South America

We did a wonderful tour with Kuoni which included Lima, Cusco amd Pueuto Moldinara in Peru. Huata Hata, Copacabana, Tiwanaku and La paz in Bolivia,. Santiago in Chile , Buenos Aires and Iguacu in Argentina crossing into Brazil near Iguacu and finally flying to Rio where the tour ended.


Somewhere You Must See Before You Die

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 11, 2010

If you were asked to write a list of places you MUST see in the world I believe this would be on most people’s list. It was certainly on my list; it is a destination of a lifetime, a dream come true and one of the most fascinating archaeological finds of recent times. Everyone interested in travel recognises the picture postcard view but nothing prepares you for your own first sight of Machu Picchu when you see it for yourself the first time.

Machu Picchu was made a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1983 and on July 7th 2007 it was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the world. Conservation experts are now becoming concerned about the damage that is being done to the site because of the number of tourists visiting the site.

This ancient Inca city set in the Andes Mountains of Peru is about fifty miles northwest of Cusco. The city is built high on the top of a ridge overlooking the Urabamba river gorge. The mountains are shrouded in cloud which sometimes hides the surrounding peaks and at other times just cover them in a light fluffy mist. These mountains are not bare rocks but are covered in dense rain forest and bush vegetation which had buried the city of Machu Picchu until Hiram Bingham, assisted by local villagers from the area, uncovered it the ruins in 1911. This cover of vegetation has meant that we are able to enjoy Machu Picchu as it is today, a fairly well preserved Inca city.

Machu Picchu means ‘Old Peak’ and the city was built on this mountain between 1460 and 1470 AD by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui. It seems a strange place to build a city because of its altitude of 8,000ft and so some archaeologists believe that is unlikely to be an administrative or military city but believe it could have been a royal or religious place of retreat. There are about 200 buildings most of which are houses but there are also some temples, and storage places. It is believed that, at its busiest about 1000 people lived in or around the city and most of these were priests, women and children judging by the mummies that were found in the area. The city, it appears, only thrived for about 100 years and it is not known why it fell into decline. Fortunately the Spanish conquerors in the 1500s did not find it otherwise it would probably have been destroyed like so many other Inca cities of the time.

The buildings are carefully planned and built with Inca precision. The huge, granite blocks are carefully carved and fit together snugly without the use of any mortar or other joining ingredient. They have been built to withstand the earthquakes known to happen in the area. The blocks are of different sizes and shapes yet despite only using basic stone or bronze tools these blocks still fit so cleanly together that even a knife blade cannot slide between them. The houses had steeply thatched roofs and doors in the shape of a trapezium but very few had windows. Some were single story and other had a second level.

Crops grown in this area included potatoes and maize which were planted on terraces because of the steep slopes. This prevented erosion and helped with irrigation. These terraces are still there and today in order to keep the grass short there are llamas freely roaming around the site. They have been introduced deliberately for this purpose. There were also alpacas introduced by they have died out as the weather in this area is too hot for them.

We caught the train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes very early so we arrived in Aguas Calientes for 10am. The train was reserved seating and there were 4 people to a table which was at right angles to the window. The views of the river and countryside as we went along were a constantly changing picture through the window. As we climbed higher the train had to switch back along another line in order to climb as it was too steep to go up on the same line – a sort of zigzagging upwards. We had a table with a crisp white cloth laid for breakfast. We were offered fruit juice, coffee, tea or coca tea with a bread roll with cheeses and cold meats.

On arrival at Aguas Calientes station we walked on through the bustling market full of colourful craft and souvenirs stalls. The stall holders were very pleasant and quite happy for us to look and not buy. We were almost running through the market and up the hill in order to get an early –ish bus up to Machu Picchu so we didn’t stop and look until later.

We then caught the bus ( about $15US return trip) up to Machu Picchu up the Hiram Bingham Highway – a gravelled track that zigzags rapidly up the mountain perilously close to the edge at times, until finally you arrive at Machu Picchu just outside the Machu Picchu sanctuary Lodge.
You go along through the turnstiles and follow the path round until you get your first magical glimpse of the famous sight of Machu Picchu ruins with Huayna Picchu behind. It was raining and the sort of misty look all added to the atmosphere. There really are few words to do justice to the description – you just have to be there. It isn’t really the fact that it is such a well-preserved Inca town it has more to do with the mountains surrounding the place, the clouds and the rarefied atmosphere. Whatever it is this place has it in abundance.

What is really amazing to me is that you can walk anywhere at all – very few areas are roped off. There are some very hairy, scary pathways and steps and those with a fear of heights were struggling a little in some places. Health and safety isn’t an issue – you are just expected to be sensible yourself; I think if I had had young children with me I would have been very nervous. In fact there were very few children there at all; the age of most people was considerably older. There were quite a few fairly elderly folk who did amazingly well scrambling up and down the steps. It is not easy at altitude, let me tell you. After about 10 high steps you are finding it quite difficult to breathe and need to stop for a few minutes to recover. It makes you very aware of breathing and you need to drink gallons of water to stop yourself becoming dehydrated which can cause altitude sickness if you are not careful.

We climbed up to the Guard House above the main city ruins for the obvious viewpoint and took several photos. The sun came out for us at this time and so we were lucky enough to enjoy the area in both rain and sun. We had a guided tour which was interesting as our guide was able to tell us historical facts and beliefs as well as pointing out things like the acoustics in one building that archaeologists believe may have been a music room; the Sacred rock carved in the same shape as the mountain behind; the Sun temple with all the careful astronomical features built in a round shape; the Intihuatana stone which is constructed to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. We also saw the Condor temple but I think you needed a good imagination to see the shape on the floor joined to the wings of the rocks behind!!
The last bus goes down from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes at 5.30 but as there is a constant queue it is a good idea to leave a little before that as you may end up having to walk the trail back down to Aguas Calientes where most of the hotels are situated. There is one hotel at the site, The Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge and I do know the prices are really high – about $800US for a fairly standard room for one night!
If you want to avoid the crowds the choose a time outside July and August when about 3,000 visitors enter the sight each day, we went in October and we were able to wander around quite easily and get photos without hoards of other people in them. Entry cost about $50US per person for the entire day.

A truly wonderful day that is very difficult to describe the majesty, the awe and wonder of this sight. Words can’t really do it justice but I hope I have given a taste of the place. Enjoy the photos and take a look at the third site below for a virtual tour.
http://www.sacredsites.com/americas/peru/machu_picchu.html lovely photos and more information about the site.
http://www.247rep.com/machu_picchu/index.html a virtual tour of the site
Machu Picchu Inca Archaeological Site
Above The Urubamba Valley
Cusco Region, Peru

I Am Not a Celebrity so Leave Me Here!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 25, 2010

We flew from Lima via Cusco to Puerto Moldinardo with a very short stop in Cusco to let some passengers off and others to board. The flight was pleasant and we had a little box of biscuits and cake as a snack as well as drinks – I think non-alcoholic only – of your choice.

On arrival at the Airport we reclaimed our suitcases and took any toiletries, mosquito repellent and sunscreen that we needed for the jungle out of them and put them in our overnight hand luggage bags. The suitcases were stored by Inka Terra at the office in Puerto Moldinardo. We walked out of the tiny airport to be greeted by Inka Terra staff with bottles of cold water and shown the ‘bus’ which was a lorry with wooden seats and a roof , but it did the job.

We were taken to their check-in lodge 5 minutes from the airport and here we were given cold towels and a cold fruit juice which we completed the check-in forms for our stay. There was also an internet connection so people were able to check on emails if they wanted. There is a Butterfly farm here as well but we did not have time to visit at this time. Many of us made use of the toilet facilities though.

We were then all back on the lorry/bus for the 15 minute drive to the boat that would take us up river to our lodges. The boat was small with an outboard motor but it did have a roof to keep the sun off. The breeze as we went along was very pleasant as the lifejackets we had to wear were quite warm. It was interesting looking at the river side and the jungle but there wasn’t a huge amount to see.

On arrival at Inka Terra we were once again greeted with cold towels and a delicious fruit juice decorated with a croton leaf. We were introduced to our lovely guides Cesar and Carlos who told us a little about what we were going to do for the rest of the day. We then all went through to the main area – all netted for insect protection- where we were onve again given glasses of water and juice and a menu for lunch.

The menu offered a choice of two salads palm hearts or a local fruit called cocona or cold soup for the entrees. This was followed by about 6 choices of main course – cat fish, lomo saltado ( a local beef dish), simmered fish, chicken or beef brochettes and a couple of others I cannot remember. This was accompanied by coconut rice, big chips, a pulse dish and a mixed vegetable dish. After all this there was a selection of desserts – local fruit salad and several cake and tart choices. The food was excellent and there was so much that on this first day we didn’t go to the evening meal and chose to have an early night instead. The waiters were lovely and the service spot on.
After lunch we had about 10 minutes before meeting in the eco lodge for our afternoon jungle walk. This was just around the lodge area and we saw a variety of plants mainly to give us an idea of the types of vegetation in the area. This lasted about an hour and then we returned to our own lodges for a cold shower to cool off. There is warm water but really a cold shower was wonderfully refreshing after our travelling and the walk.

