Sunday, June 17, 2012


For those travelers who love to chill in quiet little towns, check out one of my favourites in Colombia - Salento.

Situated in Colombia's La Zona Cafetera, a coffee growing region, Salento is actually a very popular tourist town. However, as it is very popular for local tourists, the "crowds" mainly come in during the weekends (and public holidays). Nevertheless, the town retains its laidback charm, and nestled in a plateau giving beautiful views over the surrounding valleys, as well as access to the Cocora valley, it is a great place to stop and relax.

For me, aside from the laidback lifestyle, two main factors helped made this one of my favourite places. The climate as well as coffee! Salento is situated at an altitute of about 1900m above sea level and boasts an average annual temperature of 15 °C, so it is really pleasant to walk around to soak in the views. And you could get a wonderful cup of machine-pressed Colombian coffee for just 50cents! Not to mention value-for-money menu del dias (lunch/dinner sets) in town! Gotta love those local trucha (trout)!!

Aside from trips to the Cocora valley, tourists can easily walk from town to a mirador (viewpoint) that provides stupendous views of the surrounding valley. The town also have certain architecture typical of that region and shops selling locally made handicrafts. And of course, you can take tours to nearby coffee plantations!

So if you have the time in Colombia, do check out Salento!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Huayna Picchu

While most people would be aquainted with Machu Picchu, less would be familiar with Huayna Picchu (also known as Wayna Picchu). But Huayna Picchu will, quite literally, bestow a different view of Machu Picchu to you!

Huayna Picchu is the mountain peak that towers over The Lost City of the Incas. It is that tallest peak as seen in the many iconic pictures of Machu Picchu (the big "nose" of the face, if you know what I mean). Access to Huayna Picchu is restricted to only 400 visitors per day, split into 2 batches of 200 each, on a first-come-first-serve basis. The climb up is narrow and steep, so I guess this is a good arrangement. 

So together with other visitors who wanted to climb Huayna Picchu and were afraid that we could not get within the allowed number, we were at the gates at the base of Machu Picchu way before it opened. The moment the gates opened (5.30am) it was a mad race up to the Machu Picchu entry gate (where the Huayna Picchu "ticket" is issued). This is to ensure that we would be there before the first bus from Aguas Calientes reaches! But apparently, from what I gather, advance reservation is possible together with the purchase of your Machu Picchu ticket! Anyway, it was an exhilirating (albeit tough) early morning exercise!

After the strenous climb just to get the Huayna Picchu entry ticket, the climb up Huayna Picchu itself can be done at your own pace of course. Not a walk in the park but definitely manageable. At the peak, you can also visit some caves and temples but the views are what I climb for! From the summit, you can see the entire Machu Picchu in its full glory (as well as the the zigzag road up from Aguas Calientes). The Incas built the city in the shape of the condor, and one could only see it from a high enough vantage point! Can you see it?

Also, supposedly, old Cusco was built in the shape of a puma, and Ollymtambo was built in the shape of a llama! I was at a high vantage point in Ollymtambo but could not quite make out the shape. I supposed these towns/cities are expanding living sites, so the old shape may not be there anymore. Or maybe, you would need an almost aerial view to see it. But make the effort, and from Huayna Picchu, you could still make out the condor that is Machu Picchu!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Lares Trek

One of the highlights of a trip to Peru is undoubtedly Machu Picchu, and the classic way to reach this wonder is via the Inca Trail. However, as the Inca Trail requires special permits and a controlled number of trekkers are allowed on it, advanced reservations are often advised and this may hamper those who's travel itinerary are just planned out a day in advance......

However, there are a number of alternative treks that one could enjoy from Cusco to Machu Picchu. I took the Lares Trek, and really enjoyed it (except the last day). There are a few variants of this trek itself, and the last day of our 3-day trek variant was on a vehicular dirt road, which was not exactly the best of trekking experiences. Still, it was overall a good outing, especially the first 2 days, which were absolutely fabulous!

The highlight of the trek for me, is the campsite stop in the village of Huacahuasi. An Andean community still living in old stone thatched houses, complete with villagers donned in their colourful traditional attire, it was a good glimpse into a distant past. These villages are also known for their weaving, and so, getting a handwoven llicilas/manta/poncho would be a real deal vs getting something in the city of Cusco. And camping and sleeping under the blanket of the Milky Way is always something special. The trek itself was not exactly strenous although the altitude would slow you down, with the highest point being over 4000+m. Nevertheless, just take it slow, and stop and admire the beautiful Lares valley and its inhabitants!

The trek ends in the town of Ollantaytambo, where a train ride will bring you to Aguas Calientes where you would explore the wonderful Machu Picchu. A fitting end to a wonderful trek indeed!