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Getting to Machu Picchu!

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Visiting the world renowned archaeological site of Machu Picchu has long been on my ultimate wish list. I can’t even describe how thrilled I was when I boarded the 16 hour bus that would take me from Huacachina to Cusco, Peru. All I could think about, was that I should be wandering the famous premises in about 48 hours!

From the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, I boarded a collectivo (peruvian small van) which took me to the small mountain town of Ollantaytambo for $10 USD. The views from the bus window were stunningly beautiful, with landscapes ranging from rustic farm houses and fields, to the towering snow capped Andean mountain range. The air was super clean and crisp, seemingly untouched by pollution, and the sky was an amazing shade of blue.

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After being dropped off in the main square, I hoisted my backpack on my shoulders and went about looking for an affordable place to stay. I severely underestimated the task of walking up and down cobbled streets at a seriously high altitude of 2792 metres above sea level.

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Just when my lungs were about to burst, I stumbled upon a guesthouse called Full Moon Lodge. For $25 a night, I got a private room with a comfy bed, a nice bathroom and even internet connection! There were hammocks and dream-catchers everywhere and the family dogs were friendly and totally adorable! I freaking loved it.

Early the next morning (around 5am), I woke  up, quickly got dressed and hustled to the train station to board the Expedition Train #81 to Machu Picchu. The cost of my round-trip ticket was $130, which was fairly expensive given the relatively short ride.

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The train was punctual and interestingly decorated with lots of Andean artwork. A complimentary snack and a drink were served after our departure from Ollantaytambo. Basically, the journey took a little over an hour ,then we were pulling up at the train station in Aguas Caliente (also known as Machu Picchu Town). Aguas Caliente is your typical tourist town, so be prepared to overspend on just about everything.

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The last leg to the archaeological site was by a coaster bus which I boarded at the bus terminal for $18.50 USD roundtrip. The road up the mountain was narrow and extremely winding. We were surrounded by dense forest for the entire time, as we climbed our way further and further upwards. There were a LOT of Chinese tourists on my bus, who were fascinated with taking countless snaps of the passing bush. (I didn’t get it!)

Finally!!! I arrived onsite! At this point, I was simply too tired to be adequately excited. I joined a lengthy queue of visitors waiting to enter the grounds, and took the opportunity to give my passport an official Machu Picchu Stamp. I think that’s when it really sank in. I was here!

Stay tuned for an account of my detailed visit, coming up next!

Dune Bashing & Sand Surfing in Huacachina

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After a long transit through Lima, my four hour bus ride finally came to an end in the town of Ica. Food was first on the agenda, and I filled my tummy on fried chicken from a fast food restaurant located just outside of the main bus terminal. I read online that I would need to take a taxi to get to the oasis of Huacachina, but I was running short on local currency. So, I asked a security guard near the station for advice on how to get some Peruvian Soles. He told me to head to the town square and look for men wearing labeled vests (Cambistas or money-changers).

I slung my backpack on my shoulders and made the journey by foot. It took about five minutes in each direction, After receiving my cash and ensuring that the bills were genuine, I flagged down a taxi and asked to be dropped off in Huacachina. The driver was friendly and although his English was limited, he made a considerable effort to communicate about how I liked his homeland. I met him halfway with my intermediate Spanish and we spoke about everything from the bus system and local food, to what activities I should partake of while in the area.

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Soon, I was checked into the hostel ‘Banana’s Adventure’. I chose the package option for $28 US which included an air-conditioned four-bed luxury dorm, breakfast and a dune buggy tour for the next day. The room was fantastic. It was spacious, the comforters were thick (perfect since it gets very chilly in the desert) and the bathroom had a massive shower head with the best water pressure I have encountered in the entire continent so far.

After a good night’s sleep, I awoke the next day refreshed and took a walk around the oasis. All around me were towering sand dunes, and the views were seriously astounding.There were little boats being rowed across the green lagoon located in the middle of the town. My camera and I got really acquainted, as I shot picture after picture. All this green located in the middle of a desert! Finally, it was time for the event I had been waiting ALL day for: The buggy tour in the dunes! After we got our safety speech, our large group clambered into five coloIurful buggies, and off we went!