From 5pm to 6pm you are offered a free Pisco sour in the main restaurant/ bar lodge which we went over to sample. Very interesting but quite a potent brew especially in hot weather!! You wouldn’t want a second one before doing anything strenuous or that required full concentration.

At 6pm we went back to the eco lodge to meet our guides for our night jungle walk. Armed with torches we headed off round the same sort of area that we had walked earlier on. This time however we had the added excitement of the darkness. Our guide had eyes of a hawk and we saw several types of tarantula in the webs, the tiniest frogs of different species as well as fireflies which was all quite exciting.

At this time, having started our journey with a 4.45 get up, we decided to miss the evening meal and have an early night. It was very hot in our room as we didn’t manage to find the switch for the fan until the next day but the shower was wonderful and the beds extremely comfortable. Our lodge had two hammocks and two bamboo chairs in the front meshed sitting area. The two beds were behind these and a bamboo screen could be pulled across for privacy. There was a bathroom area with lovely big shower on one side and the toilet the other side with the basin and mirror in between. The whole lodge was screened and mosquito nets were over both beds. We were not bothered at all by mossies but it could have been because it was quite dry at this time.

The next day we were up for 5.15 for breakfast which was fruit juices and tea/coffee, fruit, cheeses and cold meats and a variety of breads. All of this was very nicely prepared. After this we joined our guides for a trip up the river followed by a 2 mile walk, before we got on a large canoe to paddle up the creek into Lake Salvonado. We saw a huge variety of native birds as well as cayman and even ua dead snake but unfortunately no giant otters. It was very calm and quiet as no motors are allowed on the Lake which is part of the National Park and a conservation area. There were also hundreds of different colourful butterflies which fluttered around us as we were walking along the jungle path all the while watching for sloths, snakes and other interesting flora and fauna. We then returned to the lodge for lunch.

Lunch was again superb and then we adjourned to our lodge for a rest before meeting up with our guides for the canopy walk at 3pm. We went by boat to the river’s edge and then walked to the canopy lodge for the toilet and a bit of a talk. After this we went up onto the canopy – there were 7 ladders across at about 100metres high – with a small platform between each. I felt like I was on ‘I;m a Celebrity Get Me Out of here’. It was great fun although we didn’t see any wild life until some toucans joined us on the final platform. We then walked about 20 minutes back to our lodges. This was the time for Pisco Sour hour in the main lodge before boarding the river boat with our guides for our night river cruise searching for wildlife. We managed to see several cayman and it was very exciting at night with nothing but the large torch to see things. It was quite a storm in the distance and lightening filled the sky with a spectacular show which created even more of an atmosphere.

This was our final activity in this resort and we returned for our last huge dinner during which time the guides came to say goodbye to all of us. It was a really great visit and we were well looked after in a most luxurious style.
Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica

Puerto Maldonado, Peru

My palace in Cusco

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 25, 2010

Libertador Palacio del Inka hotel - Cusco

This is a large busy hotel just five minutes walk from the main square and next to the Inca Temple of the Sun . It is a traditional 16th century Pizzarro’s Palace with Spanish colonial additions beautifully decorated in Spanish/Peruvian style.
The lobby is large and airy with many areas for sitting comfortably in groups to share a cup of the complimentary coca tea which is on tap 24 hours a day. The coca tea was essential to avoid altitude sickness and I found I needed several of the little cups in the day and when I woke in the morning if I didn’t have a cup fairly quickly I did feel a little wobbly and shaky particularly the first morning after our arrival. There was also oxygen available if you needed it but I wasn’t that bad and I found the tea, lots of water and fresh air helped me.

We didn’t eat meals other than breakfast in the hotel but those people I talked to who did eat in the restaurants said the food was very good. The restaurant was called the Inti Raymi Restaurant and it looked very nice and the Kero coffee shop smelled of delicious cakes every time we passed by. The breakfast room was beside a traditional courtyard and was light and gave you somewhere interesting to look while enjoying the breakfast. There was a choice of three fruit juices, plenty of fruit, pawpaw, melon and fruit salad as well as whole uncut fresh fruit. There were a huge variety of yogurts and cereals then breads and sweet pastries. There were also cold meats and cheeses as well as a variety of cooked bacon, eggs sausages, potato etc.

The rooms were rather warm even though it was cool outside and there was only heating, no air conditioning so I think it could be very warm in summer. They were quite pleasantly furnished with two single beds, a TV, mini bar, table and two chairs. The furnishings were quite dark and the lightening a little inadequate for comfortable reading but it was quite a decent room. Our first room opened on to the inside courtyard but when we looked out of the window we could see right into the room on the opposite side of the courtyard which meant that we had to keep our curtains drawn if we wanted any privacy. The second room we had overlooked the alley way and the Inca ruins which was much nicer and lighter.

The bathroom had a shower bath and lovely big fluffy towels. There was a basket of the usual toiletries, a kettle and a selection of coffee, teas, sugar and creamer. It was again quite adequate but not luxurious. It took a while to find the tea and coffee as they were in the mini bar not beside the kettle – I asked at reception for some and they sent another up, we then found those hidden in the mini bar. They also sent up extra pillows that we requested within 5 minutes of our asking for them which I was impressed with.

There was an internet room with a number of computers and free wifi access if you had your own laptop but you did need to be pretty near this room in order to connect to the hotel’s internet. This was not possible from either of the rooms we had during our stay, I had to go down the corridor or into the lobby to achieve a connection. This wasn’t a huge problem but did mean you had to be dressed rather than relaxing in the towelling dressing gown and little slippers that were provided in your room.
A sauna, spa and fitness room were available but as I was struggling to get enough oxygen just walking around I certainly didn’t feel like any more strenuous exercise.

All around the hotel were many lovely areas with sofas for relaxing in, all very comfortable and all different. There were also two courtyard areas with heaters and braziers burning in the evening which looked very attractive. There was a bar which looked very nice but we didn’t try that either. Unfortunately I felt a little unwell while we were here as the altitude was affecting me so I kept off the alcohol and was also off my food a little which was a real shame as the food was lovely and I wasn’t able to fully appreciate it all.

We stayed two nights initially then went up to Machu Piccu for a night to return to Cusco for another night before moving on. The hotel stored our large cases and had them ready waiting in our new rooms for us on our return. They also stored our valuables that we didn’t need like my laptop, travel tickets for onward journeys and extra money in a safety box behind the main desk. All we took to Machu Piccu was an overnight bag and passports and tickets for that journey plus spending money. This was a wonderful service for our tour as it would have been a real pain to have to take our large suitcases to and from Machu Piccu on the train just for one night.

The staff were extremely efficient and very helpful in everything we asked. They were friendly and pleasant at all times. There were lifts and wheel chair access is listed on the hotel facilities. I am not sure of the costs for rooms as it was included in our tour price but on the hotels.com website it states rooms from £137 per night.

If you are interested then this is their website:
http://www.libertador.com.pe/home-cusco-libertador


Libertador Hotel Cusco
Plazo Leta Santo Domingo No 259
Cuzco, Peru
(511) 518 6500

Is This Hotel Fit for an Emperor?

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 25, 2010

Emperador hotel Avenida Del Libertador 420
1001 Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina
(0)11 4131 4000

The hotel is situated within walking distance of most areas in Buenos Aires and is close to the main railway station. The entrance is modern looking with gold revolving doors, there is at least one doorman at all times to welcome you in. The lobby is quite spacious and very well appointed, there are flower arrangements on tables which are fresh and look welcoming. The reception desk is on the left as you walk in to the hotel and they will also change money at a reasonable rate here. On the right hand side is an open looking bar with comfortable seats and tables. At the back of the hotel, through the lobby is the restaurant with is actually quite small for the size of hotel. This is where we had our breakfasts but we did not eat in the hotel other than breakfast.

On the first night we arrived at about 10pm and decided we would have a drink in the bar before going to bed. I ordered a gin and tonic and my husband had a 33Occ of beer and this came to a total of £11. Needless to say despite the fact we got a bowl of peanuts with our drinks, we did not frequent this bar again. Another couple had two drinks and a round of sandwiches each and said it came to £30. We chose not to eat in the hotel apart from our breakfasts which were included in our nightly rate.

Our room was lovely, really large with a big double bed, a desk, smaller round table and chair, a mini bar cabinet on top of which was the TV. There was a wardrobe and a few small drawers. This was a major defect as we came to unpack, there was no where to put anything, 6 hangers and 4 tiny drawers is not enough storage space for people on holiday. It might be enough for business men staying only a couple of nights but not for people travelling for longer times. There was a coffee machine and then tea bags and sugar, we couldn’t work out how you would use a coffee filter machine to make tea and there was no coffee provided!! There was internet access in the room but the price was 60 Argentinean pesos for 24hours – about £10 but I didn’t want to be on for 24 hours so I didn’t bother going on the internet at this hotel. There was also wireless access in the lobby at the same price.

