Backpack Peru – With My One-Stop Travel Guide

What would I say about Peru that hasn’t been said before?

Raw-rugged Andes peaks, turquoise glaciers hung atop, deep canyons thriving with life, thick rainforests spread throughout the country, an arid coast bordering the Pacific and the land, giant vultures flying above in the sky, hundreds and thousands of ethnicities and languages and beliefs, roasted guinea pig sold as a delicacy, soft alpacas made into curries, a myriad of colors in a single piece of cloth, mix of Catholicism and indigenous religion flourishing in households, a series of rulers only to be paved out by the Incas and then the Spanish, rich produce of bright fruits and vegetables, vast reserves of silver, zinc, gold, and more, a lake as giant as an ocean and as blue as a sky, penis temples next to courtyards, hundreds of years old ruins worshipped by the indigenous and visited by the world, simple people with taut skin trying to make ends meet — these are the things Peru reminds me of.

Though most of the travelers started visiting Peru when as per an internet poll held in 2007 Machu Picchu was voted as one of the seven wonders of the world, now visitors want to see the entire stunning Perú.  During the entire five weeks that I backpacked Peru, mostly the South, I was trying to comprehend the stupendous landscape that kept unrolling in front of me wherever I went in the country.

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Copacabana, Bolivia– The Town on the Shores of Lake Titicaca

I traveled from Cusco to Bolivia in an overnight bus, and Copacabana was, first, just a rest stop before La Paz. While I slept in the bus on an almost full bed, I kept an eye open as travelers had told me that the buses in Bolivia are theft-prone. The bus didn’t stop anywhere, and nothing unpleasant happened. Our minivan crossed into Bolivia, and though the bus driver was reluctant to bring us to Copacabana, he left us in the town( thanks to some Chilean travelers who almost made the fraud driver cry.)

After getting down at Plaza Sucre, I strode straight towards the Casa del Sol homestay that my travel friend Alison had finalized for our few days stay in the lakeside village of Bolivia. That was my first time in Bolivia, and I didn’t know that the country would later surprise me with its indigenous culture, delicious salteñas, historical sites and relics, imposing mountains that never leave you alone, high cities, and the consumption of an insane amount of coca leaves to keep it all going.

Recommended Read: My Comprehensive Bolivia Travel Guide

I trudged up the cobbled lanes with my rucksack, passed by the main market, crossed the Basilica of the Virgin of Copacabana, turned to the left, and descended a very steep lane to find the homestay nestled in sunshine for the weather was pleasant at that time of the year(March). I had been used to the high altitude (almost 3900 meters above sea level) for I was coming from Cusco and also had been to the many islands on Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side.

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Hold on Even After Your Hands Bleed – For That Is The Only Way to Succeed

You would encounter sharp rocks jutting out of every mountain you wish to climb. Let me show you through my perseverant journey as a budding writer, that why do you have to keep going on even if your hands bleed. Never give up. Fight for your dreams. That is the only way to succeed. 

You start. You are exhilarated. You shriek at the top of your voice from the roof of your confidence. You laugh from your stomach. You give long motivational speeches to your friend about how they need to start living. You wake up singing a tune about the morning sunshine. You look forward to Mondays because life has taken a route that you could only dream about.

People say you are inspiring. They applaud you. Your friends like and share everything you post. They read everything you write. Some of them even help you correct the grammar. You are glad as being corrected by friends is better than being ridiculed by your other readers.

You don’t worry about the money, yet, as the savings save you. Your family is appalled by your decision. But they don’t say anything this time. The last time they did, their words dug a deep valley between you two.

Your Mac is your new Nietzsche. All your philosophy seems to pour out of it.

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Hike Colca Canyon – My Honest Guide to an Excruciating Trek

I did not know that there is a Colca Canyon in Peru until I reached the Arica Chile border to cross over into Peru. When everyone in Arequipa asked me if I was going to hike Colca Canyon, I nodded. As a lazy travel researcher, I believe in improvised navigation.

I decided that I would do the Colca Canyon hike, but I didn’t realize that this Peruvian canyon was twice as deep as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. When the travel company with whom I booked a two day Colca Canyon tour asked if I had any trekking experience, I thought about my recent Villarrica volcano endeavor. I nodded while dreading the Colca trek for though hiking the volcano had improved my confidence, the 3,300 meters deep canyon hike sounded ambitious.

But without a trip to Colca Canyon, my Arequipa visit would have been incomplete. So I paid 120 soles for the 2 days hike, ate a heavy dinner, and hit the bed early.

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How I Survived the Villarrica Volcano Hike

The alarm rang at 3:30 in the night. I peeked out of my blanket into the dark dorm room and wondered why I had decided to hike the 2,800-meter high volcano. Just then Alison, my Canadian friend, who was sleeping on the lowest bunk bed opposite me, snoozed the alarm on her iPhone, mumbled something, opened her eyes for a second, and then pulled the blanket over her head again. She was the one who made me signup for the Villarrica Volcano hike, the active volcano which had erupted a year ago.

I shut the alarm and got out of bed. Alison followed me. Though November is a summer month in Chile, Pucon, a city in the lake region, wasn’t that warm, especially at that early hour of the day. After barely washing our faces with the cold water, we walked to the cherry tree in the hostel where ten other hikers were following the directions of the Volcan Villarrica tour guides. We wore a pair of waterproof trousers over our track pants and strapped our rucksack in which we carried the rest of the gear on our backs. Then the twelve of us walked to the minivan that was to drive us to Villarrica 30 kilometers out of town.

