[Day 4] Gaudi, Gaudi, and more Gaudi

Today was our grand Gaudi tour. We started the day with a visit to La Sagrada Familia. We had purchased tickets from the official website for Sagrada Familia with Towers and picked the Nativity Facade. One of the reasons we wanted to see the Nativity Facade was that it was completed by Gaudi himself in 1935. And it was really a good thing that we purchased from the official website. I’ll explain in a bit.

We bought morning tickets and the line was pretty short. You have to go through security similar to the airport and they have several lines so it moves quickly. Once inside, you have to get in a separate line to pick up the audio guide. And with the audio guide, you are really left to venture around yourself until the time for the tower rolls around.

And wow. This place is just amazing. The gothic details on the facade are definitely a sight you don’t want to miss! Just standing here, you are facing one the world’s most prominent architecture that is still being built. We spent a lot of time here, carefully listening to the audio guide, learning about Gaudi and his masterpiece. The nativity scene here is decorated with different plants and animals and all was intended by Gaudi himself. Just wow.

And when the time for us to go up to the tower came, we realized that there was no line. At first, we were excited to the first one but saw the line was blocked off! We asked the staff what was going on and they told us that because of high wind, the towers were closed for the day for everyone’s safety. WHAT?! No!!! I was looking forward to going up to the tower but weather was something out of our control. And this is the reason for buying with the official website. They told us that within a month, we should we getting a portion refund for the towers. If you buy with a 3rd party, most of the time, you would not be able to get anything back.

We were sad that we couldn’t go up the towers but we were able to spend more time inside and see the sunlight start shining through the stained glasses and wow. What colors! I would really recommend staying longer to see the colors.

Once we were done with the inside, we came out to the other side and you see a whole new style of detailing. The Passion facade is a bit more bulky and more masculine. The scene here is the Crucifixion of Christ and the feel here is different from the nativity side but still amazing.

After seeing all around, we headed to La Boqueria. During the day time, the market was packed and they had so many different types of foods, from raw materials to cooked meals. While here, we tried all of them. From sandwiches to juices. They were all very good. It isn’t really cheap here so I would suggest that you share the snacks to try different ones together.

Afterward, we headed to Parc Guell. We did not buy tickets in advance since we were not sure what time we would head over but please buy it online. The line gets really long and during busy season, they can even sell out. When you buy tickets, there is a time of entry so make sure you buy the one that works. The staff were very strict on time. We bought our tickets when we arrived and we had about one hour to kill. We were able to look around the free parts of the park beforehand. The free portion of the park is higher up so you could get a good view.

And once our time came around, we were able to go inside and see the park. However, there were lots of construction going on and some parts were even closed off. Even with that, the park was very pretty and interesting. We first started off with Casa del Guarda, the gatekeeper’s house. Inside, they had an exhibition about the park and it was worth a look. The blue colors of the walls were really pretty.

The architecture here is interesting too. There are lots of arches and curves. I really loved their use of mosaic tiles in multiple places, including on the colorful chameleon. He was much smaller than I expected but cute regardless. And once you follow the road up to the top of the park, there is this huge open space and the view of the city from here is spectacular. The tiles on the benches and the backdrop of Barcelona cityscape is just perfect for pictures.

After spending some time here, we wanted to check out more of Gaudi’s work so we headed back to the city. We didn’t know which one we should go into since we didn’t have much time. We had to pick one between Casa Mila and Casa Batlló. They were the same price and they were only 2 blocks from each other. After some deliberation, we decided on Casa Batlló.

Casa Batlló also used lots of colorful stones on the exterior and the sunlight made the building sparkle. Even the roof was colorful. And their audio tour was very interesting. They used AR technology with their audio tour which provided a more interesting walkthrough of the building. When we arrived, the sun had already set and I think it would be better if you visit during the day.

As interesting the exterior is, the interior is also fascinating. Starting from the entrance, the floors, the walls, everything was made with intent. And t he blue tiles on the inside makes it seem like you are outside and they had snow flurries and it really looked as if you were looking into a courtyard. And through the audio tour, I learned that the tiles were placed inside to reflect light into part of the house and I really loved the idea.

After seeing the house, we headed back to Font Màgica de Montjuïc to see the Magic Fountain show. We arrived perfectly for the show at 9:30pm and it was very pretty but cold. The wind was strong this day and the water from the fountain got everyone wet. But the music, color, and splash of water was truly magical. They used different types of music including classical, pop songs, and traditional songs. It was really fun to watch.

The show as quite long so you don’t have to be there at 9:30pm but if you want front row, you should come early. I wouldn’t recommend it since you will get wet and even the view from the back is really good.

