Still The Best Place I’ve Been

So ive been to a few more adventures since my mind blowing trip to Peru and to Machu Picchu. Firmly on top of all my places visited I have questioned if there is any place at all in the world that would knock Machu Picchu as the greatest place I can visit. I believed my Cambodian trip to Siem Reap would challenge Machu Picchu and although it came close, it just wasn’t enough to change my mind on Machu Picchu.
My current Top 5 Visited (click to see read blog or watch videos)

  1. Peru, Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
  2. Cambodia, Siem Reap (Bayon)
  3. Philippines, Cebu (Tison Falls)
  4. Finland, Rovaniemi(Lapland)
  5. Spain, Pamplona (San Fermin Festival)

“As mind blowing and spectacular as Bayon was, it just didn’t give me the chills that Machu Picchu gave me.”

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#2 Bayon

Please click below to see the post I wrote about the whole Machu Picchu.

https://sunandthreestars.blog/2018/04/09/aguas-calientes/

Is there any place that you think would beat Machu Picchu?

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#4 Finland, Rovaniemi

A year full of discoveries 2018

So its another year with plenty of trips being fulfilled. I have managed to tick off my hit-list it has been wonderful with plenty to write about. Last year (2017) I missed out a trip to Helsinki and Tallinn with the winter proving too expensive for me to finish the year off, however 2018 fulfilled this plan.

Below are just some of the places ive managed to visit, click on them to read some of my write-ups. Next year I already have plans to go to Cambodia, Turkey and Chamonix in France. Other places that are a possibility are Morocco, USA and a return to South America.

South American Trip

Sao Paulo, Mar 18First trip of the year and entering South America for the first time on a Brazil and Peru trip. The city was safer than I thought I used public transport and walked everywhere.
Lima, Mar 18 The Peruvian capital was a pleasure to visit, its museums were different to any other in the world.
Cusco, Mar 18 The city is beautiful, old churches and Incan ruins was out of this world. Be very careful when visiting this place as the high altitudes do affect people in different ways.
Ollantaytambo, Mar 18 One of the smallest but most beautiful places I have stayed. Me and my brother stayed next to a river with some of the best views of the surrounding river.
Aguas Calientes, Mar 18 The main stage for the world famed Machu Picchu, one of the best places I have been, truly majestic.
Rio De Janiero, Mar 18 As long as you’re extra careful Rio is a safe place to be, maybe a few money hustle form a few taxi drivers or vendors but other than those it is safe. Its scenery and beaches are some of the best in the world.

Wales Trip

Cardiff, Apr 18 A short weekend in the welsh capital, a place full of investment in order to establish it as a shopping haven.

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Philippines & Japan Trip

Manila, Jun 18 Its that time again where once a year I visit Philippines. A base to srelax before we head off to Japan.
Osaka, Jun 18 Our entry point in Japan, smaller than Tokyo but a metropolis nonetheless.
Kyoto, Jun 18 Beautifully preserved temples and religious places. Home of the world famed Geisha entertainers and the most cultural traditions preserved.
Tokyo, Jun 18 Last city visited in Japan, a beautiful busy metropolis. Very crowded and bustling 24 hours a day. Bright lights, most modern technology and cuisine were a huge plus for this city.

England Trip

Devon, Sep 18 A short weekend trip to the English country side, new attractions has been built in Ilfracombe attracted more tourists.

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Finland & Estonia Trip

Helsinki, Dec 18 The Finnish capital had little to offer in attractions however the beauty of the capital is its people, arts and history.
Rovaniemi, Dec 18 A true winter wonderland, the coldest place ive visited and the most magical place for families.
Tallinn, Dec 18 (post coming soon) Outstanding pagan churches, Medieval Castles and modern festive market. Spookiest place ive ever been to with many stories of haunted past on many building in the old town.

My Brazil and Peru Trip

A successful weird little venture which started off in Brazil over to Peru and then ended in Brazil in a quick 10 day holiday. Ive made a compilation of my whole journey.
(please click the city for more about the trip)

1st stop: Sao Paulo, Brazil

Straight from London and my first stop. This part of the trip was and insight to one of Latin Americas richest metropolis.

2nd stop: Lima, Peru

After a glimpse of life in one of South Americas most developed and rich citiy I go to one of its most undeveloped capitals (In my opinion). Nonetheless the experience was a valuable learning curb. In this Leg I visited Central Lima and the Larco Museum to build the flavour of my trip ahead.