The bathroom in our room was huge with a bidet and toilet, bath and shower plus a huge area, almost enough to hold a party in. There were toiletries, conditioner, shampoo, tissues, shower cap and the first time ever I found bath crystals which smelled a bit like rose. The hair ddryer was fixed to the wall and was quite efficient.

Breakfast was not as good as some of the hotels we stayed at but was not bad. The juices were only a strange tasting orange or grapefruit, the water in the jug labelled mineral water was warm, and not just room temperature it was actually warm and tasted odd. There was champagne in a bucket which was empty on the first day and not open on the second so I wasn’t able to enjoy a bucks fizz which would have been nice but hey.. The fruit was fresh and included a fruit salad, melon, watermelon, slices of oranges and peaches ( not sure the peaches were fresh as I didn’t have them. There were tubs and jugs of yogurt as well as variety of cereals. There was a good selection of cakes, breads and pastries as well as cheese and cold meats. My husband sampled the scrambled eggs, bacon, fried potatoes and mushrooms. There were not hotcakes or pancakes and the fruit juice selection was not good. There was a hostess who escorted you to your table and on the first day we had to go and collect or coffee from an urn in the middle, on the second day we were given an insulated jug on our table. The coffee was quite nice, very strong so you couldn’t drink many cupfuls.

The staff were not especially helpful at the reception desk as they refused to accept a travellers cheque accidently signed in the wrong place even though the person concerned said she would countersign it and it was all done in front of them. The concierge was very pleasant and pointed us in the right direction for our places we wanted to visit. The waiting on staff were okay but they would not make an early breakfast for our group on the day of departure – coffee and cakes left over from the previous days afternoon tea was all they would off and considering we had paid for bed and breakfast and there were 20 of us I felt they could have made a bit more effort.

In short the room was large and comfortable but the service was average and the food and drink VERY expensive.

I seem to have lost my photos but the website has a few if you would like to look:
http://www.hotel-emperador.com.ar/ESP/index.html
Emperador Hotel
Av Libertador 420
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54 (11) 41314000

Comfortable but a Long Way from Tourist Sites

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 25, 2010

Libertador hotel Lima
Los Eucaliptos 550
Lima, Peru
511-421-6666

The hotel is very small only 56 rooms and is situated next to the golf course and country club. The lobby is very small with a few comfortable seats but was very functional rather than a place where you might sit and chat with friends. There is a side room with a couple of computers offering internet access but there was free wifi access in the rooms as well which was accessed by a code given by the reception staff if you asked. The reception desk would exchange currency at a reasonable exchange rate which was safer than going into the town and very convenient.

On the same ground floor as the lobby there was a small quite cosy bar and a restaurant. We did have a drink or two at the bar and when you ordered your drink you were given a bowl of home made potato crisps as well which was nice.

We didn’t eat in at the hotel except for breakfasts so I can’t comment on the food but I have been told by others who did eat there that the food was good. Breakfasts were very good with the usual fruit juices, fruit, yogurt, cereals, breads and pastries, cold meats and cheeses followed by an array of cooked stuff such as bacon ( nice and crispy) scrambled eggs, fried potato, tomato and so on. Coffee and tea served very quickly and top ups offered regularly. The staff were all friendly and very helpful. They even had a very early breakfast of hot rolls, fruit juice and coffee for us at 4am one morning. On the morning that our entire group was leaving they put a full buffet breakfast on an hour earlier than normal which was exceptional service.

The rooms were quite dark as they were furnished with dark thick curtains and the lighting was not great, the room never seemed to be light. Apart from that it was comfortable and the air-conditioning was easy to control. We had a double bed and plenty of pillows as well as a small desk and easy chair but not much else as the room was quite small. There was a large wardrobe with plenty of hanging space and also drawers for storage. There was a safe in the room for security which was easy to use and of course a mini bar which we did not use as the prices were the normal expensive mini bar prices. The bathroom only had a shower but it was very clean with large, thick white towels. The usual toiletries were in a little basket and there was a hairdryer on the wall - one of those large creamy coloured things that are not really very efficient but fortunately my hair was short and it did the job for me. Our room was at the front of the hotel overlooking the golf course if you looked to the right, immediately in front was the Delphine Casino and we could just see dolphins in a pool behind the casino.
There was a gym somewhere in the hotel but I'm afraid that was not of great interest to me as I was there to see Lima not to get fit!! I would perhaps have gone in a pool had there been one but had to content myself with looking at the dolphins in the casino pool opposite instead.


My complaint with this hotel is that it is too far from Mira Flores or the old part of Lima. It was too far to walk and a taxi cost about 20 soles. There was nothing nearby the hotel apart from the Country Club, Starbucks or the Casino so to buy water you had to go a log way. They did give you two free bottles in your room which was helpful and these were replaced daily however we needed more than this and so we either had to pay mini bar prices or remember to buy some while we were out sight seeing.

I felt it was more of a business person’s hotel - functional, clean and good quality but lacked any character and was in the middle of nowhere which was not convenient for sight seeing at all. It would also not really be suitable for someone disabled as the lift was very small and the rooms not really big enough to cope with a wheel chair - the bathroom certainly would have been extremely difficult. Having said this I cannot praise the staff enough. They were all very helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them.

If you are interested in looking at the hotel website then it is:
http://www.libertador.com.pe/home-lima-libertador
Hotel Libertador Lima
Los Eucaliptos 550
Lima, Peru
511-421-6666

Is That a Liner I See on the Horizon?

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by catsholiday on January 25, 2010

Libertador , Puno, Lake Titicaca, Peru

We stayed at the Libertador hotel in Puno, Lake Titicaca which was built in the shape of a liner snuggled into a hillside on Esteves Island on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. It is the only five-star hotel in the region, and all rooms have a view of Lake Titicaca. The views which were stunning and we watched both sunset and sunrise from the lobby area of the hotel which has floor to ceiling windows so that the views are not spoilt at all.

Having said the hotel is 5 star is a bit misleading, it is possibly the best in the area and certainly the position is wonderful but the hotel is showing signs of its age in many ways. The lobby is quite spacious but quite ordinary. There was a large urn with coca tea and this was available at all times, however there were not many cups so if you arrived just after a huge party of German tourists as we did, then there were no cups for us.

There were two lifts but each one worked independently so you had to press two buttons and wait for a while as it was rather slow. They were also quite small lifts so at busy times you could have to wait a while. There were stairs and the hotel had not very many floors so this was an option if the lift was too slow.


We had a standard room which was quite basic with one double bed but some had two singles. Some rooms were connected but as we did not need two inter-connecting rooms this was not of interest to us. They did offer some are no-smoking rooms which we requested and the room did not smell of cigarettes which was good. The bathroom had a bath with a shower over it and the usual basin and toilet, nothing special but clean and functional with shampoo and soap provided. We found the bed quite comfortable and there were enough pillows, the sheets were freshly ironed and white and everything was clean but not luxurious.

I cannot comment on the internet access as we were only there overnight, we arrived in the evening quite late and left after a very early trip to the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca so there was no time for interneting here.


When we arrived after our long train journey across the Andes from Cusco to Juliaco we just beat the German group who got off the train in Puno, lucky as we managed to check in about 40 minutes before them and get the cups of coca tea!! Check in was quick and painless and we went off to our rooms to freshen up before our evening meal. A currency exchange service is available at the cash register in the Reception area 24 hours a day and the exchange rate seemed quite reasonable.

The evening meal was a buffet which offered a wide choice of food. There were salads and fish (local Lake Titicaca fish) presented in a variety of ways in a cold section. There were two different soups, one fish as I recall. After the cold dishes you could choose from about a dozen hot dishes including rice and potatoes and again a couple of Lake Fish options. There were then a number of desert selections including cakes and fresh fruit. The meal was good but I wouldn't say it was amazing but it is difficult to make a buffet look very different. The food was all quite tasty and they had made an effort to produce some local fish dishes which I thought was a good sign.

The waiting staff smiled a lot and were quick at removing used plates and helping if you had trouble serving yourself - I managed to spill soup on my hand as I served mine and they rushed over to help me out ( very embarrassing). The drinks were very reasonably priced but as we were still at a high altitude we were off alcohol so didn't sample much. In the hotel brochure it states that the Libertador Hotel Puno is famous for the creation of novo Andean dishes that merge traditional Andean ingredients with the international cuisine. Perhaps if we had chosen from the a la carte menu this would have been more obvious but they did make an effort to produce local dishes in the buffet which I felt was a good sign.

As we were getting up a 4.30am the next morning and had been on the train for 12 hours that day we decided to have an early night and were in bed by 10pm. We both slept well, exhausted by the days travel and the stimulating company of a couple of grumpy Germans who sat opposite us on the train and didn't seem to like anything or anywhere in South America.

Up early the next day. Dressed in every warm item of clothing I had brought with me, we met in the lobby to walk down to the hotel jetty to take the boat out for our visit to the floating Islands on Lake Titicaca. The boat had two levels and we decided to sit on top to enjoy the view - on the way out to the islands this was COLD but on the way back the sun was coming through and I took two layers of clothes off. I won't describe the islands as I have another review on those.