We headed to grab dinner at Ciutat Comtal and I highly recommend this place and you 100% should make a reservation. We had a huge party and luckily, they had a table for us. I was recommended this place by a friend and she told me that we have to try their honey cod and I agree! We had several tapa dishes including the honey cod and we ended up ordering more cod. Look for Bacalao al Allioli de Miel. We also tried their gambas, calamari, razor clams, and of course, sangria. They are all very good and the price wasn’t bad at all for the quality of the food.

After our delicious meal, we wanted to end the night on a sweet note so we made our way to a churro spot. Both my brother and I found a same place named Xurreria. It had really good reviews and we were down. What we didn’t know was that the one we picked was an outdoor stall. But do not look down on these stalls. The staff made the churros fresh in front of us. And eventhough it was cold and late, there were several locals who came by for takeout.

What a day!

[Day 16] Last day in Bolivia

Last day in Bolivia. I wanted this to be a lazy day and the accommodation I picked was the best for that. The official check out was until 1pm! I’ve never heard of a hotel’s check out time being this late. However, this was my only full day in La Paz so I wanted to check it out.

I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel around 11am, stored luggage at the hotel, and ventured out.

First, we headed to st. Francisco church to meet a new travel buddy for the day. As this trip was my first trip alone, I tried to gather people to travel with, before and during the trip. And I think I was very successful. Throughout my whole trip, I was with someone and everyone has been awesome.

So today, I met up with my new travel buddy and headed to Valle de la Luna. Before, I looked at tour agencies but could not find something that suited my schedule. So I decided to take the local bus. After some searching, a lot of people were pointing me to bus #43. However, after waiting for over 30 minutes, we asked the police for help. They told us to take #902 going to Mallas.

The bus was only 2 bol but the traffic was awful! If you are going to visit Valle de la Luna by bus, please go early in the morning. It took over an hour and the road was rough. The bus system was interesting. It was more l ike a mini van. People would fill in the seats and when it was full, the driver would not stop at any of the other stops until someone got off. And people paid the driver as they got off.

Once at Valle de la Luna, there was an entrance fee of 15 bol and there were several different trails, all marked with how long it takes, and we decided to take the 45 minute one. The trail was beautiful and presented itself with a very different kind of view than what I expected. Since it was named Valley of the Moon, I was sort of expecting craters or something similar to it. However, the Valley was filled more more sharp peaks and cliffs. Luckily, the trail had a lot of railings for safety. They also had lots of picturesque areas to take photos so even on the 45 minute trail, it took longer.

Also, it was really hot! The Valley did not provide any shade and since we were there around 1pm, the sun was really on top of us. Make sure to bring a lot of water because the trail doesn’t have any fountains. The trail is one way so you just have to keep going. There are lots of ups and downs so be ready to walk.

After finishing the trail, we decided to go back to the city. This time, we wanted to take the telefarico. So we took a cab to the closest line, which was the green line. The cab was 25 bol and at the green line, we bought tickets to Prado, which was 15 bol for 3 people.

From the green line, we transferred to the blue/celestial line and got off at Prado. From here, we walked to Witch’s Market. It was so small. Smaller than I expected. There were small, individual shops that all sold similar things like stones, perfume, incense, and items for rituals like dried animal and animal parts. I wasn’t sure what to buy here so I just took pictures. I wasn’t super impressed but very unique.

So we headed to dinner. We wanted to find some traditional Bolivian food so we searched for a place and found “Luciernagas Restaurant” and this place was amazing. It was all home cooking and tasted great. The restaurant is in a residential area so while looking for it, I thought we were so lost.

Once we were at the restaurant, we met the owner and his wife. The owner recommended our meals and the wife cooked for us. It was a family owned business and really great for home cooked meals. They had an extensive menu but there were several things that were not available, so ask! We ordered a soup and main entree to share. The portions were pretty big here.

After dinner, we wanted to see the city light up the night. I was told the best view of the city was at Killi Killi park. I was told the Park could be dangerous at night but when we were there, it didn’t seem too bad. There were several travelers taking photos there and some locals playing around. It was cold but the view was nice. The lights from the city sparkled and provided a good city view.

One thing that worried me was the ride back. Our hotel was nice enough to get us a cab when we went up to the park but the way down was different. We tried to call an Uber but they wouldn’t come. We thought about walking down but that was a long walk. Lucky for us, a tourist came up and we were able to take that cab back to the hotel.

While going back, we saw the night market and it was really lively. I wish I could have visited. It looked like there were lots of food vendors. Once we were at the hotel, I said good bye to my travel buddies and headed to the airport.

Since I was taking the night plane out of Bolivia, the airport was very empty. It took only minutes to check in and it was very simple and quick. I wasn’t looking forward to ending my trip but was looking forward to sleeping in my bed again. After checking in, I headed inside to use the lounge. It had a small selection of things but had warm food like pancakes, cold food like cereals, and drinks. They have 3 different local beers and pepsi products.

