Tag Archives: mountains

Quito

It was in Manta that we temporarily parted ways. I (Saskia) went to Quito to fly back to Santiago and then make the journey home in order to get organised for a new job. Mark decided to stay a bit longer to get some more kite surfing practice in, and he took the more gruelling option of bussing back to Lima, then flying to Santiago and back to Auckland before meeting up again in Sydney.

By the time we reached this stage of our adventure, both of us were fairly exhausted. The travel had taken its toll, and with constant stomach bugs and other illnesses, we were getting quite weary.

When I reached Quito, all I wanted to do was rest before the long journey home. Whilst I had a couple of days there, I had lost the inspiration to go exploring so didn’t venture out much beyond the hostel and main part of town. I took the opportunity to get a haircut (first time in months!), buy some new clothes so I wouldn’t look so ragged upon returning to Sydney, and basically enjoy some time to myself.

I was fairly wary of Quito, after having had several friends visit who had all been victims of petty theft. As such, I kept my big camera locked away at the hostel and only ventured out with my phone and bare essentials when I wandered through the old part of town. It was nice to see that there were actually tourist police on almost every corner of the old town. It looked like they were really trying to change the attitude that people had of the safety issue in Quito, and it was actually fine. We managed to escape South America without once being robbed!

Tourist police keep an eye on things.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm to be a tourist, I would have to say that Quito was possibly the prettiest city that I had seen in South America. It definitely had a certain charm, which I had expected to experience more often in other areas but hadn’t. The old colourful buildings were beautiful, and the squares were similar to other places, but had a different feel. There is a definite distinction between Ecuador and what I imagine the other countries heading north would be like compared with the more southern South American states. I would love to go back again to enjoy Ecuador from a fresh perspective, and head north into Colombia and Central America to see that side of things. Perhaps another adventure awaits!

 

 


Alternatives to Hiking the Inca Trail

Hola amigos,

Today we wanted to share a few ideas on great treks that you can do around Cusco in addition to, or as an alternative to, the Inca Trail. This post largely reflects our own research but also conversations with fellow travellers. If you find the Inca Trail to be prohibitively expensive, or you want a bit more Indiana Jones in your adventure, then this might be of interest to you.

There are three trips near Cusco that we would recommend looking into:

  1. Choquequirao
  2. Salcantay to Machu Picchu
  3. Vitcos and Espiritu Pampa

These trails are great alternatives the Inca Trail. There are companies offering hikes to all three, although Choquequirao and Espiritu Pampa are not covered by many companies, which is part of their appeal. They are also multi-day hikes of at least four days in duration.

A brief explanation on each is offered below. If any of them catch your interest then we highly recommend looking into the South American Explorers Club, who have a Cusco office. They gave us valuable information on everything from details on the trails, the cost of guides and where to buy hiking equipment. Membership is cheap and covers all of their clubs in South America. We also highly recommend the Trailblazer Guide to the Inca Trail, which provides detailed hiking information on these and other trails.

Note: Machu Picchu is part of a network of trails within the region. The Inca Trail is but one route to get there. The other trails range in terms of difficulty but it is possible to link up other ruins as part of a greater multi-day adventure to reach Machu Picchu. See the Trailblazer book for more information.

Choquequirao

This hike caught our intention for a number reasons. It is one of the few trails you can do without a guide, which brings down the cost substantially. In fact all you have to pay is the park fee, which from recollection is under USD100. So, those used to carrying their own gear will appreciate it. The trail is also straightforward – it is two days to the ruins and you return along the same path.

Choquequirao is a large site south west of Machu Picchu. Some consider it to be Machu Picchu's sister site because of its size and the quality of the stonework. Part of the appeal lies in the fact that the ruins are still being uncovered, so there is a genuine opportunity for a bit of exploration. It is off the beaten track too so you won't have the same crowds and it is possible to walk from here to Machu Picchu or to Espiritu Pampa.

We were dead set on tackling this but due to a bought of food poisoning we had to pull out. A shame as we put a lot of time into planning it. Send us photos if you go!

