From Latin America

Machu Picchu – How To Guarantee A Better Vacation Than Anyone Else

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on March 3, 2011

One of the most iconic sites in Latin America is Machu Picchu. Whenever someone thinks of taking Peru vacations, the classic photo of the Inca citadel sitting high in cloud forest comes to mind.

However, it’s no secret that Machu Picchu has large numbers of visitors all year round. If you’d like to visit the site and get a unique experience that is probably better than most other visitors, here are some tips.

1) Get there early
The idea of dragging yourself out of bed at 4.30 am may not be very appealing, but it will be worth it when you find yourself at the front of the queue for entrance to the site. You’ll also get the opportunity to be one of the 400 visitors with permission to climb the spectacular slopes of nearby Huayna Picchu, as this is only available to early arrivals.

2) Start from the wrong end
Most visitors to Machu Picchu take a conventional path around the site, working their way up the nearest terraces to the guard house to take their own version of the iconic photo of the site with Huayna Picchu in the background. You’ll get a dose of near-solitude if you head straight to the other end of the site near the base of Huayna Picchu and work backwards.

3) Arrive by foot
It may be hard work, but you’ll feel rewarded when you finally get to the site instead of rumbling along in a bus with everyone else. Two main options exist:

Option 1: The Inca Trail
A 3 or 4 day hike along the best-preserved section of ancient Inca highway, the route takes you through an incredible variety of landscapes before finishing at the Sun Gate that overlooks the site. It’s a very popular route, so make sure you book up to 3 months in advance…

Option 2: Walking from Aguas Calientes
If you are staying in the nearby village of Aguas Calientes, it is possible to walk up to the site first following the river then using a steep flight of stairs through tropical foliage. Visitors are recommended to make an early start and to carry a flashlight.

4) See the site from all angles
Check out the site from more than the classic Gate House angle. Try climbing Machu Picchu mountain itself – this is a fairly strenuous climb but offers fantastic views from the top of both the site and the surrounding mountains.

Other options for a different angle on Machu Picchu include looking down from Huayna Picchu and making the 45 minute walk back up the Inca Trail from the main site to the Sun Gate. You’ll be surprised how few people make the effort…

5) Get a good guide
There are a lot of conflicting theories about Machu Picchu’s history, and it is easy to get spun a tall tale by a guide. By travelling with a reputable tour operator you can get escorted around the site by an expert who puts a lot of time and effort into staying on the cutting edge of discoveries about Machu Picchu. This will definitely give you a unique perspective on the site. Be sure to choose a fluent English speaker!

6) Stay the night in Aguas Calientes
Try to avoid the typical scenario of cramming a trip to Machu Picchu into a single day. If you are prepared to stay the night in nearby Aguas Calientes you’ll have the benefit of a peaceful afternoon on the site after all the day trippers have left to rush back to Cusco. You’ll be amazed how much quieter the site is towards the end of the day. This also allows you to get to the site when it first opens on the following day.

Have you got any other tips to have a unique trip to Machu Picchu? What was your visit like?

 

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

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Galapagos Tours – 5 Mistakes To Avoid

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on March 1, 2011

If you’re thinking about visiting the Galapagos Islands, you’re in for a treat. Made famous by Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle in the 19th century, the Islands lie 972 km west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. Undiscovered by mankind until relatively recently, you’ll see a fantastic range of flora and fauna in ecosystems that exist nowhere else on the planet.

However there are a couple of pitfalls to travelling to the Galapagos Islands and also while you are on your stay. Here are five things you are best avoiding.

1) Missing your plane from Ecuador
The vast majority of tourists arrive at Galapagos by plane. It is only possible to reach the islands by a flight from mainland Ecuador starting in either Quito or Guayaquil. International flights do not go directly to the Islands. If you are flying, make sure your seat doesn’t get given away to someone else by:

  • Checking in more than an hour before take-off
  • Planning your international arrival to Ecuador at least a day before your departure flights to the Galapagos to give yourself time between connections (If you miss the start of your cruise there is no way to catch up!)

2) Taking a tour with an unqualified guide
Conservation on the islands is of critical importance, and the best people to maintain standards are the tour guides. They should help keep you on the marked pathways and assist in communicating and enforcing conservation rules.

Visitors to the Galapagos Islands should be guided at all times by a qualified individual.  There shouldn’t be any more that 16 people in your group, to allow for proper control and guidance of tourists.  They should also provide information about general water safety and monitor all swimming and snorkeling.

