Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire

My good friend Jose and I, have been wanting to do a Peru – Bolivia trip for a while. So one day, we decided to take action and bought flight tickets for a little over 2 weeks. Our first stop was Cusco.

This Iconic South American city was the capital of the Inca Empire and has an architectural mixture of the Incas as well as the Spanish. It’s filled with beautiful narrow streets and buildings from hundreds of years ago that today, are still well preserved.

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The City of Cusco

Before getting to Cusco, we did some research for decent and cheap hostels where we could stay. There are tons of options but after reading reviews over and over, we settled for Wild Rover. We were not disappointed. For us, a twin room with one bunk bed and a private bathroom was 99 soles per night or about 30 USD. There are much cheaper options, a shared 14-16 beds dorm start at 24 soles or around 7 USD per night, per person!! Some of the hostel services include; Wi-Fi, free breakfast and storage room.

Our arrival was in the afternoon at Wild Rover and its location is pretty convenient. Its only a few blocks away from Plaza de Armas (the main plaza of the city) and is surrounded by restaurants, shops, travel agencies and the Church of the Society of Jesus.

Plaza de Armas

After walking around Plaza de Armas, we were recommended by locals to eat ceviche at El Paisa Restaurant. I had a decent fish ceviche for 25 soles or 7.50 USD. The restaurant is also well known for having live performances of local artists. Our day continued with a walk around the beautiful San Blas with its narrow streets and colonial style buildings.

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Streets of Cusco

The next morning, the first stop was at Jacks Café for breakfast (brunches there are highly recommended). Prices vary from 3 to 8 USD. The next stop was at San Pedro central market. It’s a market where you can see everything, from traditional crafts and souvenirs to fruit juice stands. It’s also a very, very cheap place where you can eat for 5 soles or 1.50 USD (we personally never ate there).

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San Pedro Market

As you walk around the streets of Cusco, you’ll see many travel agencies that offer city tours as well as tours to Machu Piccu, Salar de Uyuni and many other places. We decided to use Inka Travel agency for a one-day city tour. It included transportation from the city center, entrance to Saqsayhuaman, Tambomachay and Q’enqo ruins as well as a guided tour of the “Convento de Santo Domingo del Cusco”. The afternoon tour that we had lasted for about 4 hours and the price was 70 soles or 21 USD. Some of these places require an additional entrance fee and you can pay it in advance with the travel agency or once you get there. I recommend taking the early morning tour as it can get chilly in the afternoon/night in Cusco.

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Convento de Santo Domingo del Cusco

After the tour we had a glorious dinner at Café Morena. The mighty “Inca Trail Burger” costs around 9 USD.

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Inca Trail Burger

Our next day consisted mainly in visiting some of the museums that the city has to offer. The first stop was at “Museo de Arte Precolombino” which has a collection of artworks of pre-Columbian Peru. Then “Museo Machu Picchu Casa Concha” which has a vast collection of artifacts and objects discovered in Machu Picchu. Our Cusco tour ended with dinner at “Chicha”, a restaurant by Gaston Acurio (one of Peru’s finest chefs). I had a Crema de Papa for 29 soles or about 9 USD.

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That’s it for Cusco folks! This beautiful city that serves as a crossroad to Machu Picchu is waiting for you!

Next Stop: Machu Picchu


Bogotá in 72 Hours

Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and home to roughly 8 million people. It’s a South American city with a powerful combination of history and modernism and with world class restaurants and museums.

I stayed in Hotel Continental in the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria (around 65 USD per night). The location is ideal because is very close to Monserrate, Plaza Bolivar and many great museums that the city has to offer.

The first day started with an early morning walk to Plaza Bolivar (a few blocks away from my hotel). This beautiful plaza has some of the most important buildings of Bogotá; the Cathedral of Bogotá, the Palace of Justice, the National Capitol and Lievano Palace (Bogotá’s city hall). Of course, admission to the plaza is free! Duh!

Plaza Bolivar

Next stop: Monserrate. One of Bogotá’s top touristic attractions, this hill is a pilgrim religious destination that includes a church, restaurants and souvenir shops. There are 3 ways to access the hill; by a funicular, a cable car and by a pedestrian trail. I chose the funicular which depending on the day (Sundays and Holidays) can cost from 10.000 to 17.000 Colombian pesos or around 3 to 5 USD. Once you get to the top, you’ll find amazing views of the city! At the top, I had lunch at Casa Santaclara Restaurant and ate the traditional “Ajiaco con Pollo” for 24.900 Colombian pesos or about 8 USD. I highly recommend this restaurant!

