Puritama Hot Springs: An Oasis in the Atacama Desert

Last month, our South America Program Director, Gretchen Traut, along with her husband, Diego Arelano, were traveling in Chile’s Atacama Desert and got to trek to the Puritama Hot Springs while staying Explora Atacama! Take part in their adventure with our newest video:

Video Credit: Diego Arelano

Read more about this adventure and others in and around the Atacama, in Gretchen’s post, Atacama: An Adventurer’s Playground

Check out more of our adventures in Chile HERE.

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your trip? Contact us!

Your friendly Chile expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Chile, Family Travel, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Atacama: An Adventurer’s Playground

From Salta, in northwestern Argentina, I planned to head east and visit Chile’s Atacama Desert. I had been there in 2014 for a week and was left completely mesmerized. The contrast of fiery-colored canyons, impressive dunes, enchanting hot springs and snow-capped volcanoes topped with the world’s best star gazing, was impossible to stop dreaming of- once I had a taste, I was dying to return to this playground of outdoor adventure!

Atacama

Driving in to the Atacama from Salta offers some of the most stellar landscapes

This time around I wanted to experience more of the desert and, in particular, attempt summiting a few more of the area’s impressive volcanoes. I would start with several desert hikes and then work my way up to a couple of the area’s mid-range volcanoes and finally, end with an attempt on South America’s tallest volcano, Llullaillaco.

Atacama

Atacama Desert

Crossing over the high Andes range between Salta and the Atacama Desert, was something I had been craving to do for years. After concluding several weeks in Salta, I decided that it was my time to experience this incredible overland journey. I boarded a double-decker, long-distance bus early in the morning in Salta and spent the next 8 hours winding through the massive peaks of the Andes range surrounded by epic salt flats, grazing guanacos, giant cacti and an endless blue sky.

Salta

Cardon cacti dot the ladscape

The border crossing consisted of us stopping at small cabin in the middle of nowhere in the high desert. There were two lines leading up to two windows right next to each other: the first window was to exit Argentina and the second window was to enter Chile. A few young men were working behind the windows and blasting Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” which I found to be terribly ironic and incredibly entertaining. Stamp, stamp. We were flagged through to enter Chile.

Explora Atacama

Arriving at Explora Atacama

The road leading into San Pedro de Atacama, dips between two massive peaks: Licancabur Volcano and Cerro Toco. Upon arrival, I was greeted at the bus station by my host from the Explora Atacama Lodge, my base for the next four days. Explora Lodge is the ultimate adventure hub for travelers looking for incredibly knowledgeable guides (every single guide I had during my stay at Explora was a wealth of knowledge and passionately enthusiastic about the region- Explora Lodges have a knack for handpicking the best of the best!), an impressively wide variety of exclusive excursions (from trekking, to horseback riding, mountain biking, star gazing at their private observatory and even high altitude mountain expeditions) and total comfort.

Atacama

Puritama Hot Springs

My first excursion was trekking to the Puritama Hot Springs along the Ruta del Auga trail. In the morning, we departed by van from the lodge toward the north side of the Puritama Natural Reserve. We started hiking with views of the mountains, volcanoes and the Atacama salt flat basin. To get to the hot springs, we crossed several ravines, some of them deep and others shallow, filled with blooming flowers and cacti. Once at the hot springs, we enjoyed a light lunch and plunged into the glittering thermal pools. In the late afternoon, we continued along a ravine to finish our trek in Guatin, a rural village, where our transfer van was waiting for us with water and cold refreshments.

Explora Atacama

Heading out Saciel Volcano from Explora Atacama

 

Atacama

Incredible views from Saciel Volcano

 

Atacama

Photo of our team on the summit

 

Atacama

Peering into Bolivia from the summit of Saciel

 

The following day, I set out for my first volcano of the trip- Saciel Volcano (5,661 m.a.s.l / 18,615 f.a.s.l)! We departed from Explora (2 hours driving) until we reached an old sulphur mine located between Bolivia and Chile on the ridge of the Sairecabur Volcano (5,300 m.a.s.l. / 17,400 f.a.s.l.). The ascent was along a scree field leading to the edge of the volcano’s crater. From here, we continued to the summit where we experienced sweeping views of the neighboring Sairecabur peak and multiple aquamarine lagoons across the border in Bolivia. Here, our driver, a local mountaineer, who had decided to summit with us, broke out a ukulele that he had brought up with him and started strumming and singing; it was quite the summit celebration. We descended through penitente fields (swords of ice jutting up from the ground) and finally ended back at our Explora van where a luxurious picnic was waiting for us. This was definitely the highlight excursion for me during my stay at Explora!

Atacama

Heading to the summit from the Crater

 

Atacama

Success at the summit!

 

 

 

At night, I had the chance to visit the exclusive Explora observatory and have a guided class in astronomy and star gazing. The experience was magnificent. Through Explora’s telescope, we were able to see the craters on the moon and even the rings on Saturn!