This concluded by trip to Peru and Bolivia. It was my first time traveling in South America and it was amazing. I cannot wait to come back soon.

[Day 15] Last day in Uyuni

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another tour before leaving Uyuni but everyone I talked to said that day time is different from sunset so I decided to do a last tour. (3 tours just in Uyuni!) There are usually several tours each day and they are all separately by time.

Starlight+Sunrise is the earliest one, usually from 3am to 7:30am. Day time is 10am to 3:30pm. There is also Day time+Sunset which is from 10:30am to 8:30pm. The one I did previously was the Sunset+Starlight, from 4pm to 10pm. And lastly, there is just Starlight, which is from 11pm to 3am. The times could be slightly different for each tour agency but it would be very similar to this.

I checked the moon and sun phase to make sure I would be able to see the stars. Depending on when the sun sets and when the moon rises, you might see more stars in the Sunset+Starlight or Starlight+Sunrise. They are all beautiful.

So the day time tour was from 10am to 3:30pm and since it was our last day, we also had to check out. So we woke up early, packed our things, eat our last breakfast, checked out and headed to the tour agency. We were able to leave our luggage at our accommodation and they also told me that they can provide the shower after the tour. Score!

We requested another Photography session with As and headed out. As told us that if we go with a photographer, usually the driving route changes so that people can get more of the salt flat shot. However, since we requested it, we were able to visit the train cemetery. It wasn’t as impressive as I imagined but still very cool to look at. There were several trains that were just abandoned on the unused tracks. Interesting enough, there was actually an active track right next to the cemetery. We were able to go on the trains to take pictures but As told me that there were several accidents here so be careful.

After looking around the train cemetery, we headed into the salt flats. First, we visited the dry flats. This was our first time here since for the Sunset+Starlight, they only take you to the wet flats. The dry flats were so different. The ground was sharp and it felt more like a desert. And it was 100% less crowded compared to the wet flats. I mean, we were the only ones here.

There were 4 of us taking photos with the photographer and in between our sessions, we took pictures of each other. We were able to do some illusion shots with different props that the tour agency provided. This includes the dino shot, wine bottle shot, and the stomping shots. These are probably the most common photos you would see online if you searched Uyuni. Our driver was nice enough to take some photos of us while we waited for our photographer!

*Remember! They are your driver, not your photographer! Some of them have had this job for a long time and may have experience taking these types of photos but they are not required to take them for you. If they do take photos/videos of you, make sure to tip well for their extra service.

I thought the weather was perfect for pictures. No cloud in sight. However, we found out it was a bust when we got to the wet flats. The wind was too strong and we couldn’t get the reflections at all. You could see ripples everywhere. It was unfortunate but we still had fun. This time, the photographer brought some props along, like flower bouquets and colorful umbrella! It was different and difficult, taking pictures with props. This was my first time taking pictures like this so I felt so awkward. If you are interested in doing a photo session, make sure to practice at home!

The day time tour was short compared to sunset+starlight so we were back in the city a little past 3:30pm. When we got back to our hotel area, we realized there was a huge market outside our hotel and we wanted to check it out before flying out.

First, we decided to take a shower. However, the hotel told us that they could provide the shower but no towels. Luckily, I had brought a towel just in case and was able to take a quick shower. They even provided a rest space if you wanted to take a nap. It was a smaller room upstairs with a single size bed. Because Uyuni is a tourist town, hotels might offer such service. Make sure to ask the hotel you are staying in to see if they have such space.

After washing up, we went out to the market. This market had everything! They had live animals for sale, mostly chickens, clothing for all ages, kitchenware, and of course, food. I walked down for about 10 minutes but I was still seeing rows of shops. However, it looked like they were still setting up. So I decided to check out the city a bit more.

Walking up the main street, there was a decent size super market. From here, I got an ice cream bar and it was so refreshing! During the day time, the sun was still hot so it was nice to just chill and eat some ice cream.

Also, right across the street, there was an arcade. They had several different games from street fighter, tekken, FIFA, and more. But their biggest thing was PUMP. I was so surprised to find a PUMP machine here so I just had to play. All the games were 1 bol. I didn’t have coins on me but there was someone here that did the exchange. I wanted to play more but after 1 game I was done! Not because I was tired but because of the altitude. My lungs were just screaming for air but I had a lot of fun, walking dancing through memory lane. While I was catching my breath, I watched some of the local kids play games and did not realize time was passing so fast.

When I walked back outside, the market was now bustling with people. A lot of kids were out with their parents, shopping and hanging out with friends. I wanted to grab something to eat before heading to the airport so I looked around the market. I really wanted the fried chicken cutlet again but it was closed. I’m guessing it was because of the market being open. So I looked around the market and several of the places looked like it had lines.

