Cusco

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Cusco is the capital of the Inca Empire in Peru and one of the most magical cities that I have ever visited: the vibrant colours; the buzzing nightlife; the indie cafes… what more could you ask for?

I fell in love with Cusco and wanted to share with you all the places which I stumbled across.

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When to go?

May/June

I travelled to Cusco at the end of June just in time for the Inca Sun Festival on June 24th. The city was so full of energy and life but the only downsides were that we were in peak tourist season (£££) and there were people everywhere!

If you are looking for a quieter time then May is most likely your best bet as it is the start of the dry season but the mountains are still lush from the rain, there are also fewer tourists then.

The dry season runs from May – October. I experienced sunny days (around 15˚C) but very cold nights due to the high altitude. The wet season is therefore November – April and although there are less tourists there is of course rain causing landslides, most common in February, which can lead to difficulties with Machu Picchu treks.

Where to stay?

There are tonnes of options for accommodation in Cusco. With the help of a friend I managed to find a perfect hostel for only 70 soles/night for two people (you can email me for more details and the discount if you are interested).

Other places I personally didn’t stay at but heard good reviews for:

Wild Rover

A very fun, young, travellers vibe. The hostel is situated at the top of the Cusco which means two things – the view from the bar is incredible and the hike up is somewhat painful at altitude. There are also hostels in La Paz and Arequipa and if you go to all three you get a free t-shirt!

56 – 100 soles (pp/n) and all the rooms are dorms

Ecopackers

As hinted at in the name, this hostel is the perfect place for chilled out backpackers. They offer breakfast included, a kitchen to cook in and free wifi!

From USD11 (pp/n)

 

Transport

Airport

A taxi from the airport should cost you 20 soles, the grey coloured taxis are the official airport ones and the drivers will all have ID, these are definitely the safest ones to get.

Around Cusco

Walking will be your main mode of transport when getting around the city, but most taxis will charge 4 soles for a journey in the city centre. There is also Uber in Cusco! The public buses run from 6am – 9pm and will cost from 0.70 – 2.50 soles (you will need small change). The sightseeing bus costs 20 soles and each tour lasts around an hour.

Around Peru

There are usually departure taxes leaving a city by bus:

  • Leaving Puno ~ 1.50 soles
  • Leaving Puerto Maldonado ~ 3 soles

Bus companies I used:

  • Turismo mer ~ 50 soles Cusco – Puno, 7 hours, 8:30am or 10pm. There is on and off wifi and a snack. They will charge 10 soles to change a ticket
  • Cruz del sur – 51 soles Cusco to Puno, 6:30 hours, 10pm. You get a TV, small snack and coffee.

It is best to go to the bus station the day before and book your seat on the bus, all the buses have very comfy seats and most will give you a snack.

 

Where to eat?

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Cusco is packed with cute cafes and delicious restaurants hidden away on side streets and through arches.

Cafes

La Valeriana ~ a central bakery with the yummiest apple crumble muffins ever and a large selection of herbal teas and other goodies. There is a huge wall where you can stick your own love heart notes to the tree!

La Bo’M ~ mmmmn. The interior decor is a reason alone to visit. They have the most incredible crepe menu out there and beautiful views over the city. And if you didn’t think it could get any better… they own the hostel downstairs and give a 10% discount on the crepes to people staying in the hostel and a free breakfast. More crepes? Yes please!

Panaderia Qosqo Maki ~ cheap, yummy and hands down the best chocolate brownie I have ever tasted.

Pizza

El Tabuco ~ stone oven pizza, and they even do delivery!

 

All small, family owned restaurants will do a ‘Menu del Dia’ which includes a soup, main (usually rice and meat) and a drink for 8-10 soles. I would HIGHLY recommend this to travellers, this is such a cheap way to enjoy the local food.

 

What to do?

Oh my… the markets. I have been to quite a few markets around the world on my travels, and Cusco’s markets were definitely up there. Everything was just so beautiful, the only thing preventing me from getting it all was the limited space in my backpack.

