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Southern Peru & Bolivia: Inca Landscapes & Lake Titicaca

SmarterTravel

Author: Vic Garcia
Date of Trip: November 2014

Unlike most Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) trips this one was quite positively different. In our past 20 OAT trips when we traveled we expected to see two or three different geographical areas.

This one was different in that we saw the Andes Mountains, Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, deserts of Bolivia, very different cities of Lima, Arequipa, La Paz, Sucre, and Potosi, the Aymara and Quechua areas and their native people, and the Salar de Uyuni. In all of these there were spectacular sights, wonderful and welcoming people, and experiences to challenge our intellect and physical abilities.

We had read the OAT material and knew that this 20-day trip (with Post-Trip) would challenge our physical wellbeing. From the third day when we arrived in Arequipa to the day of our flight home, we were over 7,500 feet of altitude and usually at 12,000′ or above.

As we come from 7,500′ we had no problems but the other members of the group had problems even taking Diamox. Some chose to stay in their rooms and some slept in the bus. The other issue that affected most travelers was digestive and stomach problems. All but two went through these; some had severe issues and one went home early.

We were always given one bottle of water per day and encouraged to buy more to keep hydrated. Some hotels offered free bottles and this also helped. A few of us drank Gatorade-like beverages for the electrolytes to help replenish our system.

The water system in Peru and Bolivia are not treated/purified and any contact with our digestive track would lead to problems. To further compound our problems we were told and reminded not to flush toilet paper. We were to place the paper in the container by the toilet. Most hotels picked up the trash as they cleaned but a couple left these in the room.

We were pleasantly surprised with the hotels chosen by OAT. Most were better than we expected and all had free WiFi that were as good as or better than we find here in the US. The rooms were spacious and had good beds. The only concerns we had were the two outlying ones: Colca Canyon Eco and Uyuni Salt Flats.

The Eco had problems with hot water but the room was great. Uyuni Cristal was small and the bathroom was tiny but from the reviews we expected a lot worse. A hotel constructed of salt blocks is a great experience. For a complete review please check with TripAdvisor.com. All hotels were reviewed in depth.

In all hotels the breakfast was included. All had hot and cold selections and in most one could have special orders. Coffee, tea, hot water, and hot milk were also served. The fruit, cereal, bread, cheese, butter and jelly selections were good and plentiful.

As all hotels had multiple tour groups and there was no coordination to stagger the breakfast we had some difficulty getting what we wished to eat. The staff had to be available to quickly replenish the buffet tables.

We have always written to OAT about the very large meals that are included as part of the tour package. This trip was no different. We had two buffets and these were great. This provided an opportunity to take the amount of food desired and did not leave food to be thrown out. This was especially important in two countries where there were so many hungry people.

In the mornings of our sit down meals we were always given choices on a piece of paper where we chose the soup, entree, and dessert and put our name at the bottom. When we arrived at the restaurant we were given our paper selections; a very efficient system. We were able to try many of the native meats and vegetables – alpaca and dozen types of potatoes.

Unfortunately, the meals were too large and at times unappetizing. They also caused stomach problems for many of the travelers, ourselves included. Days when we had both lunch and dinner we usually chose to miss the second. I lost 10 pounds and my wife 5.

The highlights of this trip were the local guides. All were superb, better than we have seen on previous trips. They were knowledgeable, personable, energetic, always smiled, and were willing to answer all questions. On the bus, they always faced us, giving us eye-to-eye contact.

We would like to thank Pedro from Arequipa to Colca Canyon, Broz in Puno to the border, Mario in Copacabana and La Paz, Natalia in Sucre to Potosi, and Juan Carlos (JC) from Potosi to Uyuni. They were great. We also had the support of Carlos from the OAT office in La Paz who traveled with us in the city and then to Sucre and Potosi.

An area of concern was the busses. A few were well maintained and clean. Most were not up to date in their maintenance. None had A/C and this was a problem with high temperatures and dirt roads. All the windows had to be closed. Our bus from Arequipa to Colca Canyon and then to Puno never went above 45 MPH. I have a GPS that measures the vehicle speed and many other factors.

Where the speed limit for busses and trucks was 60 MPH, we spent a lot of time on the bus. Our vehicles from Potosi to the Salt Flats were three Toyota Land Cruisers that were like the busses, minimal maintenance and no A/C. On dirt roads we closed all the windows and dust still filtered into the vehicle on to our clothing, cameras, etc.

We had many optional experiences. The Sillustani Tombs was excellent and worth the $35. When we happened upon an event, our TD made sure to stop and show us how the people lived. These included the Procession of the Lord of Miracles in Arequipa, The November 2 family gathering on the Day of the Dead in the Cementerio Central Laykakota, and many long hikes.

As I stated in the introduction, this was a special trip due to the multitude of different geographical areas we visited. No other OAT trip has done this. Talking to the people of these countries continues to reinforce our belief that the different regions of the world are beautiful and welcoming places. What one needs to do is be open, smile, and make an effort to be happy and sincere Americans.

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