I knew I didn’t have much time now and I needed to get something to-go, so I found a stall that was selling chicken and other things. I wasn’t so sure what was on the menu but I pointed at the chicken and chorizo and was able to get it to-go.

After getting my food, we took a cab to the airport. It was 15 bol per person this time. The cab ride was short and the check in process was even shorter. It took less than 5 minutes to check in. We were flying with Amazonas and they allowed 1 free checked bag. So I checked one of my bag and ate my dinner using my other bag as a table.

The chicken was cooked perfectly and the chorizo was spicy enough. As I was enjoying the food, more and more people were coming into the airport and the line was getting longer. There were only 2 people working the check in desk but it was moving pretty quickly.

Soon, they told everyone to move into the actual lounge area. Before moving, we had to pay the airport tax. You cannot fly out of Uyuni without paying the tax. It was 11 bol and they gave me change back.

To get to the lounge, you had to go through a metal detector. However, they did not have one for bags. Some of the bags were hand checked but not all of them. It was a very short process and also very interesting. They also do not mind if you bring water in. And as I stated before, it was a very small airport. We had to walk to the tarmac again to get on the plane, just as we did when we got here.

The plane ride was uneventful. Once we were out of Uyuni’s range, it was pitch black outside. It really felt like there was nothing out there but soon, the lights from La Paz started to glow. When we got to La Paz airport, we had a taxi driver waiting for us and we got to the hotel safely.

We were not planning on doing anything too crazy the next day so we decided to Netflix and chill for a bit. The Loki Boutique, our accommodation, had free Netflix, so we watched John Wick. What a good way to relax and end the night.

[Day 13] Off to Uyuni

We woke up early in the morning, packed up, and headed to the airport at 6:30am. The hotel was able to get us a taxi fairly quick. The city of La Paz at sunrise was beautiful. The pink tone building with the early morning light was a sight to see. The road was clear so we were able to get to the airport in no time. Check in was a breeze too and headed to grab some breakfast.

Not all the restaurants in the airport were open and we had limited options. And since we were in Bolivia, I wanted to try something Bolivian. So I got Huminta, a Bolivian style tamale, and Tikimanas, a Bolivian style empanada. They were both really flavorful and filling. I actually couldn’t finish both of them because of their size. I didn’t realize how big they would be. But my travel companions were there to help me. For both, it was 17.5 bol. Not bad for breakfast at the airport.

The airport was so small that even the check point took only about 5 minutes and they didn’t take my water away. Once we were inside, we wanted for our boarding time. It was interesting since the boarding time was the same as the last call. There were a lot of people getting to the gate at the last minute, including us!

The plane that we took was really small and the ride was pretty bumpy. Once we got to Uyuni airport, we all got off at the tarmac. The Uyuni airport was TINY. It was the smallest airport I’ve seen. They did not even have a baggage claim belt. It was just this one corner they used as the baggage claim area. They don’t check tags or anything so keep your eyes open for your bag.

We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The interesting thing at Uyuni was that the taxi charges per person! So they try to fill the car up before leaving. The cost from the airport was 10 bol per person. With that, no one has to worry about if you are getting cheated on your taxi fare.

I wanted to try something new while at Uyuni and decided to stay at the salt hotel. We stayed at Hotel de Sal – Casa Andina. This is not the famous salt hotel but it had salt components in the hotel and the location was decent. We were a bit early for check in, so we left our luggage here and headed to book our tours.

There were several different tour agencies in Uyuni that specialized in Salt Flat tours. We decided to go with Brisa Tours. They had a tour with a photographer (extra cost) and I wanted some good photos with the stars. I had never done night photography before and since I was already here, I thought I wanted to get some nice photos.

At these tour agencies, they have papers outside that have different type of tours that are available and how many people can sign out. Anyone can come and write their name down and pay inside to make the reservation. We planned on doing the “Sunset + starlight” tour with Photographer As, who was part of Brisa Tours. The tour itself was 130 bol and we had to pay the photographer extra $120.

After we booked our tour, we decided to venture around a bit and grab something to eat before heading out on the tour. We found the local market and noticed that it was very similar to Peru’s market. And while following our nose, we found a fried chicken booth on the back side of the market. It was a bit hidden but those are the best, right?

The fried chicken was amazing! It was close to a chicken cutlet since it was so flat. It came with rice and veggie and the best part. It was only 8 bol.

After our meal, one of my travel companion decided to cut all our hairs! She is a hair designer in South Korea and she brought most of her tools to volunteer in Peru and Bolivia. I wanted to go super short and she just chopped it all off! After my hair cut, she asked around the hotel to see if anyone else wanted a cut and ended up cutting the receptionist’s hair too.

