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Qhapaq Ñan: Not your average World Heritage Site

Qhapaq Ñan: Not your average World Heritage Site

Spanning six countries and 273 distinct sites, the Qhapaq Ñan’s nomination as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was a global first. We unpick the backstory. Not all UNESCO World Heritage Sites are created equal. Honoring and protecting a single cathedral or castle in a developed country with an established infrastructure is a relatively facile process, but doing the same for a road network which in its heyday spread across the length and breadth of the Andes is an entirely different prospect. El Caminante awakens the sleeping giant Were it not for the exploits of Peruvian author and adventurer Ricardo ‘El Caminante’ Espinosa, the Qhapaq Ñan may well have been forgotten by history. As recently as the 1990s the Qhapaq Ñan was – in the words of Espinosa – “just another legend, or in any event, a reality that time had snatched from us forever...which had lain hidden for centuries precisely because of its gigantic size.” Ricardo 'El Caminante' Espinosa enjoys a rare breather alongside the …
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Five staples of Andean cuisine

Five staples of Andean cuisine

When you combine high altitude, low rainfall and bitter winters you get hungry people. This week’s blog looks at five cornerstones of the Andean diet. Corn Choclo, the most common variety of Andean corn or is much paler than its North American cousin and its kernels are larger, starchier and chewier. Choclo is eaten on the cob (usually with a slice of cheese as choclo con queso) but it also makes its way into soups, stews, humitas and ceviche. What’s more, it’s the base for the quintessential drink of the Andes: chicha, or corn beer. To market, to market... (Photo: Tomas Sobek) While choclo is the most common variety of maize in the Andes, it is by no means the only one. Colors range from white and yellow to red, purple, and black, and Peru alone boasts over 50 varieties. One of the most eyecatching (and delicious) variants is maíz morado, or purple corn which is the base of api morado – one of the most delicious hot beverages I’ve ever tasted. Potatoes The potato was first …
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Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 2

Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 2

Qhapaq Ñan - Day 8.  Second Expedition (Part 2) After a sleeping through a loud and boisterous night, we left Paras ascending towards the highest point of our journey at Apacheta Chico at 16,000 feet. However, after walking 10 hours yesterday, we decided to pace ourselves, trekking only three hours to Barrios Altos about halfway up from the Pampa River valley to the pass, which seems to be the last waystation before going up into the clouds. Were all in good spirits as the llamas are recharging with some of the best pasture yet and the team is napping and lounging around the camp which also happens to be the local school. I know, camping at the local school seems to be a pattern...It always has water, fields for the lamas and, if needed, covering from rain and hail. Our early arrival today meant we had plenty of time to meet with the students and discuss the Qhapaq Ñan as their teacher had asked. The exchange of a campground for a class lesson is always a hell of a trade and the team …
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Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 1

Qhapaq Ñan–Second Expedition, Part 1

Qhapaq Ñan – Day 1. Second Expedition After 14 hours of traversing treacherous Andean roads, in route from Cusco towards Ayacucho, we arrived to Vilcashuamán. Vilcashuamán was a great center of the Inca Empire during the 15th century and laid at the very geographic center of the Inca world that went from northern Argentina to Southern Colombia along the western coast of South America. It has been said that Vilcashuamán was the retirement home for Pachacutec, the great Inca king who many also believe built Machu Picchu. Vilcashuamán takes about 4 weeks by foot and llama on the great Inca road, the Qhapaq Ñan, which we’ll be doing next year. But this visit starts us off on another expedition along the Qhapaq Ñan for a 200-mile march on route towards the Pacific to a desert oasis near modern day Ica, where we will arrive by the end of October. Being in the Andes, we will also be supported by our team of 12 llamas which arrived by truck after two days on the highway from Northern Peru. …
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Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Things to do in Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Most first-time visitors to the wildlife wonder that is the Galapagos are surprised that it's got a bona fide town, with shops and restaurants and schools. Read on to find out more about Puerto Ayora's main attractions. Catch a pelican in the act at the fish market There's a real buzz at the market when the fishing boats come in at the end of the day. Watch as the fishermen unload their catch, the locals pick out their dinner, and the sea lions and pelicans try to steal scraps. After hours the market transforms itself into an open air plate. For a modest fee you can enjoy a seafood feast at a shared table with local patrons. Photo credit: John Haxby Hobnob with the iguanas at Tortuga Bay This vast, white sandy beach is reached via a 20 minute walk from Puerto Ayora. It's open from 6am to 6pm Access is controlled by the Galapagos Park Service. The bay actually incorporates several distinct beaches. There's a surfing beach (beware the currents), a swimming beach (watch out for the …
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The mysterious Band of Holes at Monte Sierpe, Peru

The mysterious Band of Holes at Monte Sierpe, Peru

Peru is home to many curious mysteries. But this mile-long band of around 6000 holes near Pisco is surely the most confusing of them all. Where is it? The Pisco River cuts a swathe of emerald through the exceptionally arid, stony landscapes of central Peru. The city of Pisco receives only 0.06 inches of rain every year, but it is famed for its lush vineyards…and its pisco of course. 25 miles from Pisco lie the Inca ruins of Tambo Colorado, another settlement which owed its existence to the river’s bounty. Built during the reign of Pachacuti, Tambo Colorado served as an important administrative center along the Qhapaq Ñan –  much like the sites of Huanuco Pampa and Vilcashuaman which have already been discussed on this blog. Due to the extremely dry climate, the ruins are excellently preserved and they are well worth including on your Peruvian itinerary. Tambo Colorado (Photo: Jocelyn Saurini) The Band of Holes is located 3 miles from Tambo Colorado, in a relatively flat area that …
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Shopping for souvenirs in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Shopping for souvenirs in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina is a shopper’s paradise – If you know what to look out for and where to find it. This blog gives you the inside scoop on three quintessentially Argentinean gifts. Because nobody wants to be given a knock-off Maradona football shirt or a made-in-China mate gourd… Wine Wine has been produced in Argentina since the 1500s, but the country has only entered the premium market in the past few decades. Argentina is now the largest exporter of wines in the New World and home to some seriously high-end wines. Most first-time visitors are under the impression that wine is only produced in the regions surrounding Mendoza, but in actual fact there are wine farms as far north as Salta, which is closer to Bolivia than to Mendoza, and as far south as Patagonia. Different regions specialize in different varietals, so look out for: Malbec and Chardonnay from Mendoza Syrah from San Juan Torrontés from La Rioja Cabernet Sauvignon and Torrontés from Cafayate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from …
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Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

