City · Peru · South America

Lima

The bus from Huarez to Lima ended up taking nearly 10 hours as the Friday evening traffic around the city was so bad. I had originally planned to find a fun hostel for the weekend but as I still had no voice, opted for a B&B instead. I was staying in the Miraflores district which has plenty of bars and restaurants and is close to the tourist attractions in the centre.

On Saturday morning I headed into the city by bus. The bus system in Lima is very good with several fast lines on segregated lanes on the main roads and so can move around pretty quickly. Payment is via a contactless card similar to an Oyster which felt very modern, particularly after the bus system in Ecuador. 

At Plaza Mayor, I just happened to get there in time to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony outside the Palacio de Gobierno, complete with marching band. After some lunch I walked through Plaza San Martin to the Museo de Arte which houses a real mix of different art from stone and textiles created by a variety of indigenous tribes, religious art once the conquistadors arrived, and more recent work, often influenced by European artists from the Impressionist onwards. 

As I was feeling much better, despite still not being able to talk, I took myself out for dinner to an awesome Peruvian restaurant called àmaZ, where all the dishes are inspired by the Amazon. More details on the amazing food in a separate blog post.

On Sunday I had a fairly chilled out day wandering along the coastal path and had proper Peruvian ceviche for lunch, although I’ve decided that I’m not a huge fan. 

Monday was my last day in Lima so I visited the cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace as well as some more pre-Colombian ruins called Huaca Pucllana, made from adobe and clay. Located right in the centre of the Miraflores area, they were originally in a pyramid shape.

City · Food · Peru · Restaurants · South America

àmaZ

Whilst in Lima I decided to treat myself to dinner at àmaZ, where all the food is inspired by the Amazon. It is also listed as one of the up and coming restaurants by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants so I thought definitely worth a try! I sat at the bar and started with a Pisco Sour, a cocktail made from the local spirit Pisco. It contains egg white and lemon juice as well as Angostura Bitters so is quite sour (who would’ve thought!) but is very yummy!

The restaurant serves many of the starters in half portions so I decided to try one as an appetiser with my cocktail. I chose Amazonian Snail, which was served back inside the massive shell! In many ways this was much better than French snails which have been enveloped in garlic butter, as I could taste the delicate but earthy flavour of the snail itself and it definitely was rubbery, just slightly chewy. 

As a starter I had tuna and passion fruit ceviche. Served with very soft avocado which balanced the acidity of the passion fruit, this was the best ceviche I have ever had! 

For main course I had Amazonian fish cooked with onions and tomatoes inside a bamboo leaf. Soft and delicate, all the flavour remained in the juices floating inside the leaf. I asked the sommelier for a suitable glass of white wine to accompany the dish and was given a Spanish white Rioja, which I’m not usually a fan of, but it went very well with the fish and the slight acidity and sweetness from the tomatoes and onions.

After all that food, I was sadly far too full for dessert as they looked amazing!

So an expensive meal for Peru but relatively cheap compared to London. A cocktail, glass of wine, bottle of water, appetiser, starter and main course all came to a grand total of £45. A fab treat for me! 

Outdoor activities · Peru · South America

Northern Peru

After three days staying at Kamala Beach Lodge in Montañita, I was feeling a bit broken. Going to bed once its already light and doing shots before breakfast will do that to you apparently! As I’d lost my voice completely and had a bad cough and aore throat, I decided to take it easy until I was feeling better and able to socialise again. 

I took the overnight bus from Guayaguil in Ecuador to Trujillo in Peru which took 18 hours including the stop at passport control. The bus was much nicer than everything else I’d travelled on so far and it had been only $10 more to go first class so I had a seat that reclined further, my own tv as well as dinner and breakfast. Thankfully I slept most of the way and got to Trujillo at 9am. 

I had booked into a hotel for the night and was able to check in straight away. I had a wander around the colonial old town and then went to visit some pre-Colombian ruins outside the town called Chan Chan. As the city is very near the coast, most of the walls are made with adobe bricks containing a lot of sand and its the largeat ruin in the world of adobe. Many of the decorations appear to be made from compacted sand and are quite impressive particularly as they are so old. Many of them are now refurbished but some are still the originals. 

As I was still feeling rubbish, I decided to change my plans slightly and rather than taking a couple of night buses as I headed to Lima in order to have more time for activities during the day, I took the buses during the day instead. My next stop was Huaraz which meant travelling back into the mountains from sea-level, up to 3000m. The views from the bus during the 8 hour journey were amazing as Huaraz is located between two mountain ranges, Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra. I was staying in a lovely little guesthouse called 

where I had breakfast on the sunny roof terrace both mornings. Even from here in the town, the mountains are amazing and the two ranges give a beautiful contrast to each other.
On the one full day I had in Huaraz, the weather was really sunny so I felt that I had to do something outside, particularly as I’d changed the plans and was rather disappointed that I wasn’t feeling up to doing a couple of full day treks that had been on my list – the dry air because of the altitude was also really not helping my cough. I walked up and out of the town for 2 hours to some pre-Colombian ruins which looked very striking with the white hills behind them. Unfortunately the trek had left me feeling exhausted so to get back into town I jumped into a collectivo, a beaten up old minibus that acts as a cheap bus! 