Salcantay to Machu Picchu

This is touted as one of several alternative trails to Machu Picchu. Salcantay is a nearby mountain with trails that can connect you to Machu Picchu. This trail is common amongst tour companies and it costs less than the Inca Trail. We are not clear on whether this trek can be done independently but we suspect it will require a few vehicle pick ups.

Source: https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Salcantay_Stevage.jpg

We spoke to several peope that tried this trail and highly enjoyed it. Worth looking into!

Vitcos and Espiritu Pampa

Those wanting a real adventure need to seriously consider Espiritu Pampa, the real lost city of the Incas. This was the city Hiram Bingham was trying to discover when he found Machu Picchu. For many years people really thought Machu Picchu was the last city if the Incas. However, the general consensus is that in fact it was Espiritu Pampa, the last refuge of Manco Inca when he was in rebellion against the Spanish.

Source: https://i2.wp.com/www.thewhiterock.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Peru-2011-333-Copy.jpg

Like Choquequirao the ruins are still being uncovered however you are probably going to see more vine-covered ruins here. The reason is that this site is so off the beaten track. We only found two companies that would hike there. Unfortunately at the time we could not go because the Peruvian army was cracking down on local drug traffickers. Anyone interested should make enquiries as to the security situation.

Our understanding is that it is not advisable to tackle this hike on your own. Guides should be used. The track is not frequently walked and is at least four days. To get there you need transport to Huancacalle, the last town on the road west of Ollantaytambo. We explored public transport and it seemed difficult. We looked into just visiting Huancacalle for the day and were told it would cost several hundred dollars. So, a trip that needs serious planning and a good guide.

The White Rock. Source: National Geographic.

This trip has the advantage of including Vitcos, the ruins of an Inca town, and the sacred white rock. Neither site is visited frequently and apparently the local valleys are beautiful.

And so ends our series of posts on the Incas. We hope you have enjoyed them and if you missed any just click on the 'Inca' tag below or on the right hand pane.

Gracias,

Mark and Saskia

 


Death Road Part 1

We are interrupting our scheduled broadcast to bring you our first posting on Death Road. We recently reached 1,000 subscribers for the blog and thought putting this up would be a good way to celebrate.

Mark gets ready.

That's Mark raising his hand.

This is part one of two postings on our Death Road cycle tour in Bolivia. We've had to split it up as there is an hour of footage and a lot of photos. The second post will go up as soon as the remaining video has been edited.

We picked Altitude on the basis of a recommendation from friends. They proved to be a good choice, great guides and there were enough to accommodate different speeds.

Mark switching on his GoPro.

The tour was split into two stages. The first began at the top of the mountain pass and ended near a truck stop. This was all on tarmac. The second stage involved getting back in the vans and travelling to the start of Death Road, a dirt road that hugs the side of a mountain range. This road has now been replaced by another route so it is much safer to use. However, unbeknownst to us when we booked the tour, the new road was partially blocked by a recent landslide so there would be traffic coming back up towards us…kind of a problem when the road narrows to one lane with no rails to prevent a fall.

The tip went well though. No-one was hurt, apart from the guy that front-braked for a shopping bag…Saskia rode shotgun in one of the vans as she didn't fancy riding a bike, but this was just as scary as she had to deal with traffic coming from the opposite direction!


A bit of video for ya. Best with headphones.

 


Machu Picchu

Llama photo bomb!

Machu Picchu. You have seen it all before. But don’t be put off by the touristy cliché, it is amazing, and it is one of the world’s top tourist destinations for a reason!

Seeing the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu was something we had been looking forward to for years and we were really excited about it, despite aforementioned food poisoning. Everyone at our hostel seemed keen to get up at 5am to watch the sun rise over Machu Picchu. However, we had read that the mountains are usually covered in a morning mist that blocks out the sun, so we decided to sleep in to a more respectable time.

Arriving at the top of the mountain, looking down to the Urubumba River.

It is possible to hike to the entrance from Aguas Calientes but as we weren’t feeling well we decided to just catch a bus up. This was cheap and easy and got us to the entrance to Machu Picchu at around 9am.

When we arrived it felt like we were lining up to enter a theme park, but the lines moved quickly despite the hundreds of people pouring off buses all at the same time. After a quick bag check we had our passports stamped and we were on our way!

