Here’s a short video I have put together of the clips I took at Iguazu Falls on the Argentina/Brazil border. With the flooding of the Guaíra Falls between Brazil & Paraguay in 1982, the mighty Iguazu falls currently has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world.
I’ve decided to give the photos for my three day Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) tour in Bolivia their own post. A selection is below, and the rest are available through my Flickr photography account. These Bolivian landscapes were the most breathtaking I have ever seen. You can view a slideshow of these photos here.
It is claimed Potosi is the highest city in the world at 4,090 m (13,420 feet). It lies beneath the Cerro de Potosi "” sometimes referred to as the Cerro Rico (“rich mountain”) "” a mountain popularly conceived of as being made entirely of silver ore, which has always dominated the city.
The Spanish founded Potosi in 1545, then set about plundering the wealth of Cerro Rico using slave labour. Hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have died as much from the altitude and cold as from the harsh conditions inside the mines. Potosi soon produced fabulous wealth, becoming one of the largest cities in the Americas and the world with a population exceeding 200,000 people.
Potosi is now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site. I spent a couple of nights here, struggling for breath due to the altitude, and wondering around the town’s 2,000 colonial buildings, and a couple of the museums including the old mint.
According to the Inter-American Development Bank, the Death Road in Bolivia is statistically the most dangerous road in the world. It has of course been turned into a tourist attraction, with twelve separate ‘adventure sports’ companies in La Paz offering Death Road mountain biking trips.
I decided to attempt it myself whilst in La Paz. The day began with a guest house pick-up at about 8am, and we drove from La Paz up to the starting point – ‘La Cumbre’ – at about 4,700 metres altitude. We’d imagined a nice sunny day, but for the last 30 minutes of the journey, we drove through sleet and snow, and we feel silent.
The company I’d chosen – El Solario – had promised to supply a waterproof raincoat, which turned out to be little more than a porous rag, and the state of the Trek mountain bikes left rather a lot to be desired – with chains falling off and brakes not working before we even began. These kind of ‘mechanical issues’ don’t inspire confidence when you’re about to descend 3,500 metres (in altitude) down the Death Road!
The first 20KM were spent freezing and wet, hurtling down rainy sealed roads with very low visibility as we passed through the cloud line. Soon we headed off-road onto the real ‘Death Road’ which is unsealed, and has no crash barriers at all along its nearly 40km length. We would intermittently stop whilst our guide described who had died (and how) in particular spots along the way. The worst accident involved a head on collision between two buses in the 80s. Both went over the edge, and sadly all 102 people lost their lives. There have also been 12 mountain-biking tourists killed over the years.
As a biking trip it was great fun. The views were superb, and biking downhill for nearly 60KM (and 3.5KM in altitude) was definitely a huge adrenaline rush. But was it really dangerous? On one occasion I came close to losing control on a bend, with a lethal drop to one side. This slowed me down immediately and for the rest of the trip but on several occasions I still nearly flew off the bike on as I connected with a rock or two. I’m sure a lot of people are considerably more reckless than I was and I’m also sure that for these people the Death Road could easily bring about a sudden and premature end….
This video shows the beautiful Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun) on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, the site of the main Inca creation myth – it was here legend has it that Viracocha (the creator god) had his children Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo spring from the lake and found Cusco and the Inca dynasty.
I took a boat to Isla del Sol from Copacabana, and walked the length of the island during the day – only 7km, but at this altitude (nearly 4,000 metres) it felt three times further!
I apologise in advance for my infantile presenting, I obviously just have no idea whatsoever.
I decided to break up the journey between Puno in Peru and La Paz, the capital of Bolivia with a stop in Copacabana and a trip to Isla del Sol (Island of the sun). Isla del Sol is the site of the main Inca creation myth – it was here legend has it that Viracocha (the creator god) had his children (the first Inca) Manco Kapac and Mama Ocllo spring from the lake and found Cusco and the Inca dynasty.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at about 3,800 metres, and the waters are a beautiful blue, reflecting the sky, surrounding hills and distant snow-capped mountains. There’s something other-worldly about the whole lake Titicaca area – it’s almost as if the lake exists in a region between heaven and earth, but in neither.
Having arrived in Copacabana about three hours after leaving Puno, we stayed the night in Copacabana and caught the earliest passenger ferry the next day over to a small village called Challapampa in the North of La Isla del Sol. About 45 minutes walk North of the port, perched on a cliff with breathtaking views across the lake lie the sacred rock, and ruins of the Inca temple of the sun.
From here we spent a few hours walking about 7km South across the island towards Yumani. It may not sound far, but at this altitude, on the undulating island paths it took a good three hours with a few rest stops. The walk was truly spectacular, the views across the lake towards the mountains in the background were unforgettable.
We arrived in the small village of Yumani close to sunset, and quickly found a very cheap room (US$2) with views across the lake towards the mountains, and settled down for the night.
Cusco is the historical capital of the Inca empire, and for that reason – along with its proximity to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas – it is without doubt the main city on any tourist’s itinerary of Peru.
Also spelled ‘Cuzco’, ‘Qusqu’ and ‘Qosqo’ (in the local Quechua language), Cusco is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has grown into a thriving tourist destination with about a million tourists a year.
Many people believe the city was planned by the Incas to be the shape of a Puma, with the teeth the battlements at the Sacsayhuaman fortress high above the city.
When the Spanish arrived in the 16th Century, they looted all the gold and silver from the impressive temples in Cusco, and used the stones to build Catholic churches on top of the original Inca structures – including the temple of the sun (Qoricancha).
As Cusco lies at an altitude of about 3,300 metres, it can prove tricky to fly straight into Lima and then up to Cusco. Despite this, lots of people do it, and then head out on their 5 day Inca trail trek to Machu Picchu. Not surprisingly there are casualties! If you’re coming to Cusco, I would suggest you give yourself five days to a week in Cusco before starting your trek, or come by bus from Lima stopping somewhere like Arequipa – which is what we did.
So what’s Cusco really like now? Well, it’s undoubtedly Peru’s biggest tourist trap. The moment you step out of your hotel/hostel you become the target of the Commerciantes in the street – the street sellers – trying to sell you everything from postcards, to ‘indigenous trinkets’, shoe shining sessions, meals in restaurants and tours to Machu Picchu. Your most frequently used Spanish here will be “No gracias”.
There is a slightly more alternative side to Cusco (centred more around the artisans’ neighbourhood of San Blas), which feels more like the scene in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with yoga studios, healing sessions (some involving the San Pedro Cactus and Ayahuasca) and everything else that goes with it. But my honest assessment of Cusco (and this is bound to cause some controversy) would be a very beautiful, historic, but expensive Peruvian version of the Khaosan Road in Bangkok – with the same traveller/tourist colonists. It’s a great to place to meet fellow travellers, but how authentically Peruvian is it?
Where Cusco really comes into its own, rather than hanging out with fellow travellers getting drunk in the Irish pubs, is when one leaves Cusco using it as a base and heads into the Sacred Valley to visit the many Inca ruins and historic sites situated there. The Sacred Valley itself is absolutely breathtaking, and I am sure unequalled in the world.