Next day was the bus to Lima. 

City · Ecuador · Outdoor activities · South America

Ecuador – the land of ice and fire

Having spent longer in Colombia than planned, Ecuador became a bit of a whistle stop tour to see and do everything I had planned! I started in Quito, the capital, where I spent a few days visiting various churches and museums, including the Museo de la Ciudad and Basilica del Voto Nacional where you can climb up to the top under the roof, did a walking tour of the La Florestra area and saw some cool street art, and visited El Panecillo a huge statue above the city of the Madonna.

I also hiked up to the top of the Pichincha volcano. The TeleferiQo is a cable car which goes from 3117m in the city to 3945m – after that you can walk the rest of the way to the top which is 4600m. It took me just under 2 hours which is quite fast although I did need a few stops on the way to catch my breath as it was quite hard work and the altitude kept giving me a headrush! It was a really sunny, clear day and the views from the top were amazing though – I could see several other volcanos across the country, many with snow-capped peaks.

After Quito I headed to the Amazon and you can read about my damp adventures there in my other blog post.

From Cuyabeno I had a quick overnight stop in Tena before arriving in Baños which is an adventure town in some very green mountains. I visited the hot springs which pour out of the mountain and on a Friday evening were full of three-generations of local families. The next day I went canyoning which was really good fun! The weather wasn’t great but it didn’t really matter when you’re soaking wet anyway!

After Baños I headed to Latacunga where I climbed up to the refuge of Volca Cotopaxi, which at 4800m is the highest point that its currently safe to climb to. Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad with clouds rolling in and a mist engulfing the valley so any view of the surrounding mountains and volcanos was hidden. At the park entrance at 3200m it was only 10 degrees so I have no idea how cold it was at the refuge but it felt freezing! The wind and rain made the 45 minute walk from the car park pretty horrible, especially as the terrain is very gravely. Its hard to walk in the same as sand, although its actually volcanic ash, as for every step you take you then slip back down the slope a little. At least it makes going downhill fast which only took about 15 minutes! After that we walked around Latacunga Lake and had lunch before heading back into Latacunga.

The following day I went to Quilatoa with two French guys, Yannick and Fabien, where we walked around Laguna Quilatoa. The lake is inside a volcanic crater so walking around the rim was actually quite difficult and not very flat at all! We stayed the night in a cosy hostel which thankfully had wood burning stoves in all the rooms as it was very windy and freezing cold!

After being in the centre of the country, I decided to head to Montanita for a few days by the beach. Unfortunately though, the weather was warm but rather grey and cloudy so no sunbathing but lots of boozing and partying!

Coast · Ecuador · Nature · South America

Whale watching on the way to Isla de Plata

Whilst in Ecuador I decided not to go to the Galapagos Islands as the price was pretty high so instead I visited Puerto Lopez on the Pacific coast to go to Isla de Plata, also known as the poor man’s Galapagos. 

It was a really good time of year to visit as the majority of the world’s population of humpback whales come to this area for breeding during July and August. Whilst on the trip out to the island, the boat stopped several times to see the whales breaching which was an amazing sight!

Upon arriving at the island, there was time for snorkelling. Sadly it was quite a grey day so the water wasn’t very clear, but there were still lots of different fish to see and giant turtles swam right up to the boat!

Once on the island, the guide took the group on a two hour hike during which we saw hundreds of pairs of blue-footed boobies who come to the island for breeding. The whole day wasn’t a substitute for the Galapagos but it was awesome to be able to get so close to nature.

Ecuador · Nature · Outdoor activities · South America

My love/hate relationship with The Amazon 

So I can’t say that I loved the Amazon, but I can’t say that I hated it either! I’m sure I’ll look back on it as an awesome experience but right now I feel a bit traumatised by the whole thing as I’ve had one cold shower in 4 days, been bitten by mosquitoes, sand mites, midges and possibly even spiders, half my clothes are soaking wet and the rest of my belongings are all damp! Clearly I’m a bit daft as I hadn’t expected it to rain quite so much in the rainforest! 