First glimpse of Inca Ruins at Machu Picchu.

This was actually a perfect time to arrive, as the mist was lifting and the ruins were starting to show us their full glory. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect. After having seen thousands of images of Machu Picchu over the years, we were worried that we might be underwhelmed. However, this was definitely not the case as the sheer scale and location of the ruins were breathtaking!

We wandered around for a while, took a few photos, and pinched ourselves. Hikers started to appear covered in mud from multi-day treks, and even though that would have been an incredible way to arrive, we were just stoked that we made it at all!

Machu Picchu: morning and afternoon.

Unfortunately we didn’t book our tickets in time to hike up Huayna Picchu (the mountain behind the ruins – numbers are limited to 400 people per day and they sell out quickly). We were however able to get tickets to hike up the higher peak, Mount Machu Picchu, which overlooks the postcard view. The mountain is ridiculously steep, and combined with altitude and remnants of food poisoning, pretty tough! The last part was more like rock climbing than hiking but the views over the valley were spectacular and gave us a good idea of the layout of the ruins as well.

The steep climb up Mount Machu Picchu.

Looking down over the ruins from Mount Machu Picchu.

Mount Machu Picchu.

We brought our own food and had lunch on a grassy terrace overlooking the ruins. The mist had slowly cleared and we had perfect views of the whole valley. We spent the afternoon wandering through the ruins with our guidebook in hand, feeling like explorers. Every now and then we latched on to a tour group to hear their explanation of certain sites, but it was pretty easy to get around and by 3pm most people had left. One of the best tips we had was to stay two nights in Aguas Calientes so that we didn’t have to rush off to catch a train back to Cusco. That was great because it meant that we had access to the ruins without being surrounded by hundreds of people, and it was easy to just catch a bus back down the hill when everything shut at 5pm.

Machu Picchu in the afternoon, minus hoards of tourists.

Just before we left we went on another walk to see the Inca Bridge, which is precariously placed on the side of a cliff. It is no longer possible to get too close (a tourist died trying) but it's still interesting to see how they would have controlled these access points as a security mechanism.

Inca Bridge at one of the entrances to Machu Picchu.

After a long day we headed back to the hostel, quickly got changed, and wandered up to the thermal springs to soak our tired bodies in warm pools. The complex was really nice and it was the perfect way to finish off the day!

 


Day Five: Volcano Hike

We booked an extra day on the salt flats tour to summit Thunupa Volcano. We were hoping to get a better view of the salt lake and to see a second salt lake on the other side of the volcano. It had seemed like a good idea when we booked it but by that stage we were questioning the decision!

So, after a 5:30 am start to watch the sun rise we said good bye to our comrades and headed to Coquesa, a little pre-inca village on the northern edge of the salt flats at the base of Thunupa Volcano.

The view from Coquesa. Note the water.

Thunupa Volcano, peak 5,450 metres.

Around 10:30 am we set out with our guide. It was a long day; we returned at 5:30 pm. As there were no local guides we went with our driver Albierto. He handled it well for someone who sits in a car all day!
The views were spectacular. The sides of the hills were lined with old rock fences, which we could see stretched for some distance. Coquesa is small now and you can see how big it must have been. Now it sits within the ruins of an older civilisation.
The colours of the rock slowly changed to a burnt red as we neared the crater. The air also became thinner. Saskia did well but altitude sickness got the better of her. At around 4,500m she agreed to turn back and find somewhere warm to wait. So Mark and Albierto continued on.

Looking into the crater. You can see the plug near the centre of the pic.

The walk was hard going. The trail crossed loose rock and shingle, which made it difficult to keep our footing. The trail was also steep so the air quickly became thinner and thinner.

Looking down at the southern edge of the crater.

Eventually we reached the rim, which sits at around 4,800 metres. We were pretty relieved to get there. After ten minutes of rest we decided to keep going up. The footing again was uncertain and the air difficult to breath. The trail zig zagged up the side of the rim and Mark found he had to stop and catch his breath at every second turn.
At 5,150 metres we agreed that we were going too slow to reach the summit with the remaining light, let alone be high enough to see down the other side. We were also worried about Saskia waiting for us, so we agreed to turn back. We filmed a panoramic video for Saskia's benefit then raced back down the rim, causing minor rock slides as we slid down the shingle.

