site would be crammed, but it’s such a big place and we never felt overwhelmed with people. If you can, I would suggest to avoid weekends, and go as early as possible, because it was becoming noticeably busier after lunchtime.

Walking around site

This leaflet from the RSPB shows the different routes you can take around the site. We did the Clifftop Walk, shown in red. The leaflet estimates that it takes 20 minutes to walk to Jubilee Corner, the last viewing point, which is probably about right if you walk directly there. For us, it took a lot longer as we stopped at every opportunity we could to look for puffins and to marvel at the sheer number of birds around us.

What did we get to see during our visit to Bempton Cliffs?

The views over the cliffs are stunning. We were blessed with a clear day and could see a long way out to sea and up and down the coastline.

Many, many birds make Bempton Cliffs their home during the spring and summer months. Here are just a very small handful of the species we were able to spot with our limited knowledge on birds!

Puffins

Ok, ok, so the main reason for our visit (and that of many other visitors!) was the potential to see puffins. Just look at the photo below, who could refuse the opportunity to glimpse these unusual looking little birds!

The twitter feed from the RSPB Bempton Cliffs account had been posting great photos of puffin sightings in the run up to our visit, so we were hopeful that we would see one too. We weren’t disappointed! The small birds made us work for our sightings, but during our two hour visit we got to see not one, not two, not three…. But SIX puffins nesting along the chaos on the cliffs, as well as many more flying out at sea.

Puffin stood on cliffs during visit to Bempton Cliffs

When trying to spot them, look out for their bright little orange legs when they’re stood along the cliffs. They are harder to spot when out flying, but as their wings flap up to 400 times a minute, look for the little black dots going past in a blur!

The puffins can be seen at Bempton Cliffs from around April to July.

Puffin facts during visit to Bempton Cliffs

Throughout the Bempton Cliffs site the RSPB staff have placed amusing information boards about the site’s visitors.

Gannets

As the largest bird species to make Bempton Cliffs its home, the gannet is one of the easiest to spot. With its sheer size and beautiful white feathers, it really does stand out in the crowd. It’s actually pretty amazing that gannets are able to squeeze their big bodies onto the rock face for such long periods of time!

Gannets nesting during visit to Bempton Cliffs

Razorbills & Guillemots

Spotting the difference between a razorbill and a guillemot can be tricky for even the most experienced of birdwatchers. As a total newbie myself, my only advice for telling who is who is by paying close attention to the beak. Whilst from afar both of these lovely black and white seabirds look very similar, their beaks are actually quite easy to spot. Razorbills have chunkier beaks that seem to curve off at the end, whilst guillemots have really pointed little beaks.

Razorbill at Bempton Cliffs

The razorbill’s beak is much thicker than the guillemot’s and curves at the end

Guillemot birds during a visit to Bempton Cliffs

As you can see, guillemots have smaller, pointy beaks

It’s not all about seabirds…

We weren’t lucky enough to see them, but sightings of dolphins and porpoises have been recorded on clear days. It’s also possible to see hares, stoats and weasels in the meadow areas if you are patient enough.

They do have a small garden area with a pond and insect hotel, which is a great place to spot other bird species who don’t live out at sea. We went at the start of the Russia World Cup 2018 and they have this prediction point set up (shown in the photo below). When England are playing, they put the flag of the opposition on the next feeder and see which the birds predict to win! Just a little bit of fun from the RSPB staff.

World Cup predictions during visit to Bempton Cliffs

The Feeding Station of Dreams set up at Bempton Cliffs to predict the outcome of the England team’s matches

Curious Crow greets us on our visit to Bempton Cliffs

This curious crow welcomed us to the Bempton Cliffs RSPB site

Planning a visit to Bempton Cliffs

The Bempton Cliffs reserve is beautiful, and worth a visit whether your a season bird watcher or not. Here is a quick overview of how to plan a trip, and you can check out the reserve’s site for more information.

Entrance fees

The entrance is £5 per adult and this includes car parking. If you have an RSPB membership entrance is free.

If you have children with you, the first enters for free and anymore are charged at £2.50 a head.

Top tips

  • Pay attention to the knowledgeable RSPB volunteers who stand at points throughout the site. They are happy to chat with you and will point out any note-worthy sightings, including the lovable puffin!
  • Keep up to date with RSPB Bempton Cliffs Twitter and Facebook accounts as they will let you know what’s been recently sighted. This will give you a better understanding on what you can expect from your day.

What to pack

  • There is a cafe onsite with hot and cold drinks and snacks. We’d recommend taking some water with you for when your walking around.
  • There isn’t a lot of protection on the cliffs from the sun or the wind, so take your sun cream, a hat (make sure it’s secure!), and something to keep you warm.
  • If you have a camera, make sure to take it for some great shots, otherwise ensure your phone is fully charged up!
  • If you have a pair of binoculars, it will make those puffin sightings a lot easier! If you don’t have your own, you can rent them from reception for £5. There are also volunteers stationed along the coastline with large telescopes that you can take a peek with.
  • If you’re an RSPB member, don’t forget to take your membership card for free entrance.

Once you have finished your visit, the coastal town of Bridlington is just a short drive away. Go there for a quaint British seaside experience, complete with some infamous fish and chips. If, like us, you prefer something a little different to eat, we popped into the small independent North Man Coffee for a super tasty veggie burger.

Burger from Northman Coffee

If you’re interested to read more from Spud on the Run, take a look here for our other posts.

 

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A day trip to Las Posas Azules from Taxco https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/04/14/posas-azules-taxco/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/04/14/posas-azules-taxco/#comments Sat, 14 Apr 2018 21:26:23 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=1098 Las Posas Azules makes a great day trip from the hilly, winding streets of Taxco, Mexico. Here we explain what you can expect from the pools, what to pack, and how to get there using public transport. If you are visiting Taxco, we thoroughly recommend that you make time to […]

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Las Posas Azules makes a great day trip from the hilly, winding streets of Taxco, Mexico. Here we explain what you can expect from the pools, what to pack, and how to get there using public transport. If you are visiting Taxco, we thoroughly recommend that you make time to go swimming in this naturally-formed haven.

What are Las Posas Azules and why should you visit?

Las Posas Azules roughly translates to ‘The Blue Pools’ in English, and we can honestly say that they live up to their name. The pools are a naturally-formed haven, just outside of the small village of Atzala. Their blue waters contrast with the rocks and foliage to make a beautiful sight.

If you are visiting Taxco in the Mexican state of Guerrero, give your calves a break from the town’s crazy hills, and go for a splash in the refreshing waters of Las Posas Azules!

You can skip to the bottom of this page if you would like travel directions.

At the entrance

You will get dropped off right next to the entrance of the pools. The little ticket office is about 5 minutes from here, and the entrance is 30 pesos per person. There is no time limit on your stay. The pools open at 9am, and you can stay for as long as you want. You can leave and return during the day, just let them know at the office as you leave.

From the office, it’s another five minutes to the first pool, which is the lowest of the six. Make sure to take time to look around as you walk, the trees and the mountains are stunning.

Posas Azules Taxco view of mountains

The short walk from the ticket office to the pools gives you chance to admire the view

The pools

In total there are six pools at the site, and the first that you come to is the lowest. As this one is the most accessible, it tends to be the busiest. Families with children relax and play in the shallow waters here. As you climb higher the pools become quieter.

Posas Azules Taxco - Children playing

The lowest pool is the most accessible, and is therefore the busiest with families and children

The paths between the pools get a trickier as you go further up. By the last pool there’s just a few pieces of wood and a rope to help you haul yourself up!

Posas Azules Taxco- The higher pools are quieter

The higher the pool, the quieter it is!

The facilities

There is a toilet right next to the ticket office which costs five pesos. While there are free toilets closer to the pools, these paid ones are by far the nicest and worth paying for on the way in/out.

There are small vendors selling food and drink just outside the site. We were stuffed from breakfast and didn’t actually eat anything during our visit. Although we can’t recommend anything specific, the food consisted of typical Mexican snacks (tacos, quesadillas, gorditas… etc.) and the prices looked very reasonable.

Our visit

We really enjoyed our visit, the pools are absolutely beautiful. While I’m sure many people would be able to stay the full day, we were there for around two hours before heading back to Taxco. This gave us enough time to paddle in the waters, explore all six pools, and enjoy the stunning views.

We visited on a Friday, yet despite it being a weekday, there were still a fair few people there with us. To avoid the crowds, go on a weekday and get there as early as possible, as it was definitely getting busier as the day wore on. The weekends are by far the busiest times, when local Mexicans go to cool off after the working week.

We found out about the pools completely by chance, and I don’t think they are widely known about by international visitors. When we went, there was just us and a group of four young guys, everyone else was Mexican. It was really nice to see something that was being enjoyed by locals and wasn’t overun by tourists.