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We drove through the town, and the road eventually gave way to sand, The ride was crazy! Our drivers sped up the dunes, flung us over the top and crashed us down while our excited screams got louder and louder. The sky was perfectly clear, which made for the most amazing photographs with my action camera. The dune bashing lasted at least twenty minutes and it was such an intense and mind blowing experience. We were swung in all directions, and sand was spraying everywhere. I highly recommend wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes from both the flying sand particles as well as the brilliant sunshine which reflects off the white dunes.

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The drivers finally came to a stop at the top of a particularly big sand dune and told us to get out because it was time to sand surf. Our driver pulled out a couple of boards from the back of our buggy and handed one to each of us. We cautiously edged closer to the launch point and looked down. It didn’t look so bad at first glance. Then I was handed a white substance to rub on the bottom of my board, so that I could slide down the dune much faster. This is when my adrenaline kicked up a notch!

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With my board fully lubed, I braced myself and hurled myself downwards. All too soon it was over and I was safely at the bottom! I let out a loud whoop and caught myself wanting to do it all over again. Luckily we had three more dunes to surf on. The final one was a double whammy. After surfing down one, there was a short plateau before heading down a second dune. All in all, it was worth every dollar spent!

Finally, we piled back into our buggies and headed back towards town. Just on the edge of the town, the driver told us that if we wanted to, we could get our and wait for the sun to set in about fifteen minutes. I was one of about only ten people who decided to take advantage of the opportunity. Guess the others had better things to do?!

I sat down on the face of the dune and took a ton of pictures of the oasis down below. The dunes were bathed in a warm glow as the sun slowly started to sink below the peaks of sand. The resulting sunset is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I have read countless blogs about the ‘Huacachina Experience’ and I was so happy to have had the chance to see and do it for myself. For the ridiculously low price tag, this adventure is easily one for the books!

Loki Hostel in Mancora, Peru

Loki Hostel in Mancora, Peru is a great place for a fun loving person to meet awesome travelers from around the world. Mancora is predominantly a beach town in Northern Peru and it’s mainly known for its surfing conditions. Loki is situated a mere three minutes walk to the downtown area and is literally steps away from the sandy coastline. However, the visitors who book a stay here are usually younger and are always looking for the next place to party. As such, the hostel has quite a reputation for being the place to have a great time. Light sleepers should take note.

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Although it is a hostel, mostly because of the availability of shared dorm rooms, one could easily mistake the premises for a high end resort. There is a large swimming pool and an area with hammocks which is absolutely heavenly for lounging with a drink. Plus, there is a large bar area complete with a pool table and the security onsite is very efficient. All guests are required to wear special wrist bands which are checked before entry into the grounds.

I had booked a room in a six bed dormitory with an ensuite bathroom. The bed was soft with crisp and clean white linen. The bathroom was well kept and stocked with toiletries, and a very large locker was provided for the safekeeping of my bags and valuables. I spent a total of four nights at the Loki hostel, although I had originally booked for two nights. The rooms were serviced daily and I generally had no complaints.

CAMERAThe bar was a definite high point during my stay. The drinks were reasonably priced although cheaper cocktails could be had outside of the hostel. For dining, there were menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I ate several times at the bar, and while the food was a bit pricey, it was always well prepared and tasty. I especially enjoyed their omelettes at breakfast along with complimentary coffee and tea. Such a meal was approximately $3 USD. The bar staff would check your wristband for your room number and you would be billed upon checkout. Happy hour equals discounted drinks and there was even a BBQ one night.

Loki Hostel is a good option if you are a young (or young at heart) traveller and you are on a budget. I paid only $11 USD per night for my dorm room and it was easily worth more in my opinion. It’s perfect for solo travelers and there are private rooms for couples or families. I easily recommend.