On our return from the trip we walked back up to the hotel - quite a walk up which we noticed more because of the high altitude - to enjoy our breakfast.

Breakfast was in the same restaurant as the buffet the night before. This was also a buffet which offered, fruit juices, fresh fruit, cereals, breads and Danish pastries. There were also hot things such as eggs, fried and scrambled, bacon, tomatoes grilled and potatoes fried. It was a good selection and certainly enough to keep us going but it was not as extensive as some of the hotels and the display was okay not special. Having said that, as we had been up for a couple of hours by now we were quite hungry and we both managed to find enough to keep us happy and prepared for another long day across Lake Titicaca and into Bolivia.

The hotel does have three conference rooms with a capacity of up to 250 persons, as well as audiovisual equipment is used for Puno's best events, conferences and banquets. Needless to say we did not investigate these facilities in the short time we were there.
In short this hotel has one of the best sites for a hotel that you could choose and has been built to take advantage of the spectacular views over the lake. It is officially 5 star but that is mainly due to a lack of competition in the area. In a large city like La Paz or Santiago it would not reach these dizzy heights. Having said that it was efficient, clean, the food was good and the rooms served the purpose so I cannot complain about anything with relation to our one night stay. I do not think could not choose a better place to enjoy Lake Titicaca in Peru
Libertador Hotel Puno
Isla Esteves S N
Puno, Peru
51 51367780

Cathedral or Cooling Tower?

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by catsholiday on February 28, 2010

Catedral Metropolitana

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Rio de Janeiro is incredibly surprising in shape and impact. When we first arrived and were told that this was a Cathedral we didn't quite know what to say. I thought it was such an ugly looking building, resembling n electricity cooling tower rather than a Cathedral. I'm not big into Cathedrals and churches but they are usually quite attractive buildings and often have an interesting history.

While we had been in South America we had been into quite a number of the really ornate, ostentatious Catholic churches which were full of gold and silver statues and other gilt decorations and so this was even more of a surprise because we expecting a similar Cathedral, maybe even bigger and more elaborate but no, what we were faced with was a simple concrete conical building with no decoration outside at all.


This cathedral is a modern replacement for a number of churches that were used as Cathedrals prior to this one .Rio cathedral or Saint Sebastian Cathedral was begun in 1964 and completed in 1976 and is 83 metres in height (250 feet).It is conical in shape from the outside and looks to have no windows at all. Inside it can be seen that it is in fact 12-sided, with four glazed walls of coloured glass reaching up the full height to a cross shaped roof of lights. These four large stained glass windows are each 64 metres (210 ft) from floor to ceiling.

As you walk in you are immediately struck by how cool it is inside. Outside it was extremely sunny and very hot, inside the building which is just one level and appears very empty, there are seats but within the huge high space they do not seem to take up any room at all. There are no windows at all - the four huge stained glass walls or windows are there but otherwise there are no opening windows. The fresh air comes through openings in the walls that are layered so that rain cannot come in but cool air can. The architect has designed it in such a way that no electricity is needed for cooling the building. Hot air rises and leaves through the top vents and cool air comes in through the open doors and lower vents. Electricity is not needed to light the building either as usually sufficient light passes through the stained glass windows, the vents and the large doors. It was certainly light and cool while we were there.


After experiencing this and hearing the story of how the design was chosen, this building was beginning to grow on me. I'm not fond of fussy architecture (although I do love the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona) and although I was initially quite appalled at the ugliness of the Metropolitan Cathedral I was now becoming quite impressed.

Once you were inside the four tall floor to ceiling windows immediately took your eye and then you were drawn to look upwards and found that these windows met and created a cross in the top of the building - subtle rather than' in your face' imagery. The altar was simple, no fussy, gold and fancy statues at all. Behind the altar was a smaller chapel which was again, very plain, white walls and no statues and the walls only went up to a certain height then finished so that the main Cathedral roof could still be seen and all the cooling effects of the vents could still be appreciated. There was a statue outside this chapel in the same simple style, like a Lladro figurine rather than a Dresden or Royal Doulton one with clean lines and in plain white stone.

This strange ugly/beautiful building has a capacity of 20,000 people and has not only become one of the Rio's landmarks, but is now also considered a masterpiece of modern art. It was designed by the world renowned Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who was born in 1907. According to our guide, there was a competition held to select a design for the new cathedral and this one was chosen because it was cheap to build and also cheap to maintain ( no painting and little external cleaning required) and also cheap to upkeep as very little is needed to cool or light the inside of the building. I have said it was cool inside when we were there but I'm not sure how comfortable it would be with 20,000 people inside.

The architect, Oscar Niemeyer was born in Rio to wealthy family and he has made his name in architecture for his modern designs and for pioneering and exploring the formal possibilities of reinforced concrete solely for its aesthetic impact. He was also famous for his role is designing many buildings in the modern capital city of Brasilia, notably the National Congress of Brazil, Brazil's National Museum and the cathedral of Brasilia. Niemeyer has also designed buildings in Europe (Casino in Funchal, Madeira which looks a bit like the Cathedral in Rio) and around the world (the Penang State Mosque in George Town the state capital of Penang, Malaysia in 1970s).

So after the initial shock of seeing a concrete cooling tower instead of the usual church building I grew to like this Cathedral. I am not sure that I could ever describe it as beautiful as it is a dingy grey concrete colour in a simple conical shape with cooling vents as its only external feature. Inside it is more attractive purely because of its simplicity. I am most attracted to this building because of its 'green' quality. It was before its time in this as most people in the 70's didn't give a thought to economical use of resources and yet the architect of this building did just that and designed a building that was economical to maintain for a country that has many people living in poverty. It is not ostentatious and so poorer people can feel as welcome as the rich as there is no flashy decoration merely simple seating and a cone shaped building in which you can worship God should you choose. Apparently this cathedral is packed on a Sunday and the people of Rio love their odd looking cathedral and are very proud of it and of Oscar Niemeyer who designed it.
Catedral de São Sebastião
Praça XV de Novembro
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 20010-010

This Must Be one of the New 7 Natural Wonders

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on February 28, 2010

The Iguacu Falls are part of the Iguacu National Parks on both the Argentinean and Brazilian sides and are designated UNESCO World heritage sites since 1984 and 1986 respectively.

On our first day we enjoyed the Upper (or Superior) walk and we were treated to our first sight of these amazing waterfalls. During the walks we were also lucky enough to see a badger-like creative called a Cotymundy foraying in one d the title bins. It was a sort of cross between an anteater ad a badger but about the Size of a small dog. As we walked along we were also able to enjoy a huge variety of tropical butterflies which fluttered around us and even landed on us with their wings opening and shutting to display their wonderful colours. At times when the sun caught the waterfall spray just right we could see rainbows which was very special, we didn’t realise how lucky we were to enjoy the Sun until the next day.

We were up bright and early to catch the first train (a sort of mini railway called the Rainforest Ecological Train) that took us from the visitors centre to the station near to the Devil’s Throat which is a spectacular section of the Iguacu falls 82 metres high and 150 metres wide that is on the border between the Argentinean and Brazilian sides of the waterfalls. The walkway is about a kilometre long and takes you right over the top of the waterfall. You can’t really see much below because of the spray which is like walking in a cloud of rain. One fascinating thing about this walk is that you are able to see what is left of the old walkway to the Devil’s Throat which was washed away a few years ago. The force must have been amazing as there were solid concrete blocks bigger than a house turned over in the river. We were told that luckily no-one was killed but the damage to the structures was extensive. I still find it difficult to see how they build these walkways right over these enormously powerful waterfalls. I am not doing this justice I realise but the power of the water is unbelievable even in normal times so heaven knows what is must be like in a time of flood.

When you were standing at The Devil’s Throat is was almost impossible to hear anything except the waterfall and you got very wet from spray which hovered in the air all around the area. We returned to the little train in order to experience more of a wetting on the Lower Walk. This walkway took you VERY close to the waterfalls, almost under some parts, this was okay as it cooled you off from the tropical heat and you quickly dried off.

This Lower walk takes you down to a rocky area where you can a boat – looked like an inflatable lifeboat – to the Island of San Martin in the middle of the waterfall gorge. This is where Robert de Niro climbed up in the film ‘The Mission’. We were not going to the island but were going to be under the falls in these boats and then we were going up the river to get a different view of the river and falls. We were handed sopping wet, cold life jackets to wear (extremely complicated things that you needed a degree in lifejackets in order to put on correctly). Once we were safely strapped into our chilly lifejackets (all clothes that you wanted to remain dry had to be stowed in a large thick plastic bag). We were advised by our guide that raincoats etc were useless and that we were better off wearing swim suits and putting all our clothes in the bag to put on again once we had dried off in the speedboat going up the river. We all did as advised.