What to pack

  • As I mentioned, there are toilets so you can avoid that horrible damp feeling on the journey back to Taxco by taking a towel and a spare change of clothes. Don’t forget to put a carrier bag in for your wet clothes!
  • The mountains provide a fair amount of shade, but as the sun moves round some of the pools are in the direct sun. Make sure you have plenty of sun cream and a hat to avoid some nasty sunburn!
  • There are vendors selling drinks, but make sure you take some water for the bus ride there to help you keep hydrated during the warm journey.
  • You will need small notes and change to pay for the buses and the entrance fee.
  • The rocks can get pretty slippy around the pools, and it’s pretty treacherous in parts as you climb to the higher pools. Make sure you have shoes with a good grip on the bottom to help you keep your balance.
The path between the lower pools

There are paths between the lower pools…

Posas Azules Taxco - rope to climb

… but by the last pool, you will have to do a little bit of climbing!

Travel directions – Taxco to Las Posas Azules

Combi-buses pick up from outside the Coppel Plateros department store on De Los Plateros, the town’s main road (map here).

We arrived at the Coppel building at around 9.35am, and found a bus straight away. Unfortunately we had to wait until we had enough people leave, so we didn’t actually depart until 10.10am.

We had been told by our hostel that the drive would take around 30 minutes, but it was actually closer to an hour, and we arrived at 11.05am. The driver will take you all the way to the entrance of the pools.

We weren’t too upset that the drive was longer than expected because it gave us more time to admire the stunning views. The journey takes you round the windy mountain roads, through tiny little towns, and so the time passed by very quickly!

It cost 25 pesos (£1) per person, each way.

To return, the buses leave hourly, on the half hour, from the point where you get dropped off. There are also a small number of taxis dotted near the entrance. If you don’t want to wait for the bus back, we overheard four Mexican guys get quoted 200 pesos for the journey to Taxco. If there is a group of you, this is a pretty economical option.

If you would like more inspiration for your trip to Mexico take a look at our other blog posts. We spent three months in this wonderful country, and have lots of suggestions for off the beaten track activities as well as detailed travel details to help you move around the country with ease. 

Proud to be linking up with other bloggers:

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Celebrating the start of Spring in Taxco with THE cutest parade! https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/04/05/start-of-spring-taxco/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/04/05/start-of-spring-taxco/#respond Thu, 05 Apr 2018 16:10:04 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=1068 It was by complete chance that we came across the children’s parade to welcome Spring (primervera) in Taxco, Mexico. We were walking through the streets when we heard the music and saw the crowds. Little did we know that this would be the cutest parade we’d ever seen! Spring is […]

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It was by complete chance that we came across the children’s parade to welcome Spring (primervera) in Taxco, Mexico. We were walking through the streets when we heard the music and saw the crowds. Little did we know that this would be the cutest parade we’d ever seen!

Spring is my favourite of all the seasons. It’s the time where everything begins to awaken after the cold, dark winter months. During our travels in Latin America over the last six months, we have become out of sync with the seasons. It’s because of this that the first day of Spring nearly passed us by.

We had just had a really filling breakfast of chilaquiles (a traditional Mexican dish of fried tortillas, cooked in green or red salsa until they soften), and were dragging our bodies through the winding, hilly streets of Taxco to wear off some of the food load.

As we were coming in to towns main square (or zocalo), we noticed the start of the cutest parade we have ever seen! The schools around Taxco had all come together to celebrate the first day of Spring, and we couldn’t resist sharing our photos with you!

Spring in Taxco - welcome sign

“Welcome Spring”

Ladybirds in Taxco parade for spring

Even ladybirds took part!

Spring in Taxco - children with signs

A colourful variety of animals and fairies took part in the parade!

Start of Spring in Taxco - parents and children

Even the parents dressed up for the parade!

Start of Spring in Taxco - children as lions

“Lions and tigers and bears… oh my!”

Start of Spring in Taxco - cultural heritage

As well as animals and fairies, some of the children were dressed to honour their cultural heritage

A deeper meaning

The parade wasn’t just cute, the organisers had taken time to share important messages with the crowd. Children (or ladybirds, tigers, rabbits…) carried signs declaring the need to conserve water and protect the environment. Hopefully, the children are learning the crucial background to these messages in school, so that they grow up to appreciate the natural resources around them.

Spring in Taxco children are the most important

“Children are the most important resource in the world, and the best hope for the future”

The procession of the Spring Queens

The only part of the parade that we didn’t enjoy was the procession of the Spring Queens. We aren’t sure if it’s a competition or if there’s just a chosen girl from each school. Lots of cars went past us with children sat on the bonnet, and it mirrored a beauty pageant in many ways – the make-up, the dresses, the ‘professional’ posters that were often displayed on the cars. Sometimes it was quite obvious that the children were tied on to the car, other times we were quite worried for their safety! Maybe that’s just the British health and safety in us!!

Start of Spring in Taxco - spring queens procession

Easter parades in Taxco

Throughout the four days we stayed in Taxco we saw several parades. As well as celebrations for the start of Spring, we saw processions for the lead up to Easter. We were visiting the week before Holy Week, or Semana Santa, as it is called in Mexico. One particular demonstration we saw chronicaled the life of Jesus.

The angels visit Mary in Taxco parades

The angels visit Mary

The teachings of Jesus during the Easter parade Taxco

The teachings of Jesus

Easter is an important part of the Mexican calendar. The religious festival is marked all over the country, but Taxco is noted as being one of the most elaborate in its activities. At the start of Holy Week the celebrations are joyous, but they get darker towards Good Friday. On this day, a silent procession snakes through the town and some individuals perform self-flagellation (beating or whipping your own flesh) as an act of penance. Part of me is quite relieved that we had already left Taxco by this time, but many visitors, both national and international, flock to Taxco at Easter.

As you can tell, the parades and processions of Taxco vary a great deal throughout the year. No matter when you visit, you’re bound to be in for a treat in this lovely little town!

You can read more about our travels in Mexico here. Have you been to Taxco, or are you planning your own visit? Let us know in the comments below.

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Tlaxcala to Tepoztlán – Travel directions https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/19/tlaxcala-to-tepoztlan/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/19/tlaxcala-to-tepoztlan/#respond Mon, 19 Mar 2018 22:11:28 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=1042 Although Tlaxcala and Tepoztlán lie only 60 miles apart from each other on the map, there are two massive (very selfish) volcanoes between the two towns. This means there is no obvious easy route to drive between them, and no direct bus. We had to get quite creative to get […]

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Although Tlaxcala and Tepoztlán lie only 60 miles apart from each other on the map, there are two massive (very selfish) volcanoes between the two towns. This means there is no obvious easy route to drive between them, and no direct bus. We had to get quite creative to get from one to the other by public transport!

Understandably, Mexico City is the glue which connects the towns and cities around it together. The problem is that Mexico City is MASSIVE, with several different bus terminals. We were excited to see a direct bus from Tlaxcala to the capital, but it only went to the east bus terminal, TAPO. This gave us a bit of a headache, as we needed to get to the south terminal, Taxqueña, for the departing bus to Tepoztlán.

We didn’t want to have to face trying to cross Mexico City with our huge bags, so we needed another solution. We knew that there were fairly frequent buses leaving from Puebla’s main bus terminal, CAPU, heading for Taxqueña. After a democratic chat, we decided that we would much rather have a change in Puebla than navigate the busy, over-heated capital city!

Tlaxcala to Tepoztlán (via Puebla and Mexico City Taxqueña)

Leg 1 – Tlaxcala to Puebla CAPU

Local bus, 30 pesos each, 1.25 hrs

We left Tlaxcala by one of the local minibuses at 10.30am. The buses depart regularly from the main central marketplace. You will find a huge open space with lots of minibuses, which can seem extremely chaotic at first glance. It is still overwhelming on your second and third glance so save yourself some time and ask the first driver you come to where you can find a bus for Puebla’s main bus terminal CAPU. Honestly, they are friendlier and much more helpful than they look!

Leg 2 – Puebla CAPU to Mexico City Taxqueña

ADO, 218 pesos each, 2.5 hrs

There are ADO buses leaving CAPU for Taxqueña roughly every hour (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less). We had just missed one when we arrived, so we had an hour to wait. We passed the time by getting our caffeine fix. Unlike most of the retailers in the terminal, Ruta Café has a actual coffee machine (as opposed to a kettle and instant!) and a decent menu, our americanos were just 23 pesos (less than a £1) each. You can’t really tell from the front, but there is a nice little outside area at the back where you can sit and enjoy your drink away from the terminal’s craziness.

We left Puebla at 12.45pm.

Leg 3 – Mexico City Taxqueña to Tepoztlan

OCC, 130 pesos each, 1.25 hrs

There are OCC buses leaving Taxqueña regularly, and we only had 20 minutes to wait before our 3.35pm departure. Although OCC are run by ADO, they do have their own desk (under the name of OCC) for tickets. You can find them at the far end, by the Pullman de Morelos desk.

Be aware that the the gate numbering system here makes very little sense. There are five gates, which aren’t in a logical order. The fourth one, the one we needed, is tucked away in the middle of the terminal. We had a small panic trying to find it, before conceding and asking for directions.

On the way to Tepoztlán the scenery changed drastically compared to Tlaxcala, where we had woken up that morning. Gone were the welcoming gangs of cacti by the road. The land became lusher, with lots of green trees and rolling hills.

The bus will drop you off at the terminal, which is just on the outskirts of town (see map). We opted to get a taxi to avoid lugging our bags through the hilly windy streets. The taxi to our centrally located hotel cost us 30 pesos (about £1.40) and we thought this was well worth it for convenience.