Expora Atacama

Telescope in Explora Atacama’s Observatory

On my final morning, we set out, once again by van from Explora to the Salt Mountains, where we walked along the Kari ravine, a canyon formed by water erosion and surrounded by huge sedimentary walls of clay, gypsum, and salt. During the hike, we tackled different kinds of slopes, descending through a sand dune and two waterfalls (these only carry water during the rainy season and were dry when we passed them). We returned in time to enjoy a delicious lunch on the terrace of the lodge.

Atacama

The Sand Mountains around the Moon Valley

Atacama

Walking through the Valley of the Moon

 

Atacama

In the Moon Valley between ancient walls of salt and clay

Want to plan your next adventure escape to the Atacama?

Check out the following itineraries for the Atacama:

Want your own Explora experience? Explora has lodges in Atacama, Torres del Paine Patagonia, Easter Island and the Sacred Valley in Peru! Check out some of our Explora itineraries here:

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your trip? Contact us!

READ THE OTHER PARTS OF MY SALTA + ATACAMA ADVENTURE HERE:

  1. Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 1
  2. Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 2
  3. Gastronomic Delights and Mummies in Salta, Argentina
  4. Trekking To The Clouds: An Inca Trail In Argentina

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

 

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Luxury, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

NEW TRIP: 9-Day Costa Rica Hiking Adventure

Our new 9-day Costa Rica Hiking Adventure includes three distinct and compelling ecosystems:

This flexible adventure is designed for travelers who want to get out of a car and into nature while enjoying stays in comfortable hotels. While not too physically demanding, this trip is all about active nature exploration in the heart of Costa Rica’s most vibrant and readily accessible ecosystems with knowledgeable local resident guides.

You can start this trip any day of the year. While the best time of year for hiking is generally November through April, the rainy season has its own charms so if other times of year are better, don’t hesitate to go.

Day 1: Arrive San Jose, Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! Arrive at San Jose’s international airport (SJO) where your driver meets you and transfers you to your San Jose hotel this evening, the Hotel Presidente. If scheduling permits, try to arrive in mid-afternoon so you can enjoy a casual stroll along the downtown pedestrian mall to the beautiful National Theater, where delicious ice cream and coffee await, with wine an option too.

Day 2: Transfer to Arenal Volcano

This morning, transfer to La Fortuna, home of the towering Arenal Volcano. The balance of your day is free at leisure to enjoy the resident hot springs of the hotel and the gorgeous views all around. If you’re feeling adventurous, head to Sky Trek for their 3 pm Sky Trek zip line tour – it’s the best in Arenal and a total blast.

Day 3: Cerro Chato hike

Breakfast at hotel. This morning, enjoy the amazing Cerro Chato hiking tour, one of the best wildlife hikes in the country. For those who are looking for a physically demanding hike, Cerro Chato Volcano, which has had no volcanic activity for the past 3,500 years, is the perfect choice. One can appreciate the changes from rainforest to cloud forest while climbing the peak, measuring approximately 3,700 ft.

We will begin the tour in Fortuna and ride in a minibus around Volcano Arenal to the Hotel “Observatory Lodge”. A naturalist guide will accompany you during your hike and will teach you about the geological history as well as the surrounding nature that inhabits Volcano Arenal’s older brother. We will start the steep hike to the summit of “Cerro Chato” crossing a very compact, primary rainforest on our way. From the summit, we will walk down to the green lagoon (an old volcano crater) where we can take pictures, or simply enjoy our surroundings.

After another short climb, we will begin our descent. This will give us a beautiful view of Arenal and the valley of San Carlos. As we pass through the rainforest, we’ll hopefully see various birds and other wild animals (though viewing the enormous size plants alone make this tour worthwhile).  This tour includes 45 minutes van ride to our destination, while the ascent lasts about 3 hours.

Return to your hotel by this afternoon, with the balance of your day at leisure to enjoy facilities of hotel or reserve an optional tour.

Day 4: Arenal hiking

Today, enjoy a classic Arenal hiking tour. This tour offers an unforgettable hiking experience through trails marked with the remains of previous lava flows of the impressive and majestic Arenal Volcano. The main attraction of this place is, of course, the Arenal Volcano with its nearly perfect cone shape, and a height of 1,633 meters. Along the hike you will discover the abundant flora and fauna which inhabits the rainforest; your guide will explain the surprising history and activity of the Arenal Volcano and the different eruptive phases. After the hike, you can choose to visit the ever popular hot springs to relax and enjoy the water which is naturally heated by the volcano. Enjoy dinner at the hot springs.