The boat was fantastic, the driver and other crew were totally mad and took us bouncing over rapids and virtually under the falls. You couldn’t keep your eyes open and our guide was correct – any rain coats would have been useless. We were enjoying the exhilaration of the freezing water and bouncing over the water, feeling very smug over the rest of the people who were wearing plastic ponchos over their clothes which were not keeping much of the waterfall out! We sped of leaping along the rapids down the river for about 10 minutes to the jetty where we clambered out and wrung out any clothes we had been wearing and put on our nice dry shoes.

We were shown to a lorry with seat on the back and no roof for a drive through the jungle. All started well we were enjoying the drive looking at the vegetation and listening to the guide. We did notice the arrival of a rather large black cloud and were half watching this and still listening attentively to the guide – a few spots of rain began to fall. The others from the boat donned their plastic ponchos – we of course only had swim suits and T-shirts and our nice dry trainers on. The guide put on a rain coat that trawler men on the North Atlantic fishing boats would be proud to wear and continued here commentary. We all bent over more and huddled together as the rain got heavier and heavier. It hurt, it was so hard and it was cold too, we were all hysterically giggling trying to hide behind those with plastic ponchos just to take the worst of the sting out of the rain. The lorry had no roof and no front to break the wind so as we drove faster the rain hit harder and stung more and we got wetter and wetter. Then the lorry stopped and we thought we had arrived, but no... the poncho wearers got out leaving us with no-one to hide behind and another 10 minutes drive along a tarred road so the lorry went even faster.

Suffice to say that we needn’t have bothered keeping our shoes in the plastic bag; we were drenched through and really cold as we were wearing very little. We dripped our way through the hotel and straight into a hot bath. It had red spots all over my body from the rain hitting me and they took over an hour to fade. I spent the rest of the day trying to dry out the few clothes that we had worn with a hair dryer and an iron. I was successful and the hats dried very well over the bedside lampshades!!

The next day we crossed the border into Brazil with no trouble at all .We got off our coach at the hotel on the Brazilian side, the Hotel Das Caratas which looked lovely from the outside but we didn’t go in. We embarked upon the walk to the Porto Canoas station just next to the devil’s Throat Falls – the bottom of theses falls this time. The walk on the Brazilian side was very scenic and you could see more waterfall views. There were a few larger areas for looking at the views and it ended up with a walkway which took you almost into the falls. You really got wet again, even half way along the walkway you were wet and by the end it was like being in the waterfall.

We made our way to the Porto Canoas and this is at the bottom of the falls, almost touchable. There is a souvenir shop, cafe and toilets as well as a glass fronted lift up to the top again. You can walk up the stairs but we wanted to experience the glass lift view so we joined the rather lengthy queue. The view from the glass fronted lift was worth it and we felt we had stood up for our rights in a polite and very British way and won.

They say that you experience the waterfalls from the Argentinean side but the views are more spectacular from the Brazilian side and I would say this is true. I’m glad we visited Iguacu from the Argentinean side first as we heard, felt the falls and saw what damage could be done by the water on the Argentinean side but the views of the falls as a whole were certainly more special from the Brazilian side.

Well worth a visit. It doesn’t matter which side you go to as you can cross the border very easily and experience both sides provided you sort out visa implications etc. It is worth spending a few days there as there is so much to do and so many ways to experience the falls area.


Iguazu Falls
Puerto Iguazú
Iguazu, Argentina

Bolivia's Hidden City

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by catsholiday on February 28, 2010

Tiwanaku is about 50 miles west of La Paz and near the south-eastern shore of Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco or Tihuanacu) has the Pre – Columbian ruins which were the capital of the state for over 500 years and are in the process of being excavated. The city dates back as far as 1500BC but it is between 300BC and 300AD that Tiwanaku is thought to have been a religious pilgrimage centre and at the height of its importance. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage site administered by the Bolivian government. Prior to this there have been a number of archaeological investigations, some more sensitive than others.

The price of entry to the site is much less for Bolivians than foreign tourists, It is 80 Boliviano for foreigners and 10 for locals which considering how little local people earn I think is more than fair, it is certainly not expensive for foreigners.

We travelled through the Andean plateau area which is quite a poor farming area and the farms were mud brick buildings with a few llama or sheep and the crops were very limited. It is pretty well subsistence farming. There were a number of road blocks on the road stopping people going to La Paz as there was a big pro government demonstration there; because of this we had to take a side road which was unpaved and very much un-made. This was very interesting as it took us through the real countryside area and the road was extremely uneven, at times it disappeared downwards in a dramatic fashion and we went very slowly down through the shallow river and climbed out again. I give credit to our driver who got us there safely with no damage to the bus.

At Tiwanaki there were two very new museums; one only had a monolith – the Bennett Monolith or Pachamama -in it and nothing else. The story goes that at one time this monolith was moved to La Paz and that year there was a really bad earthquake in La Paz which was unheard of prior to this. They returned the monolith to Tiwanaki and that year in La Paz they had severe rains and flooding in many parts of the city. I think they will not be moving the monolith again as they fear every time it is moved something bad happens.

The other museum holds relics found at Tiwanaku and told the story of the development through the ages in this area. At one time Tiwanaku was near Lake Titicaca and as the water level in the lake fell then the city became less important; possibly because it became harder to continue the agrarian way of life that the city depended upon. If you are interested in more history about Tiwanaku then these sites are quite interesting and the first one has some older drawings of the site: http://www.jqjacobs.net/andes/tiwanaku.html
http://www.archaeology.org/interactive/tiwanaku/

The actual site is huge and is still in the process of being excavated which means that there are some areas you cannot visit. The main pyramid or Akapana was originally surrounded by water or a type of moat and is still mainly unexcavated and looks like a mound of dirt except for one section. There were seven stepped terraces with buildings on the top but today there are archaeologists working in this area and we were unable to visit. The Kalasasaya is a large raised walled area with the Puerta del Sol at one end and the Peurta del Luna at the other There is a fascinating hole in the wall which acts like a megaphone – if you put your ear near the hole and somebody speaks inside the walled area you can hear them quite clearly. These walls are vertical unlike those in Cusco which were angled, that is because in Bolivia they had not the need to build to stand up to earthquakes.

We were told that the sun gate had been moved from its original position but I’m not sure if I misunderstood, perhaps she was just saying that it had been repaired as it did have a huge crack in it. It was originally astronomically aligned so the sun shone through onto the centre of the pyramid but if it has been re aligned, its new position it was still regarded as important. On mid summer’s day there is a big celebration of local people which unfortunately being more modern, usually requires alcohol and sometimes parts of the ancient ruins are damaged in this revelry.

There was an underground temple or sunken courtyard with strange stone faces in the walls. They were all rather odd and many were worn or damaged. No-one really knows who or why there were carved there. It is one of the many Inca mysteries. We really liked these faces as they were so odd and we enjoy a mystery.

It is a work in progress and as the museums are only 4 years old there is plenty of opportunity for this site to become better known as more is unearthed in the next few years. There is some discussion between archaeologists as to whether some of the reconstruction has been rather over enthusiastic and is not as authentic as it might have been so it hard to know what parts of what we saw is reconstructed and what is merely rebuilt.
Ruins of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco)
Near Shores Of Lake Titicaca
Bolivia, South America

LLama Foetus Anyone?

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on March 15, 2010

A FEW FACTS:

La Paz is the capital of Bolivia which is a land locked country next to Peru in South America. It is one of the poorest South American countries but this I no way detracts from its charm as a country to visit.

Strangely in La Paz the wealthier you are the closer to the bottom of the valley in La Paz is where you live. The poorer people live higher up the mountain sides and so get the best views, I'm not sure why this is whether they were closer to the river initially or what but I found it quite odd.


LA PAZ AT LAST:
The first view of the city of La Paz is breath taking. Quite literally as it is about 4,000m (12,008 ft) high and is the world's highest capital city I believe. It is built in the valleys surrounded by hills within a huge valley in the mountains. To get from one part to another requires driving up and down twisting roads and hairpin bends with deep drops down the sides. As we went from one side El Alto to the area of our hotel we passed a big garden cemetery which ran round a strange clay eroded mountain. It was strangely beautiful with lawns and flower gardens curling round this strange mountain. We did arrive safely and decided as we were quite exhausted that we would eat in at the hotel that night and just relax and unpack in our room until dinner.


MOON VALLEY:

The next day we had a tour of the Moon valley which is a park in a valley within the city of La Paz which is strangely eroded because it is clay rock. It gets its name as the eroded rocks look a bit like the surface of the moon or so they say. They have carved steps and made a circular path through the area so that you get a really good look at all the rock formations. They also have an odd looking rabbit with a long tail a bit like a squirrel’s tail. We were lucky enough to see one perched on a rock but it didn’t run off so we were not able to see the long tail. I wanted to clap my hands so that it might hop off but I wasn’t allowed to by my husband. It was rather like a wild rabbit, sort of brownish in colour but larger than British wild rabbits.

