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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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How Inca chaskis covered 1,250 miles in a week

How Inca chaskis covered 1,250 miles in a week

Over the last few months we’ve focused on the Qhapaq Ñan, the Inca road system which stretched from Colombia to Chile and covered a total of 25,000 miles. This month we examine the legendary chaskis, the short-distance relay runners who could get a message from Cusco to Quito in under a week. Meet the cast Young boys with superior running skills were earmarked as future chaskis. They underwent a strict training regime in cloistered living conditions. Their job as runners was considered so vital to the empire that they were exempt from all other forms of mit’a, the work based taxation system which oiled an economy that has variously been described as ‘the perfect form of socialism’ and ‘capitalism without the money’. Note the shell trumpet and rope sandals. Chaskis delivered official messages and small parcels throughout the Tawantinsuyu. Because the Inka had no written language, messages had to be memorized and repeated to the next runner in the relay –a 1000-mile game of broken …
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Qhapaq Ñan - Week 2 / Semana 2

Qhapaq Ñan - Week 2 / Semana 2

Read on for a blow by blow account of the second week of our Chief Explorer's Qhapac Ñan adventure from Chavín in the highlands to Casma at the coast. Day 7 - August 14 With the addition of new member to the team, Ivan, a loyal assistant to help with the llamas and setting and breaking down camp, we began the ascent from Chavín, 5,000 feet over a western summit called Cerro Castillo (Castle Mountain). After a day of light walking exploring Chavín the day before, it was a reminder of how challenging the Qhapaq Ñan is to trek when ascending such long distances at elevations that reach 16,000 feet. Still though, the one major benefit of hiking along the Inca roads at this height is that few hooved animals like horses and cows traverse them and thus the stone roads tend to be more preserved. We ascended for six straight hours in stunning scenery that officially brought us into Huascarán National Park. Words can’t describe how nature at a place like this evokes such humbleness, …
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Qhapaq Ñan - Week 1 / Semana 1

Qhapaq Ñan - Week 1 / Semana 1

  Day 0 - August 7 Today we begin a series of expeditions that in the end will last over the next 12 months, covering nearly 3,000 miles by foot, exploring the great Inca Road system known as the Qhapaq Ñan. The journey will take us through some of the most remote stretches of the Andes mountains, tracing in the footsteps of the Inca kings of the 14th and 15th century, who united an empire by means of this communication and transportation network. At its peak, the Inca’s were the largest and most advanced, indigenous American civilization to grace the earth. When the Spanish conquistadors first saw the Qhapaq Ñan in 1532, they remarked that they were as impressive as anything seen in Europe at its time. Later at the end of the 19th century, explorer and scientist Alexander von Humbolt hypothesized that it was amongst one of the largest works of mankind. In the 20th century, explorer, scientist Victor H. von Hagen in an exploration sponsored by the University of California made great …
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Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Video: Discover the Galapagos' underwater secrets

Charles Darwin based his Theory Of Evolution on the terrestrial observations he made in the Galapagos. This gorgeous underwater film details what he would have seen if he'd been able to witness the islands' underwater wonders. The film features incredible footage of hammerhead sharks, marine iguanas and countless birds, fish and other sea creatures, so watch and enjoy... If you're the bookish type why not read about Darwin's finches, the unlikely poster girls (and boys!) of the Theory of Evolution. If you want to see this watery wonderland for yourself you'll be glad to know that our Galapagos island hopping itinerary includes two different snorkeling excursions. If you're a seasoned SCUBA pro check out this article to find out more about the Best SCUBA sites in South America...including a few in the Galaps, of course. Full credit to filmmaker Dustin Adamson for allowing us to post Darwin's Dream on our blog.
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Shopping for Souvenirs in Santiago, Chile