I don’t know if I felt secured or alarmed when Alejandro, one of our three tour guides, told us that after the eruption in 2015 the government had mandated that there should be a guide accompanying every four trekkers.

After driving for an hour, we reached the base of Villarrica. Even at that wee hour, the area was flooded with minivans and travelers who wanted to climb the volcano. Until then I didn’t know that climbing volcano Villarrica is the sole reason for some of the tourists to visit Pucon, the city which Lonely Planet refers to as the mecca for adventure sports. And why wouldn’t it be? You can do river rafting, kayaking, hiking, skiing, horseback riding, and so much more in the bustling lake town of Pucon.

Recommended Read: My experiential travel guide to Chile

I craned my neck to look up to the summit. The twilight was dissolving away the darkness of the night. A rotund moon watched us from above. From its base, Rucapillán, or the house of the Pillán, (the Mapuche name of Volcano Villarrica) indeed looked like a superpower, an undefeatable giant.

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Samaipata – A Bolivian Village You Must Experience

Samaipata is easily one of my favorite places in Bolivia. Why? Maybe this quaint village in east Bolivia showed me how to slow down. Or perhaps the Bohemian attitude of Samaipata made me think about life differently. Or maybe the German and the Dutch and the Arabs who have settled down in Samaipata taught me that home is where the heart is.

I cannot pinpoint on any one reason, but Samaipata, a lush town in the foothills of Andes, calmed me down. It is after all the resting place in the mountains (the meaning of Samaipata in Quechua).

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Why You Must Visit Santa Cruz –The City of the Rich in Bolivia

When I had stuffed myself with enough streetside potato empanadas, I flew from La Paz to Santa Cruz. The dream was to see the wild jaguars in the forests near Santa Cruz.

Drifting off through a one-hour flight and waking up to chew upon the dry fruits that the Boliviana de Aviación attendant served, I landed at the Viru Viru international airport and hopped onto the airport shuttle to go to the central plaza. My travel friend was staying in a fancy hostel there.

As always, I had not read much about Santa Cruz. But my curiosity to talk to the local people makes up for my lethargic online research, mostly. In a casual conversation, the manager of the Santa Cruz airport shuttle told me that Bolivia was still furious about losing the Pacific coast to Chile. He added that the elite businessman and politicians of that wealthy city we were in had stopped caring as they were busy securing their bank balances.

And that is how I was introduced to Santa Cruz, a city where you would forget that you are in Bolivia, if not for the cholitas selling sinful salteñas on the roadside.

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Bolivia Visa for Indians – Getting the Visa from India and South America and the Extension Process in Bolivia

Bolivia gives a visa on arrival to most of the western countries (excluding the USA), to other South-American countries such as Chile and Peru, and India. But you can only get the Bolivia visa on arrival if you land at Santa Cruz or La Paz airports, and this visa costs USD 55. As I was crossing into Bolivia via land, I decided to get a visa before the visit, and so I went to the Bolivian consulate in Cusco. The visa application process was fast; the visa was free; I had the visa in an hour.

If you are planning to get a Bolivia visa on arrival, then please confirm by calling the Bolivian consulate in Delhi, as I have heard mixed reviews of Indians who tried getting a visa on arrival in Bolivia.

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My Essential Bolivia Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know About Bolivia

When I think of Bolivia, I remember stout, brick-red mountains.

Women adorning traditional Bolivian clothes mending potatoes in fluorescent open fields.

Men with wrinkled faces driving taxi up the steep streets and roads.

Potato and cheese empanadas being sold in kiosks on street sides.

Bolivian soaps running on the TV in local food courts.

People marching against the democratic government and Chile.

Golden sunshine beaming in through the blue sky.

Enormous graffitis watching us from the walls of a few big cities.

The charismatic salt flats and the blue lagoons sprinkled with pink flamingoes spread in the midst of the driest desert of the world.

Tiny villages bustling with people who went there looking for a simpler life from around the world.

A gorgeous high lake where the indigenous Bolivian people first established themselves but now only a couple of thousand Bolivians live on the legendary islands on the lake.

Sky trolleys flying people from their homes to run their chores in the administrative capital.

And the clingy high altitude that never leaves you oxygenated while you are traveling in Bolivia.

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My Chilean Host Mother Took Her Broken Heart and Said to Life Vamos (Let’s Go).

We were in September, and the sun had been hiding away for many days from Chiloé, a southern island of petite Chile, and rain thudded the brick-tiled roof unabashedly. As I shivered after a shower on a cold evening in Castro and to avoid getting scolded by my host mother when she would have seen my wet hair at dinner, I walked down to warm my head near the kitchen fire.

My host mother, who was already sitting at the round, wooden dining and sipping mate from her cup, called me to join her while patting the thick sofa cushion on her left. Perched on her right, the British volunteer, who was also teaching English with my program, rolled his eyes as he saw me accepting her invitation and approaching them. Respecting our usual friendly banter and rekindling the Indo-British feud, I threw some bad words in his direction. 

Then as the three of us huddled at the dining and sipped tea in the cozy kitchen of our uninsulated home, my host mother told us that her brother had just come home to request some wine, and then she warned us not to trust him as he was an alcoholic. 

Though I had seen her brother visit us every day, eat bread and cheese at the dining, drink wine, of which she kept a big bottle in her kitchen especially for him, I never realized that he was an alcoholic. Maybe I was focusing on cracking the heavy Spanish that darted to and fro between the siblings.

But his alcoholism was not the devastating part of the story. 

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