Day 5: Scenic Lake Crossing to Monteverde

Pick-up at the hotel and transfer to the Arenal lake dock, boat ride across Lake Arenal to Rio Chiquito, which takes around 30 minutes. From Rio Chiquito, you will be picked up for a land transfer to your hotel in Monteverde in about 2.5 hours. This unique lake crossing takes 1-2 hours less than driving all the way around Lake Arenal to Monteverde.

The balance of your day is free to explore the area, which is rich in natural history exhibits – especially hummingbird feeding galleries – and famous for its cheese and ice cream.

Day 6: Monteverde Hike

This morning, enjoy a great Monteverde continental divide hiking tour. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve will astound you with its beauty, bounty, and the great amount of biodiversity. The view from the crest of the divide can be stunning, with a vista clear to the Pacific Ocean way down below. Wind-sculpted elfin woodlands give way to rainforests where tall trees – festooned with orchids, bromeliads, ferns, vines, and mosses – rise high into the sky. Bird species abound, and no one forgets the beautiful tree frogs and blue morpho butterflies that cross your path.

The balance of the day is free to enjoy the area.

Day 7: Transfer to Manuel Antonio on the Central Pacific Coast

Pick-up at your hotel for the air conditioned shuttle transfer from Monteverde to your hotel in Manuel Antonio, near Quepos, which usually runs about 5-6 hours. Overnight here at La Foresta, a wonderful property with great value. Nestled on 180 acres of virgin rainforest within the lowlands of Costa Rica is the stunning La Foresta Nature Resort, a boutique adventure resort. Uniquely developed in a striking natural setting, the resort offers exceptional, personalized service for those desiring to take part in an experience of a lifetime. Beautifully designed nature trails surround the resort, providing guests an intimate experience for observing over 50 species of mammals, 15 species of reptiles, and an exquisite butterfly garden. The resort also has the most exceptional bird watching spot in the area and is within 15 minutes from the Manuel Antonio beach.

Optional tours and activities available nearby include:

  • Whitewater rafting
  • Snorkeling trips by catamaran
  • ATV excursions
  • Mountain biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Ocean kayaking
  • Sport fishing
  • Sunset cruises
  • Scuba diving
  • Surfing and surfing lessons

Day 8: Manuel Antonio hike

Breakfast at the hotel. Early this morning, enjoy a guided Manuel Antonio National Park hiking tour. You will be picked up at your hotel to start your ride to the Manuel Antonio National Park. This national park is one of the most famous in our country due to its wide variety of flora and fauna. The park has 3 different trails that go from flat to moderately steep. On this tour a knowledgeable nature guide will walk you through the park, explaining the mysteries of the rainforest. The trail you’ll take with the guide is flat and picturesque and loops through the park making your course about 2 miles long. Throughout your hike, your guide will stop and teach you about the park’s natural history, which includes exhaustive descriptions of animals and plants that can be observed during the hike. Along the way, you can take pictures or just admire the view. One of the highlights of this tour is that Manuel Antonio hosts 3 of the 4 existing tropical primates (monkeys) living in Costa Rica. Half way through the hike, we’ll enjoy a leisure stop at the worldwide famous Third Beach. Once there you can rest on the beach or play with the waves.

Throughout the hike is common to see sloths, birds, and reptiles as well as admire orchids, butterflies, and tropical trees. Your guides are equipped with Pentax and Swarovski telescopes, so you can observe wildlife and take pictures from a different perspective. Once the tour is over, transportation will be provided and you will be taken back to your hotel but we advise you stick around the park and hike the other trails and spend some leisure time on the fantastic beach here. Bring a suit, a towel, snacks, a lunch, bottled water, sunscreen, and insect repellent and you’ll be all set!

* Note: The Manuel Antonio National Park is closed on Mondays.

Day 9: Transfer to San Jose Airport

Pick-up at your Manuel Antonio hotel for the approximately 3.5-hour road transfer to San Jose International Airport (SJO). Plan a flight departure no earlier than 1:30 pm. Otherwise, today on Day 9, we can arrange an afternoon shuttle back to San Jose, where you can overnight, allowing you to depart anytime out of SJO on Day 10. We can arrange whatever plan is best for your flight schedule.

9-Day Costa Rica Hiking Adventure >>

Posted in Costa Rica, Trekking | Leave a comment

Mountain Biking Maras and Moray

This past April, our South America Program Director, Gretchen Traut, along with her husband, Diego Arelano, were traveling in Peru and got to experience Maras and Moray, in the Sacred Valley while mountain biking! Take part in their adventure with our newest video:

Video Credit: Diego Arelano

Read more about this adventure and others in and around Cusco, in Gretchen’s post, Cusco: Peru’s Gateway to Adventure

Want to experience adventures in Peru around Maras and Moray yourself? Check out some of our following tours:

1-Day Maras and Moray Group Tour (Cusco)(Half Day)
1-Day Maras Salt Mines and Moray near Cusco (full day)
1-Day Mountain Biking: Chinchero to Maras near Cusco