THE WITCHES' MARKET:

After the Moon valley we went to the old part of La Paz to visit some of the colonial streets with balconies which were quite narrow and rather European looking. We also walked to the Witch’s market where you could buy any variety of herbs, potions and strange looking objects including llama foetuses which are supposed to cure ills. I was rather concerned about these foetuses but apparently the llamas abort them and they are collected up for this purpose – I was afraid that they were encouraged to abort them. I am not sure how much they sell but it has become a must for every tourist to visit. After our experience of the witch doctor and the museum at Huata Hatta we were beginning to be able to recognise some of the bits and pieces and understood more of what this market is actually about. Following this we continued through to a more traditional market which sold alpaca wool items, bowler hats and other typically Bolivian souvenirs at incredibly low prices.

THE DEMONSTRATION:

We decided that we would like to walk from here towards the main square where the demonstration was taking place as it was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration in favour of the government and more like a party. A group of four of us went down. There were people everywhere dressed in local traditional costumes, groups from different villages dressed in similar style carrying placards and playing instruments and dancing. On the steps around the square were many local people and a few foreigners watching the procession of these marchers around the square and then down one of the side streets. The president sat on a balcony overlooking the whole performance. It was chaos but in a strange sort of way quite organised. People were selling food and drinks as well as propaganda posters; some were lying at the edges of the streets sleeping or were just sitting quietly while in the square this huge throng of dancing singing people snaked its way round. The side streets around the square were also full of people but they were just milling around have marched or waiting their turn. There was no violence at all and nobody gave us a second glance. Once you were a block away from the square everything was as usual except you heard the occasional firecracker let off which made you jump.

SUMMARY:

We enjoyed La Paz and found it an amazing city. The views of the whole city valley from the view points are stunning. I don’t think there is another city that can compare to the beauty of the city as a whole. In part there are obviously nicer areas in other cities and there are definitely cities that have more interesting things to see but the spectacle of the city as a whole looking from outside it truly an amazing sight.

Although Bolivia is a very poor country we found the people very pleasant and welcoming and never felt uncomfortable anywhere. We were at a high altitude for the entire time so it did make everything a bit of an effort and it certainly made me want to eat less but it did not restrict us much. La Paz is a fascinating place and the fact that the city is spread across mountains gives you the most amazing views as you enter the city and also from viewpoints within the city. It is noisy, busy, a bit grubby in places and very chaotic but it seems to work and there is always something to see that is different from ladies in bowler hats to dried llama fetuses and much in between. Food and souvenirs were very cheap, I'm not sure on the price of our hotel as were on a tour with it included - we were supposed to stay in a hotel on the main square but because of the demonstrations we were moved to the Radisson further away from the area of activity.

Thanks for reading and hope it has been of interest to you. This review reflects my experience and time in La Paz and as such does not cover all possibilities in La Paz.

Blessing Cars with Beer, Wine and Flowers

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by catsholiday on March 15, 2010

We crossed the border between Peru and Bolivia on land. We walked to the Peru passport office and were stamped out of Peru then walked a few yards to be stamped into Bolivia. We got on a bus that took us to Copacabana. Now while it shares the same name with the famous Brazilian beach of Rio de Janiero,
Copacabana Bolivia couldn't be more different. It is small town lying on the shores of Lake Titicaca and so it is Bolivia’s main beach resort. Bolivia of course has no sea shore so this is the nearest they get to a beach.

The huge cathedral or basilica dominates the town is a highlight of Copacabana it was built around the 17th century it is considered one of the finest in Bolivia. When we were there the entire front area was packed with vehicles waiting to be blessed and there vendors selling various souvenirs including medallions of the Virgin Mary, as the chapel holds the famous statue of Virgen de Copacabana.

It was Sunday in Copacabana the day we were there and we witnessed the most unusual sight outside the church while we were waiting for our hydrofoil to cross lake Titicaca and outside the church there were a huge number of new cars all decorated with flowers and having beer or champagne shaken over them. The priest then came and blessed them one by one after which loud fire crackers were let off. It was all noise and excitement with bands playing and fire crackers and all the local people dressed in their national costume, the ladies in bowler hats and colourful outfits. There were stalls selling scarves and other local souvenir type items which all added to the noise, colour and atmosphere.

In the cathedral itself, there was the usual baroque opulence around and highly decorated altar. This seemed to be the norm for Catholic cathedrals in Peru and so we were not surprised to see this again in Bolivia. The Cathedral itself was empty, all the excitement was taking place outside it seemed. However to one side of this cathedral was a smaller room, the candle room where people could offer their prayers and place candles. This room was packed, you could barely move and the whole room was covered in wax, including the floor which was rather slippery. The room was quite dark and not very attractive presumably it was specifically built to keep all the wax away from the main cathedral , however the atmosphere within this crowded dismal looking room was humming with prayer and emotion.

We left Copacabana and got on a hydrofoil which took us to Sun Island. On this island was an Inca temple ruins dedicated to the sun. We had to climb up rather uneven steps carved out of the hill in order to get to the temple. Ordinarily this would have been quite hard work but in the altitude we were all puffing after step 6!! Our guide picked some herb which she said was mint but smelled a little like catnip which she told us to rub between our hands and inhale. It was great, it really opened up our nasal passages and enabled us to breathe more easily.

At the temple ruins we wandered around and took photos, there was only a facade and then a few huge stone walls that remained but it was an interesting facade. There were local people selling woven items, necklaces and dolls at extremely reasonable prices. We bought a necklace based on the Inca calendar, a belt and a doll for $3.50 US which pleased me and helped them.

We returned to our hydrofoil and moved onto Moon Island where we were to enjoy our lunch. If we thought the Sun Island steps were steep these were even higher. Once we finally reached the top we were rewarded with a beautiful clear view of Lake Titicaca with a stunning blue sky and white fluffy clouds. There was a welcome sight of a table laid with a white table cloth and with umbrellas so that we could enjoy our lunch while also taking in the view of the lake.

Lunch was a set meal of local soup, Lake trout in breadcrumbs with local potatoes and vegetables followed by watermelon. The food was all fresh and locally produced and very efficiently delivered by local women in their traditional dress.

The welcome we received from the people in Bolivia around Copacabana and Lake Titicaca was so friendly and they were so very proud of their country it was a pleasure to share these sights and buy some different and inexpensive souvenirs to help support the local communities.

Floating Islands

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on February 28, 2010

Puno and the Uros Islands
Lake Titicaca is 3,812 m above sea level which makes it the highest commercially navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America in volume of water and the deepest point of the lake measures 284m . It lies in both Peru and Bolivia and Lake Titicaca is fed by rainfall and from glaciers on the Andean Sierras. Five major river systems also feed into Lake Titicaca; these are the Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez rivers.
Lake Titicaca is one of the nominees for the New Seven Wonders, natural wonders. If you haven't heard of the New 7 Wonders website the go and have a look. They have recently come up with a New 7 wonders list of man made wonders and are now tasking nomination for the natural wonders - Lake Titicaca is one of these. After they shortlist you can then vote for your 7 natural wonders (if you didn't vote for the man made 7 wonders, it is too late - the voting has finished). This is the website if you are interested http://www.new7wonders.com/nature/en/nominees/southamerica/c/LakeTiticacaLake

We stayed at the Libertador hotel in Puno which was built in the shape of a liner with all rooms having a view of Lake Titicaca. The views were stunning and we watched both sunset and sunrise from the room. This review looks at the Peru side of Lake Titicaca which is quite different from the Bolivian part of the Lake. The famous floating Uros, reed islands are particularly found in Peru and in the bay near Puno. These are a group of 42 or so artificial islands made of floating reeds (totora, a reed that grows only in the shallows of the lake). Only the Uros islanders are allowed to harvest these reeds as they are protected for their sole use. The original reason these islands were constructed was for defence as they could be moved if required in times of conflict.

Very early at about 6am we boarded a boat to take us out to visit the Uros floating reed islands. The boat went quite slowly so we were able to see the water birds swimming and also the local people rowing their boats along and fishing or collecting reeds for repair work on the islands.

Once we arrived at the islands we went to visit one called Isla Tupiri. We were greeted with huge smiles and welcomed onto the island home. The main leader showed us how they made their islands by creating a mini island with a commentary from our guide. They begin by collected great chunks of reed roots that float and they tie these together with rope. They then layer loads of reeds at reeds at right angles to each other until they have a thick bed. They add to this regularly. They build up platforms of reeds higher than the main island bound together with rope and on these platforms they construct their reed houses. Outside each house a solar panel donated by the government and so inside each house there was a small black and white TV but otherwise every thing else was traditional.

They lived in an extended family group of about 6 families per island and if a marriage takes place then the couple move to the 70% to girl’s family and the other 30% move to the boy’s family’s island. If the group grows too large then they can cut the island in half. If they need to enlarge the island they simply add to it with more floating reed roots, more layers and attach this to the main island with more ropes. The islands are anchored with long ropes to the main land and the ropes are weighed down with stones so that they are not cut by motors boats.

On the larger islands there are schools, post offices and clinics for the island people. The children are collected by boat and taken to the school daily. On the smaller family islands they cook on a stone slab outside the houses and each family does their own cooking. They eat a lot of lake fish, reeds (the bit near the bottom is white and full of nutrition), guinea pig and a little other food that they may purchase from the boat shop or the mainland. They keep the guinea pigs on a mini island attached to their main island and they have a reed shelter too. They also grow some herbs in a small garden on the island which they regard as their medicine cabinet. In the middle of the island is a patch of water and they can catch fish from this area as well as from the main lake.