Shopping for Souvenirs in Santiago, Chile

Nobody wants to be given a lousy T-shirt or a tacky teaspoon. We’ve put together a list of distinctly Chilean curious and keepsakes. And we’ve even told you where in Santiago to buy them… Crafts and artesanía Indigenous peoples may only make up 5% of Chile’s population, but the average Chilean contains over 35% Amerindian DNA. The contributions made by tribes such as the Mapuche and Atacameño are rich and many – most notably in the fields of silverware, textiles and ceramics. Pueblito los Dominicos (Photo: Rodrigo Pizarro) Instead of lugging merch all the way from Patagonia or the Atacama, we’d advise buying your artesanía in Santiago itself. There are quite a few places that sell authentic items and channel the profits straight back to the communities or individuals who made them. For the widest selection try Artesanias de Chile  or Ona both of which have very good charitable credentials. Otherwise, the Pueblito los Dominicos is a quality open air market on Avenida Apoquindo in …
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Huánuco Pampa and the logistics hubs which fed an empire

Huánuco Pampa and the logistics hubs which fed an empire

The road network which linked Cusco and Quito wouldn’t have been possible without the important administrative centers along its length. Huánuco Pampa was one such hub… Over the last few months we’ve gone into some detail about the Qhapaq Nhan, the mind-blowing Inca road network which spanned a total of 25,000 miles. This month we focus on Huánuco Pampa – one of several major settlements along the road which served as administrative centers. And what better way to introduce the site than with some drone footage? Location, location, location Huánuco Pampa is located about 800 miles north of Cusco and 1200 miles south of Quito. It sits atop a plateau with steep ravines on all sides, which makes it very easy to defend. Unlike most other Inca cities, Huánuco Pampa was not turned into a successful colonial city by the conquistadores – which makes it a treasure trove for archaeologists. The closest major town is Huaraz, about 90 miles away, so those who make the trek are usually rewarded …
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5 must-sees in Quito’s gorgeous Old Town

5 must-sees in Quito’s gorgeous Old Town

Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is so much more than a Galapagos stopover. The city’s historic center was the first place on the planet to be conferred with UNESCO World Heritage status and it’s the biggest and best-preserved example of Spanish colonial architecture anywhere in the Americas. Quito’s Old Town is so jampacked with incredible experiences, that it can be hard to choose which ones to visit. We’ve done the legwork for you and handpicked 5 of the very best. Plaza Grande Although it’s formally known as Plaza de la Independencia, locals refer to Quito’s main plaza as Plaza Grande. The plaza is flanked by some of the city’s most historical and imposing buildings including the cathedral, the Palacio de Carondolet (the president’s palace and seat of government) and the Palacio Arzobispal. The heart of the Old Town (Photo Diego Delso) Although the cathedral isn’t the most ornate church in town, it does have an excellent collection of art from the Escuela Quiteña or Quito School. …
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Galapagos highlight: Charles Darwin Research Station

Galapagos highlight: Charles Darwin Research Station

See Galapagos giant tortoises in all stages of development – from tiny babies to adult behemoths. Plus a breeding program for land iguanas and other informative exhibits. The Charles Darwin Foundation is an international non-profit which has been working with the Ecuadorian government since 1959 to provide scientific knowledge and assistance to help conserve the Galapagos’ unique ecosystems. In addition to the invaluable scientific work there is a small visitors’ centre at their HQ near Puerto Ayora. Great things happen in this building. (Photo: Les Williams) You will encounter adult Galapagos giant tortoises at several points on your Galapagos adventure, but the Charles Darwin Research Station affords you the opportunity of seeing them at all stages of growth from unhatched eggs to full-grown adults. It is quite incredible to see the young hatchlings which weigh as little as 1.8 ounces and measure only 2.4 inches. Remember: the hatchery is about far more than pleasing tourists: …
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6 iconic walking trails – ancient & modern

6 iconic walking trails – ancient & modern

Friedrich Nietzsche said that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” and who are we to disagree? This month we look at 6 of the world's best long walks... Qhapaq Ñan, South America At its peak the Qhapaq Ñan (Great Incan Road) stretched from Argentina to Colombia and incorporated a staggering 25,000 miles of roads and trails. The network fed into two main arteries, one following a coastal route; the other traversing the mighty Andes. Without the Qhapaq Ñan and its incredible rope bridges, the Inca empire would never have reached the heights it did. While some sections like the Inca trail are huge tourist attractions, other parts of the network are virtually unheard of. Photo credit: Bruce Dall Pacific Crest Trail, USA The PCT will need little introduction to North American readers, so I will be brief. The trail spans 2,659mi from the Canadian border in the North to the Mexican border in the South, and follows the spines of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain …
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