After a night bus journey through a huge thunderstorm I arrived in Lago Agrio to await pick up from my next accommodation, Nicky Lodge. We were driven for about 2.5 hours towards a nature reserve before stopping for lunch. It was then a 2 hour canoe ride along the Rio Cuyabeno to Nicky Lodge inside Cuyabeno National Park. During the canoe ride there were lots of animals to see including a sloth, a morph butterfly which is quite large and a beautiful blue colour, tree bats and five of the ten different species of monkey who are native to the Ecuadorian Amazon – wooley, red howler, capuccine, squirrel and saki. However half way through the journey, it started to rain and just when I thought it couldn’t rain any harder, it got worse! Not so pleasant in an open canoe and I don’t think I could have been any wetter! Once we arrived at the Lodge and were allocated rooms, there was some chill out time before starting a night walk once it was dark, although I had already seen a frog on my bed!! We didn’t go too far from the camp on the walk but still saw lots of insects including crickets, grass hoppers, centipedes, and spiders including a couple of tarantulas. After this the group had dinner together and were told our plans for the next day. 

On Tuesday morning there was meant to be a 6.30 bird watching walk but as it was raining, the plan changed and we went out in the boat to see if there was anything to see. Unfortunately, the rain seems to make most of the animals disappear so we headed back to camp feeling quite soaked again!

After breakfast the next activity was walking through the forest to meet locals from the Siona tribe. We saw lots of insects as we walked and learnt about many of the medicinal properties of the different plants and trees. With the Siona ladies we dug up the roots of a yuka plant and stripped off the outer layer. Once we’d washed the roots we then had to grate them which took quite a long time! After that the water needed to be squeezed out leaving a dry soft mixture. This was then passed through a sieve to make a flour and it was ready to cook with. One of the ladies showed us how to use the flour to make bread in a wide clay pan over the fire and then I got to have a go too! We tried the yuka bread with tuna salad, guacamole and chilli sauce and then chocolate sauce. It was quite dry but amazing that nothing else needed to be added and its vegan too!

We returned to the Lodge for lunch and chill out time before heading out on the boat towards the lagoon where I jumped off the boat and swam in the Amazon! The water was actually fairly warm although it was still raining! It was dark by this point and we drove back to camp looking for nocturnal animals and saw plenty of birds and bats. 

It rained all night long and the early boat tour on Wednesday morning was, secretly thankfully, cancelled due to the weather. The highlight of the morning was seeing a snake in the dining area having seen frogs there the previous evening. We had a walk through the forest as our main morning activity and learnt more about the plants and trees as well as the animals and insects that live there. There were hundreds of mosquitoes which was quite off putting but as I was wearing a waterproof jacket, trousers and wellie boots as well as a ton of insect repellent, it was only my hands and face which got bitten! 

In the afternoon, miraculously the sun started to come out! We went out in a canoe without a motor so we could just drift downstream. The peace and quiet, without even the sound of rain was amazing! We saw quite a few more animals and birds including some tiny pocket monkeys and lots of birds including different kingfishers.

Typically on the last day the sun was out and the forest felt completely different! It was much easier to see animals, including a white billed toucan, tamarind monkeys, jaguar herons, macauws and yellow-handed titi monkeys as the canoe took us back to Cuyabeno Bridge for the bus journey back to civilisation. 

 

 

    City · Colombia · South America

    Medellín

    I travelled by bus to Medellín on Friday morning which took several hours on windy roads through the hills but the views were once again amazing! Medellín was to be my final stop in Colombia which made me rather sad as this country has been amazing! 

    My 6 days in Medellín were split into 3 parts. The first 2 nights I spent in El Poblado and went partying until late with people from my hostel on Friday and then went out drinking with Antoine who I’d met in my hostel in the coffee region. I did a few touristy things, visiting Plaza Botero, full of large Botero sculptures, and Museo de Antioquia which houses lots of Colombian art. 

    Sunday and Monday were more chilled out – I spent a couple of nights in the Sheraton which was amazing to have a private room with so much space and even a walk in shower! I walked up Cerro Nutibara, an 80m hill in the middle of the city to Pueblito Paisa, a miniature version of a typical Antioquian town. The views along the whole city in the valley were pretty impressive. I also started Spanish lessons in the mornings as I haven’t been picking it up as quickly as I’d like. Although I can often understand people, I can’t always speak back! On Monday afternoon I tried to visit Parque Arvi with Vincent, a Dutch guy who I’d met in Cartagena. We got the cable car to Santa Domingo but the next cable car was closed for maintenance so we couldn’t go any further which was a real shame! 

    On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I stayed at the Black Pine hostel and continued lessons in the mornings. I was very lucky as no-one else had booked the morning group class so I was basically having private lessons. I also found time to visit the Jardin Botanical, do the famous Medellín walking tour (which was definitely worth while) and catch up with Rachel, who I’d also met in Cartagena, for a couple of nights out. 

    Thursday afternoon was the end of my time in Colombia and I have loved this country! It is so diverse and people are so friendly and welcoming. There are so many things that I still haven’t done and would love to come back and do at some point in the future!