Our tour was at 3pm so after our haircuts, we headed back to the agency. They had a 8 seater van waiting for us. We drove about 20 minutes outside the city to this house to pick up rainboots and drove another 40 minutes to the salt flats. The ride was bumpy and we were told that some parts of the salt flats have sink holes so we all have to be careful. At first, the area was just dry flats and I was really worried we wouldn’t see water since it was dry season. But once we were out there, the view just made me speechless.

The weather was just spectacular with no clouds in sight. Also, the wind wasn’t too strong so we were able to get some good reflections. There was enough water to make the reflection too. Even though it was dry season, the tour agencies all know how far to go in to get the water so you do not need to worry about it.

It was just so pretty! When we got there, it was still very bright. But the sun started to set and the view just became even more amazing. The colors of the sunset seemed different here. And it really felt like we were the only ones here. It was so quiet, so surreal. I took the time to just bask in the sun.

Once the sun was gone, we had to wait for the stars to come up. I wasn’t sure if we would be able to see a lot of stars because the moonrise timing wasn’t that great for us. But slowly, stars were coming out and I was surprised that we were able to see so much of it with our naked eyes.

You could even see the Milky Way with your eyes. This picture was taken with my camera (Sony 5a) on a tripod on a timer. No filter whatsoever. Our photographer brought props that made the photos more interesting. The stars were just memorizing. I couldn’t believe I could see so much with my eyes. When I wasn’t taking photos, I was just looking up in awe. And the camera doesn’t do it justice. It was more mysterious in person and I cannot recommend the Starlight tour enough!

And one thing for sure. Make sure to wear layers or bring more clothes. Especially socks! While taking photos, we had to take off our shoes to get on the roof of the vehicle and in the process, our clothes, mostly our socks, got wet. So next time, extra socks! Also, it was extremely cold outside. Cold enough that my camera lens froze and wouldn’t focus. I had to take it inside the van to heat it up a bit before taking more photos.

After all the photos, we headed back to Uyuni. Even though it was late, everyone was so excited to have seen such a view that we kept talking about it. I definitely was amazing and worth it. I was not 100% satisfied with the pictures I took because it was my first time but it is a learning curve.

I did not plan much of Uyuni because everyone had said that everything is up to chances and luck. You might get lucky with day time weather, but not with night time weather. I heard so much of “what if” that I wanted to give myself a lot of buffer to work with.

I was debating doing a full day tour but I decided to wait to see what my body thinks the next day.

[DAY 12] From Peru to Bolivia

The bus … even the downstair ones wasn’t that comfortable. However, I still managed to pass out for a bit. A lot of places complained about the smell from the bathroom on the 1st floor but there was a door that separated the bathroom from the main area so I didn’t smell a thing.

Also, before taking off, a staff member took breakfast orders for when we arrive at Puno. It was 9 sol and optional and I ended up opting out and slept in more. After breakfast, we were taken to the pier and took a motor boat to the Uros Island. The guide gave us a quick history lesson about the Titikaka lake and how the Islands formed.

Once we were out in the lake, we were able to see several islands. These islands were all manmade with weed from the lake. It was amazing to see this plant-weaved island just floating. We visited Isla Los Uros Suma Chaulla and the people there were very welcoming. They also gave us a history lesson on their Island, how to weave the island, and how they stay afloat. It was facinating.

The people of Uros Islands made their living from tourism mostly. So their income was based on people like us visiting their islands and they also sold handmade souvenirs. The souvenirs are cheaper on mainland but they do have some unique Uros items. To get to the next location, you had the option of taking the motor boat or taking the Uros boat (weed boat in the picture above) for 10 sol. I opted for the Uros boat since it looked interesting.

Once we were on the other side, we got back to our bus and headed for the border. At the border, there were several money exchange booths and I exchanged all the sol to bol. The rate when I went was $1 = 6.9 bol.

Once you are done exchanging currency, you head up the road with your luggage and cross the border. They don’t do luggage checks or anything. And the last thing of Peru you see is the red Peru sign. A lot of people were in line taking pictures with it.

I also wanted to take a picture but I wasn’t able to get my Bolivian Visa before my trip so I had to get it here.

There is a Visa office at the entrance of Bolivia and there are stores here that have internet and printing for a fee if you didn’t bring all the documents. I forgot to bring a copy of my passport so I made a copy here for 1 bol. The Visa was $160 US dollars and you have the option to pay with cash or credit card. They don’t take cash that is damaged so be aware.

It took about 15 minutes to get my Visa and the Peru Hop bus had to wait for me. The officers here are not fast workers and they do make you wait. So if you think time might be an issue, make sure to get your visa in your country before coming.

Also, people were telling me that I might need to get some shots before to apply for the Visa but the office did not ask for any sort of document. However, I have heard from others that they do check for shots and if you don’t have them at the border, you might be out of luck. So again, get your Visa before coming.