Your friendly Peru specialist,

Gretchen

Posted in Family Travel, Peru, South America, Travel Advice, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trekking To The Clouds: An Inca Trail In Argentina

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

The following morning, I set out with my companions to embark on the exhilarating Trek to the Clouds! This trek was developed based on the famous “train to the clouds” that used to run through the high Andes connecting Salta (Argentina) and Chile. This 48 KM trek follows segments of an Inca Trail that had long been forgotten. We began at the foot of Cerro El Gólgota in Ingeniero Maury and ended four days later in Quebrada de San Lorenzo, right next to the city of Salta.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

We began in a dry and arid climate, with staggering peaks washed with rich colors of crimson red, orange and dandelion yellow. During the final segment we entered the verdant rainforests of Salta’s Yunga. All along the route, we were in contact with the nature and local culture of this incredibly special area of Salta.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

Winding up along the Quebrada del Toro, our first ascent was surrounded by massive cardones (giant cacti), with each turn revealing new snowy peaks glittering on the horizon of the high-desertscape. We continued on to the archaeological site of “Sillón del Inca” (Inca Seat), ruins that once belonged to the southern part of the Inca empire. Here we had the exceptional opportunity to camp in this massive ruin site. Surrounded solely by the almost-lifelike cacti, Incan ruins, and Milky Way, this was a site to behold.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

Waking up, still in utter disbelief that we were the only humans around for miles in such an awe-inspiring place, we continued the trip visiting and staying with local inhabitants of the next valleys over.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

Living in small villages over 10,000 ft high, our hosts, who breed livestock and work the fields for a living, opened their homes to us and shared their life stories. For the last two nights we camped in our local hosts’ humble fields and cooked together with them while sharing wine, stories and jokes.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

Our final day, coming out of the Yungas, Salta’s rainforest, we were surprised at the trailhead with fresh empanadas and ice-cold refreshments. We celebrated our success and sadly said good-bye to our incredible guides.

Salta

Salta Trekking to the Clouds

Salta and its magical landscape did anything but disappoint. This hidden gem of rich culture, landscapes and adventure should not go unnoticed!

NOTE: Read more about the Trekking To The Clouds itinerary here. This trek can be offered as a 4-day, 3-day or 2-day trek. The up-coming set group departures for the 4-day trek are as follows:

GROUP DEPARTURE DATES 2017:
–November 15*
–December 6

GROUP DEPARTURE DATES 2018:
–April 28**
–May 26**
–June 23
–August 25**
–September 22**
–October 27
–November 24

*New Moon
**Full Moon

Private departures available upon request (2 person minimum)

READ THE OTHER PARTS OF MY SALTA ADVENTURE HERE:

  1. Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 1
  2. Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 2
  3. Gastronomic Delights and Mummies in Salta, Argentina

Want to explore Salta on your next adventure? Check out these itineraries:

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your experience? Contact us!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Inca Trail, South America, Sustainable Tourism, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gastronomic Delights and Mummies in Salta, Argentina

Once back in Salta, I had just enough time to visit the fascinating MAAM (Museo de Arqueología de Alta Montaña de Salta, Salta Museum of High Altitude Archeology), experience some of the incredible local restaurants and head off to the trek I had been waiting to do for years: Trekking to the Clouds!

(Read Part 1 of this adventure here, Read Part 2 here)

Salta

Outside the MAAM in Salta’s main square

Our first afternoon back in Salta we headed directly to the MAAM located on the main square. The last time I visited Salta I did not have a chance to visit this museum and it was something I always regretted. This unique museum is a homage to the Incan high-mountain sanctuaries as well as mountaineering. It has a serious and informative exhibition focusing on Inca culture and, in particular, the child sacrifices left on some of the Andes’ most imposing peaks.

Salta

One of the mummified children found on top of Llullaillaco Mountain

The focus is the mummified body of one of three children (rotated every six months) discovered at the peak of Llullaillaco in 1999. It was a controversial decision to display the bodies and it is a powerful experience to come face-to-face with them.

Salta

Llullaillaco Mountain

I had a peaked interest in this museum, as, after Salta I was going to be making an attempt at reaching the summit of Llullaillaco where these Incan mummies had been found.

(For more information on summiting Llullaillaco and/or using it as a starter mountain before attempting Aconcagua or Ojos del Salado, contact us!)

Salta

Casa del Molino, Salta

In the evening, we waited patiently for the doors of the famous, La Casona del Molino restaurant, to open. This unsuspecting house-converted-restaurant already had tantalizing aromas of grilled beef, boiling tamales and scrumptious empanadas wafting out of the windows and doors.  The humble beginnings of Salta’s gastronomic cornerstone are still apparent; the rooms of the house circled around a large courtyard and all the simple wooden tables and chairs seemed like they had been there since the opening, decades before. Each table was adorned with one small, white candle and the menus were one sheet of paper listing off all the best of Salta’s unique dishes. Small signs above every door listed the house rules, one of which reminded patrons that they would be asked to leave after 5AM.