3rd stop: Cusco, Peru

And now it was time to acclimatise and get ready for our main purpose (Machu Picchu). A quick roam around the city, into their market and main points of interest. Getting a feel of rural Peru.

4th stop: Ollantaytambo, Peru

Basing at Ollantaytambo the night before Machu Picchu, so we could get an easier transit to the mountain attraction. However I just fell in love with the village and wished I could have stayed longer. The scenery was just amazing.

5th stop: Aguas Calientes, Peru

Again this village was amazing, it felt like a movie set. A quick snack before and after our trip up Machu Picchu. Very touristic but still a pleasure.

*** Machu Picchu***
Preparing to travel
Travelling to Machu Pichu

A spectacle to see, the most amazing place I’ve been to. Hiking up Wayna Picchu was also something I’m glad i did, the challenge of those slippery un-barricaded steps was a worry but seeing the famous Machu Picchu from another height and view, it was all worth it.

6th stop : Back to Cusco, Peru

After an adventurous time across Peru’s smaller rural villages it was time to head back to Cusco and roam the city a bit more. Excursing outside the city with the ATV tours showing us Moray, Salt Mines and more.

7th stop: Back to Lima, Peru

Finishing Peru its another round of Lima but this time it was the wealthier Mira Flores, here we did shopping in Larcomar and the Indian markets.

Finale: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Although the bad reputation, I needed to see the paradise destination for myself. In my opinion well worth the visit and what a way to end the trip.

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Its been great Sao Paulo… Next up its Lima, Peru…

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CUSCO

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The Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu Experience

Brief

Machu Picchu is the Incan citadel on top of the Andes mountains, located in Urubamba province within the Cusco region in Peru. The famous mountain attraction is 2nd in Lonely Planet’s must go to places in the world. Furthermore the Incan citadel is about 2,500 metres high, said to be made for the emperor Pachacuti but was later abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest.

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The Experience

 Entering Machu Picchu you will require your paper ticket and your passport, in what is like an airport style entry.  At times there is a long line but when I was there it was just a walk through. Take note there is only one toilet at the entrance of the site so emptying your bladder before proceeding would be sensible. If you do go back out to go to the toilet you will need your ticket and passport again and may need to line up.

Entering Machu Pichu there will be some people presenting themselves as tour guides (for a price) I believe they are legitimate guides but I don’t really know how much they were as I didn’t take one which I do regret, as the site itself had no descriptions and without the guide you would just be walking around the Incan ruin without any explanations.

Machu Picchu has various different routes, I think 5 in total which all circuit to the exit. It is possible to take all the routes but it can be tiring and time consuming. Attendants are ever present on the site as they look after the ruins and protect people from dangerous areas, however the site itself was relatively safe and controlled with plenty of resting areas. All ages and abilities can visit the site as there is nothing too difficult, I even saw a woman on a wheelchair so I believe it has disabled access routes.

The ruins itself were amazing with the huge boulders and stone walls still fully standing. The most Iconic building for me was the Guardhouse Watch Tower which had the best views of the whole citadel. Everything about Machu Picchu was great with uncountable scenic areas and magnificent ancient structures. I did however miss out on seeing the Alpacas and Llamas, which would have been one of the highlight pictures of the visit, nonetheless the experience was one of kind. Visiting Machu Picchu also requires a lot of luck, some days you can have very clear skies whereas others may get rain and worst clouds where you cant see anything. However the walks were too easy and I was definitely looking forward to the higher more challenging mountain ahead with Huayna Picchu.

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If you have bought the ticket to Huayna Picchu, the entrance to the mountain is at the back of the site. you will see a little hut with the map of Huayna Picchu, it has two gates one for exit and the other for entrance. It is advisable that you arrive 15 minutes before your allotted time as there can be an instant rush when the gates open, but I believe you can enter at anytime within your allotted time. Again your passport is required for this as they carefully monitor whose gone in and whose gone out.