3) Touching animals
It’s tempting, but visitors should not interact with animals on the Galapagos Islands. The majority of animals on the Galapagos have no reason to fear humans, and consequently will allow visitors to get very close without bolting.  

However, you should go no closer than within two meters of animals, as in some cases they will follow you, leaving their nests uncovered, exposing eggs or chicks to the sun.  Additionally, no animals should be fed or baited on water or land.

4) Introducing new species to the islands
Introducing any exotic organisms to Galapagos could have a devastating effect on the ecosystems that exist in a state of delicate balance.  Any food, animal and vegetable products as well as seeds, plants or fresh flowers should be declared before leaving the airport at Quito or Guayaquil so that a trained inspector can deem if they are safe or not. Live animals in any form are also not permitted.  

The same principles apply for inter-island trips; each island is its own unique ecosystem, so introductions between islands can be just as destructive to the natural process of things as items from the mainland.

5) Lighting fires
In 1985, Isabel Island suffered severe damage from negligence with smoking and fire lighting. Amazingly, the same thing happened again almost a decade later in 1994.  Even though a beach fire seems like the perfect end to a day on an exotic island adventure, visitors should resist the urge to build a camp fire.

Are there any other things that visitors to the Galapagos Islands should avoid? What are your Galapagos vacation experiences?

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America

Peru Vacations – 11 Tips To Remove Luggage Stress

Posted in Uncategorized by escapedtoperu on March 1, 2011

 

One of those necessary annoyances of travelling to Peru or elsewhere in Latin America is planning the luggage that you will carry. You don’t want to end up lugging around giant suitcases of empty space, but you don’t want to be breaking zippers either.

Here’s some helpful advice on sorting out your luggage for a Peru vacation.

  1. Pack light with spare capacity. You will probably fill up your luggage space as you travel with purchases and gifts for friends and family back home.
  2. Treatment of luggage in Peru is no better or worse than anywhere else – take a sturdy suitcase, soft-sided resilient backpack or hold-all (depending upon the nature of your trip).
  3. You will also need a day pack which should be taken as hand luggage providing it falls within the permitted dimensions.
  4. An easy way to free up space – you will NOT need a clean set of clothes for every day of the trip as all good hotels have laundry facilities and laundries can also be easily found in any tourist destination.
  5. It is useful to have luggage that can be locked to stop people quickly rummaging through your belongings. (Do note that traveling through the US customs may break your lock to check the contents of your bags).
  6. Check luggage requirements for all the airlines that you may be using on your vacation – these are constantly changing, so have a look at their website to avoid being caught out.
  7. For hand luggage, the maximum weight varies between 6 and 10kg. The rules may differ on your return journey. Items such as laptops are often counted as separate from your hand luggage allowance, so take advantage of this in your packing!
  8. If any of your flights involve a change of plane, there is always the possibility that you and your checked luggage will arrive separately. Make sure you plan a day on arrival at a fixed address that can receive your forwarded luggage when it arrives.
  9. Try to use distinctive baggage that will be easier to describe if it goes astray, and label your bags clearly with your name and hotel destination.
  10. If you are moving fairly quickly on to your next port of call add this information to the luggage label. Place a duplicate label inside each piece of luggage.
  11. Due to the climatic diversity of Peru you may need a variety of clothes to suit the coastal desert, the high Andes and the Amazon Rainforest depending on your itinerary. Layers are more practical than thick jumpers and mean that the same clothes can be used in all three climatic zones. Check the high and low temperatures before you travel and the likelihood of rain.

Some additional guidelines for baggage allowances
Note: these can be subject to change, so make sure you check your airline’s website!

  • Baggage allowances vary from one carrier to another.
  • Infants have no baggage allowance, but parents are allowed to carry a reasonable selection of items for the baby, free of charge.
  • Children (aged 2-11 years inclusive) normally have full adult baggage allowance.
  • Club and First Class passengers have a higher baggage allowance than Economy Class, usually around 30kg in total.
  • As a very general rule, most international carriers as well as domestic carriers in Latin America allow a maximum of 20kg in Economy Class, for both internal and international flights.
  • If you are taking a small domestic flight, airlines operating planes with fewer than twenty seats often have a limit as low as 5kg.

Do you have any other useful tips for packing for Peru vacations? Did you ever have a bad luggage experience?

Author: Gary Sargent – Escaped to Peru / Escaped to Latin America