Salta

Mouthwatering delights from Salta

As we stuffed ourselves with each new extraordinary dish that came our way, a musician started to sing and strum his guitar playing national folkloric tunes while locals joined in on the choruses. The night was magic and the perfect way to ready-myself for the trek to come!

Stay tuned for the rest of my Trekking to the Clouds adventure in our blogs coming out over the next weeks.

Read Part 1 of this adventure here
Read Part 2 of this adventure here

Want to explore Salta on your next adventure? Check out these itineraries:

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your experience? Contact us!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Aconcagua, Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Inca Trail, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 2

This morning we awoke to the mountain mist lifting from the rustic fields stretching out around Cachi. We piled into Jorge’s 4×4 and set off on the windy roads towards the famous high altitude vineyards of Donald Hess’ Colome. (Read Part 1 of this adventure here)

Salta

Colome Vineyards

Ever since I read the New York Times article entitled, “In Argentina, Wine, Art and Altitude” by Alessandra Stanley, the Colome vineyard and James Turrell Light Museum had been a place I always wanted to visit. Previously working with wine, high altitude wines had also always intrigued me. The robust flavors produced at these limits in conjunction with the deep color tones that the grapes grown at high altitude yield, are absolutely extraordinary. In Stanley’s article she tackles the grand feat of successfully painting a picture of the rugged beauty and oddities that thrive at Donald Hess’ Colome Vineyard and his James Turrell-dedicated Light Museum in the northwest corner of Argentina. “Together, the Hess winery and art museum may well be one of the most puzzling one-man grand projects since the Pyramids of Egypt”, Stanley only half-jokingly points out. She indulges in the, somewhat comical and rather imaginative contradiction that is the rigid, traditional and extraordinary Colome winery of Swiss businessman, Donald Hess, and his contrasting obscure light museum, which poses as a shrine to James Turrell’s work, filled solely with Turrell’s ingenious and puzzling pieces, tucked away amidst the arid, desert landscape of Salta’s Andean backcountry. This is a site to experience.

Salta

Courtyard of Hacienda Molinos

We soon arrived in Molinos: the gateway to the Hess’ Colome Vineyard and Estate. We could smell the peppered, desert air as we sat in the shade of the ancient pepper tree that accents the main patio of Hacienda de Molinos. We visited the humble colonial church before continuing on our way to the world’s highest vineyards. Here, we tasted the dark sapphire-colored wine, listened to the wind as it combed through the Andes from the neighboring Atacama Desert, saw how tradition, art and elegance collided in this remote haven and felt ourselves slip away from initial uncertainty of the harsh terrain (and abstruse light exhibit) and succumb to a zen-like tranquility in this exquisite setting.

salta

Quebrada de las Flechas

As the afternoon grew to a close we took off on the road again heading southeast to Cafayate, the principal wine production area in Salta. On our way, we passed through Quebrada de las Flechas, where jaw-dropping rocking formations, like massive arrowheads, jutted out of the earth all around us shooting towards the sky.

Salta

Vinas de Cafayate Wine Resort

The town of Cafayate was quaint and had people bustling around in nervous excitement readying themselves for the Argentina soccer World Cup qualifying match. For dinner, we joined a large family of locals in one of the numerous fantastic restaurants lining the main square to watch the match. After an extremely exciting victory we opted to walk back to our hotel, Vinas de Cafayate, for a much needed rest.

Stay tuned for the rest of my Salta adventure in our blogs coming out over the next weeks.

Read Part 1 of this adventure here

Want to explore Salta on your next adventure? Check out these itineraries:

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your experience? Contact us!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Luxury, South America, Travel Advice, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Transformative Father-Daughter Inca Trail Journey

This father-daughter duo just completed the Inca Trail together and shared their incredible experience with us upon their return. Continue on to hear about their transformative journey!

This vacation was not only great for us because we achieved so much together (45km hike, 10,900ft in total ascent, reaching to 14,000 ft) but we feel that we bonded together in a way that has made us stronger as a family for decades to come.”

Inca Trail

Along the Inca Trail

“Happy to complete the famous Inca trail together as a father-daughter duo. It was an amazing 4 day journey which led us to push our bodies and minds during the day and heal them in a camp under the sky, lit with the sight of the Milky Way. We highly recommend to all families hoping they’ll come out stronger individually and together as a family on the other side of the journey. Our humble and somewhat longer explanation is to share our experience to those who might want to explore the same path.