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My personal favourite market was the HUGE Artisan Market on Av. Tullumayo. It was jam-packed with alpaca jumpers, earrings, rugs… and so much more.

The San Pedro Market also had heaps of knick-knacks and food!

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An unmissable site in Cusco is the Plaza De Armas, which (of course) is a large plaza surrounded by stunning cathedrals and is, although a little more pricey, a perfect place to enjoy a drink and bite to eat.

Sacsayhuaman … or ‘sexy woman’ is a site of inca remains just a 10 to 20 minute walk up the hill from the centre. Of course not quite as impressive as Machu Picchu, but somewhere worth uphill the altitude walk. You can wander around yourself or have a tour.

Tours to Machu Picchu

I am doing a separate blog post all about our tour to Machu Picchu, click here to read it.

 

Getting By

Some handy tips and necessary information for travelling in Peru.

Language ~ Spanish

Currency ~ PEN (Peruvian soles)

Electricity ~ The standard two pin (US) plug is used

As with all South American countries, always always always hide your money. I have heard of countless cases of pick-pocketing in Peru so please be extra careful.

Most ATMs will charge you, and never use the global net ones as they charge huge amounts! There is one just down from the Plaza De Armas on the other side of a rectangular fountain which doesn’t charge.

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In general the markets will only accept cash, and I had a lot of trouble paying with MasterCard as most places which do accept card only accept Visa.

US Dollars are accepted and can be exchanged very easily, perhaps not at the best rate though. Bartering is definitely allowed in the markets, never accept your first offer.

If you can, SPEAK SPANISH! This will open doors for you and reduce prices significantly.

Malaria ~ there is no risk of malaria in Cusco or Machu Picchu.

Altitude

Cusco is 3400 meters above sea level which can cause a lot of problems for some travellers. Nearly half the number of tourists visiting Cusco will suffer from altitude sickness (soroche), that said this is nothing to worry about. You may feel a little dizzy, sick, and/or have shortness of breath.

I am not a doctor, but here are some tips that I heard:

  • It is important to not try and do too much on your first few days
  • Avoid alcohol, or if you are drinking take is slow as it hits you a lot harder
  • Drink lots of water
  • Put chlorophyll drops in your water
  • Drink Coca Tea

 

I hope this helps!

Sacha xx

Las Galeras

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Las Galeras is in the North East of the Dominican Republic in the Samana Province. It is a peaceful town with a beautiful landscape right on the end of the peninsula.

I spent five days there with my family over the Christmas period and have some recommendations for anyone interested in travelling there.

When to go?

January, February, March. At the start of every year thousands of humpback whales migrate to the Dominican Waters to mate and give birth.

The whale season runs from around January 14th to March 15th.

Where to stay?

There are endless choices of accommodation in Las Galeras, some in the village and some scattered a little further out. I would suggest staying closer to the village as renting a car for the further away places can be tricky. We are still travelling in a developing country and not everything always goes to plan.

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Luxury Accommodation

Villa Serena

This honeymoon villa looks out onto beach and clear blue waters. It is a 5 minute walk from the town centre. The rooms are elegant and spacious with a very peaceful environment.  The restaurant serves Caribbean cuisine centred around local seafood and is open to all, I would recommend calling beforehand.

£100 per night

Family Accommodation

El Pelicano Apart-Hotel

This is where I stayed with my family. We were given an upstairs and downstairs apartment which accommodated five of us. There was of plenty space and Hans, the host, was incredibly helpful with sorting out the sleeping arrangements. Each apartment came with a kitchen-sitting area combined, bedroom, bathroom and balcony. We were also offered free wifi.

The apartments are located a 5/10 minute walk from the town centre and a 5 minute walk through the woods to the beach.

from £80 per night

Backpackers Accommodation

Gri Gri

809 705 2894

The accommodation is designed for backpacks so is basic and cheap. The rooms are clean and have hot water and a fan. The restaurant onsite also serves tasty Dominican food, open daily from 8am-10pm except Sundays.

RD$1500 per night

AirBnb also offers a large range of accommodations for varying prices.