We found Saskia well and warm and continued back down. As noted we arrived at the car at 5:30 pm. Our guide had actually left us behind an hour prior and we found him waiting sheepishly in the car. We were too tired to bring it up so jumped in the car and headed back to Coquesa.

Looking south from the feet of Thunupa Volcano.

All in all it was a good time but we were disappointed with being pushed to tackel Thunupa that day. Our understanding was that we would go up on the last day of the trip, which would have given us a whole day plus a bit of rest. Turns out our guide and the cook drive back to Tupiza after dropping people off in Uyuni and their need to get home determined the timing of the hike. So, anyone interested in this hike (which we do recommend) should be crystal clear on which day the hike will be undertaken. Due to the altitude more time makes it much easier so be sure to agree on a schedule that suits you before the tour starts (and make sure that the guide is in that conversation).

Thunupa Volcano from the salt flat.

 


Day Three: Quetena Chico to Laguna Colorada

We spent a lot of time in the jeep and covered a lot of ground, stopping every now and then to take photos and appreciate the amazing scenery. We passed by several lakes and lagoons which were half frozen and particularly beautiful. A few people tried to walk out on the ice, only to fall through it and end up with wet feet for the rest of the day.

Highlights for the day were the amazing Volcano Licancabur (5950m), swimming in thermal springs in freezing conditions, geysers, and watching the sun set over the pink Laguna Colorada surrounded by flamingoes. The photos speak for themselves, and even then they don't quite do justice to the absolute beauty of the landscapes in this part of the world.

 

Aguas Calientes (Hot Springs)

Laguna Blanca

 

Laguna Verde with Volcano Licancabur

Geysers

Laguna Colorada

 

 


Day Two: Tupiza to Quetena Chico

After looking into our options, we organised our trip with Tupiza Tours. We left early in the morning in a convoy of four jeeps, each loaded with food, water and fuel. We had to be self-sufficient as our accommodation was very basic. So, in our car we had our guide (Alberto) as well as a cook (Veronica) and we were joined by Claire from Ireland and Tyler from Canada.

The crew. Pic taken near Palala Village.

We started out by covering the same ground as the previous day's mountainbike ride to El Sillar. This time we visited the top of the ridge, which gave us a great view on either side.

Looking down to the Rio San Juan del Oro.

At roughly 11:30 am we passed near San Vincente, the alleged site of the killing of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This was and still is mining country and Butch was in the neighbourhood staging robberies… but that's a whole story on it is own so we will try and get back to it later.
We stopped for lunch in Cerillos, the largest in a cluster of hamlets that largely exist because of the mining industry. Although this was the largest hamlet, it was not much more than a tiny shop and a few mud brick houses. We took some notes on this hamlet out of curiosity, which is covered in the next post (we won't make a habit of it though).
The day was long, dusty, and due to the altitude, cold. Several people in other cars were suffering pretty badly from altitude sickness. We were ok but hadn't realised how important it was to acclimatise first. Fortunately the scenery was dramatic and kept changing at every corner, so it wasn't taking away from the trip.
About midway into the afternoon we came across a truck that was bogged in an icy river. For some reason that did not inspire caution with our drivers and one of our jeeps was bogged too. Our guide stopped so we could get out and lighten the weight of the jeep, then he got across and tried to help his mate. Then another jeep from the same company came up behind us and also got stuck…shambles. Eventualy we all got out…
Shortly after this we passed a small convoy of trucks loaded with cars. We thought they were crazy to be trying to cross through this country while the rivers were freezing over but our guide informed us that they were using these backroads to avoid the police…those cars were stolen and this was basically a smugglers route.
The scenery was stunning the entire day. We were constantly in awe as the landscapes changed every few hours. We ended the day watching the sun set on Uturuncu Volcano (6,008 metres).
Later in the evening we arrived at the first nights accomodation at Quetana Chico. We know its winter, but there is nothing that could prepare us for how unbelievably cold it was, and without any internal insulation or heating, it was difficult to get warm. The lady in the office at Tupiza told us that it would get down to around negative 30 degrees celcius overnight, and around negative 15 degrees inside. We managed to distract ourselves with card games, music and wine but went to bed fairly early to keep warm and get some sleep before the next day of adventures!