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Huayna Picchu itself has one huge circular route but a few detours to turn back. I can only say that the higher you go the more difficult the climb is as stairs get steeper and thinner with not much to hold onto and there are points (higher up) where if you proceed there is no return and you will need to follow the route ahead. In my experience all climbers help and encourage each other where possible and no one was selfish, if someone looked like they needed help nobody would just walk pass that person. There is plenty of resting points on the mountain many with great views, but some areas are so tight you couldn’t stop as people behind would like to keep moving. To climb Huayna Picchu you will need to be a little fit but I did see 8th graders and seniors so i don’t think you need to be highly a20180319_113358thletic. Best advice is to take your time, do your own pace and bring lots of water. If for any reason you cant handle the climb don’t be ashamed to turn back or ask for help. As you climb up there will be plenty of different panoramic views of the scenery around but the best place is the view of Machu Pichu itself (if its not cloudy). Furthermore at the top you may take a picture of the Huayna Pichu sign which many mountains have at their peak (this area is a good resting point). The experience at Huayna Picchu was one of a kind, there was fear, adrenaline and also excitement. I have to admit the site was somewhat dangerous as there were little to no barriers, marshals and places to hold onto, which for me was the beauty of it all.

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Conclusion

My Peru, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu experience has been extraordinary, it has been a trip full of education and challenges with every scenery as extravagant as you would see in magazines. Machu Picchu could prove to be very expensive but I can honestly say it is every penny well spent. It is one of those destination that even the best blogs cannot portray and you have to go and see it for yourself to be able to appreciate the scale of this mountain.

If you are yet to go, it is important to know that the Machu Picchu experience starts as you land in Peru, the journey to the site is as exciting as the mountain attraction itself so enjoy every bit of it.

Reference:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu

Travelling to Machu Picchu

How to get there

Machu Picchu is one of the most difficult place to reach and the reason for strong planning and research before travelling. Firstly getting to the country Peru is the first hurdle. Remember Cusco is the nearest airport to Machu Picchu but only a handful of international flights actually fly here. So Lima is usually the entry point to the country itself and a flight connection to Cusco is usually the norm as taking bus would take too long. After reaching Cuzco the journey still isn’t over as there is still a mission to get to Aguas Calientes the nearest village to Machu Picchu. There are various options to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes but 2 popular methods are by doing a 4 day trek called the ‘Inca trail’ and the other is by commuting to a town called Ollantaytambo then taking train to Aguas Calientes.

Inca Trail

First method is the world famous ‘Inca Trail’. Now I don’t know too much about this as I didn’t do this method but from what I am told it is a 4 day walking journey from either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. The Inca trail is for the adventurous travellers and this method of reaching Machu Picchu is definitely the more scenic way.

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Commute

The other method to get from Cusco to Aguas Calientes is by commuting. It is important to remember that there is no direct trains from Cusco straight to Aguas Calientes and a stopover at Ollantaytambo is inevitable, making the travel to Machu Pichu a 2 phase journey.

The Cusco to Ollantaytambo trip (about 1.5-2 hours) can be done in various ways with the easiest being a private taxi which I could imagine to be expensive. Another way is by taking what is called the shared taxi which is usually a van (sometimes a car) that takes a bunch of travellers to Ollantaytambo at once. The positive with shared taxis is that it is very cheap at only 10 soles or 20 soles for a smaller car. The bad is that there is no timetable and the journey only starts when the van is full, which is not good for people on a tight schedule. Other ways to get to Ollantaytambo is by bus but this could prove to be too complicated for travellers as there is a couple of changes.

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Once at Ollantaytambo the next phase can begin and its much simpler than the first phase. All you need is to buy a train ticket at one of the 2 operating companies Peru Rail or Inca Rail (the more luxurious option). The train journey takes about 2-3 hours and depending on your operator includes a complimentary drinks and a snack. (Peru Rail will discussed on a separate blog) Please note that there is a baggage size and a 5kg weight limit.

One thing I didn’t mention is that Peru rail and Inca rail do offer complete transport from Cusco to Machu Picchu but a higher cost is expected. They will arrange their own bus to and from Cusco and Ollantaytambo.

After arriving at Aguas Calientes another short bus ride is required to get to Machu Picchu itself. There is only one official bus ride and it is quiet pricey. The only other way is to hike 1.5 hours up to the location. However I highly advise to take a ride up as there is plenty of walking at the site itself.

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Once the bus drops you off at the entrance of the Machu Pichu site, your journey is done. You have arrived at one of the greatest places in the world to visit, all there is to do now is to enjoy.

Next: The Machu Picchu Experience

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The Machu Pichu experience…

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Preparations for Machu Picchu

To visit Machu Picchu I believe careful planning is required as it is not as straight forward as visiting the likes of the Coliseum and Eifel tower. Remember the site is in a undeveloped rural area so various transports and hotels would be needed and you would require to plan a base city to travel from.