Mi Teleférico: La Paz’s brilliant urban cable car network

The world’s highest and longest urban gondola system has transformed the way people commute in Bolivia’s capital. At 11,913 feet, La Paz is the world’s highest capital city. Clinging to the sides of a natural depression in the Andean escarpment, it really is one of the most incredible cities on earth. Endless shanties and skyscrapers hang from ochre cliffs and canyons, with snow-capped Illimani an ever-present backdrop. Open image in new tab to view full-size version. But its dramatic location, coupled with decades of poor urban planning, mean that it’s also a commuter’s nightmare. When I lived there I took hour-long walks in the thin altiplano air to avoid having to use city’s the overcrowded and sluggish buses, minibuses and trufis (more about the these some other time!). That’s all changed with the introduction of Mi Teleférico, a network of fast, silent cable cars that criss-crosses the city and connects La Paz with El Alto – a massive satellite city that’s more than 1,500 feet …
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Vilcashuamán: An Inca experience like no other

Vilcashuamán: An Inca experience like no other

“Vilcashuamán is now a small village, remote on its hill-top, perched on the ruins of the great Inca city whose temples have been pillaged for building blocks.” – so said the Canadian explorer, anthropologist and academic John Hemming. In five short centuries Vilcashuamán has gone from being a thriving Inca city located at a vital strategic crossroads to a geographically isolated rural backwater… Albeit one replete with incredible archaeological and historical treasures. Vilcashuamán was founded by the Inca Pachacutec after Inca forces defeated the Chanka in a bloody battle which is re-enacted annually in Vilcas Raymi – a colorful festival in the last week of July. Check out this link for a video of the festival. The current plaza pales into insignificance when compared to the Inca square which could hold 20,000 people. (Photo credit: Eduzam) Then and now In its heyday Vilcashuamán enjoyed an incredibly strategic location on the Qhapaq Ñan at the point where the main North-South …
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Lodge to lodge treks near Machu Picchu

Lodge to lodge treks near Machu Picchu

Dilemma: You’ve always wanted to do the Inca Trail but you also value the finer things in life. Get the best of both worlds by doing one of the luxurious lodge to lodge treks on offer near Cusco. You’ll get the chance to hike in one of the most spectacular corners of the Andes and you’ll visit remote villages and Inca ruins. You’ll experience a way of life that modernity has passed by and you’ll spend your last day immersed in the majesty of Machu Picchu. New perspectives on Machu Picchu (Photo credit: Philip Dixon) Lodge to lodge treks give you the chance to live out an authentic Andean trekking experience without having to sleep on hard ground or eat stodgy pasta. On both the Lares and Salkantay treks you can rest assured that the locally-inspired cuisine will be gourmet, the showers hot and the beds luxurious. If the idea of a less crowded, more luxurious and ultimately more spectacular experience appeals, read on to find out more about the various options. The Salkantay Trek …
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What to do on your Guayaquil stopover

What to do on your Guayaquil stopover

Many Galapagos itineraries include a stopover in Guayaquil, the so-called Pearl of the Pacific. Follow these tips to make the most out of your time in Ecuador's largest city.  Visit the Parque de las Iguanas Although it's officially called Parque Seminario, this small plaza is known as the Iguana Park to locals and tourists alike. And with good reason. While most parks around the world have to make do with pigeons, ducks or squirrels, this place is a little different. A large breeding population of land iguanas has called the park home for as long as anyone can remember. The iguanas sit on benches, eat bread and fruit from the hands of visitors and occasionally even rest on the park's benches. South America is a continent full of surprises, but even seasoned lovers of LatAm will find this a pretty surreal experience... Photo credit Windell Oskay Take a stroll on the Malecón 2000 The Malecón 2000 is the pedestrianized section of the Malecón Simón Bolívar – the road which skirts the …
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Choquechaca: An Interlude to the Qhapaq Ñan

Choquechaca: An Interlude to the Qhapaq Ñan

Day 1 I would have never come up with the crazy idea to hike 2,000 miles on the Qhapaq Ñan without Choquechaca. I first arrived to Choquechaca 12 years ago with just a backpack, exploring Inca trails above Ollantaytambo in route to Machu Picchu...I was just a few years out of university and had moved to the Peruvian Andes for one of life’s grand adventures. Since that time, the pristine valley of Choquechaca, it’s indigenous caretakers and its millennia culture has set me on a personal journey completely distinct from what came before. Now, years later, the extended kin network of the Sinchi and Laucauta family who call Choquechaca home will be my Andean partners during the whole Qhapaq Ñan expedition from this point forward. They will be managing the llama, camp equipment, and walking side by side with me, nearly every day for five months. My relationship with Valentine, Adrian and Mario, the patriarchs of Choquechaca, as well as their growing brood, started with brief encounters …
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