Transport

Guaguas run every 20 minutes from Samana and takes about 45 minutes. As long as you are standing on the main street they will pick you up. The locals are also very helpful if you ask them for directions. Guaguas generally run when it is light outside, so after around 5/6pm they are less frequent.

There are taxi services from Samana but these will be more costly, you can negotiate the prices if you speak a little Spanish though.

You are able to rent a car, the roads are in good conditions, but I personally would not recommend it as the companies can be unreliable and the rules of the road a little… loco! Car rental will cost from £40 a day.

 

Where to eat?

The main street in Las Galeras has a mix of restaurants and comedores. My personal favourite was La Bodeguita, an affordable tapas restaurant close to the beach. It was always full of life and the cumin carrots were delicious!

If you are a pizza fan then II Pirata is for you. They serve thin-crust pizzas every evening except Tuesdays, they also serve lunches and a selection of Dominican foods.

For breakfast or a coffee break La Marseillaise French Patisserie serves a selection of bakery and stickies.

 

What to do?

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Las Galeras is situated within the Los Haities National Park so there are heaps of tours offered, including whale watching, all departing from Samana. I have written a separate post about this, so click here for more information regarding tours.

There are a couple of beaches in Las Galeras with clear waters and palms. Playa Fronton is the most secluded beach and is only accessible by foot or boat. Playa Rincon is a slightly busier 4km stretch of white sand and swaying palms with several beach restaurants and sun loungers.

The town is littered with small trinket shops filled with seashells, colourful shirts, and hammocks. I would recommend visiting the Tribal Art Gallery on the main stretch to see some Taino style sculptures and gifts.

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Getting by

Some handy tips and necessary information for travelling in the Dominican Republic.

Language ~ Spanish

Currency ~ RD$ (pesos)

Electricity ~ The standard two pin (US) plug is used

Always hide your money, the local women carry money in their bras and only take what they need. That said, ATMs are hugely unreliable so it is best to bring what you need with you. The locals deal 90% of the time in cash so it is highly unlikely they will accept a card.

US Dollars are accepted in touristy places but the prices will be much lower if you pay in pesos. I was once asked for US$50 for a shirt, but I asked to pay in pesos and was charged 500 pesos (less than US$10).

If you can, SPEAK SPANISH! This will open doors for you and reduce prices significantly.

In the touristy areas you can wear shorts and strap tops, but if you are travelling further off the beaten track it is respectful to cover up more.

Malaria is not commonly found and not recommended to people travelling to touristy areas. If you are travelling to a mosquito area (the South West) malarials are not essential but to be on the safe side chloroquine is the tablet to take.

Local Terms

guineo ~ banana

comedor ~ small Dominican Restaurant with local food

guagua ~ the public minibuses

chin ~ a very little bit

cuba libre ~ coke and rum

tostones ~ fried plantains (similar to chips)

concho ~ some form of makeshift public transport

colmado ~ small food hut which sells the very basics

tigre ~ basically a street gangster

mani ~ peanut (this is rarely used in cooking)

 

I hope this helps!

Sacha xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

Los Haitises

img_4993Los Haitises National Park was established in 1976 on the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic. The biggest attractions to this area are the Forests of Mangroves, the Caves, and of course the Whales in January.

Tours

There are countless tours of the Islands: Bird Tours; Whale Watching; Cave Tours; Boat Trips and Canoe Tours. The park is only accessible by boat.

The going rate is usually around US$60 per person for a full day including lunch. It is always best to pay in Dominican Pesos (DOP) and you will often get a better deal this way.

All the tours depart from the dock in Samaná but most tours will offer transport from your area.

There are tour guides who speak English, French, German and Spanish (maybe other languages too… just ask!)

What to pack?

  • Swimwear
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera
  • Water

The caves can also be quite slippery so sturdy shoes are better, but definitely not essential.

Tours can be pre-booked online, or there are always places in the towns nearby to book. Here are some of the tour companies:

Moto Marina Tours

Tauro Tours

I hope you enjoy!

xx