Once we were all cleared, we got on a different bus (this one said Bolivia Hop) and headed to Copacabana. This was a beautiful lake city. It was the same lake that bordered Puno, Lake Titikaka. We were now seeing it from the Bolivian side. It seemed like a resort town. With lots of small boats all around.

I was super hungry since I didn’t get to eat breakfast. So we headed to the waters. When you walk towards the lake, on the left side, you see a lot of tents. These tents were all individual Kiosk for Trucha, Trout. They are caught in Lake titikaka and are famous “must have” for this region. We visited Kiosk #12. My companion told me that #12 was famous and the chef has been featured on different shows and such. When we got to the kiosk, it smelled so good and made me even more hungry!

We ordered the garlic trout and the Diablo. With a name like that, I thought maybe it might be spicy. Wrong guess. But it was still really good! The fish was cooked to perfection. The outside was crispy and in the inside was juicy. And the flavors were on point! And both of the trouts came with yuka fries and was very filling. We must have came during the workers lunch time because right after cooking our food, the staff and chef all came out to eat. They were very generous and gave us some of their foods (different things from the menu) and they were also really good. I think one of them was the pork rind and it was really juicy! They also gave us 1 soda for free! So for 2 trucha, 1 soda, and some other tasty foods, it cost us 50 bol.

After lunch, we decided to walk to the top of the trail “El Calvario” to get a better view of the city. The hike was pretty hard. Lots of rocks. Also, there is no bathroom up top so make sure to use the down at the bottom of the trail. The trail itself only took about 50 minutes and we were able to spend some time at the top just enjoying the view, taking in fresh air, and laying about.

There are no signs that point to the trail but since there is only one trail, all the locals know where it is. Also, google map works pretty well here and I used it to find the entrance. There is plenty of time to do the hike so I highly recommend it! I mean, look at that view!

After the hike, we headed to the local bar/restaurant to relax before getting on the bus again. With the Peru/Bolivia Hop bus, you get a wrist band that gives you some discount at local places. This KM Zero Pub was one of them. I ordered Pineapple Juice which was 10 bol but I got a 15% discount! Score. It was so refreshing to just sit, relax, and drink.

The bus was supposed to come at 6pm so we walked back to the lake side but the bus was nowhere to be found. So I walked around the pier area and took some pictures as the sun was setting. There was a couple playing some music by the lake and it was just beautiful. If I had an extra day, I would have visited the Isla del Sol but I have been told that there were some violent incidents recently. So I opted out. Maybe next time.

Once we got back on the bus, I thought this was it. That we were heading to La Paz. Yes, we were heading to La Paz but we had one more major stop. We got off at this lake and we had a take a smaller boat across the lake and they also had to ferry the bus. It was fascinating! Once we were on the other side, there was a bathroom (1 bol) and some food stalls. Use the bathroom here since the new bus doesn’t have a bathroom in them. And if you needed dinner, this is the spot. The 2 stalls I took a look at were both sandwich places and the prices ranged from 7 ~ 15 bol. They don’t really have a menu and I believe you pick the meat and if you want fried egg or not. If you are feeling adventurous, go for it!

Once we were back on the bus, they played a movie for us (Major Payne) and gave us popcorn. If you are interested in seeing the movie, sit up front! And with almost perfect timing, we arrived in La Paz as the movie was ending. The guide took everyone’s accommodation so we were being dropped off one by one. Most of us were not dropped off right in front of the hotels but our guide told us which way to walk. Overall, the bus ride was good and I would recommend it to people who are traveling between Cusco and La Paz and have time to spare.

Our accommdation for the night was at Loki Boutique. We were only staying 1 night since we were going to Uyuni the next morning but it was a good place. The room was a bit chilly even with the space heater but the shower had plenty of hot water. I mean.. really HOT. And the blankets were thick enough.

[Day 10] Cusco City Tour and Cooking Class

We’ve been in Cusco since day 5 but didn’t get to explore all of the city yet! So we dedicated the morning to just wandering around town. This was also the first day I got to sleep in a little. The weather was perfect for a city tour. We decided to walk around some major parts of the town and just sightsee and shop around.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de Armas. We’ve seen it in passing so it was just nice to walk through it and take in the beautiful architecture. The two major buildings that stand out is the Cusco Cathedral and the Natural History Museum. During our visit, the City started to renovate(?) the Plaza’s central sculpture piece but the Plaza was just bustling with people.

Right next to the Museum, there was a Starbucks. One thing I like to do is to try different frapps from different country’s Starbucks. And Peru had one unique one called Lucuma frapp. I just had to try it. So we headed to Starbucks and was quite amazed at their courtyard and their view of the plaza. If you want to grab some coffee and get a nice view, I recommend this place! (Of course, you might be able to find a nice local cafe nearby too).

