August-Iguazu

Before leaving Brazil we wanted to visit Iguazu Falls. Although some people say you only need to visit one side and Argentina’s side is better we wanted to visit both sides to fully appreciate this incredible site. Both sides are different and we think each side is worth a visit.  In Brazil you get inside the site, almost surrounded by waterfalls whereas in Argentina you get to see the impressive Devil’s Throat up close and some particularly pretty sections of waterfalls. We were really impressed with the walkways, both countries have ensured that you get to see as much of the waterfalls as possible. I am Canadian and I love our Niagara Falls but Iguazu is on a whole other level.

August-Southern Pantanal

Now that we are nearing the end of our trip when we find somewhere nice, we stay for several days. Pousada Aguape was one such place, it is a cattle ranch as well as a lodge/B and B and fishing camp. The Pousada is home to lots of birds and several other species of wildlife including Anteaters, Puma, Foxes, Capybara, Armadillos and Gators. We particularly enjoyed watching the Toucans and Macaws, this was the first time we were able to get close and spend a lot of time with several different bird species. I can fully appreciate now why people become passionate bird watchers.

Click here to view our Pantanal Flickr album.

August-Northern Pantanal

We spent the first week of August in Porto Jofre doing boat trips to see the abundant wildlife in the Northern Pantanal. We were very lucky as we just showed up and we were able to spend four days tagging along with other people on their pre-arranged boat trips. This also meant we had a guide with us, Juan, who was great at spotting wildlife and teaching us about the local flora and fauna. We saw all the wildlife we were hoping to see and so much more. When we could no longer get spots on boat trips we moved on to explore the Southern Pantanal.

Click here to view our Pantanal Flickr album.

July-Bolivia & Brazil

Joe and I don’t like going to long without seeing wildlife so we were keen to get to Santa Cruz, the “unofficial sloth capital of the world,” what?! If you have not already fallen in love with Sloths, watch Lucy Cooke’s delightful and eye opening TED talk.  We did our usual city chores in Santa Cruz; groceries, filling up with diesel and water and looking for good bakeries but it was the Botanical Garden we enjoyed most. It is a lovely green oasis in the city and as the sun goes down hundreds and hundreds of Egrets come to nest by the lake. We did see one Sloth, thanks to the helpful staff.

There are few places better than the Pantanal in Brazil for wildlife viewing. The Pantanal is the worlds largest wetland and a UNESCO World Nature Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve and we were really excited to get there.  On our way to the border we stopped at San Miguelito wildlife reserve and ranch. This was a little gem of a spot, we camped for two nights and did a guided wildlife tour. This was a great introduction for us to some of the wildlife we would see in the Pantanal (check out these interesting facts about the Pantanal). Thanks to our guides’ knowledge and keen eyes we saw foxes, Cuati, Caiman, Toucans and more bird species that we could keep count.

On July 30th we drove the Transpantaneira highway to Porto Jofre in the Northern Pantanal, it was a great drive consisting of over 120 wooden bridges of which a few were a little nerve wracking but we saw lots of wildlife. Once we got camped, we booked a boat trip right away and we could not believe our luck. We saw Jaguars and Giant River Otters, two species we were really hoping to see but we did not know what our chances would be and to our utter astonishment and delight we saw them every day from the boat.  Click here to view our latest Flickr album.

July-Bolivia

When we left Sucre we only drove 6kms to a unique and amazing site of dinosaur trackways.  We spent a very enjoyable morning at the Parque Cretacico which contains the Cal Orck’O dinosaur tracks, “the largest, most diverse collection of dinosaur tracks on the planet. Across a limestone slab 1.2km long and 80m high, Cal Orko sports more than 5,000 footsteps, with 462 individual trails.” (Dinosaur Tracking in Bolivia, The Guardian).

Parque Cretacico

The tour of the trackways did not start until Noon which was annoying initially because we had to wait in line in the sun and it was getting hotter by the minute. The reason for the 12pm start time became apparent as the tour got under way. The wall with the footprints is at an angle that makes the afternoon light much better for viewing the tracks. The Parque Cretacico is situated in a working cement plant but the area used for the museum and exhibits is really well done with more than 24 life-sized replicas of 12 species of dinosaurs. There is an aptly chosen musical score playing in the background which made the experience very immersive and fun. We had a great time.

 

Click here to view our latest Flickr album.

July-Bolivia

Most tourists come to Bolivia to see the World’s largest Salt Flat. The Uyuni Salt Flat is what was left behind by a huge prehistoric lake that went dry leaving behind a salt flat of approximately 10,000 square miles. Uyuni’s landscape is stunning, dotted with cactus islands and home to flamingos it also has almost half the world’s Lithium reserve. A popular activity on the salt flat is to take perspective photos so of course we had to take a few just to be on trend. We also spent the night out on the salt flat which is at an average altitude of 3700 meters so it was a cold night but the star gazing was wonderful, seeing the Milky Way never gets old.

 

perspective photo on Uyuni salt flat

Sucre was our next stop and the drive from Uyuni to Sucre was yet another scenic and picturesque stretch of road. Sucre is a designated UNESCO world heritage site because of its many pristine and historically significant buildings. Also called the “white city” Sucre has a great vibe, easy to explore on foot and stunning as the sun goes down and shadows are cast on the many white walled buildings.

 

Click here to view our latest Flickr album.