Alternative Routes

We chose the above route because we trust ADO, they are punctual and professional, and they also have an up to date website where we could check times and routes. With a bit more Spanish than we have, you might find the following options work better for you instead (if they do, please let us know!).

Bus via Mexico City TAPO

If you are braver than us, and know your way around Mexico City, you could get the bus we mentioned from Tlaxcala, to Mexico City TAPO. We think the company is called ATAH, but we couldn’t find a website for them. From TAPO, you would need to work your way across the city to Taxqueña, for the bus to Tepoztlán (same as Leg 3 above).

Bus via Cuernavaca

We know very little about this route, but we saw some mention of it online and it looks like a potential alternative.  We aren’t sure how much time it would save, and we think it might cost a little more than the option that we did.

Leg 1 – Tlaxacala to Puebla CAPU

Exactly as Leg 1 above, get the collectivo minibus from the main market in Tlaxcala.

Leg 2 – Puebla CAPU to Cuernavaca

We saw that a bus company called Autobuses Oro run buses between Puebla and Cuernavaca. Looking at the website the cost is around 290 pesos per person.

Leg 3 – Cuernavaca to Tepoztlán

There are two options here.

The first option is by bus. We know that there are buses running between Cuernavaca and Tepoztlán, but we don’t know anything about the companies, prices, or where they pick up/drop off. Be aware that our copy of Lonely Planet mentions that there have been robberies on the buses along this route, so please use caution. 

The second option is by taxi which can take between 30-60 minutes, depending on the time of day, and we think it should cost around 150 pesos.

Direct taxi

Thinking back, we wished we had enquired about the cost of a direct taxi all the way from Tlaxcala to Tepoztlán. It took almost seven hours door to door on the buses (via Mexico City Taxqueña), and cost around 750 pesos for the two of us. Looking at Google route maps the journey should take about 2.5 hours in a car, so it might be quite close in cost, and would even be worth a little extra for the time saved. This might be an even more economical option for you if you’re travelling as a group.

Hopefully this guide helps, we really enjoyed our time in both Tlaxcala and Tepoztlán and, in our opinion, the journey was worth it. Check out our other posts on Mexico for more inspiration and handy tips!

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Oaxaca Mexico – What to do in this wonderful place! https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/14/oaxaca-mexico-what-to-do/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/14/oaxaca-mexico-what-to-do/#comments Wed, 14 Mar 2018 23:58:29 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=1014 We spent a week in and around the city of Oaxaca Mexico and we fell in love with the place and its people. This is a guide to our favourite things to do, it includes foods to try, trails to hike, nature to admire, and history to learn. Oaxaca was […]

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We spent a week in and around the city of Oaxaca Mexico and we fell in love with the place and its people. This is a guide to our favourite things to do, it includes foods to try, trails to hike, nature to admire, and history to learn.

Oaxaca was our first stop in Mexico, right at the start of a three month long exploration of the country. Oaxaca is a state in Mexico, and, as often is the case, its capital city shares the same name. The state is one of the most indigenous, and unfortunately poorest parts of the country. Despite this, it has a wonderful vibrancy about it, it’s full of colour, culture and history, which its friendly people are more than happy to share with their visitors.

During our one week in Oaxaca we tried to balance our time between the city and the region easily accessible around it. We could easily have stayed for much longer, there is just so much to uncover. We wanted to share with you some of the wonderful things that made our time in Oaxaca so special. These are OUR favourites, but everyone who visits will fall in love with something new.

Food & drink in Oaxaca

Eating is at the top of any Oaxaca list. Food is an integral part of the culture, and the flavours are unique and vivid. Here is a list of some of our favourite places to eat at, and a nod to a few special Oaxacan dishes that we really enjoyed.

Whilst the city is known for having some swanky restaurants, we think it’s unnecessary to splurge too much, in fact we would advise not to. You will find the best flavours in the market places, and small understated kitchens which line many of the streets throughout the city.

Organic Markets –

There are a few organic markets in Oaxaca, they showcase the best in regional cuisine, and source their ingredients from local farmers. The food and drink was high quality and very reasonable priced.

Vendors at La Cosecha Organic Market

La Cosecha Organic Market vendors

Our favourite for trying a range of different specialities was the La Cosecha Organic Market. Here you can discover a range of moles (special Mexican sauces), naturally-coloured tortillas made from a variety of corns, drinks made from agave such as polque and aguamiel, and tajate, which on first glance looks… well… gross… but lift a cup to your lips and you will find that it’s delicious (and apparently full of good stuff for you!).

Tajate drink in the market place

Tajate – get past how it looks and just give this delicious drink a try!

La Cosecha isn’t open on Mondays and Tuesdays, but we got our organic fix at the Rayón Pochote Organic Market. There isn’t quite the same range to choose from, but there are still some yummy things to try!

Bag of fried grasshoppers in market

Throughout Oaxaca, and lots of Mexico, you will see fried grasshoppers. Phil tried them, and said they were crunchy and just tasted of the lime and salt seasoning

Our favourite set meal –

We saw the restaurant Casa Taviche listed in quite a few different places and decided we had to try it. It’s got a great set menu, which changes daily, and is available for both lunch and dinner. It comes with a soup, main, dessert and drink for 85 pesos. Unfortunately there is only once choice a day, which seems to always be with meat. I asked if it was possible to have a veggie option and they made me a pasta dish. Not the most Mexican, but it was delicious and had a Mexican spin.

Collage of dishes from Casa Taviche

We went there twice, each time I had the pasta (the soups and deserts changed as they were always veggie), but Phil enjoyed trying two different traditional Oaxacan meat dishes. There is also a small a la carte menu to browse (it has other vegetarian options).

Our favourite tacos –

We had walked past Tacos Álvaro a couple of times before it was suggested to us by our hostel. It’s a cheap, no frills kind of place, but they know how to make a mean taco! Phil’s favourite was the Al Pastor, and mine was the veggie which came with fried vegetables such as peppers and mushrooms… my mouth is watering now! Along with your meal they brought a huge range of different dips.

Three veggie tacos from Tacos Álvaro

Tacos from Tacos Álvaro

If you’re on a budget and need to get your taco fix, look no further!

Mezcal tasting –

Whilst you will see mezcal on menus across Mexico, Oaxaca is the place to really appreciate it. The distilled alcoholic spirit which is made from a special set of agave plants, around 11 of which are native to the state of Oaxaca.

You will find many mezcalerias dotted across the city, these are specialists in mezcal and you will be able to ask for a tasting flight in most of them. We chose to visit In Situ to try mezcal for the first time. We had a tasting flight with three different kinds of the spirit. The bartender explained to us where each one came from and the type of flavours we could expect. Two of the three were smoky, almost like whiskies, and not as horrible as we had expected!

Three mezcals to try

A tasting flight of Mezcal

We’ve heard great things about the tasting sessions at La Mezcaloteca. You need to book in advance though, and we just never got chance to go.

Eat chocolate, drink chocolate, dream chocolate! –

Mexican cacao is meant to be one of the best in the world, and Oaxacan cacao is at the top of the list. So if you like chocolate, you HAVE to try the hot chocolate in Oaxaca!

We went to Ritos on our walking tour and loved it. We headed straight back there for more the day after. As well as a little cafe, they have a small shop (a few shelves really), where you can purchase chocolate gifts (for friends… family… you… we won’t judge!), including slabs to make chocolate drinks, mole paste, cacao nibs, and honey.

You can also take a walk down Mina street where there are a bunch of chocolate shops. You can see them making chocolate through the window, and if you go in they will often give you samples to try!

Go for coffee –

There are lots of lovely looking coffee shops in the city. We really enjoyed Cafebre. They have a selection of brewing techniques, including aeropress and V60 for 35 pesos (about £1.50) per cup.

Inside the Cafebre coffee shop

Cafebre coffee shop

Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

So, whilst you can’t actually eat anything in the ethnobotanical gardens (yeah, I know, disappointing), you will learn a heck of a lot of history regarding food in Oaxaca. You will get to see the agave plants that produce mezcal, and learn why, if it wasn’t for early civilisations in Oaxaca, corn on the cobs wouldn’t be a thing.

Inside Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

The Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca

You can’t wander around the gardens independently, you need to go on a guided tour. The tours last two hours (honestly, it’s really interesting and doesn’t FEEL that long), and run three times a week in English (they also have French and German, but you will need to double check the times). The English tours always start at 11am, and run on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Entrance will set you back 100 pesos per person, but in our minds it was £4 well spent!

Nature

Hierve de Agua

The name translates to ‘boiled/bubbling water’. These petrified waterfalls were naturally formed and both them, and their beautiful surroundings are breathtaking.

View of mountains and Hierve de Agua waterfalls

The petrified waterfalls of Hierve de Agua

On top of the waterfalls there are pools, formed by bubbling spring water from below.  The water is not heated, but it’s definitely an experience to bathe in a naturally-formed infinity pool overlooking the mountains!

Sierra Norte & the Pueblos Mancomunados

The Pueblos Mancomunados consists of eight villages in the Sierra Norte, which sits within the Oaxaca state of Mexico. Over twenty years ago these mountain villages came together to create an ecotourism project that was of value to both visitors and their communities. Today, a well established network of hiking trails exist, as well as opportunities for horse riding and even zip-lining for the more adventurous.