With a little nervousness and doubts in mind lingering from a myriad of challenges faced during our Kilimanjaro expedition last year, we started our journey with Km 82 milestone on first day. What was supposed to be a group trek turned into a private trek with our awesome guide Germán Gerardo Cruz Aguilar . The first day was 5-6 hours of hike, relatively flat terrain on banks of Urubamba river. Pretty easy and a joyful experience, except for a few moments of excitement when our guide yelled “Run, Run, Run. Bulls are coming”. It was a big festival day and running of the bull might be common for locals but had our heart raced up a bit. In the end, we reached safe and sound to our campsite and surprisingly we also had a flush toilet and hot water shower at the campsite. We took advantage of it but made sure that we don’t let that set our expectations for what lies ahead of us.

Inca Trail

Along the Inca Trail

After good breakfast, we started our second day in high spirit. After all, first day hike felt like a walk in the park. Second day had about the same distanced of 9km as the first day except it was a constant ascent. The entire trail was made up of uneven stones, and most of these stones have lied in these locations from the Incan civilization thousands of years ago. You quickly realize that the challenge of the hike is not about the distance but the ascent. We continued our ascent slowly with small breaks but we remained strong to hike for  60-90 minutes between breaks. Fatigue was starting to show up on us but we had different ways to handle it. Keya gets in the zone and stays focused with her game face and less communication while I try to downplay by my humor and silly gestures. Our guide assured us that next day will not be bad as it will be both ups and downs rather than constant ascent we faced today. Nonetheless we still arrived at next campsite on time. I loved our routine of relaxing for an hour at the campsite then going to dinner tent for a tea and snack followed up by some bonding time between us in our tent, to reflect on today’s hike experience. We then would go for a dinner around 7:30, plan out the next day, and snuggle back in our sleeping bags for a well deserved healing sleep around 9pm.  We thought that the worst was behind us until our guide told us that we want to hit the trail before 6:30 in the morning so make sure you are up by 5 am and have a solid breakfast. But before the feeling could sink in, we were up and ready to go at 5 am on the next day of our journey.

Inca Trail

Inca Trail Unique Campsites

On the third day, the trail starts with 30 degree incline right from the campsite which is already at around 12,000 ft altitude. Most of you must be aware that highest incline in treadmill is 15 degree so you can imagine climbing up at 30 degree incline for two and half hours and going to 14,000 ft. Yes, that was the first pass of the day and highest point of our trail. The views of valley between snow peak mountains were breathtaking and sense of accomplishment was even more satisfying. We briefly hugged each other, took pictures and felt that now it will get easier. Quickly we realized that we are far from done for the day. We had a to go through steep 2000ft decent which we all underestimated, but it felt harder on this uneven and dangerous trail with lot of thumping impact on our knees. By the time we finished the descent in time for lunch, we were exhausted but we were not even half way to the campsite. We still had to go through another pass with 1500ft ascent and then a descent followed by additional 5km gradual ups and down to the campsite which we were promised that it will be breathtaking. It took us 11 hours to cover 15km hike, ascent 3500ft, decent 4000 ft and to pass through 14000 altitude. We watched orchids, visited Inca ruins and even sung songs along the way. It was the most challenging and most rewarding day so far. With a hearty meal and beautiful sightseeing of the campsite, we crashed with excitement of completing the track next day, meeting Avani and Rahul in nearby town and also taking a much needed shower.

Inca Trail

Along the Inca Trail

We were pumped up despite of tiredness of last three days but start was slow. Day started with a steep (very steep) descent with a lot of opportunity to tumble down the mountain. We made sure that our excitement and impatience to reach to finish line does not make us take a sloppy step or else we can hurt ourselves badly. After a solid 4 hours of descending, we took a lunch at the great archeological site Waynewayaña (forever young). We felt eternal peace, a surreal experience which is hard to describe but can say that have only felt a similar feeling only at 2-3 other places in our lives. It was the last stretch to the Sun Gate (another archeological site) from where we’ll get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. Keya picked up a speed and started going at a pace where it was hard for me to catch up but it lasted for only about 40 minutes and the she suddenly stopped uttering the words in frustration “this trail is just not ending!!”  After strenuous four days and bare minimum living condition make you feel like a foot as long as a mile. After a few deep breaths, guide reached out to Keya and told her that he has nice surprise coming up for us. It was 75-100 steps at around 65 degree incline so time to bear crawl. Wrong timing but it makes you live through cliche of “one step at a time” and helps develop patience and perseverance. Keya aced the climb and soon we reached to Sun Gate. It was an instant reward – What a sight of Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu. We took a lot of pictures and soaked in the view before starting the last hour of a relatively easy hike and finally reached to the official end of the trail. We tightly hugged each other and I was especially proud of Keya who conquered her fear by taking on another adventure, even after what she went through during Kilimanjaro not even a year ago. We reached hotel and got a warm welcome from Avani and Rahul who gave us support and encouragement, which made our journey possible.