June-Bolivia

Every other traveler we had spoken to about Bolivia, loved it so we were pretty excited when we crossed the border in mid-June. Unfortunately our first impression was not great because of all the garbage, we thought Peru was bad but sadly Bolivia was worse. Looking past this, Bolivia is indeed a beautiful country with a lot to see. Our first stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tiwanaku, named after what is believed to have been one of the most important civilizations prior to the Inca Empire. It was also one of the oldest and highest urban cities ever built. Once again we chose to do a guided tour which we found really helped us appreciate the significance of this ancient site. It was fascinating to compare the differences in these ancient cultures, Tiwanaku has some incredible statues, very skillfully built and yet so different from the Inca.

From Tiwanaku we drove North to see the Cordillera Real mountain range, it was another beautiful drive. We found a lovely camping spot, half an hour from Sorata overlooking a picturesque valley where we spent a couple of days. We both lost our motivation to look into doing some hiking in the area and instead drove towards Sorata to take in the mountain views and then we turned around and headed back South to La Paz. I had read that the first view you get of La Paz is pretty amazing and it was! All of a sudden the view opens up and you see the city spread out in a bowl surrounded by mountains, very impressive.

 

 

 

 

June-Peru

When we left Cusco we drove to Rainbow Mountain. There seems to be quite a bit of debate about Rainbow Mountain; the photos marketed to tourists are heavily saturated which may result in people being disappointed and as with a lot of tourist hot spots there is concern about the human impact on the natural environment. We drove in on a different route to all the tourist buses and it was a beautiful drive. When we arrived at the parking lot we could see lots of people at the viewpoint, we chose to wait a little while because we knew the tour groups would leave shortly after 12pm to get people back to Cusco. The trail on our side was considerably shorter, a half hour hike as opposed to a three hour hike and by the time we got to the the viewpoint it was almost empty. Tourists are not allowed to walk on the actual Rainbow Mountain so considering the hundreds and hundreds of people that are now visiting the site it seems to be managed quite well. All in all our experience was very good.

The concerns for the environment are justified, we are not great at taking care of natural habitats if it means we have to do without or to compromise.  Rainbow mountain was formed by erosion which is happening everywhere, all the time. Mountains are constantly eroding, there are “Rainbow” mountains forming all over the world, this is a particularly nice one but we saw the beginnings of several future “Rainbow” mountains in South America.  I would not discourage people from visiting Rainbow Mountain but I would say USE GOOD JUDGEMENT, respect the environment and stay on the designated trails, ALWAYS.

 

 

June-Peru

Before leaving Cusco we wanted to visit another Inca site in the area, Sacsayhuaman. Sacsayhuaman is considered the first of the new seven wonders of the world. Researchers now believe that Machu Picchu (MP) was a royal palace but it is still not known if Sacsayhuaman was built as a fortress or a sanctuary. “The Incas called it the House of the Sun and the Spaniards called it a fortress because of its zig-zag shape and fortified towers. The construction, which is made up of three platforms one on top of the other, was one of the most important religious complexes of its time and celebrations are still held there today, every June 24 local inhabitants hold the Festival of the Sun.”(Peru-Explorer.com)

Like MP Sacsayhuaman was meticulously built with its stones fitting perfectly without using mortar but some of its’ stones are absolutely massive. The main wall of Sacsayhuaman which is built in a zigzag contains stones up to 5 meters high and 2.5 meters wide and weighing between 90 and 125 tons. Recent studies date the stones to over 3000 years old, and even older. This impressive structure took 50 years and 20,000 men to build.

“According to the Peruvian chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, “Sacsayhuaman was the greatest architectural work that the Incas built during its apogee.” (Peru-Explorer.com).

We did a guided tour of Sacsayhuaman it was fascinating to learn about its construction and history. The site is only 2kms from the center of Cusco and up another 300 meters which provides fantastic views over the city. Tours end with an exhilarating ride down a naturally formed rock slide, it certainly brought out the kid in me! It was a great way to end our visit to Cusco.

May-Machu Picchu

I wanted to visit Machu Picchu before June, the start of the busy tourist season and we did it, we got there on May 31st!  I worried that we may not get entry tickets at the last minute but luckily it was no problem. We booked our train tickets from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, our hotel in Aguas Calientes, entry tickets to the site and bus tickets all with only a few days notice.

We chose not to do a guided tour of Machu Picchu but we did want some background information so we watched a couple of documentaries before our visit and this was a good idea. MP was only built 500 years ago, it took fifty years to complete and abandoned after only 100 years but what I find absolutely fascinating and incredible is that this was a stone age society , no wheels or iron tools were used and the quality of the building and architecture is mind blowing, it is beautiful! How wonderful to have such a fine example of what can be accomplished with stone, ingenuity and let’s be honest A LOT of patience.

engineering marvel

Once we visited Machu Picchu we felt more relaxed, we could really enjoy our time in Cusco and we did, we stayed for almost three weeks, the longest we had stayed anywhere. I LOVED Cusco, it is without a doubt my favourite city in South America. The history, the architecture, the landscape, the vibe, I loved everything about it. My self control was tested by all the beautiful boutiques selling high quality Alpaca wool clothing, the artists selling colorful paintings and handmade crafts, the great restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops, Cusco has everything!

Click here to view our latest Flickr album.