Nowadays the majority of these floating islands make money from tourism and selling their souvenirs to tourists. There are a few island groups who do not want to be visited by tourists and they have built their islands away from the main group and they are left to their own devices. The majority of island families welcome tourists and put on a little welcome singing performance before showing you their houses and how they live, cook etc. Then you are invited to purchase they hand made embroidery and other souvenirs at reasonable prices. This is how they earn their living in these times to supplement their own fishing and reed harvesting.

The area around Lake Titicaca is predominantly Aymara speaking, with the exception of the Amantaní and Taquile islands, where Quechua is spoken. However, the area to the west of the lake is Quechua, and the lake is the meeting point of these two cultures. The Uros culture also comes from this area, although it has largely died out, and the Uros Islands are now Aymara speaking. We passed a look out tower on or way to the islands with a huge sign "KAMISARAKI" which is Aymara for hello. We were told to say this as we arrived on Isla Tupiri which we duly did - the only word we could say in Aymara -and of course lots of smiling from both the island residents and us - a smile goes a log way when you don't have words to communicate with.

The islands and lake are at a high altitude which means that you do need to be careful during the day to avoid too much sun or where a high factor sunscreen. Because the air is 'thin' the sun's rays are much stronger, then temperature need not feel too hot and so you don't notice that you are burning. The altitude also makes everything so clear and fresh, the sky seems bluer and the lake becomes almost too blue to be true. It is a truly beautiful place and so far despite a large number of tourists it does seem relatively unspoilt.

It is a fascinating visit and even though the islanders do invite for tourists to visit them and buy their craft work it is obvious that they live in a very traditional way ( even with the solar panels for TV) despite these visits and all the other modern technological changes that can be found in the rest of Peru.
Uros Floating Islands (Islas Flotantes)
Lake Titicaca
Puno, Peru

One of the New 7 Wonders of the World

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on February 28, 2010

The famous iconic statue of Christ the redeemer blessing the city of Rio with his open arms is about 30 metres high and is on the top of the Corcovado Hill which is about 700metres high so it can be seen from many parts of Rio on a clear day. Once you are up on the Corcovado hill standing under the statue you have the most wonderful 360° view of the city of Rio de Janeiro provided there are no clouds hovering over the statue.

The statue was designed by the Brazilian artist Heitor da Silva Costa alongside the French sculptor Paul Landowski. The statue was built between the years 1926 to 1931 from donated funds. Mr da Silva Costa was the engineer overseeing the construction and the French sculpture concentrated on carving the face and hands of the statue.

We were quite concerned the day we went to visit the famous monument as it was shrouded in clouds. We went to the Sugar Loaf Mountain first hoping the clouds would move away before we reached the Corcovado and we were indeed lucky at the last minute and we had the thrill of seeing the city of Rio from above quite clearly for about 20 minutes before the clouds came over again.

We caught the funicular train up the hill through the wonderful forest which is not an original rainforest. It was planted by people employed by Emperor Dom Pedro II or Peter the Second who was a man wise before others of the time. He noticed that the hills around Rio were being over cultivated and this was causing flooding as well as soil erosion so he banned farming on the hills and stopped any further destruction of the rainforest. He employed thousands of people who spent their working lives planting rainforest trees on the hills overlooking Rio thus creating this rainforest for future generations.

The train crawls up the Corcovado Hill steadily and at all times you are able to see the forest vegetation. We sat facing backwards going up which was a strange sensation and it felt like you were slipping off your seat most of the time. There is one stop before you reach the top but no-one got on or off so I’m not sure if it was a station or just so that they could do something to the train and line. Once you reach the top you have to show your ticket again and hang on to it as it is a return – if you lose it you pay again or walk down and it is a long way even downhill.

Keeping our fingers crossed we walked up the last few steps towards the statue. The clouds had cleared and we could see it in all its glory and it is really big. From a distance it looks spectacular but standing underneath it you can really appreciate the size, when you look up towards the face you get that slightly dizzy feeling and of course when the sun is bright I also have to shut my eyes which means I see nothing.

There are escalators, two I believe that take you up the last few feet but when we first arrived they were not working so we had to use the traditional stairs. Fortunately we were not there in the main tourist season ( or so we were told) so although there were quite a few people up on the hill we were able to wander round and take photos that did not have a large number of total strangers making silly faces in them.

The statue is white and very clean, it is supposedly covered in a mosaic of white soapstone but it was not obvious, it just looked like white stone. I believe it is actually concrete over a structure then covered in this white soapstone but I’m not totally certain. I vaguely remember those snippets of information coming from our guide.

Once you are up at the top you can of course go to the little chapel under the statue. You can stand in front of it with your arms out and have your photo taken. It must tell you to do this somewhere as everyone was doing it. It never occurred to me I must say. You can also go to several spots and look at the spectacular views of Rio. It is possible to see all the way to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and beyond into the Bay. You can clearly see the Lake Rodrigo de Freitas and the Maracana football stadium as well as the main beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema as well as some of the facelas ( see my Favela Tour review).

After you have used up your entire memory card or film on the camera then there is a small cafe down the stairs or escalators where you can get coffee, cold drinks and a few snacks. Unfortunately they had sold out of the cheesy bread balls that we wanted to try so our English tour manager from Kuoni went with us to see if the cafe below had any. We left the local guide (and our return funicular train tickets) with everyone else in the first cafe. You had to go out of a turnstile to get to the cafe so Derek ( our tour guide) explained that we just wanted to get a snack and then go back to join our group but we didn’t have our tickets – would we be able to go back in again.’ Yes, yes, no problem’ he said.

The three of us sat with our drinks and cheesy ball things and enjoyed a sit and the sun for about 10 minutes. Un-noticed by us the turnstile guard changed so that when we came to go back this new one wouldn’t let us back in!! We don’t speak Portuguese so... after ac lot of hand waving and a bit of shouting in limited Portuguese by Derek; we were allowed back in to rejoin the rest of the group.

We had planned to go and take a few more photos as the crowds had thinned to one or two people now but the rest of the group had decided they wanted to go back down on an earlier train as they had seen it all. To be honest so had we so we joined them. As the sun had come out nicely and we had the afternoon free my book and the hotel rooftop pool were looking very inviting. Or we could enjoy a beer in a beachside cafe on Copacabana or wander along to Ipanema beach – the choices were many.

I don’t think you could visit Rio and not go to see this statue that is the symbol of Rio. It is a very beautiful sight and I’m not a religious person at all. It just looks so peaceful and welcoming with its smooth clean lines and being so white which contrasts with the green forest on the hill and blue, blue sky. Apparently Pope John Paul II came up to visit the statue, he also visited the favelas and according to one of our guides he was so moved by the people in one favela that he gave them his ring.

I wonder where he was more moved, in the favela or by this amazing statue.
Corcovado
Rua Cosme Velho 513
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 22241-090
+55 21 5581329

Cusco, a Charming High Altitude Town

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on June 16, 2009

Cusco is a beautiful city in south-eastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley) of the Andes mountain range (its altitude is around 3,300 m (10,800 ft). It is the former Inca capital city of Peru and was also the Colonial Spanish capital for many years. It is the capital of the Cusco Region and the Cusco Province. The city has a population of 348,935 which is triple the figure of 20 years ago. It has narrow cobbled streets and wonderful Spanish architecture and there is something of interest around every corner.

We flew into Cusco from Puerto Maldonado with LAN Air. We were met at the airport and taken to our hotel - The Libertador Palacio Del Inka While we were checking in we were offered a cup of coca tea to help with attitude sickness ( incidentally it does work and I became hooked on this all the time I was at altitude as it is quite bland and easy to drink when feeling a bit queasy). We settled into our room, well we received our luggage, changed from our smelly jungle clothes and had a shower. We then put all the clothes we had taken to the jungle into a laundry bag and met our tour guide in the lobby. He introduced us to a local lady near the hotel who washed, ironed and brought the clean clothes back to the hotel for less than half hotel laundry prices.

We then went for a wander down to the main Square, Plaza de Armas, which was only 5 minutes walk away. The Square has got to be one of the prettiest city squares in the world. There are two large cathedrals surrounded by many balconied restaurants and shops with the central area of green and flowers with benches to sit and enjoy watching the passers by. Because of the high altitude the air seems fresher and the sky bluer than places lower down. It was like seeing somewhere with your glasses on instead of off - clearer, brighter and so clean. In the background surrounding the city are mountains shrouded in mist or clear and sharp depending on the time of day and the weather.

The Avenida Sol, leading away from the main Plaza has the tourist information office and a small park in front of the Qorichinka museum, which is a monastery built on top of a partially demolished Inca sun temple. This was next to our hotel so very convenient and also provided a nice view for us from our room on the 2nd stay in the hotel.