Inca Trail

Campsite at night

Last and fifth day started early at 5am to go to Machu Picchu where we had a guided tour for 3 hours and then Rahul, Keya and I started our final hike to summit of Machu Picchu mountain. It was a first time for Rahul to attempt the ascent of 2000ft in 2 hours at 10,000ft altitude. It was not easy by any means but he was determined. Hike was series of steps which were too high for his small feet at age of 13. At times, he had to stretch his legs to the fullest to get to another step which is not easy when you have to climb steps equivalent of 350+ floors in two hours. We all plowed through and reach to the summit and enjoyed the panoramas of the great lost city of Inca, surrounded by the jaw dropping mountains of the Andes.

Inca Trail

Machu Picchu

This vacation was not only great for us because we achieved so much together (45km hike, 10,900ft in total ascent, reaching to 14,000 ft) but we feel that we bonded together in a way that has made us stronger as a family for decades to come.

– Manish”

Inca Trail

Exploring Machu Picchu

Want to plan your own Inca Trail adventure? Contact us!

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Family Travel, Machu Picchu, Peru, Sustainable Tourism, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Exploring Salta: Argentina’s Undiscovered Land of Adventure and Wine PART 1

Arriving in Salta, located in northwest Argentina, from Buenos Aires always turns my world upside down. It had been three years since I was in Salta last. Salta is one of Argentina’s best kept secrets for nature and adventure enthusiasts along with foodies; I could not wait to be back!

Salta

Salta Cathedral

Departing from the modern, seemingly European city of Buenos Aires, you arrive suddenly in a hidden, Spanish colonial style city nestled into the rainbow-colored Andes. The cobblestone streets in Salta are lined with ancient jacaranda trees that provide shade during the sunny afternoons. People are remarkably friendly and proud of their city and it is not uncommon to have curious locals approach you to strike up a conversation about history, food or even the local soccer matches. Salta is a family friendly city and extremely walkable. Dotted with plazas and parks, visitors and locals alike can wander between these social and cultural hubs while taking advantage of the little cafes lining the squares for a coffee or mouthwatering empanada.

Salta

Cachi, Salta

In early October, I met up with a girl friend of mine to explore the natural wonders of Salta while simultaneously entertaining our palates with the mind-blowing high-altitude wines that Salta has recently become famous for.

Salta

Legado Mitico Salta

I arrived at night and was greeted by our guide, driver and new friend Jorge. There was a light mist in the evening air as we pulled into the city- Spring was just beginning in Argentina. I met with my friend, in our hotel, Legado Mitico. Located just a few blocks off the main square, Legado Mitico, is a cozy boutique hotel that was once a former mansion. The hotel circles around an inviting inner courtyard with Spanish tiles adding warmth to the décor. Our room had 15ft (5 m) ceilings and large French doors that opened onto a balcony overlooking the narrow street below. Excited for our adventure over the next five days, we went to bed early to ready ourselves for our early-morning departure the next day.

Salta

Los Cardones National Park

After a scrumptious breakfast of glazed medialunas, argentine croissants, local yogurt, juice and coffee, Jorge met us in his spacious 4×4 truck to begin our journey along the wine route through Salta. A 4×4 vehicle is definitely a must for this route as many of the roads are unpaved and winding, leading through the Yungas, Saltenan jungle, over high rocky passes and finally through vivid desert landscapes without towns or signs of human life for miles.

Salta

Exploring Los Cardones National Park

Salta is celebrated for its numerous microclimates. On our first day we passed through lush, sub-tropical jungle, over a staggering 13,000 ft pass leading to arid grasslands lined with striking orange, crimson and dandelion-colored rock formations. As we continued west into Los Cardones National Park, the land became drier and the scenery morphed to sandy, rocky soil, and millions of cacti sprouting up everywhere the eye could see. All the Cardon cacti in this park were easily over 12ft (4 m) meaning that some were over 800 years old! We stopped in the heart of the park to explore some of the short trails leading to several vantage points and then continued on to have lunch in the quaint town of Cachi, sitting at the foot of several massive peaks. Here, in the heart of this sleepy colonial town, we had a fantastic lunch on the veranda of a local hot spot. We toasted to our trip with deep, almost sapphire-colored Malbec and as we took in the beauty of our new surroundings.

Salta

Array of Salta wines

In the afternoon, we hiked through more cardon cacti to a pre-incan ruin site located just outside of Cachi.  From here, we went to our hotel, Merced del Alto. This gorgeous boutique property sits just outside of Cachi and was designed to model the old Spanish missions. The back pool of Merced del Alto beckons to its guests to sip wine and watch the sun set behind the jagged Andes. Dinner was served in front of one of the hotel’s oversized fireplaces in a cozy dining room.

Salta

Hiking with Jorge

Falling asleep on top of plush feather beds was the best way to end the day and rejuvenate.

Salta

La Merced del Alto

Stay tuned for the rest of my Salta adventure in our blogs coming out over the next weeks.

Want to explore Salta on your next adventure? Check out these itineraries:

Don’t see what you want? Want to customize your experience? Contact us!