That was a long night and it was the coldest on the tour.

 

 


Torres Del Paine

Panaroma courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

Note from Mark: This post was drafted back in February but I needed time to absorb the experience. There's a lot in this one, might pay to get a drink before you start. My thanks to Ben Anscombe for the assistance.

Currently rolling along Ruta 40, a day after I completed the W track at Parques Nacionales de Torres del Paine, Chile. No injuries, just a bit of sun burn and the normal aches associated with hauling a pack.

Torres del Paine was an awesome adventure. It has so much going on – huge glaciers, imposing peaks, raging rivers, rickety bridges, stunning valleys and turquoise lakes. It gave me my first sightings of avalanches, condors and even pink flamingoes (of all things).

I started with dos amigos from the Navimag trip. Saskia decided to stay back in Puerto Natales (PN) due to a lingering illness, but hoped to meet us on the last night of the trip. We had all agreed to start at the Western end of the track and make our way across the Torres massif over five days. This plan was further fleshed out with help from the guides at Basecamp in PN (recommend the briefing, held every day in the afternoon).

For those familiar with the park or interested in the trek, we camped at Campamento's Grey, Italiano (free), Cuenos and Chileno respectively. We had the option of staying at Campamento Torres (free) instead of Chileno but for various reasons opted for Chileno.

20 Febrero, Glacier Grey

It took about half a day to get to our starting point, which included a bus trip from PN to the park and a short ferry ride to the Western end. This trip gave us a good view of the massif, which is easily viewed from the road. The rain that pursued us through the fjords had dumped plenty of snow on the peaks and the forecast was for clear skies. A good start.

We set off from the wharf at 1:00 pm. Here we could see the damage done by the fires of 2005 and 2011. The damage was extensive and, with jagged peaks and high cloud above us, made for a melodramatic setting. I was relieved when we reached the highest point in the track and gazed down onto Grey Lake. It's a great view from there, right up to the glacier.

Me, Ben and Floris. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We made our way down towards the lake, stopping frequently to take photos of the lake, mountains and ice bergs that had broken off from the glacier. It was easy going and we had a good time taking detours and marvelling at the views. The cloud slowly cleared and eventually it was sunny with no wind. Perfect!

Playing with ice. Photo courtesy of Ben Anscombe.

We pulled into Campamento Grey at 6:00 pm. Its a good camp site with reasonable facilities and a great view of the mountains. Two condors circled the peaks above us as we debriefed on the day. Couldn't believe how good we had it.

21 Febrero, Grey to Italiano

It may be helpful to note that Campamento Grey is located near the glacier but it is not beside it. Further, you cannot access the glacier directly but it is possible to hire kayaks near C. Grey or you can walk up to a viewing platform about 1.5 hours north from the campsite. We decided we wanted to try the latter, so left at around 9:00 am to the viewing point.

There's no fire damage here and the forest is fantastic. After about 1.5 hours of uphill leg work we were rewarded with a stunning view of not just the glacier but the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and snow covered mountains. The view was crystal clear, just beautiful. I've never seen anything quite like it, it was an overwhelming experience.

We hung around waiting for the sun to throw a bit more light before taking photos. A bunch of people in kayaks paddled up to the glacier and gave us a real sense of scale e.g. huge. Eventually the sun cleared the Torres' western shoulder. We took photos and then to our surprise stumbled into a glade filled with Andean wood peckers. Some how we didn't scare them off with our excited yelps and snapped a few picks. Chuffed!

Returned back to Campamento Grey to decamp. Someone had The Rolling Stones blasting. We took our time as we still had the whole afternoon ahead of us. The hike back out of the valley was slow, hard work with the packs, hadn't realised how steep it was. Still, we had great weather.