There are a few things you’ve got to consider before travelling to Machu Picchu, aspects such as weather, altitude, food, tickets, transport and many moreUntitled

Tickets- Before travelling to Machu Picchu it is advisable to pre-book your tickets as there are long queues and there is a restriction of the number of people they allow in the site. Furthermore if you wish to enter Huayna Picchu there is a limit of 400 people a day, 200 in the morning (07:00-11:00) and 200 in the afternoon (11:00-14:00) so reserving your ticket as soon as possible is highly advisable

Remember to print your tickets- Firstly you have to keep in mind Machu Picchu is a rural mountainous area and because of this there is little to no Wi-Fi or electronics so be sure to print your paper tickets and fully charge all your gadgets for your personal use.

Plan your hotel and transports- Remember the site is in a undeveloped rural area so various transports and hotels would be needed and you would require to plan a base city to travel from. Cusco city may be too far and complicated to travel from on the day (especially for tight schedules), so I believe either Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes to be a more desirable stay for ease of commute to Machu Picchu.

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Bring food and drinks- Machu Picchu is a whole days visit with long walks and tiring climbs so food and drinks are important. There is lots of restaurants at Aguas Calientes village however at the Machu Picchu site there is nothing for sale. I highly advise for each person to bring a big bottle of water and some nibbles as there is a lot of walking and it can get very hot at times.

Bring Cash and Passport- Another advice is to have plenty of cash as only a few establishments take credit card. Passports are also used for entrance to the site so it is equally as important to remember.

Prepare for Altitude- As Machu Picchu is 2,500 metres high, the air is thinner and oxygen less that normal, this could result in sickness and headaches. To prevent this I advise to climatise in one of the towns/ villages nearby first before going straight to Machu Picchu. However I also advise to be prepared bring Coca leaves to chew and for a tea, go to the pharmacy and ask for altitude sickness tablets.

Know the climate-  Lastly before travelling one of the most important fundamental to keep in mind is the climate. You have to remember that although Peru is known to be a hot dry country, Machu Picchu can be the opposite. As the site rises above the clouds you can imagine it being wet and sometimes cold so bringing a jacket and rain coat is advisable. Although the attire you bring should be good for both the climate but also for the activity ahead as there is plenty of walking and climbing.

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After taking these on-board then all you need to do is relax and enjoy the famous mountain attraction.

Next : Travelling to Machu Picchu

Ollantaytambo

4th leg of my Brazil and Peru trip.

Type : Rural
Best Date : Apr- Oct
Expense : Medium
Things to do : Hiking
Points of Interest: Pinkuylluna, Temple del sol, Ollytaytambo sanctuary, ect
The Good: One of the best scenery from within a village
The Bad: Small not too much to see, limited restaurants and shops

Brief

Ollantaytambo is a small town which is a famous archaeological site, it is enroute Machu Pichu in the Urubamba province within the Cusco region. A popular starting point for the 3 to4 day Inca trail. It has an altitude of 2,792m above sea level and is known to be located in what is called the sacred valley of the Incas.

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The Place

Many Machu Pichu visitors intend to stay somewhere close to the popular mountain attraction the night or day before their visit. Ollantaytambo is a small village in between Cusco city and Aguas Calientes (nearest village to Machu Picchu). The trains to Machu Picchu (Peru Rail and Inka Rail) only operates from Ollantaytambo as there is none from Cusco.

Due to the complexity of the travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and our early train ticket we opted to stay in Ollantaytambo so we were just walking distance away from the train station (not needing a 1-2 hour bus ride from Cusco) and just a short train ride away from Aguas Calientes.

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Ollantaytambo has a marvellous appeal but it is small and has limited points of interest. The main attraction is the Pinkuylluna which is an archaeological site on top of a mountain (with the same name), this was used by the Incans for granaries and storehouses. To enter this though you would need an entrance ticket of about 130 soles (about £35). There is also the Incan Bridge which is also an attraction with significant history although not too impressive.

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After these there is not much to plan for whilst visiting Ollantaytambo. However the village itself and its surroundings is the sole reason for visiting and staying a night or two. A very old town which is probably only improved for tourist accessibility and comfort. The small river is also an additional beauty to this town and there is a few cafes situated next to it. Lastly there is a brilliant market just outside the entrance to Pinkuylluna, they had excellent traditional handmade products from local material like Alpaca fur and others alike. Surprisingly the products were also fairly priced which was an added bonus as it was located in front of a tourist attraction.