Read all about our visit to Cuajimoloyas, one of the eight villages, here.

History and Culture

Go on a walking tour –

Oaxaca is packed full of history and culture. To try and make sense of it all, go on a walking tour. We joined John, at Free Walking Tour Oaxaca, and had a great time, learning about Oaxaca’s history and discovering off the beaten track art galleries, eateries, viewpoints and more!

Top tip, skip breakfast! We were introduced to lots of different Oaxacan dishes and really regretted filling up at breakfast time.

Unfortunately, we had to leave the tour early as we were meeting friends to go to Monte Alban, but we would like to say a huge THANK YOU to John for all of his knowledge and patience!

Tours run Monday through to Saturday at depart at 10am from the front of Santo Domingo. The tours are free, but the staff are paid through the tips, so don’t forget to take some cash with you!

Oaxaca Textile Museum –

Oaxaca is famed for its textiles and we enjoyed a visit to the small textile museum in the city to find out a little more about it. A lot of love has gone into the display. My favourite was the exhibition on children. It aimed to convey the love and affection that goes into making textiles and clothing for children. The child dummies were so cute and the way they were dressed was so imaginative, successfully conveying the energy of the child. For example, a scarf, or the bottom of a skirt, was often suspended to make it look like the child was moving.

Entrance is free and it doesn’t take too long to explore, so the museum can easily be combined with a day of other activities.

Museum of Cultures of Oaxaca –

So, we hold our hands up, we never got chance to go to the museum. We heard lots of good stuff about it though, so we would suggest giving it a try if you have time. Apparently, all of the information is in Spanish, so try and get hold of an audio guide at the entrance if you can.

We were told you get an amazing view across the ethnobotanical gardens from the museum.

Santo Domingo church –

A church and former monastery. The monastery buildings and grounds buildings have now been converted into the museum and the ethno-botanical gardens. The church is stunning and is still used today.

Monte Alban –

A short ride away from Oaxaca city, lies Monte Alban, a pre-Colombian archaeological site that belonged to the Zapotecs. It’s a wonderful complex of pyramids that you can explore whilst admiring the views of the city in the valley below and the majestic mountains that surround you.

Oaxaca Mexico Monte Alban view

There are English-speaking guides available to help you make sense of this impressive slice of Mexican history.

This was one of our Oaxaca highlights!

Where to stay

We really enjoyed our stay at Casa Angel, in fact it’s one of the best hostels we been to during our six months on the move in Latin America. The staff were super friendly, everything was incredibly clean, the breakfast was delicious (I don’t know how those ladies make eggs THAT GOOD!), and it’s got a roof terrace with awesome sunset views.

To top it all off, there was a really great crowd staying there and we got chatting to some really lovely people!

Finally…

Ignore everything you read in blogs and travel guides for a day. Instead, walk aimlessly around the town, and discover it for yourself. Explore the city’s colourful streets, the vibrant markets (don’t miss Benito Juarez!), strike up conversation (no Spanish? Smile, say ‘buen dia’!) with the friendly locals, and get ready to fall in love with Oaxaca!

Oaxaca city photo collage

Have you been to Oaxaca? Don’t be shy, let us know your favourite things to do in the comments below! 

Proud to be linking up with other bloggers:

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Exploring the Pueblos Mancomunados of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/08/pueblos-mancomunados-oaxaca/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/03/08/pueblos-mancomunados-oaxaca/#comments Thu, 08 Mar 2018 02:35:33 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=982 This blog post is all about the Pueblos Mancomunados of Oaxaca. It explains what these villages are, and describes our two night stay in Cuajimoloyas. For travel directions just scroll to the bottom of this page. You can easily go from Oaxaca city independently, without paying the high fees of […]

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This blog post is all about the Pueblos Mancomunados of Oaxaca. It explains what these villages are, and describes our two night stay in Cuajimoloyas. For travel directions just scroll to the bottom of this page. You can easily go from Oaxaca city independently, without paying the high fees of a tourist agency.

What are the Pueblos Mancomunados?

The Pueblos Mancomunados consists of eight villages in the Sierra Norte, which sits within the Oaxaca state of Mexico. Over twenty years ago these mountain villages came together to create an ecotourism project that was of value to both visitors and their communities. Today, a well established network of hiking trails exist, as well as opportunities for horse riding and even zip-lining for the more adventurous.

The eight villages are Amatlán, Benito Juárez, Cuajimoloyas, La Nevería, Lachatao, Latuvi, Llano Grande and Yavesí.

Why should you go?

If you enjoy off the grid mountain escapes, and want to make sure your tourism has a positive effect, you should definitely check out the Pueblos Mancomunados. A stay in any of the villages will allow you to witness authentic Zapotec mountain life, and you will be gifted with a warm welcome from these wonderful people.

Our stay in Cuajimoloyas

Arriving in Cuajimoloyas

We spent two nights in the Pueblos Mancomunados, and based ourselves in Cuajimoloyas. Our primary reason for choosing this particular village was that it’s one of the easiest of the pueblos to get to from the city of Oaxaca (travel directions at the bottom of this page). It turned out to be a great decision for many more reasons.

We arrived in Cuajimoloyas on Saturday at around 1pm. Luckily our collectivo (shared taxi) driver dropped us off right outside the tourism office and from there we found it easy to organise a place to stay and to reserve an English-speaking guide for our hikes.

By 2pm, we had checked into our cosy cabana, eaten lunch at the closest comedor – this means ‘dining room’ and was really just a small room in a family’s home – and were ready for our first hike.

View of the cabanas in Cuajimoloyas - Pueblos Mancomunados

These are the tourist cabanas in Cuajimoloyas

Inside the Cuajimoloyas cabanas - Pueblos Mancomunados

Our cosy cabana

Ester, our private guide, met us at our cabana and spent the next two days hiking with us. She was born and grew up in Cuajimoloyas, and as well as helping us to explore the forest trials, she introduced us to her village and taught us a lot about the community’s way of life.

Hike 1: Canyon del Coyote, 3 hours

We had limited time in the mountains and didn’t want to waste a moment, so we booked ourselves on to a three hour hike to make the most of our first afternoon.

The hike was really interesting. Ester introduced us to a whole host of different plants that the villagers use for medicinal purposes. There seemed to be something for everything… cysts, cold sores, cancer, coughs, high fevers, wounds etc.

As we walked we came across lots of little ranches. These are owned by village families and they come here during the day to work. Some of the ranches were for trout farming, growing crops of potatoes or corn, or grazing livestock such as sheep or cows.

Small family ranch in Pueblos Mancomunados

A small ranch for trout farming, owned by one of the families that live in Cuajimoloyas

The hike was was the perfect length for an afternoon adventure, but it wasn’t easy. A lot of it was uphill through the forest, and there were points where we had to scramble over rocks or through caves. When we arrived at the viewpoint however, it made the dirty clothes more than worth it. Just look at that view!

View during Canyon del Coyote hike - Pueblos Mancomunados

The viewpoint during the Canyon del Coyote hike

Hike 2: Mirador Xi-Nudaa, 7 hours

On our second day in the Sierra Norte we decided to push ourselves and went for the longest route on the list. Apparently, it’s not often that the guides do this walk, usually people opt for the 3 or 5 hour walks. Trust us to be different!

The highlight of this walk was the viewpoint from which you could see for miles and miles, including a look at some of the other Pueblos Mancomunados. This hike was more advanced than the day before, there was a lot of scrambling over and under rocks, and to get to the viewpoint we had to to climb up a little way.

View of the Sierra Norte during Mirador Xi-Nudaa hike - Pueblos Mancomunados

This is the viewpoint during the Mirador Xi-Nudaa hike

We got to eat our lunch (we’d requested a packed lunch from the comedor by our cabana the night before) by the waterfalls. As we were visiting during the dry season they were unfortunately really small… but it did mean we didn’t have to take a rain jacket with us!

Apart from the stunning panoramic from the viewpoint , this hike wasn’t quite as interesting as the day before. We didn’t come across as many villagers or ranches, and the forest that we saw did become quite repetitive in places.

The evenings

Despite warm days, the evenings drop very cold in Cuajimoloyas, and we were very grateful for the open fireplace in our cabana to ward off the chill. We didn’t pay extra for access to WiFi, choosing to immerse ourselves in the experience. After lots of hiking, it was so cosy to sit in front of the fireplace, having nothing more to do than relax and watch the flames lick across the logs.

We had all of our meals at the closest comedor. The family were really sweet and their food, although simple, was delicious, traditional Oaxacan fayre. Our guide told us that the other comedors in the village were cheaper. For us however, the prices were really reasonable; per person, breakfast cost 50 pesos (£2), lunch cost 60 pesos (about £2.40) and dinner cost 50-60 pesos. We were always absolutely stuffed, and the prices included a hot drink. We couldn’t face more walking up and down hills and were happy to pay these ‘inflated’ prices.

Taking a breath

We really enjoyed our stay in the Sierra Norte, and would highly recommend getting off the beaten track to explore the Pueblos Mancomunados. Our stay gave us the opportunity to take a breath and just enjoy the beautiful nature around us.