It took the whole afternoon to get back out and down to the original landing point. By this time one of the amigos, Ben, had hurt his ankle and was limping. We got him to stick his leg into the nearby lake then strapped it. From there it was a 2.5 hour trek to Campamento Italiano. Doesn't sound like much but our legs were tired so it was slow going. Fortunately we were distracted by views of the southern lakes and the setting sunlight on the peaks.

Coming around the southwest point of the W track.

Eventually stumbled into Campamento Italiano around 9:00 pm. All buggered. We estimate we hiked for about 10 hours in total, my longest day hiking to date. Cooked up pasta with tuna and finished off with a hot chocolate. Big day. Went to sleep with the sound of distant avalanches providing a hint of what was to come in the morning.

22 Febrero, Valley de Frances

Despite the long trek the previous day, staying the night at Campamento Italiano provided a key advantage – it sits at the base of the Valley de Frances, the mid point of the W trek. This is probably my favourite part of the trip, but by a margin.

We got up early to get the most out of the day. Cloud had come in overnight but it was quite high and we could still see most of the peaks.

The trek up the valley to the viewing point takes around 3 hours. The trip began with an up close and personal view of Cerro Paine Grande and Glaciar del Frances. Within minutes of our approach there was a thunder crack and a plume of snow billowed from under the cloud on our left. We thought that would be it but for around eight minutes snowed poured down the face of the mountain like a waterfall. Amazing.

The path up the valley follows a river towards a wide bowl at the top of the valley. The valley itself is fairly evenly divided by the river and features near pristine forest and stunning views of the Torres' craggy peaks and towers. Facing south, one is presented by an almost perfectly composed view of the valley and the southern lakes and rolling hills beyond. I will never forget it.

Getting up early was the best decision we made that day. As we walked back down the valley low cloud quickly rolled in, spoiling the view for those still making their way up.

A quick lunch back at camp and we were off east to Campamento Cuernos. This was a fairly easy leg which we completed under time. Great views of the local lakes. Rain began around 4:00pm which was good as were able to set up our tents in time. I had booked dinner at the hut, or refugio, which with the rain turned out to be a brilliant idea. Sat down with the boys and smashed the largest pork chop I've ever seen. Finished off the night with a couple of beers and fell asleep pretty quickly.

The lakes under cloud.

23 Febrero, Cuernos to Chileno

Woke up to rain. Got up for breakfast at 7:30 am. Found Floris, amigo número tres, who had expected his EU7 tent to buckle under the rain. The tree cover saved him but the tent was soaked. Decamped in the rain and began trudging up and over the next hill.

Ben was not in good condition. He had remained stoic despite the injury but it wasn't getting any better. The night before he had stumbled through the door into the hut, wobbled over to us, then wiped out half the table when is ankle gave way. Hilarious but not good!

Fairly early in the walk we came across our first river. The water was maybe knee high but moving fast over the rocks. People on the other side directed us to a tree that overhung the river. So next thing we are climbing into the tree and dropping down the other side! Good fun.

After three hours of walking in the rain we reached a junction that lead to Chileno (north east) or out of the park (due east). Ben's ankle was a real problem and the rain meant Floris was in for a bad night. The lads decided to end their trip that day and walk out. I was tempted to join them as I wasn't going to see much at Chileno with the rain and cloud, however there was the possibility that Sas would be making her way in to meet me there. So we all shook hands and agreed to meet for dinner in PN when I got out.

Turned out to be the right decision for all of us. Within minutes of arriving at Chileno Saskia walked through the door! We spent the rest of the day in the hut with the other soggy campers. Booked dinner again, big piece of slow cooked beef. Went to bed in the soggy tent, warm but not exactly dry. Saskia bore it well.

Sas making her way in.

25 Febrero, Back to Puerto Natales

We woke up to rain again so decided to head off early. Decamped fairly quickly and after 2.5 hours we were out of the park and waiting for transport.

Looking down the Valley to C. Chileno.

While we waited we saw several native birds (tíques, caranchos and condors) and some wild llamas.

A tíque with a fresh catch and a condor soars above us.

 

A carancho keeps watch and a llama heads into town for a beer.