If we went down a different street towards out hotel we passed lots of doorways to ‘shops’ with the most delicious smells coming out. They were cooking pork fat – crackling but with a bit of meat and LOTS of fat – it smelled wonderful but looked a little fatty for my taste. The local people were obviously very fond of this delicacy and chewed away happily.

We chose to eat at the Inka Grill on the Plaza Del Armas for our evening meal. The service was superb and the staff spoke excellent English. My husband decided to go for the local delicacy, cuy – roast guinea pig. The previous time he had tried it they presented it as a whole guinea pig, teeth and all, looking a bit like a science dissection! This time, however, it was presented cut up into four large pieces but it still had to be eaten with fingers as they are a bit fiddly, not too much meat on them. It tasted much like chicken to me. My choice was Alpaca tenderloin with quinoa. The alpaca was like a mild beef and very tender, the quinoa was presented in a round mould and was spicy with coriander – quite delicious.

The next day we had a tour of Cusco and started with the Inca ruins of Sachsayhuaman high on the hill on the outskirts of Cusco. The sheer enormity of the site is difficult to comprehend without actually seeing it; it also offers spectacular views over Cusco. The walls on huge carefully interlocked stones are a marvel. They certainly understood how to build to withstand earthquakes as these walls have withstood a number over the centuries. How they managed to carve these huge rocks with such incredible precision with only other harder stones as tools is beyond belief really, except the evidence is there to see.

The views from here over Cusco are spectacular and so clear. We were able to see our hotel with no problem at all. There were several local traders selling their souvenirs which you could buy if you were interested. We bought some wonderfully simple woven bottle carriers. You hang then round your neck with your plastic water bottle in and it saves holding in your hand or taking a bag when sight seeing. The traders hang around you offering their wares but certainly do not hassle you like those in Northern Africa or India. They smiled too which was a pleasant change from abuse we have received in other countries when we did not want to buy something.


Within the same park as Saqsaywaman ( the spelling varies - this version is on our ticket) is Puka Pukara which means red fort in Quechua probably because it is a reddish colour stone. This archaeological site is on a small rocky hill and we can see a series of rectangular formations. There are fortifications with warehouses, rooms, water springs, waterways and aqueducts. They were clever people these Incas and irrigation from the surrounding mountains meant they could farm all the areas round Cusco.

Tambomachay nearby is also called the Baños de la Ñusta (the baths of the princess). The main feature of this sight is the two water springs that flow through a gap of carved stones all year round. About 500 meters away from these springs is a cave which is where the name Tambomachay came from. It is thought that this site was a temple dedicated to the worship of water.

We returned to Cusco town to visit the huge Cathedral and attached churches in the main square. The cathedral was built on a former Inca ruin but the opulence inside the cathedral was quite something to behold. The altar was SOLID silver. Another was gold leaf the picture frames also gold leaf. Everywhere you looked was gold or silver in a baroque style of decoration. Apparently they open the Cathedral and churches for locals at different times than for tourists. When the local people go in then there are only candles to light as then the local people are not so aware of the riches in the Cathedral and churches. Being Catholic there were statues and idols in each alcove and side chapels also all gold or silver decorated wearing clothes of embroidered cloth. Personally I felt it was all rather ostentatious and showy, you had to admire the beauty but not the extravagance and I'm not surprised that the opulence is resented by local people who are struggling to make ends meet.

Finally we returned to our hotel area and visited the Inca temple of the sun or Koricancha which is now covered by glass roof and has been protected from the elements. There is a Spanish colonial monastery built sort of on and round these ruins so there are colonial Spanish parts and Inca parts. There are a number of parts of Inca temple areas which were built with astronomical accuracy so the sun’s rays came through windows in a perfect straight line which is an amazing fete when you consider how long ago this was and the tools they used to construct these temples. The architecture of the temple has to be admired. Originally it consisted of high walls that circled the temple. Inside, they say there were rectangular rooms with polished floors. Surrounding the courtyard there were walls decorated with precious metals. The stones used by the Incas to build the temple were brought from the quarries located 20 to 30 Km away from the temple which is a feat in itself.

The next day we ate at a small restaurant at lunch time called Pachahuata (again on the Plaza de Armas ) where were tried some other local delicacies, recoleta – stuffed peppers and a local soup. This was a lovely local restaurant with excellent food and freshly prepared fruit juices. Once again service was friendly and although we speak no Spanish we managed to communicate and were treated with lovely smiles and good service at a very reasonable price.


This is obviously not a fully comprehensive review of all that Cusco has to off and it is interesting for me to read other people’s experiences. There is so much more i could say but this is my experience and I hope you enjoy reading it.

© catsholiday
Exploring Cusco
Cusco, Peru
Cusco, Peru, 00 51
0051 84 273693

Flying High Over a World Mystery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by catsholiday on June 16, 2009

Review of the flight over the Nazca Lines with Air Condor.

We took a trip organised through Kuoni as an ‘add on’ to our South American panorama tour. We flew into Lima two days before the main tour and took this trip on the day after we arrived.

We were picked up from our hotel at 6am which was interesting after our flight from the UK the day before – but we did it. Our guide was delightful and showed us the sea front of Lima as well as geological information about the rocks we could see on the way out as well as commenting on the crops grown along the way and various other interesting points about Peru generally. The driver was excellent and drove safely and sensibly at all times.

We were supposed to fly from Lima to Nazca but in this economic climate of airlines in trouble this airline cancelled these flights so we had to drive to Ica then fly from there. On arrival in Ica there were three coaches of Japanese tourists. Apparently Japanese tourists provide the biggest number of customers for these flights over the Nazca lines. This meant that we were going to have a long wait – not sure what the problem was, if it was a mistake in the booking or if this was normal but we had to wait 3 hours before our flight which wasn’t great as there was not a lot to do at the little airport. However our guide offered to take us for a trip round Ica so we took him upon his offer.

At the Airport there are washrooms, a gift shop, a limited cafe And a video room where you can watch a documentary in your own language about the Nazca lines. Apparently the documentary is longer but the man in charge fast forwarded the dvd to the part about the lines which was very interesting and reminded you of the shapes you were going to see in reality when on your flight. There is a small hotel at Ica airport with a restaurant and pleasant garden area. A tame condor called Pepe lives in the garden in a large cage but he is let out every day for a fly. He was rescued as a baby

We went to a lovely little oasis just outside Ica called Huencachina’s Oasis. This is a popular place for younger people to stay as they off desert sport activities such as sand boarding and driving dune buggies. We just walked around the tiny town surrounding the natural lake and admired the dunes and colonial buildings.

We returned to the airport and waited around half an hour before boarding our tiny Cessna 12 seater. We were lucky enough to be behind the pilots and so had extra views from the windows. They only used the window seats so everyone had a window view – so 8 people per plane. The pilot gave the commentary and it was brief as his English was limited so there was no extra chat – just pointed out the particular shapes when we flew over. As we flew over each of the main shapes the pilot circled and gave those on the other side of the plane a chance to see from their windows. This was quite dramatic and I was glad I had taken my ‘Kwells’ before the trip. I’m not sure how anyone with a fear of flying or heights would cope but it was certainly an experience both in terms of the flight and seeing these amazing formations.

We flew over mountains and desert on the way and were clearly able to see the Trans American Highway which is the road from Chile all the way to Miami. We could also see the viewing platform alongside this Highway from which you are able to see clearly the tree and the hands but I’m not sure how much more.
The lines themselves are so vast that they can really only be seen from the air or the viewing platform ( the hands and the tree only). Shapes include a hummingbird, a condor, hands, a tree, a monkey and a spider, some are clearer than others. There are also random lines and a huge arrow. Archaeological studies have contributed a number of explanations one being alien intervention, the famous ‘Chariots of the Gods’ by Eric von Danniken supports this theory. Another theory is that they man made astronomical charts or maps of water courses, plans for farmers but no explanation can really being scientifically proved and the question remains as to why a civilisation with no means of flight should create designs that can only be seen from the air. It is something that will remain a source of discussion for many years to come I believe.

One of the most famous researchers of these lines was Maria Reiche who was a German mathematician and archaeologist believed the symbols were an astronomical calendar indicating the direction of the stars, planets and solar solstices. She was not a supporter of the alien visitor theory. She believed that the line creation was supervised by people in hot air balloons. She spent years of her life wandering the desert studying these lines and died in 1998 at the age of 95 and is buried in this area where she spent her life.

The Nazca lines are in the Nazca Desert which is an arid plateau between the towns of Nazca and Palpa which is a large flat area of Southern Peru. The area is about 250 miles south of Lima, 90 miles south of Ica .There are apparently about 300 figures and shapes in total which are preserved because of the arid conditions in the desert, they are made of stones which stand out from the surrounding sandy surface.

All in all I would certainly recommend the trip even though it is quite a long drive – 4 hours each way – from Lima. It was quite a pleasant drive and well worth it for the view of these amazing man-made wonders that still, people cannot agree how they got there and the reason for them being there. It really is one of life’s great mysteries.

© catsholiday

Nazca Lines
Nazca Desert in Southern Peru
Nazca, Peru

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j72637-South_America-South_America.html

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