So Lucuma. I’m not sure if I would say I liked it but it definitely was interesting. The explanation the staff gave me was that it would be close to a butterscotch flavor? But to me, it was just a tad bit too sweet and I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the lucuma flavor 😦 If anyone else has tried this in Peru, please let me know what you thought!

After grabbing the drink and enjoying the view, we were getting a bit hungry so we headed to Plaza San Blas area to find some cafe. From the guide book, it said that the San Blas area was like the “art-sy” area and was up and coming. There was an outdoor market here as well (mostly handmade goods) but also a lot of cafes and smaller restaurants. It was definitely less crowded but you still got the beauty of Cusco.

One thing. San Blas is on the hillside so from Plaza de Armas, it is going to be an upward walk. Be prepared. (But most of Cusco is this way)

While walking around, we found a nice cafe named Pantastico and bought several empanadas and a pie maracuya to go. I’ve heard of the maracuya fruit and I wanted to try it. They packed everything neatly and we headed back to the Plaza to eat while taking in the view. The empanadas were amazing and filled our stomach but the pie was too sour. If you like sour things, try maracuya!

As I said earlier, there was a small open marketing happening here. While looking around, we found ladies who had alpacas for photos! I’m not a big fan of paying for photos, the baby alpaca just got to me. The ladies are very nice and they let you take pictures with the baby on your lap or you holding him. After several pictures and 5 sol later, we were off exploring again.

From San Blas, we started to talk towards Mirador de Plaza San Cristobal. It was a bit of a hike but the road there was full of things to see. Lots of cafes with great views, colorful drawings on the street walls, and just the view of the city from up top! 3 combo! At first, walking up the hill was so hard! I felt like it was never ending (similar to Machu Picchu) but the interesting surrounding area made the hike more enjoyable.

And Mirador! 100% recommend if you want to see Plaza de Armas from above. The view of the city here is spectacular!

You can see things that are only visible when you are up top, such as the EL PERU written on the mountain. Here is a video of the view from San Cristobal.

Once we were done walking around the city, we headed to our cooking class. It’s always fun to take local cooking classes to learn about the history of the food culture and also to learn some new recipes. You never know what you might learn.

So after some research, we decided to take a class with Peruvian Cooking Class. The classes were small but offered various types of dishes. The location was very easy to find and was about 10 minute walking distance from Plaza de Armas. The first floor of the building was the cooking station and the second floor was the waiting room/dining room area.

When you make the booking, you have the option to choose which menu you want to make. The choice of menu is decided by the person who made the first booking for that day. So if you have something you really want to make, make the reservation first! We decided on menu #2 : Pisco Sour/Chicha Morada, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and chocolate.

Once we checked in, we found out that we were the only 2 people taking the class. Score! A private class. It was awesome! They even let us change the menu a bit. So we picked Chicha Morada as our drink, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and Arroz con Leche!

With the chef of the day, Yuli, we first got to try some local fruit: Granadilla, Tumbo, Lucuma, Perito Abuel, Lima, Pacay, and Golden Berry. I hope I got all the spelling right 🙂 Granadilla was my favorite and it tasted like passionfruit but much sweeter. Tumbo was also good. It used to be used in ceviche back in the days but when the Spanish brought Lemon, it was replaced. I got a real taste of Lucuma here and it was closer to a persimmon. Perito Abuel was small and tasted like sour apple. Lima looked like a small citrus but actually it didn’t taste like a citrus. It can actually replace lemongrass. Pacay looked like cotton balls. Very furry. And Golden Berry looked like a cherry tomato but very super sour.

After tasting several fruits, we made our grocery list and walked to San Pedro Market to buy our ingredients. What we didn’t know was that the Market was CLOSED until Monday! They were doing a massive cleanup for the festival.

So we went to a smaller market behind it. It was more local and less clean but we were still able to get everything. While shopping, Yuli continued to talk to us about Peruvian food and culture. She even helped us get some Granadilla for later.

Once we had everything, we headed back to the shop and started cooking. It was so much fun. Yuli explained everything, step by step, and demonstrated just a little and we had to do most of the actual work. She showed us how to cook the meal as well as plating it just right. The Palta Rellena was a chicken and potato salad and Lomo Saltado was stir fried beef with rice (one of my favorite Peruvian dish) and Arroz con Leche was sweet rice pudding. The meal was extremely satisfying. The fact that I made the food made it even better 😉 After cooking, we took our food upstairs and got to enjoy it as dinner. It was delicious.

And satisfied, we went shopping. I wanted to get some alpaca scarves for my family members so I visited SOL ALPACA. I wanted to get them something that was more authentic and trustworthy when they claimed 100% alpaca. SOL was considered a luxury brand and everything gave it a high rating so I gave it a try. Everything here was really soft and it did not give any scratchy feeling what-so-ever. Everything was really pretty and I wanted to buy everything but I stuck to my plan and purchased different colored scarves. Next time, I want to buy more!