While we would usually opt to hike independently, our guide was really knowledgeable and we were happy to know our money was going towards supporting the community. If you are in two minds, please be aware that the trails around Cuajimoloyas are not well signposted and in our opinion it would be quite easy to get lost.

How to organise your visit to the Pueblos Mancomunados

There are tourist agencies in Oaxaca who will organise your trip for you. For the privilege, they will charge you a lot of money and the villages will receive less compared to if you book directly through them.

We were travelling in a quieter period for the pueblos and so it was easy for us to just arrive in town and be able to get accommodation and a guide. If you travel in the high season, especially in July when they have their mushroom festival, you will need to check in advance. You can get in touch directly with the Pueblos Mancomunados by emailing cuaji_yaacuetzi@hotmail.com.

Our time was limited so we stuck to one place, but it is easy to walk between the different villages and spend time exploring each one. You could easily spend a week or more here!

In total, including accomodation, guide fees, food and transport, we spent around £25 each a day. We thought this was fantastic value!

Board with costings for hikes and accommodation in Cuajimoloyas

Here are the costs for the different accommodation options and guided walks (Mexican pesos). The guide fees are by group, not per person.

Oaxaca to Cuajimoloyas – Travel Directions

Step 1 – Oaxaca to Tlacolula

We got a collectivo, or shared taxi, from Oaxaca to Tlacolula, on the corner where Eduardo Vasconcelos intersects with Brazil (map). You can take any car going to Mitla and just let them know you want to get out early in Tlacolula. The journey costs 25 pesos (£1) per person and takes around 30-40 minutes.

Step 2 – Tlacolula to Cuajimoloyas

There are two transport terminals in Tlacolula, you want the white building across from the green PEMEX gas station on Juarez, not the main bus terminal (map). Walk to the back of the terminal yard and you will see a sign that says ‘Cuajimoloyas’.

Terminal building in Tlacolula where the Cuajimoloyas collectivos leave from

This is the terminal in Tlacolula where the collectivos to Cuajimoloyas leave from

Sign for Cuajimoloyas vehicles

Walk to the back of the yard and wait by the ‘Cuajimoloyas’ sign

From here, there doesn’t seems to be a timetable for departures, just sit on the bench and wait until the driver arrives. We waited for around one hour before the vehicle left at 12.15pm. The journey took around 50 minutes and cost 30 pesos per person. Our driver dropped us off outside the tourist information office in Cuajimoloyas from where we were easily able to organise our accommodation and hikes.

To return to Oaxaca from Cuajimoloyas, we pretty much did the above journey in reverse. It was a little confusing, several people told us there was a direct collectivo/bus to Oaxaca, but they always told us different details and we never saw any evidence of this. If you have better luck with this, please leave a comment so that we can let others know. We decided to change in Tlacolula as we knew this worked. We waited for the collectivo to Tlacolula across the street from the yellow public toilets, and next to Comedor Los Portales (map).

If you’re planning a trip to Oaxaca, take a look at our top things to do for inspiration! 

We’re proud to be linking up with other bloggers:

Two Traveling Texans

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Rainbow Mountain, Peru – Is it worth a visit? https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/02/17/rainbow-mountain-worth-it/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/02/17/rainbow-mountain-worth-it/#comments Sat, 17 Feb 2018 22:40:41 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=940 Rainbow Mountain is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru. Here we discuss whether it deserves the hype – is Rainbow Mountain worth a visit? We would say yes, but only if you combine it with a trip to the Red Valley!  Read on to find […]

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Rainbow Mountain is fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations in Peru. Here we discuss whether it deserves the hype – is Rainbow Mountain worth a visit? We would say yes, but only if you combine it with a trip to the Red Valley!  Read on to find out how. 

In the last couple of years, tourism to Vinicunca, often referred to as Rainbow Mountain, has exploded. The mountain got its nickname due to its mineral composition which creates seven different colours; for example the red is iron and the yellow is sulphur.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, our plans for Cusco didn’t go quite as they were meant to. I had to spend an evening in hospital, and we struggled a lot more with the city’s altitude of 3400m than we had expected. Although we’ve spent a lot of our trip high in the Andes, our previous stop had been Mancora, at sea level, and our bodies were feeling the sudden lack of oxygen.

At its peak, Rainbow Mountain is over 5000m and we knew we needed to be in full fitness if we were going to make the most of it. We delayed booking the tour until we knew we we were ready.

Booking a tour to Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley

All the tour operators across Cusco sell tours for around the same price, 70-75 soles (around £17-19). This is for a full day excursion, including breakfast and lunch, so it’s a pretty affordable option. It can be overwhelming trying to choose a company to go with, as they all seem to look the same, and offer the same.

As we wanted something quite specific, our options were narrowed down significantly. Most of the tours take you up to the summit of Rainbow Mountain, give you time to enjoy the view, and then return the same way. We wanted to do a loop, visiting Rainbow Mountain before walking back through the nearby Red Valley.

There really aren’t very many tour operators who go this way. After some research we finally found a company called Inka Time. For just 25 soles (around £5) more than the usual tours, we would get to see so much more. We went into their shop and signed up for the next day!

An early start

Our alarm woke us at 2.45am, giving us plenty of time to pack our day bags and have a warm cup of coca tea in preparation for the altitude.

Despite a relaxed, if not extremely early, start, our morning quickly turned into chaos. We were told that our tour would be with an Inka Time staff member, yet we were picked up (30 minutes late) by a third party on foot. The bus that was meant to pick us up was nowhere in sight, and we had to chase the staff member through the rain, along the slippy cobblestone roads. When we arrived in the centre of town, he told us to wait for a white Sprinter van, before running off without an explanation.

There were lots of tourist vehicles lined up along the street, but after enquiring with each one, none were for us. Becoming increasingly irate as the rain soaked us through, we rang the number that we had for Inka Time. They didn’t seem to know what was going on either, and told us to stay where we were.

We stood on the street for a good 20 minutes, totally confused. What should we do? Was he ever coming back? Had the van been and gone without us?

The journey to Rainbow Mountain

Eventually, a white Sprinter van full of people pulled up, and the guy we’d chased through the streets, reappeared. It was past 5am by this point, and we were understandably unimpressed. To make matters worse, there seemed to be some confusion over whether or not everyone was there. The staff member, who it turned out would be our guide for the day, spent a long time looking over his list of names and calling various ones out looking confused. No one else came, and eventually we set off.

Thankfully, the drive and our stop for breakfast went by without another hitch and we were at the entrance of Rainbow Mountain by about 9.30am.

Walking to Rainbow Mountain

The bus dropped us off in the car park, which sits at a height of 4480m. Although the path gently inclines for most of the way, the altitude makes what should be a fairly easy walk surprisingly tough.

The entrance of Rainbow Mountain

When you begin the walk, you are already at an altitude of 4480m

Every now and again we would stop and look around us as we caught our breath. The scenery, filled with crazy mountains and herds of alpacas, would be beautiful if it wasn’t for the line of tourists snaking their way past.

We are in good fitness, and had acclimatised well in Cusco before the hike. It took us around two hours to make our way up to the summit and we were there for 11.30am. Others in our group were slower, some faster. Ultimately, it isn’t a race and you have to be really careful of altitude sickness when you are hiking so high. We saw people of all ages struggling, and several didn’t get far before turning back to their buses.

As we walked we saw lots of horses for hire. Most of them were in terrible condition and if you visit we would strongly advise you not to use their services. By giving them money you are endorsing the cruelty of these animals.

The crowds walking to Rainbow Mountain

There is no chance of feeling lonley on the way to Rainbow Mountain. A constant stream of people and horses filed past us.

Closing in on the summit, I nearly stopped climbing all together. I was metres away from the end, but my lungs were rasping and it was becoming harder to walk. By the end of the climb, I was pretty sure that I must have collected stones in my shoes on the way up, as my feet felt like dead-weights at the ends of my legs. Phil had to give me a mental push to not give up!

If you ignore the hundreds of other tourists, the view from the summit is amazing. Unfortunately, Vinicunca itself is pretty disappointing. We could just about make out four of the seven colours that are meant to be there. We fast realised that the photos we had previously seen of the mountain had been highly filtered – naturally the colours aren’t that vivid. If it hadn’t been for the crowd of people with their selfie sticks, we might have missed it completely.

A mass of people walking up to the summit of Rainbow Mountain

The crowds make their way up to the summit of Rainbow Mountain

Is Rainbow Mountain worth it? At the summit

Here we are trying to unsucessfully dodge the crowds to take a photo with Rainbow Mountain.

Finally, we made our way over the ridge to the edge of the Red Valley. Regardless of whether you are walking through the valley or not, there is a 5 soles fee for access to the viewpoint, which is also the start of the next part of the walk. There were a couple of guys waiting on the path to take our money.

The ridge to Red Valley

This is the ridge that you need to walk across to get to the Red Valley viewpoint

When we got there, the scenery took away what little breath we had left. It was almost like looking down upon Mars. The wild red mountains in front of us was so much more vibrant than the colours of the famous Rainbow Mountain.