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Ajiaco con Pollo

When the night came, I went to Zona Rosa or Zona T. An area of many fancy restaurants and shops. Going to Andres Carne de Res is a must! The most legendary Andres Carne de Res is in Chia, about 40 minutes away from the city by car. But I can say that the one in Bogotá is definitely worth visiting!

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Andres Carne de Res – Bogota

The next morning started with a visit to the Botero Museum, one of Colombia’s finest artists. The museum is free and it hosts a collection of Botero’s work throughout his lifetime as well as the work of some of the world’s most renowned artists including; Francis Bacon and Willem De Kooning.

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Fernando Botero – “Una Familia” 1989
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Willem De Kooning – “Mujer Sentada” 1970

Later in the afternoon, I took private transportation provided by the hotel (most hotels provide this service) to visit the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquirá (about 45 minutes away from Bogotá). This underground church also serves as a pilgrim religious destination in an abandoned mine. Depending on the tour you’d like to take, fees may vary and you can look at them here.

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The Salt Cathedral

I ended my day at the already mentioned Andres Carnes de Res Chia (reservations before going there are recommended). This restaurant filled with amazing decorations. Try the traditional “Bandeja Paisa” or just settle with some world class beef tenderloin for 49.800 Colombian pesos or about 16 USD.

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Andres Carne de Res – Chia

My last day in Bogotá included a visit to the famous Gold Museum (on Sundays the museum is free). The museum has a broad collection of gold work from the Pre-Columbian period and is definitely a place to stop by in the city.

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Gold Museum

In the afternoon, my last stop was at El Campín stadium in Bogotá. If you ever visit any South American country, experiencing the passion in a soccer or football match is an experience that everyone should have! I saw one of the local teams (Santa Fe) play against Atlético Huila. Finally, my trip ended with a fine dinner at Club Colombia restaurant (main dishes around 15 USD).

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El Campin

During my 3 days in this city, I was able to cover some important places and I hope you now have a better understanding of Bogotá as this city is worth visiting.

Next Stop: Cusco.



Galapagos Islands

Arguably Ecuador’s number one touristic attraction, I visited the Galapagos Islands in late December of 2015. The islands are known for its vast diversity of marine species as well as Charles Darwin’s observations that contributed to his theory of evolution. I took an early morning plane from Quito to Baltra (2-hour flight) and the fee entry to the National Park varies depending on your nationality (most foreign tourists pay 100 USD to get in).

After my arrival to Baltra, I took a boat to Santa Cruz Island (one of Galapagos biggest islands) where my hotel “Lobo de Mar” was located. Around the hotel there are many good places to eat with a mixture of Ecuadorean and international cuisine such as La Garrapata (main dishes 15-20 USD ). As a 3 star hotel “Lobo de Mar”can be pricier than other options like Darwin Hostel, which has double rooms that can cost around 30 USD per night. The afternoon consisted mainly in visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station where you will certainly stumble upon the mighty Iguanas!

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In the afternoon, I ate some snacks at the Red Mangrove located on the bay and with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. I was lucky enough to find some Galapagos Sea Lions resting on the hotel benches.

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Red Mangrove

The next morning, I visited “El Chato Tortoise Reserve” (admission 4 USD) where you can see and walk around the giant tortoises. What’s most fascinating about this part of the trip, is that you get to experience the natural habitat of these glorious animals. Be ready to walk around a muddy trail!

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El Chato Tortoise Reserve

Next Stop in the afternoon; Las Grietas. There is a 15 – 20-minute walk through a rocky trail to get to this place so is a good idea to wear comfortable shoes. Las Grietas is a nice place to do some snorkeling between two huge cliffs. With some luck, you’ll find plenty of fish down there!

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Las Grietas

It’s now January 1st of 2016 and the year starts with Tortuga Bay. Perhaps one of the greatest spots to visit in the Galapagos Islands. The 45-minute walk to this place is definitely worth it. You’ll walk through a beach where Iguanas are swimming and walking throughout the beach.

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My last day consisted in visiting Santa Fe Island, about eight miles south of Santa Cruz. Snorkeling here is a must, as you can swim next to sea lions, various fish, small sharks (don’t worry they are not aggressive towards humans) and the beautiful Galapagos Sea Turtles!

Santa Fe Island

That’s the end of my first story folks, I hope you enjoyed it!  The Galapagos Islands are definitely a place to visit in a lifetime!

Next Stop: Bogota.