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Overall Ollantaytambo is your small cute village that is out of the ordinary, it is mainly used for transit to Machu Pichu but i can confidently say you would lose out if you don’t roam this beautiful Peruvian country village. The scenery itself is a pleasure to be surrounded by and there is not too many tourists to disturb the peace and serenity of the area, so hiking here would be nice scenic and peaceful. A night or two is a good duration to roam Ollantaytambo, to visit but also to take a smoother unrushed transit to Machu Pichu.

Cusco City

3rd city of my Brazilian and Peru tour.

Type : Historical City
Best Date : May – Sep
Expense : Fair
Things to do : Dine, Shop, Hike, Adrenaline Sports, Museums, ect
Points of Interest: LA cathedral, Sacsayhuaman, Plaza de Armas, San Pedro Market, Moray, Salt Mines, Hamantay lake and more
The Goods: Excellent architecture and culture
The Bads: High Altitude causes sickness try acclimatizing in lower neighbouring cities before Cusco, many uphill walking

Brief

3rd leg of my Brazillian and Peru tour.
Cusco city is the capital of the Cusco region and province. With an average elevation of about 3,400m Cusco is the 8th highest city in the world. The city which is a UNESCO world heritage site used to be the historic capital of the Incan empire from the 13th to the 16th century when the Spanish conquest began. Today Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destination in Peru being the starting point of Machu Picchu and the Inca trail.

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The Place

Cusco or Cuzco as its sometimes spelt has its goods and its bads, for me it was a good place to unwind but only for a maximum of 2 days. Firstly the city is very high at about 3,339m higher than all the surrounding villages, towns and points of interest including the famous Machu Pichu. Meaning air is much thinner and to acclimatize is much more difficult than if you were at Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes and others a like.

Cusco has many attractions for tourists, there are plenty of churches, museums, markets, cultural places and a handful of ancient historic ruins, most are within the city but some are just outside and needs transport arrangements. Firstly within the city there is ‘Sacsayhuaman’ which is a UNESCO world heritage site since 1983. These ruins is known to be the historic capital of the Incan empire and visiting this you will see the formation of rocks and walls from the ancient citadel. A good place to start off your Incan adventure in the city, be wary that this is one of the highest point in the already high city so it’ll be sensible to acclimatise first.

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‘Plaza de Armas’ is the main square of the city and around it are various restaurants, shops and 2 churches ‘Iglesia Compania de Jesus’ and ‘LA cathedral’. The plaza has a beautiful fountain in the middle with a statue of an Incan Ruler ‘Pachacuti’ above it and surrounding it a well groomed garden. Within the city there is plenty of churches some of which are open to visitors but many are strictly for worship. In general the city centre is fairly small but the altitude definitely affects your ability to walk the distances, you also have to consider the fact that much of the streets are uphill slopes.

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A short walk away from Plaza de Armas is ‘San Pedro Market’ which for me was one of the cleaner markets I’ve ever been to. The market was complete with fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, cheese, products and quiet strangely a line of fruit juice stalls. Although very clean I didn’t see anything different from other markets I have been to in other countries.

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A bit of an excursion outside the city you will find attractions such as ‘Moray’, ‘Salt Mines’, ‘Humantay lake’ and many more. We visited these as a part of an ATV tour, which was a pleasure to do passing the beautiful sceneries and friendly local farmers waving at us as we pass. The ‘salt mines’ was unbelievable and the story behind it was interesting, it was 10 soles to enter the attraction and there you can taste the salt water and see the enchanting panoramic views. Moray is another Inca ruin which still has its mysteries because of its circular structure. Lastly the Humantay lake which was a good spot to just chill unwind and again enjoy the scenery. The ATV tour was a good side to see the farmlands and their people there were many animals and friendly locals around to great us as we passed.

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Other than these attractions the city itself is a pleasure to be in, the restaurants and cafes vary from traditional Peruvian and even western food. Food in the city though has its ups and downs, fast food such as McDonald’s was the worst I have ever tasted around the world, in most other restaurants we went to the service was also very slow. The buildings itself are of Spanish colonial style and there are no high rise buildings which is good so that you can see the surrounding mountains. However a lot of streets are uphill so for those who don’t walk well it would be sensible to stay nearer the square. The people of Cusco are also very friendly to tourists however you can find many persistent people offering tours. Overall Cusco is a great place to visit but the majority who stay here would excurse to Machu Picchu as the main part of their itinerary.

Reference:

Highest cities (https://web.archive.org/web/20130714072634/http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/highest-cities-in-the-world/4660?image=1)