The Red Valley

While we waited at the viewpoint, where the next part of our hike would begin, the clouds were rolling in thick and fast. By the time our guide and group had assembled, we were being assaulted by hail. There were eight in our group, the others from our bus were all returning the way they had come on the standard tour. At this point, I think several of us were seriously considering joining them.

The first part of the walk came in equal parts of awesome and terrifying. There was no path, just a red downward slope in from of us. Due to the red clay, which is almost like sand, there was nowhere to get a grip with your feet. Using the wooden walking stick (provided by our guide) as a steer, we each slide quickly down into the valley.

Sliding into the Red Valley

Sliding down the clay mountainside into the Red Valley.

From this point, the hike was relatively easy going. Due to our initial descent, we weren’t plagued as much by the altitude. Surprisingly, the clouds parted around forty minutes later, allowing the sun to shine into the valley.

During the three hour hike, we only came across one other tour group, which was in vast contrast to the first part of our day. At times it felt like we were true adventurers, the first to discover the land since the time of the Incas.

Along the route we saw lots of agricultural terraces, which had been built into the mountainside by the Incas. Many are still maintained and are used for growing potatoes. We even saw one father and son combo working to plant new crops.

Planting new potatoes in the Red Valley

As we were walking in the Red Valley we saw a father and son planting new potatoes

Through the centre of the valley snakes a stream which runs red from the clay. In places the stream is filtered by rocks and forms wonderful blue pools of water, their colour contrasts violently with the red of the clay mountains and the vibrant green grass and moss. The vegetation is high in nutrients, and farmers graze their alpaca and llama herds here.

Pools of water form in the Red Valley

The colours of the Red Valley are so vivid!

A mother and baby alpaca grazing in the Red Valley

Herds of llamas and alpacas graze in the nutrient rich Red Valley

Sadly, by 3.30pm our walk had come to an end. We finished at the point where we’d had breakfast just a few hours before, and where we were to have lunch with the rest of our bus. The place was nothing fancy, a single room with long tables, attached to someone’s tiny home. The building belongs to a small village, made up of around ten or fifteen different houses, several of which cater to the tourist groups.

After we had all eaten, we got back on the bus and headed for Cusco. After the early start and intense exercise, most of us were asleep within minutes.

So, is Rainbow Mountain worth it?

Honestly, we would say … no! Here’s why:

  • The whole walk and the summit were crawling with people. When we got to the top we were wading through the crowds, and it was next to impossible to stand still long enough for a photo without someone trying to push you out of the way.
  • If you search for Rainbow Mountain, you will see a vast array of brightly coloured photos. Sadly, most of them have been filtered so much that they are beyond recognition when you see the real thing.
  • If you are travelling through the Andes you will see many brightly coloured mountains due to the insane amount of volcanoes in this part of the world. It’s their ancient (and not so ancient) activity that has caused the high density of minerals to occur. Most of them will be sighted through the window of your bus, without a breath-stealing hike necessary.
  • We got the impression that most of the tour companies running trips to Rainbow Mountain are pretty pants. It’s just not worth the hassle of dealing with them.

HOWEVER! Having said this, it IS worth going to Rainbow Mountain on your way to the Red Valley. It is worth the trek up to 5000m to descend through such incredible beauty.

Would we recommend Inka Time?

Usually, after such a bad experience, we would say avoid Inka Time, the tour operator that we used. Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned, there aren’t that many tour operators who currently go to the Red Valley. Shop around and see what other companies are running this tour, and be prepared to go with Inka Time if necessary. After talking to other travellers, we have a sneaking suspicion that they are all as bad as each other.

Let’s recap why they were terrible:

  • We were picked up later than scheduled, with no apology.
  • We had to walk to the pick up point, after being told when we booked that the bus would come to us.
  • Once our guide had come to pick us up, we were left in the rain in central Cusco. Our guide had run off into the darkness of the early morning and our vehicle was nowhere to be scene.
  • We had been told our tour would be with an Inka Time staff member. Our group was made up of customers from a range of tour operators, and I’m not sure what company our guide was working for, but it wasn’t Inka Time.
  • The guide was completely disinterested in our group. He just came across as really annoyed for having to walk the extra miles through the Red Valley.
  • Despite the high altitude we weren’t given a safety briefing about what to do if we began to feel ill on the hike. Oxygen was meant to be available if required, but I wouldn’t have known what to do or where to go for it.
  • During the Red Valley part of the hike, the guide often rushed off ahead, refusing to wait for the slower members of the group.

In summary we would say that isn’t worth dealing with a rubbish company purely for Rainbow Mountain, but it is to be able to experience the Red Valley! We can’t recommend this experience enough.

Have you visited Rainbow Mountain and/or the Red Valley? Let us know about your experience and if you have any recommendations for tour companies!

We are proud to be linking up with other bloggers:

Two Traveling Texans

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How we missed our flight from Sucre, Bolivia… https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/02/04/flying-sucre-airport-bolivia/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/02/04/flying-sucre-airport-bolivia/#comments Sun, 04 Feb 2018 23:56:14 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=920 Both Phil and I like to triple check details. We like to know where we need to be and when. That’s why it came as a huge surprise to us when we missed our flight from Sucre to La Paz, Bolivia!  Make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you… […]

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Both Phil and I like to triple check details. We like to know where we need to be and when. That’s why it came as a huge surprise to us when we missed our flight from Sucre to La Paz, Bolivia!  Make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to you…

So yeah… we missed our first (and hopefully last) flight. This is something that we always thought happened to ‘other people’. Apparently we are now those ‘other people’. You know the ones. Those people with the ashen faces, heads hung low, a look of confusion in their eyes. You see them as you saunter through the airport and you feel smug, you’re right where you need to be. You won’t be like them.

Our flight details were correct and we arrived at the airport much earlier than we needed to. Our taxi driver took a 45 minute journey and made it 30 minutes – but that’s a story for another time.

The airport in question is Sucre, capital city of Bolivia. It’s from here that our direct, domestic flight to La Paz was scheduled to leave at 11.55am. The airport has one terminal which contains four gates. For a capital city, it’s a tiny building.

I know what you’re thinking… “The airport is small, you were there in plenty of time.. so, what went wrong, Spud?”

Good question. We still havent entirely figured it out, but its most likely a classic case of ‘Language Barrier’, with a few other things thrown in:

  1. Two or three flights were all due around lunch time. As a result lots of people were waiting for their flights in the same tiny departure room.
  2. The board declared that all flights would be leaving from gate 4 and never updated.
  3. ‎The tiny departure boards dotted around the airport were no help at all. They was declaring that flights were on time even though they hadn’t left and were meant to have done so a fair while ago.

Not understanding much that was being said over the tannoy system, we sat down right by gate 4 and waited. Not only is our Spanish limited, the speakers were very muffled.

Eagle-eyed we watched the room crowd with more and more people. One hour after our scheduled departure there was finally movement. The gate doors opened and a queue formed. Hooray!

In no real rush, we joined the back of the queue and waited for our tickets to be checked. When we handed over our little slips of white paper, the staff member did a small double take – “This flight has gone”.

….”Wwwhhhaaattt?!!!”

We were told to go and speak to another member of staff who could speak English. The really nice lady explained that our flight had departed a short while ago. Apparently they had called for us but couldn’t find us.

Phil was much calmer than me… I was on the verge of needing a paper bag to breathe into.

There was a moment, for me at least, of blind panic. Never having missed a flight before, we had no idea of the protocol. Luckily for us, however, this was a short domestic flight. The carrier, BoA, run regular flights from Sucre and so the staff member ran off to make a call.

Within 15 minutes we were on another flight going to Cochabamba.

.. “wait up, Spud! Weren’t you going to La Paz? Where’s this new place with the funny name?!”

Yep. We ended up seeing a bit more of Bolivia than we had expected. We were told to run off to a new plane whose next stop would be Cochabamba, a city about half way between Sucre and La Paz.

Off we dashed to the furthest away plane. We spoke to the staff on board and they explained that the flight would be going to Cochabamba and then onto La Paz. They needed to speak with the team on the ground to work out if we would be able to fly all the way or change to a different service in Cochabamba.

Forty minutes later, we touched down in Cochabamba. We were told that we could fly with them onto La Paz, but everyone had to get off the plane and go to the waiting room.

Off we went! After speaking to another staff member we were given new boarding tickets and seat numbers, and then back through security we were sent.

We were told that the boarding gate was number 6, and it was printed on our new tickets. When we got there the gate was closed, but two La Paz flights were leaving from gate 7, just next door.

Off we boarded and away we flew! It took less than forty minutes to get to La Paz. When we arrived, I explained the situation in my best Spanglish and we were reunited with our luggage. Our bags were much smarter than us and had got on the right plane.

Flying from Sucre Airport

The staff were not surprised that we had missed our flight; we’re pretty sure we weren’t the only ones.

Our advice if you are flying from Sucre airport is:

  • Do not trust the departure boards – they lie! Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for updates.
  • Watch for movement on the runway – if a plane lands always assume it’s yours. Don’t let it leave without checking.
  • Look around you, where are the people close by you heading to? If you spot someone on the same flight, stalk them. Subtly, of course… or they might not let you on the plane at all.
  • If you are in any doubt, ask!

In summary…

Be more Phil, less Vicky and try not to freak out. Luckily for us, BoA got us into spare seats on the next flight. We are really grateful to the staff who got us sorted so quickly and made sure we didn’t have to pay anything extra.

The worst thing of all was that we had an airport transfer waiting for us and were unable to let them know we wouldn’t be there. It was booked through our hostel and we understandably had to pay half the cost.

Ultimately though, we got off extremely lightly considering!

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Machu Picchu – A visit to The Lost City of the Incas https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/01/31/visit-machu-picchu/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/01/31/visit-machu-picchu/#comments Wed, 31 Jan 2018 22:19:18 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=891 This post is all about our visit to Machu Picchu, also known as the Lost City. Although the day had a bit of a rocky start, we had an incredible time. If you would like help organising a trip to Machu Picchu you can look at our guide to choosing […]

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This post is all about our visit to Machu Picchu, also known as the Lost City. Although the day had a bit of a rocky start, we had an incredible time. If you would like help organising a trip to Machu Picchu you can look at our guide to choosing the best route, or our guide to organising a DIY visit.

Our visit to Machu Picchu began in Cusco, the once centre of the Incan Empire. In Quechuan (the indigenous language of the Andes), Cusco means, “navel of the world” and was a seat of great power. It was from here where we organised our trip and purchased our tickets for Machu Picchu and the PeruRail train.

As Machu Picchu isn’t accessible by road, we had to get the train to the closest town, Aguas Calientes. Our train departed from the town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, about a one and a half hour drive from Cusco.

After spending a couple of days in Ollantaytambo, we set off nice and early for our train. There is a little cafe on the platform called Cafe Mayu, and we enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the station from their window booth. As life passed by, we enjoyed some yummy coffee and the best sandwiches we’ve had in months!

A little surprise

A little birdy (who could that be?!) had spoken with PeruRail in advance to let them know that Phil’s birthday was in two days time. Just 15 minutes into our journey, the staff crowded around us, armed with cake and candle, singing Happy Birthday (in Spanish)! You should’ve seen the look on his face – it was a total shock!

The staff gave us the extra special treatment for the whole journey. The train manager served us our hot drinks personally to ensure we could have it with our cake.

For the rest of the journey we sat back and enjoyed the amazing views of the Sacred Valley unfolding around us. Whoever wrote ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough, Ain’t no valley low enough….’ had obviously never visited this special place. The contrast of sheer rocky mountains and low grassy valleys takes your breath away.

View of Sacred Valley from train

The view of the Sacred Valley from our PeruRail carriage

Arriving into Aguas Calientes

Our train pulled into Aguas Calientes two hours later – we were so sad to disembark! The town was built in the early 1900’s, to give easier access to Machu Picchu after it was rediscovered. It’s certainly not the prettiest of towns, but its location on the Urubamaba river, nestled between the mountains, is incredible. From wherever you stand, you can hear the roar of the water around you, and no matter how much you strain your neck some of the mountain peaks remain hidden behind the cloud.

Aguas Callientes & River

Aguas Callientes sits on the fast-flowing Urubamba river.

An early morning

After staying the evening in Aguas Calientes, we awoke early to get ready for the big day ahead. When we got to the bus stop at 4.30am there was already a growing queue of people waiting for the first service at 5.30am. The bus takes you from Aguas Calientes, up the winding roads to the tourist entrance of Machu Picchu.

The 4.30am queue for shuttle bus

People were already queueing for the shuttle bus when we arrived at 4.30am.

As we had bought our bus tickets the night before ($12 each way, per person), we were able to jump straight in the queue to board. The ticket isn’t for a set time, just the next available service. Lots of buses arrived early at 5am, and we were heading up the mountain by 5.20am.

Machu Picchu sits on top on a mountain within the Andes of Southern Peru. It’s precarious position gave it the ultimate protection, surrounded by mountains on three sides, and the Urubamaba river on the fourth. These days, it’s much easier to get to the citadel. In addition to the bus, there are steps that you can walk up for free. We passed by many people who had decided to attempt the steep climb. Unsurprisingly, they were all hot and sweaty, and we were grateful that we had opted for wheels!

Driving up the winding roads, I was beginning to feel increasingly overwhelmed. Even the pea soup clinging to the mountains couldn’t dampen the army of butterflies that had invaded my stomach. I could barely speak to Phil, and I didnt want to blink incase I missed my first opportunity to see Machu Picchu.

Until that point, I don’t think we had really felt excitement. We had been so focussed on the all the logistics of planning our trip, that we hadn’t really thought about the day itself! It was a surprise to feel so nervous, but these weren’t just any old ruins, it was THE Machu Picchu!

Arriving at the gates of Machu Picchu

The bus took around 15 minutes, and by 6.15am we had found a guide and agreed a price.

We found that unless you were on a prearranged tour, it was quite difficult to organise a guide before getting to the gates of Machu Picchu. We didn’t need to worry though, when you arrive, there are lots of guides waiting around and this is how we met Oddy. We agreed on a price of 40 soles per person, which is around £9, and said we were happy to wait for two more people to join us. Once Oddy had convinced another couple to join us, our tour began!

A tour of Machu Picchu

The pea soup that had obscured our view on the bus didn’t just remain, it got worse. By the time we got to the place where that ‘classic photo’ is taken, the rain had started to fall.

Clouds obscure our view of Machu Picchu

Trying to get that ‘classic shot’ of Machu Picchu!

Oddy told us there were two kinds of rain, male and female. Male rain came down heavy but didn’t stay long, while female rain was softer but stayed for much longer. Unfortunately, it seemed like we were stuck with the female variety for the day!

We tried not to let it dampen our spirits and enjoyed our two hour tour. We walked A LOT, and learned about the different areas of the city. We explored the temples, and the residential areas and discussed the steep terraces that were used for agriculture.

Our tour gave us a great idea of the layout and a better understanding of who the Incans were. The site of Machu Picchu was extremely sacred, and when the Incas downfall to the Spanish was inevitable, they abandoned the city to ensure it was never discovered and destroyed.

Taking a break from the rain

After our tour had finished we left to take a break from exploring. Standing under a ledge outside the entrance, we took refuge from the rain and ate the snacks we had brought with us.

We were in two minds. All of the organised tours were coming to an end and groups were beginning to leave and make their way back down the mountain. Part of us wanted to join them. The rain didn’t look like it was ever going to stop and it was becoming harder to keep our (soggy) chins held high!

After a moment of silence we gave ourselves a mental shake and decided to re-enter the citadel. When were we ever going to get a chance to visit Machu Picchu again? We wouldn’t let the rain ruin this opportunity for us!

Wandering alone

Our train back to Ollantaytambo was booked for around 2pm so we had to make sure we left and headed back down the hill in plenty of time. It was already about 10.30am by the time we went back in, and we were aware of how much time we had left.As the stones were slippy, and the clouds so thick, we decided against making our way to the Inca Bridge or the Sun Gate. Both these places are outside of the citadel and require walking up steep steps. With the weather as it was, and our time restrictions, we decided to go back and explore the town itself in more detail now that we were alone.

Wow! Are we glad we decided to go back through the entrance!!!

Machu Picchu mountins and clearing clouds

The clouds finally started to clear around us, and the mountains came into view

The weather changed slowly, and at first we didn’t notice. Looking around us, we began to see more of the surrounding mountains, but we didn’t want to hope! The rain slowed, then stopped all together. A few rays of light began to disperse the pea soup all together. When we took off our rain jackets and looked around us, suddenly there it was! Machu Picchu spread out around us!

After walking round for close to six hours in the rain and the fog, our persistence paid off. We were rewarded with 45 minutes of sunshine and amazing panoramic views!

Clouds cleared from Machu Picchu

…suddenly we could see Machu Picchu before us!

Selfies with machu picchu

The mandatory Machu Picchu selfie!

Five facts about Machu Picchu

We learnt so much about Machu Picchu and the Incas during our visi… I could carry on writing for hours and bore you silly! Instead I will share with you our top five facts about the citadel.

  1. While it was inhabited the city was incredibly remote. There were only two ways to enter, the most famous of which is now called the Inca Trail, which ran all the way from Cusco. Along the route, which weaved its way through the mountains of the Sacred Valley, there were over 100 different checkpoints to pass which provided an incredible layer of protection.
  2. Due to its seclusion, the Spanish never found it during their occupation of Peru. This is why it got its name as ‘The Lost City’. It was ‘rediscovered’ by an American explorer, Hiram Bingham, in 1911. In reality, it had never been ‘lost’ to local people. For the 400 years prior to Bingham’s arrival they had been using the city’s agricultural terraces for their crops.
  3. No one knows the original Quechuan name for the citadel. Machu Picchu means ‘Old Mountain’, and is the name for the mountain next to the city. At a loss for what else to call it, Bingham gave the citadel the name that is now recognised all around the world.
  4. Machu Picchu was built using the resources to hand and is an incredible feat of engineering. On our visit we were able to see how the Incas used the stone from the mountain. As well as a quarry to make bricks, many of the steps and walkways were built out of the mountain itself.
  5. At the moment the ancient citadel is open for tourists to fully explore, but this does come at a cost. All those thousands of feet and curious hands pose a dangerous threat to the conservation of the site. In the future tourists might only be able to stand and look from afar at the famous landmark.