Arrived back at PN at 5pm, went out for dinner with Sas, Ben, Floris and another couple from the Navimag trip, Rik and Elena. We found a restaurant that specialised in BBQ meat, Asador Patagónico, which delivered the goods in spades. We demolished a delicious meal of Patagonian lamb, beef and salmon with local beer and wine to wash it down. A perfect end to our adventure.

Happy ending. From left: Rik, Elena, Floris, Saskia, me and Ben.

 


Tilcara

From Salta we headed north to make our way into Bolivia, but we thought we would break up the trip by stopping in Tilcara. We had no idea what to expect, but the little town was beautiful and looked like it was straight out of a country and western movie!

Apparently there are a lot of artists around here, which is evident from the high quality of market stalls and craft shops. There are also a lot of really good quality restaurants and bars, which was a nice surprise!

The surrounding mountains provide a dramatic backdrop to the activities you can do here. We spent one afternoon wandering up to the indigenous ruins not far from town. The Pucará de Tilcara is a pre-Inca fortification that has been partially reconstructed to show the design of the buildings and llama enclosures. There are also graves that have been uncovered, which show small circular stone holes where people were buried curled up in the foetal position, so that they could be reborn into the next world.

Pre-Inca ruins; a monument at the Pucara site; stone graves; llama enclosures.

After talking to some English backpackers who showed us photos of their day, we decided to do a trek to see the surrounding mountains accompanied by llamas who carried a picnic lunch for us! The Caravana de Llamas is totally aimed at tourists, and not normally something we would do, but we thought it would be a fun way to spend our last day in Argentina. The views were amazing, the food delicious, and the wine was an added bonus!

Overall, a few days in Tilcara was the perfect way to end our time in Argentina and get us excited for new adventures. Next stop, Bolivia!!

 


Cafayate and Cachi

While we were in Salta, we spent a couple of days doing day trips to explore the surrounding landscapes and towns. We had heard that both Cafayate and Cachi were nice, but didn't really know what we would find. Both trips exceeded our expectations!


Cafayate

Driving out of Salta through the Quebrada de Cafayate towards the town of Cafayate, we were struck by the amazing red desert, canyons and rock formations, which looked like they were straight from the set of an American country and western film.

We stopped at several places along the way, to take in the amazing views and look down over the canyon. The Garganta del Diablo (Devils's throat) was a large crack between the rocks that stretched back several kilometres.

El Anfiteatro (Ampitheater) was probably the most impressive, as it was literally a path that lead to a naturally hollowed out circle in the rock, which used to be a waterfall.

The rocks provided amazing acoustics, and apparently many musicians have recorded albums here. We were lucky to see a local band performing although we didn't stay long as it was freezing!

There were other rock formations along the way such as El Sapo (the toad) and El Fraile (the friar), however they were not as impressive and only looked very loosely like what the tourist guide claimed them to be.

The Devil's Throat

Quebrada de Cafayate


The Ampitheatre

We arrived in Cafayate in time for lunch and were surprised to find a quaint little town with a cute colonial plaza. We ate in the sun, tried some local craft beers and ice cream before heading off to a nearby vineyard for a tour and some wine tasting. Having spent so long in Mendoza, we were not particularly excited by yet another wine tour, however, the local specialty is a white torrontes and that was worth the trip! It was so good that we bought several bottles of torrontes over the next few days to make sure we did it justice. The Argentinean malbec is the pick of the bunch for red wines and the torrontes is definitely the best white wine. Highly recommend it!
 
Cachi
Driving to Cachi we saw completely different scenery from the drive to Cafayate, but it was equally as impressive. We drove through a valley and then steadily climbed up winding roads until we were literally above the clouds.
The area is well known for its geological formations and the colours that can be found in the rocks as a result of different layers of sediment. The scenery was stunning, and along with mountains and rocks, we also saw huge cactus trees, some of which are hundreds of years old!
We arrived in Cachi for lunch,and like Cafayate, it had a beautiful colonial plaza surrounded by a church and white washed buildings. Mark was very excited to find an asado restauarant that was cooking up fresh llama, which he tried for the first time. We wandered around town, bought some more local wine and enjoyed the sunshine. The drive back to Salta was just as beautiful, and wellworth the effort!