Our second stop in Moab was to Canyonlands National Park, which, as the name suggests, is full of canyons. About an hour from Moab, the park is massive. There are a number of different viewing points, loads of trails and even one canyon rim that would take two days to drive around. But in the absence of a 4WD, we stuck to the viewpoints of Mesa Arch, Green River, Grand View, Needles and Wooden Shoe. The sights were beautiful but in the middle of summer, the best bet is to visit early morning or late afternoon. We were rewarded with the best light in the afternoon at Grand View Viewpoint, which is my favourite photo from the set. Between all of that and Arches, I am almost convinced that Utah is made entirely of National Parks.
And so the official road trip begins! Today’s trip was to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, for sunrise. We made it just in time to see the sun hit the Northern Window, and light up Turret Arch. Absolutely beautiful. After that, we made it through the park quite quickly, hoping to beat the heat and the crowds. But still we were there for almost seven hours, checking out a few different sites. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Delicate Arch, which is probably the most famous site in the park. But with the desert heat, I think I’ll come back in winter sometime instead!
Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world – more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, apparently – and is about 150km outside of Arequipa in Peru. We made a two day trip there, taking in a few sights, walks, local performances and buffet lunches along the way. Although the bus was cramped and bumpy, the view was pretty good – the canyon is up to 4000m deep at some points!
I knew nothing of Machu Picchu until about 5 years ago, when a friend of a friend mentioned a holiday there. I remained completely ignorant of this mysterious Incan empire amongst the mountains until planning this trip, but quickly realised this may be paradise for a photographer. When the sun shines you can see for miles, with the sun hitting the terraced edges and creating dark mysterious shadows. Or get up early and see the mountains in mist, with early morning sunshine trying desperately to pierce the thick cloud. Sigh. Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? It was. Absolutely gorgeous, and so worth the long walk and early starts. Oh, and a hint to anyone intending to visit – ask your guide to have you at the Sun Gate by the afternoon, and Machu Picchu itself for the following morning – it was a real treat to avoid the crowds!
And so it begins! We were up at 5am for a train out of Ollantaytambo, and at Kilometre 104 we jumped off to begin our trek to Machu Picchu. The skies were clear, the air was cold, and we were in for a good 14km hike, from 2000m above sea level to 2700m – and most of that ascension was in the first 5km. It was a tiring walk but absolutely worth it, with amazing sights and landscapes the whole way along. And then, at about 1pm, we arrived at the Sun Gate, for our first glimpse of Machu Picchu!
When you mention the Sacred Valley in Peru, the mind goes straight to Machu Picchu, of course. But along the way, there are gorgeous small towns, spectacular views and many more Incan remains worth ogling. I truly hope anyone that visits Machu Picchu gets to see all the different sights, like we did, especially the sights in Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Here is a collection of the views before we even got to the big one!
Cusco was once the home of the Incan Empire. A long, deep valley, filled with red-roofed houses and uneven, narrow, two-way streets. It’s here in Cusco that the Sacred Valley begins, at the end of which lies one of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu. But before we started our trek into the Andes, we had a couple of days here to eat some local cuisine (guinea pig) check out some Incan sights (Sacsayhuaman) enjoy a festival or two in Plaza San Blas and get sorted pre-trek (thank you to my massage therapist at Encantada Boutique Hotel, I feel much better!). All in all, Cusco was a really delightful place with lovely people, fabulous weather and lots to see – and we will surely visit again.
All aboard the Inka Express! Although, it’s not actually express. You can get a real express bus between Puno and Cuzco and it will take you about 6 hours. Our bus took 10 hours – but with fantastic stops along the way, and a yum buffet lunch. We set off from Puno at 7.30am and stopped first at Pukara, for a museum of Inca carvings and relicts. Second stop, La Raya, to see the highest point so far at 4300m above sea level. A quick lunch before setting off for the next two stops – Raqchi and Andahuaylillas. Raqchi is the remains of an old Inca village, set between the mountains. Andahuaylillas is famous for it’s church, which although it is undergoing repair and renovation, was still lovely. And with those four great stops, it was back on board and into Cuzco, for our last days of rest before our Machu Picchu trek!
I couldn’t believe we were in Puno already. We had been arranging our tour of Peru for almost a year, through Adios Adventure Travel. For the record, they have been amazing – creating a tailor made holiday for us that includes all the big sites, dates and locations that we requested, and lovely, knowledgeable guides. I can’t recommend them highly enough. And it’s only been 4 days so far! Our first stop was in Puno, approximately 4 hours from Copacabana in Bolivia. Here we got a quick tour of the city before a delicious dinner, and an early night to prepare us for the next day – a full day out on Lake Titicaca. In the morning we visited the reed islands of Uros, and were ‘welcomed aboard’ the floating home to 10 local families. The sun was warm but there was ice on the seats – I can only imagine how cold it must get out here during the night! By lunch, we were on Taquile, taking a short trek around the island before a delicious local lunch. It was a full, awesome day, and a great start to our time in Peru.
Unlike most tourists visiting Bolivia, we didn’t get a chance to see the Salt Flats, Death Road or the Witches Markets. On paper, that may seem like a bit of a fail. But time was short, and so was our breathing, so we stayed in for a few days to acclimatise and adjust to the altitude. First up was 3 nights in La Paz, which literally took my breath away as we came to the edge of the valley from the airport. It looked like a tiny town, spread out as far and wide as the mountains would allow, with snow capped peaks in the background. We then made our way to Copacabana on the edge of Lake Titicaca, for one night before starting our tour into Peru. Copacabana was small but colourful, with our first view of the world’s highest navigable lake. Now, rested and adjusted to being 4000m above sea level, we are almost ready to take on our 16 day tour of Peru.