[Day 5] Off to Cusco

I love being on schedule and planning everything accordingly. But what is a vacation without sleeping in? I purposefully booked a flight flight to Cusco so I get catch up on some zzz’s. And it was so worth it.

The hotel did not provide free breakfast but my travel companion, Nina, brought cup noodles with her. We asked the hotel staff if we can get some hot water and they were extremely hospitable. They let us use the breakfast area, provided us with hot water and drinking water.

After brunch, we headed to the airport. The hotel had an airport shuttle every 30 minutes and it was very convenient. The airport was less than 10 minutes away from the hotel and we were promptly dropped off. The shuttle was first come, first serve, so come early.

The check-in line was relatively long but moved quickly. And the security line was really fast, like 5 minutes fast. I didn’t think it was going to be so quick so that gave me more time in the lounge. I have the Priority Pass so I was able to use one of the lounge and relax before the flight.

10 minutes before the boarding time, Nina and I moved to the gate. The agents made 3 lines and had the passengers line up according to their boarding pass. I believe they were done by seats (window first, middle seat second, and aisle last) to make the boarding process faster. Personally, I couldn’t tell if the seating went faster. One downside of the lines was that friends and family couldn’t wait in line together since they were separated by seats.

The flight was short and uneventful. The airline provided drinks and snack. One tip I can give you for the flight is to make sure to get the left window seat to get a great view of the Andes Mountain. The snowy tops of the Andes is a sight you don’t want to miss.

View from my left side window

Cusco airport is small. Once you are at the baggage claim, you will see all the tourism booth and some taxi drivers holding signage. Some people were starting to feel the altitude sickness and luckily, the tourism booths were giving away coca tea, leaves, and candy. I took pills 12 hours before landing in Cusco so I didn’t feel any different.

From the airport, we headed to our tour agency, Fabian Tour. It was about 20 minutes from the aiport to the heart of Cusco, where Fabian Tour was located. It was right next to Plaza Mayor del Cusco, very easy to find. It was also right next to Inca Rail’s office, in case you wanted to book your trip to Machu Picchu separately. We wanted to book 3 tours with them: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and Humantay Lake. However, Fabian recommended that we only book two tours for now and see if have enough energy to do three. So we booked the first two: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca (45 sol) and Sacred Valley + Machu Picchu ($189)

After booking our tour, we checked into my acommodation, Danna Inn. It was about 10-15 minute walk from the Plaza but our tours included pick ups so we were ok with being a bit far from the Plaza. However, the Plaza is on a slight hill and Danna Inn is on the lower end so getting to the Plaza required a bit of a hike.

The room itself wasn’t too big for a triple. We couldn’t all have our luggage open at the same time. But luckily, the beds were a nice size so we made it work. The window was facing the street but the noise level wasn’t too bad.

We got a triple at Danna Inn

Also, Cusco was very cold compared to Lima. Asked for a radiator to heat up the room but it was still very cold. I was glad I brought extra thick pajamas. We left the radiator running and headed out to grab dinner. We made reservation at Chicha and since we had some time before our reservation, we decided to roam around the city a bit. Even at night time, Cusco felt safe. Cusco had a lot of alley ways but since it was a tourist town, there were a lot of people in each of the streets.

While walking around, we saw the 12 Angled Stones. There were a lot of people waiting to take pictures with it. It wasn’t blown away by this but it was quite interesting to see how the walls were made to fit so perfectly. That was pretty impressive. This area also had a lot of shops so there were a lot of “We have the best price. Come see!” action happening.

After seeing the area, we headed to Chicha por Gaston Acurio for dinner. Inside the restaurant had a very home-y feel to it, with on side of the wall having a semi-open kitchen. We had made a group reservation but since the other party was going to be late, we ended up being split. 3 of us shared a table and we wanted to do a family style. So we ordered Chicha Snack, Alpaca Curry, and Timpu. Chicha Snack was a sampler plate that had Alpacha anticucho, stuffed potatoes, lomo saltado, and native potatoes with cream. We had to try Timpu just because we didn’t know what it was. The discription was “Cusquenian sancochoado with beef, bacon, lamb ribs, potatoes, and other veggies, all cooked in stock.”

Alpaca meat was good. It had more flavor than I expected. It was more on the dry side but had a good rub. We also go to try some interesting local specialties. I personally really enjoyed the dinner but it was on the more pricer side. But you got to try regional food by Gaston Acurio so it could be worth it for some travelers.

My meal at Chicha

After a great meal, we stopped by Mifarma for more sorochi pills, just in case. I didn’t feel any altitude in Cusco but you can never be too prepared. We had to get up early in the morning so we decided to go to bed early.