At the end of the day

We absolutely loved our visit to Machu Picchu, and later that day, on the train back to Ollantaytambo, we had huge grins on our faces. Despite all of the money we spent, and the time it took to plan, we wouldn’t change a thing! We are so grateful that we persevered and stayed long enough to see the sight without those pesky clouds in the way!

Have you been to Machu Picchu, or are you planning your own trip? Let us know in the comments below!

Proud to be linking up with other travel bloggers:

Two Traveling Texans

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How to plan a DIY trip to Machu Picchu https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/01/23/plan-trip-to-machu-picchu/ https://www.spudontherun.com/2018/01/23/plan-trip-to-machu-picchu/#comments Tue, 23 Jan 2018 00:03:01 +0000 https://www.spudontherun.com/?p=818 Let us show you how to plan a DIY trip to Machu Picchu – there is no need to pay any extra fees for a tour company!  There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu and it can all be a bit confusing! We discussed in our last blog […]

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Let us show you how to plan a DIY trip to Machu Picchu – there is no need to pay any extra fees for a tour company! 

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu and it can all be a bit confusing! We discussed in our last blog post how to make the best decision for you, based on your schedule and budget. For us, the train was a clear winner and became just as much a part of our Machu Picchu adventure as the ancient citadel itself (well… almost!). The multi-day hikes and road/walk package that we discuss in our last post need to be booked through a tour company, but a trip by train can be planned independently. We would advise against paying the extra fees for a tour company, and describe here in detail how you can go about planning your DIY trip.

Purchase your tickets in advance

The first step is to purchase your tickets for Machu Picchu and the train.

Machu Picchu tickets

You can buy Machu Picchu tickets online but you need a VISA card. As we only had a Mastercard with us, we popped into the Cusco ticket office to buy our tickets. For the basic ticket we paid 152 soles (about £35) per person (there is a cheaper rate for nationals). This gives you access to the citadel, the Sun Gate (where the Inca Trail came into the city), and the Inca Bridge. If you want to climb Huayna Picchu (the famous mountain in the back of all those classic Machu Picchu photos) you need to book far in advance as only 400 people are allowed to climb it a day. You can also purchase tickets for Machu Picchu mountain, which are a little easier to get hold of.

Last year (2017) the Peruvian authorities brought in new restrictions for visitors to help conserve and manage the site. In previous years, tourists were able to enter in the morning and stay all day long. There are 2,500 tickets available each day, and the new rules split the day into two slots; you can buy a ticket for either the morning or afternoon. They are still working out how to manage the new system to ensure that people leave at mid-day.

Train tickets

Two companies run tourist trains to Aguas Calientes, they are PeruRail and Inca Rail. We decided to go with PeruRail, as we had read many reviews to say they were by far the better company (although we can’t testify to this ourselves!).

You can buy tickets for PeruRail either online, or in one of their ticket offices. As we had a few questions that we wanted answered in person, we took notes of the departure times and prices that we wanted from their website, and then went and bought the tickets in person.

For most of the year PeruRail runs trains from both Cusco or Ollantaytambo (a town in the Sacred Valley) to Aguas Calientes. Between January and April the Cusco departures are suspended.

PeruRail have different services, catering to different budgets. The cheapest service is the Expedition, these carriages are the simplest and prices start from around US$50 for a one-way journey. The most expensive carriages are the Belmond Hiram Bingham, and a return journey can set you back over US$2000!

Inside the Vistadome service

The Vistadome service with PeruRail

We travelled to Aguas Calientes by the Vistadome, these carriages have larger windows than the budget option and include a much more personalised in-journey service. On the way back we went for the Expedition carriage. Both services were really enjoyable, but Vistadome was by far the more superior!

Trip to Machu Picchu - Inside the Expedition Carriage

PeruRail’s Expedition carriages are the most budget friendly!

In total we each paid US$140 for our return journey from Ollantaymbo to Aguas Calientes.

Travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is a little Incan town in the Sacred Valley. It’s very easy and cheap to get to from Cusco. We travelled by collectivo (shared taxi) which depart from here. It costs between 7-10 soles and takes around 1.5 hours. The journey is beautiful, taking you through the scenic Sacred Valley and the town of Urubamba, which shares its name with the valleys river.

As we had to travel to Ollantaytambo, we decided to make the most of it and spent two evenings there. We really enjoyed our time exploring the little town and we will be releasing a new blog post about it soon.

Stay in Aguas Calientes

We mentioned in our previous blog post that Aguas Calientes is the closest town to Machu Picchu. It’s only accessible by train or on foot which is what makes a trip to the ancient citadel a little tricky.

If you are getting the train to Machu Picchu you will be going though this small town, often referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo. Although it is possible to get to Machu Picchu and back to Cusco all in one day (just about), it would be incredibly long and tiring. We would recommend doing what we did and arriving in Aguas Calientes the day before your visit to Machu Picchu.

Several people warned us that Aguas Calientes wasn’t anything special. Filled to the brim with restaurants and hostels, it was a place where people go on a mission to get somewhere else. As quick as possible. After hearing this, we were pretty surprised when the train pulled in to the station. Sitting on top of the Urubamaba river, Aguas Calientes is nestled in a valley. Wherever you look you are faced with the dominating mountains, and the roaring river is the town’s constant theme tune. While Aguas Calientes certainly isn’t pretty, its location is breathtaking.

Aguas Callientes & River

Aguas Calientes sits on the fast-flowing Urubamba river

Accommodation

Most of the town’s accommodation has awful reviews, and we really struggled to choose somewhere. The railway track runs through the town’s streets and so you can hear the trains wherever you stay. We paid a little more than we normally would for the hotel Inka Wonder. Despite its cheesy name, the room was nice and clean, the staff helpful and the shower was hot. Catering to the tourists’ needs, breakfast started at 4am, perfect for and early morning start to Machu Picchu.

Where to eat

Having eaten a large meal earlier in the day, we didn’t need any food in Aguas Calientes, so I can’t personally recommend anywhere. We were warned by our hotel to be careful though. Restaurants in the area are notorious for adding service charges of up to 30% of the bill! Don’t be shy and ask about additional costs before you enter the restaurant.

Travel from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

From Aguas Calientes there are two ways to get to the citadel

  • Walk – you can walk up the steps to Machu Picchu which takes around 2-3 hours. Please only attempt this if you are in good fitness, the steps are extrememly steep and the gradient is made even worse by the altitude. Benefit? It’s completely free!
  • Shuttle bus – there are regular buses from the centre of town. The journey takes around 15 minutes and costs US$12 per person, each way.

How to get the shuttle bus

We took the lazier man’s option and decided to take the shuttle bus – we just couldn’t face those steps so early in the morning! We also didn’t want to arrive at the citadel completely exhausted. We drove past many people who had decided to walk and they looked hot, sweaty, and very tired.

As our Machu Picchu ticket was for the morning slot we set off from our hostel as early as possible. We bought our tickets the evening before to save time the following day. Although you’re unable to book a seat for a particular service, buying in advance meant that we were able to jump straight into the queue to board. Note: They do accept payment by card but there is an additional 10% fee for the pleasure of doing so, so we would suggest having the cash!

The 4.30am queue for shuttle bus

People were already queueing for the shuttle bus when we arrived at 4.30am

The first buses arrived at 5am, by which time a huge queue was snaking its way through the streets. After joining the queue at around 4.30am, we managed to get on a bus by 5.20am. We’d actually expected it to take longer than this as there were already a lot of people waiting when we arrived. Apparently the queues are much worse in the high season, so factor this into your plans!

The Machu Picchu Shuttle Bus

The first shuttle buses arrived at 5am

Hiring a guide

Unless you are part of an organised tour, we discovered it’s pretty difficult to organise a guide in advance of your visit. We spoke to a few people before we went and they all said that lots of guides wait outside the entrance. They were right! As soon as you arrive, you will find lots of people advertising themselves as guides. Don’t get swept up into the chaos and remember these two top tips to choosing the perfect guide for your visit.

  • If you don’t speak Spanish, you will need to find a guide who can speak English. Walk around and listen out for someone advertising their services in English. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with them before agreeing to pay. You need to make sure that you can understand their English. Try asking simple questions about how long they’ve been a guide, how long will the tour take, and the kinds of things they will discuss.
  • Be careful not to get ripped off! We were told all the guides have been approved by the authorities at Machu Picchu, but this doesn’t mean they all charge the same. We heard of people being quoted $50 each for a GROUP tour. Do NOT agree to this. We paid 40 soles per person as part of a four person tour. Expept to pay more for a private tour.

Tours usually take around 2-2.5 hours, after which you will be able to explore by yourself.

Finally…

Don’t forget to have lots of fun and take lots of photos! Be prepared for all kinds of different weather. We encountered fog, rain and glorious sunshine!

We hope that this guide has been useful to you, and we would love to hear all about your visit to Machu Picchu. Please drop us a comment and send us an email!

If you aren’t sure whether or not a trip to Machu Picchu is worth all the hassle, give yourself a mental slap and read our blog post all about our Machu Picchu adventure. It was INCREDIBLE, definitely worth the money and the early, early morning!

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