Your friendly Argentina expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Luxury, Travel Advice, Trekking, Trip Journals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

NEW TRIP: 6-Day The Dientes Trek

Experience what has been called the best trek in Patagonia on this nature-lover’s paradise trek! Walk through the Dientes de Navarino massif at the far end of South America, trekking along rural roads through and alongside forests, peat bogs, valleys, ponds, lakes, and rivers. At the hike’s summit, take in stunning views of the Beagle Channel, the cities of Puerto Williams in Chile and Ushuaia in Argentina, Nassau Bay, the Wollaston archipelago, and the mythical archipelago of Cape Horn.

Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

Where: Navarino Island in Tierra del Fuego, Chile.

Distance: 53.3 km (33 miles)

Time: 6 days/5 nights is the recommended amount of time to truly enjoy the trek, but some people choose to do it in 5 days/4 nights. Some people choose to extend it to 7 days.

Difficulty: Demanding – best for experienced trekkers. This trek tests your stamina and calls for long days of rough hiking on uneven terrain in virtually untouched territory. But the landscape and solitude makes the struggle well worth it.

When to go: Mid-December to mid-March. This falls during Patagonian summer, but the weather can still be unpredictable, with strong possibilities of high winds, rain, and chilly temperatures.

NOTE: This trip can also be started from Ushuaia, Argentina.

Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

ITINERARY IN BRIEF:

  • DAY 1: Discover Puerto Williams
  • DAY 2: Start of the Dientes Circuit
  • DAY 3: Crossing the Dientes de Navarino Cordillera
  • DAY 4: Guerrico Valley
  • DAY 5: Last day of excursion and well deserved rest
  • DAY 6: Adios Navarino!

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Trek the southernmost circuit in the world
  • Navarino Island
  • Enjoy amazing views over the jagged rock pinnacles of the Dientes
  • Amazing views throughout trek
  • Panoramic views of Puerto Williams, Canal Beagle, Ushuaia and more

ITINERARY IN FULL:

Day 1 : Discover Puerto Williams

Visiting: Puerto Williams

Fly from Punta Arenas to Puerto Williams, enjoying the beautiful scenery, followed by an afternoon outing to the OMORA Ethno-Botanical Park to experience the miniature forests of lichens, moss, and bryophytes with “turismo con lupa” (magnifying glass tourism). Finish your day with a nice dinner and a briefing about the next day’s excursion.

  • Meals: LD
  • Budget Lodging: Lakutaia Lodge
Dientes Trek

The Dientes Trek

Day 2 : Start of the Dientes Circuit

Visiting: Navarino Island

Start of the Dientes Circuit. Discover amazing views of the Beagle channel and Puerto Williams during the trek toward Salto Lagoon for the first night of camping. Depending on weather conditions, we will decide which of the two possible paths to take: the high end slope of the Robalo valley or from the back of the valley. Either way, the landscape will amaze you and you will get to the camping point in time for a warm dinner. 4-5 hours trekking.

  • Meals: BLD
  • Budget Lodging: Camping
Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

Day 3 : Crossing the Dientes de Navarino Cordillera

Visiting: Navarino Island

Cross the Dientes de Navarino Cordillera, while enjoying the breathtaking views of Nassau Bay and Wollaston islands, both part of Cape Horn. After passing by several lakes, climb the Ventarron path (696 mts) for an incredible view of the Dientes de Navarino and Mount Codrington. We will continue to enjoy the landscape while on the way to Laguna Martillo, our second camping site. 5.5 hour trek

  • Meals: BLD
  • Budget Lodging: Camping
Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

Day 4 : Guerrico Valley

Visiting: Navarino Island

Continue to the Guerrico Valley, walking through beautiful forests and experiencing amazing views of Montes Lindemayer. Climb Virginia pass (860 mts high), where you will get incredible views of the mountains and sea of Tierra del Fuego. Reach the campsite in time to dine and rest. 6 hours trekking

  • Meals: BLD
  • Budget Lodging: Camping
Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

Day 5 : Last day of excursion and well deserved rest

Visiting: Puerto Williams

Last day of excursion, heading downhill toward the ocean until we reach the Lakutaia Lodge in time to enjoy a nice lunch and have the rest of the day to rest, walk around the village, and share stories about your experience trekking the southernmost circuit in the world. Dinner will be waiting for you at the lodge at the end of the day. 4.5 hour trek

  • Meals: BLD
  • Budget Lodging: Lakutaia Lodge
Dientes Trek

Dientes Trek

Day 6 : Adios Navarino!

Visiting: Punta Arenas

After breakfast, flight out of Puerto Williams to Punta Arenas.

  • Meals: B

Want to book this trek of a lifetime? Contact us!

Your friendly South America expert,

Gretchen

Posted in Argentina, Chile, Family Travel, Patagonia, South America, Trekking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment