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Why you’ll love Ecuador

Why you’ll love Ecuador

So, I reckon I should work for Tourism Ecuador I am so into the shit that they’re selling.

Before coming to this teeny tiny country, I had hardly given it a thought beyond it being a stopover from Peru to Colombia. How silly I was! After travelling from Chile up through Bolivia and Peru, I can honestly say it is my favourite. Here’s why you should go:

It’s uber chilled

From the moment I crossed the border, I felt immediately at ease in Ecuador. Even the border crossing was ridiculously relaxed! I walked across a bridge, had my passport vaguely examined and stamped, went back to Peru for lunch and came back into Ecuador with a long-neck. People on my “bus” (an open truck with benches installed) commented on my beer, and I thought “yeh, OK, this is kind of dodgy” but they were more just concerned that I didn’t have a glass for it!

Even the cities in Ecuador feel relaxed (Quito compared to Lima is a nice afternoon stroll), but Zumba, Vilcabamba, Papallacta and Mindo are just a few towns that I found super chilled. Even the more touristy Baños is laid-back.

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You can still party

Despite how ridiculously tranquil this country is, you can still find plenty of nightlife and naughtiness. Quito seems to have way more going on than Sydney (not that that would be hard), and even in smaller cities like Tena you can go out every single night until 2am or 3am.

Whether you want peace and quiet or crazy partying, you can easily find both in Ecuador. Perfect really – get wild, then head to the cloud forests in Mindo to feel sorry for yourself and recover!

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Getting around is super easy. And cheap.

It’s a tiny nation, so everything is pretty close. You’re generally only doing a few hours in-between destinations, unlike bigger countries like Chile or Peru where you end up on 10-hour night bus, after night bus.

There are also so many buses. You’re rarely waiting they’re so regular. Even coming back from teeny tiny Papallacta on the side of the road I barely waited five minutes. And the buses are cheap as chips! They seem to be approximately US$1 per hour – what a joke! And that doesn’t include the free entertainment in the form of people selling random shit like hair straighteners and jumping on and off the bus while it’s still moving. Crazy Latinos!

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Men aren’t sleazy

So this is kinda random and not really singing Ecuador’s praises, but it was SUCH a relief after the constant hassling in Peru to walk around without being eye-called dirtily and to simply talk to a taxi driver without being hit on. There was still staring (it is South America, after all), but the unwanted attention pales in comparison. I never felt hassled or creeped out, well except one time when I saw this old man taking a dirty piss in Quito on the street – ew. He did look sheepish though when he and his willy got busted haha.

It’s less touristy

I never felt the wrath of tourism in Ecuador. I didn’t go to The Galapagos, so maybe I would feel it there, but I have only ever heard wonderful things about the islands, plus they’re expensive so you probably don’t get huge crowds.

I think perhaps being less known or famous than Peru or Argentina (and now Colombia), it is still relatively unspoilt. It doesn’t have the hype of Machupicchu. I’ve met quite a few travellers who simply skipped Ecuador, that’s how under-appreciated it is.

The weather

Being on the equator, the weather here is pretty mild and almost perfect all the time. This means you can feel comfortable no matter what time of year. And you can visit whenever you want as well without worrying about not being able to do certain things due to torrential rain.

Showers

When you’ve been on the road awhile (12 months seems to be the norm these days!), or just a 3-day hike, the joy of a decent shower cannot be overemphasised. In my three months in Chile, Bolivia and Peru I had honestly only had about three good ones. Not even my rich Chilean friend had a reliable shower! In Peru most of the shower heads were ELECTRICAL! I mean, honestly, who was the numpty who decided combining water with electrical currents was a good idea? Because of that, you could only really get a pathetic drizzle because that’s all it had the power to heat.

Come in Ecuador. Hot shower after hot shower! And with pressure! Apparently Colombia and Central America don’t have decent showers either, so lap it up!

The people

I’ve found Ecuadorians to be very friendly and helpful. Even when I haven’t asked for help! They especially love you if you love Ecuador, so be sure to tell them.

My favourite places and things to do

Mindo – bird watching (hummingbirds!), the surprisingly terrifying “Tarzan swing”, a frog concert (yes, that’s right), zip-lining and so much more

Quilotoa loop – cheap and beautiful 3-day hike stopping at small villages with killer hostels (stay at Llu Llu Llamas in Isinlivi)

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Vilcabamba – stay at hosteria Izchlaluma for the best dorm experience, free morning yoga overlooking gorgeous scenery, a swimming pool and relaxed vibes

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Cuenca – beautiful and charming colonial town

Baños – puenting (similar to bungee jumping), canyoning and other adrenalin activities, plus thermal baths and lovely scenery.

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Papallacta – best thermal baths in your LIFE! Set against more stunning scenery. Have I mentioned the scenery is fantastic in Ecuador?

Amazon rainforest and Galapagos

Now, I didn’t go to the Amazon or the Galapagos Islands, so I can’t even imagine how much I would be singing Ecuador’s praises if I did. I plan to return and do both though as I have heard wonderful things and already have a serious case of FOMO. You can even swim with sea lions in the Galapagos! Apparently they’re very curious and playful. Animals there in general are not phased by humans – get in before they crack the shits!

If you’re thinking about Ecuador, you won’t regret going. It might be small, but it has so much to offer. Whether you want relaxation or adrenalin, peace or parties, you can really find it all. And although it’s not as cheap as Peru, you can still eat a two-course meal for US$2 so who’s complaining?

 

 

10 things to do in toilets (Baños, Ecuador)

10 things to do in toilets (Baños, Ecuador)

Baños, named after its thermal baths (but often confused with “toilets”), is about four hours by bus from Quito in Ecuador and a super fun town. It’s hard for me to pinpoint a highlight from my time here, and some of it probably shouldn’t be shared (hi, Mum). I dove off a 100m bridge, jumped backwards off a waterfall, got myself steamed in a wooden box and at one point there was even wrestling.

Here are my top 10 things to do:

1. Go “puenting” – AKA jump off a bloody bridge

Since leaving Baños I have met a tonne of people headed that way and every single time I say excitedly “Dude, you HAVE to jump off the bridge”. I don’t seem to lose this enthusiasm, that’s how good it is.

It’s incredibly thrilling, but you have a full-body harness instead of a bungee cord so it’s not quite so intimidating (I can see my jumping buddy laughing at this statement). Having said that, you do have to dive head-first. They even showed us videos of how to do it vs how NOT to do it. It still entertains me thinking hundreds of people see this muppet doing it the wrong way and getting awkwardly jerked around like an idiot. Poor guy!

It’s also hilariously casual. Within five minutes of enquiring at a travel agency a taxi had arrived, we were at the bridge then climbing over a railing onto this dodgy little platform. It’s only TWENTY US DOLLARS (coincidence?). Don’t think too much, just do iiiiiiiiiiit. Nobody has died yet. I think.

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Above left: Feeling confident pre-flimsy fence climb

Above right: What I affectionately call “the gremlin” – a face I have never seen before. Yes, they make you climb over a safety railing. My advice? Don’t look down. Also, take a hot Canadian with you who you’re trying to impress.

2. Have a “health bath” – AKA steam yourself in a box

This activity is necessary if only for the photos. You sit in a wooden box, steam the shit out of your body (but unlike other steaming experiences, you have control over the steam and your head is free – just don’t get an itchy face). After three minutes, you wash yourself with a big cold wet towel (or they do it – super awks), then sit in a shallow pool of cold water, then as an optional extra (lol) they can high pressure hose you down. Like an elephant. I am not kidding. You then repeat the process three times.

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3. Bike ride from Puyo to Baños

Now, I didn’t technically do this. I messed up and hired a stupid and expensive buggy that could only go 30km/h (don’t do this). But the scenery is beautiful and you can stop at waterfalls along the way, including the impressive El Pailon del Diablo. You can hire a bike all day for US$5.

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4. Go canyoning 

You can abseil down waterfalls, go down natural water-slides and finish with jumping backwards off a waterfall. This activity is a hella lot of fun, and you can’t do it all over the world. Do it in Baños for US$30. Bargain!

5. Visit the thermal baths

These are super relaxing, especially if you’ve just been on a  big hike like the Quilotoa Loop. I met someone who went back to Baños specifically for these baths!

6. Swing off the edge of the world

There’s a famous swing just outside of Baños that’s attached to a tree house. You can catch a local bus there for a couple of bucks, and just chill out for an hour or so. I went on a Sunday afternoon so got stuck in lines with kids (they were totally budging in front – I don’t care how old you are, not cool), but it totally cured my hangover.

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Other top picks

Read the rest of this article here, which includes places to eat and drink and behave like a fool, such as the one pictured “dancing” below. There are plenty of other things to do in Baños, like ziplining and white water rafting (neither of which made my top picks), and you definitely won’t be bored here – I ended up staying a week. The important thing is to go! And when you do, please send me embarrassing photos of your face if you jump off the bridge.

 

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Above: Cutting a rug out in Baños and taking on an unsuspecting pole

 

 

Latino men – a different species

Latino men – a different species

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Ahhh, the infamous Latino man. You hear that stereotype about the “latin lover” – he can dance, he can romance, he can take you to the moon and back. He can also eyeball at a whole new level.

It took a while for me to learn and adjust to their unique ways while travelling, which DO vary vastly from those of your average Australian man or any gringo, really. Here’s what I have gathered in my experiences so far in South America:

“If they talk you, they want you”

Unlike in Australia and other Western countries, men and women rarely have platonic relationships in South America. My Chilean friend Esteban, who to prove my point has only one “friend girl” – me, once explained the situation quite clearly. “You think if he talk you, he wants be your friend. No, no, no. If he talk you, he want you.” HA!

To me, this notion was at first ridiculous. But after dealing with numerous chatty taxi drivers wanting to get my phone number, extra-helpful receptionists coming into my dorm to “salsa dance” and enthusiastic tour guides sending me a butt-tonne of “friendly” emails, it became very apparent that he was right.

esteban Esteban and his one “friend girl”

I also consulted other Latino men on this topic and they agreed. One man from Arequipa (Peru) laughed when I asked him about the latino man gringa woman fiasco. He said “the problem I notice with gringas is that they are always saying “yes” to men here. If a guy asks them to a party, they think he’s just being friendly and accept. And he thinks he is in.”

One day I had an epiphany and sent my friend Esteban a message, saying “Oh my god. You said if a guy talks to me, he wants me. Does that mean if I talk to him, he thinks I want him??”

“Of course.”

Holy shit! So, apparently I had been leading them on the whole time. He said I need to start saying I am travelling with my boyfriend and LOTS of friends. But, although this improved things, it didn’t entirely work either. I then started trying to avoid conversation, but even when I faked not understanding any Spanish on a bus in Ecuador, the guy merely started talking with his hands, was miming and seemed to just find it cute that I couldn’t understand. I even tried pretending I was ASLEEP, and no success. Which brings me to my other realisation…

No doesn’t mean no, it means try again in five minutes

I remember in Australia I used to sometimes kiss boys I didn’t like purely because I felt awful pulling away. Insane, I know, but I just didn’t want to hurt their feelings, so would kiss them for a second then smoke bomb. One night out in Bondi I (rightly) decided I wasn’t doing it anymore, and my very fear came true: the guy was embarrassed, borderline horrified. He got up and left and I never saw him again.

This is NOT how it works in South America.

They are relentless. Like the Southern Italians (startling parallels when it comes to crazy driving and sleazy men), resistance or flat-out rejection doesn’t deter them. If anything, it encourages them. Adds fuel to their Latin “fire” (another great Esteban-ism).

I remember in Sicily this guy I was couch surfing with (another topic I feel strongly about), tried to kiss me at least a dozen times. I should’ve just left, but he wasn’t forcing anything, just kept having a crack. One day he said he had a surprise for me, and next thing I know I come out from the bathroom, romantic music is playing and he’s holding a floppy rose from his mother’s garden decorated with glitter. He enthusiastically comes in for the kiss, I pull away for the thirteenth time, and he is absolutely exasperated as though he doesn’t know what on earth will work, if that big romantic gesture failed. But, of course, he tried again later!

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Ollantaytambo – Dirty Peruvian hostel owner who “accidentally” brushed his groin against my butt while pointing out the mountain trails. Vom! Look at that slime!

Don’t say “hola” back

One thing that really strikes me about men here, is that they have no qualms about blatantly eyeing you up and down. Never in my life have I come across such epic stare bears. I think a lot of them are genuinely just curious, but there is of course a large counterpart who are undoubtedly undressing you with their hungry brown eyes and thinking that saying “hola” might give them a chance to get you in the sack.

You might say that they are just being friendly, it’s nice to greet people you pass by, blah blah blah. But when I was in Nasca (Peru), I had this sudden realisation that only men were saying “hola” to me in the street.

My thoughts are backed up by the “women travellers” sections in Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring guide which are very telling. It says that us ladies shouldn’t encounter any great difficulties but should come mentally prepared for a conspicuous amount of attention – nailed it there!

Don’t get me wrong – the whole thing is very entertaining at times. While I was in Nasca walking through a market, an old man (I’m talking like 75) looked me up and down and said “ooh, la, la” – it doesn’t get much better than that. Even my dad agreed it was pretty fantastic. And generally nothing comes of the unwanted male attention, it’s more just an assertion of their manhood in countries where machismo is alive and oh-so well. Nonetheless I do think it best, despite it being completely against my nature, to simply ignore them. Plus, this is apparently what local women do, so when in Rome (where many such perves exist)…

There have also been cases where it has undoubtedly worked to my advantage. I have received at least 40 cents off in some motor taxi rides, for example. And I have scored some other bonuses. In Huaraz (Peru), I arrived after yet another jet-lag inducing night bus to a hostel which had a dorm bed which had disappeared when I returned from breakfast. I think I was too out of it to ensure I had actually reserved it, but after much talk among the guys running the hostel, they said they would “adopt me” as long as I stayed three years, not three days. Over the next three days silly jokes ensued such as responding “Wonderful now that you’re here” when I asked “How are you?” but towards the end one man was hassling me a lot, even saying “why do you hate me?” because I was talking to other backpackers (too much chatting, I should’ve known better). So it probaaaaaably wasn’t worth it haha, but the point is I wouldn’t have had a bed if I had had a penis.

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One of the funny cheesy sleazy hostel owners from Huaraz – not the bunny boiler nut bag!

Enjoy it

This isn’t the first time I have experienced the “Latin fire”. When I was in Mexico in 2009, from the moment I opened my hotel door to the moment I returned that night, the catcalling and hollering was constant. “Ehiiiiiii!! Mamasita, bonita, querita, hermosita!” (Hey!!!! Hot mama, pretty lady, blondie, little beauty!). Never in my life had I been exposed to so much NOISE coming from men via their mouths, car horns, truck horns, even hands. I remember watching a Seinfield episode once where Jerry says that men like women, they know they want women, but they don’t really know how to get them so they just kind of blurt out anything to get their attention. This is Mexico fo’ real. It was incredibly overbearing, but looking back on it, it was super funny. And I must admit that when I went back to gringo-land in the US, the sudden silence was a bit jolting. I thought “Have I lost it?” – ahh, how fickle I am!

And some of the things they say, like the old fart in Nasca, are truly priceless. I was also once told in Buenos Aires that “You, in Argentina, with blue eyes and blonde hair…you are diamond” – now, you don’t get THAT at home!

So I think ultimately, with a little bit of cautiousness and a LOT of patience, the Latinos should, like any other part of their culture, be considered “an experience” and something to smile, sometimes laugh at. Like this photo from the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile.

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When you say “why not?” and end up in a pizza oven

When you say “why not?” and end up in a pizza oven

Now, I am all for doing random shit as anybody who knows me is well aware. Whether it’s a drumming journey in Sydney to discover my spirit animals or visiting a black barber shop in North Carolina to see patterns shaved into mens’ heads, I am there. Generally speaking, these experiences turn out to be positive, oftentimes hilarious and, if nothing else, interesting and “a story”.

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Above: Shamanic ceremony with medicine wheel in Paddington, Sydney.

Sometimes, though, in the midst of these random activities, I ask myself: why? Why am I doing this? Surely, at some point logic must prevail? Surely, the experience or the story isn’t worth the awkwardness, embarrassment or extreme discomfort? While I was in Cusco (Peru) in August, for example, I ended up at the top of a makeshift wooden ramp with a decorated hammer in one hand and a bottle of sparkling wine in the other getting ready to bless a layer of concrete. Wearing a short dress. In front of 10 clapping Peruvian men. All because I “had to know what would happen”…anyway, that’s another “story”.

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Above: Post-wet cement christening. I can only shake my head. Also, what on Earth was I wearing? Looks like I poured glue on myself and rolled around in the closet.

More recently, while I was in beautiful and tranquil Vilcabamba (Ecuador), I spent TWO HOURS sweating profusely inside what I can only describe as a human pizza oven while trying not to think about how much the hot air was burning the fuck out of my nostrils. Previously in yoga I have been told to “feel how the air changes from cool when you breathe in, to warm when you breathe out”. This was the opposite, which meant what – that my LUNGS were having to cool down the fiery air?!!

The official name for the oven was “a sweat lodge” or “the womb of mother earth”, and for this reason you had to crawl in on your hands and knees before sitting cross-legged with 15 other equally silly travellers from my yoga retreat. These people lasted for varying lengths of time, and because I am competitive, it felt like one of those Survivor challenges, except you don’t get immunity at the end. Somehow, I don’t think this was the intended idea. Definitely not a comparison to share with the medicine men running the show or the more spiritually “advanced” of the group who have taken ayahuasca 28 times.

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Above: I trawled the internet (OK, one google image search), but this is the only photo I could find of the womb, and it’s obviously an “in the making” pic. I assure you it was VERY enclosed.

I remember arriving and thinking that this pretty white house was the “lodge” – to me, lodge implies a house of sorts. I was imagining a nice little wooden joint, very hot, but also spacious. Then I turned to where everyone was gathering and saw a small clay dome about 1.5m tall. Surely not?

Once inside, there were no windows, just one small entrance used to throw coals into the fire pit in the middle via what resembled that thing used to shovel pizza. The only light came from these coals, which disappeared once they started putting water on them to maximise the heat. They called each coal “medicine”, I prefer “carriers of doom”. Hello, claustrophobia.

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Above: What I THOUGHT was the lodge

In hindsight, this was actually a great experience (I think) – definitely unforgettable. I came out feeling completely different (spiritual?), very grounded – perhaps, from literally burying my face and body shamelessly into the ground in an attempt at finding some cool earth.

But during this torturous event (and make no mistake, it was torture), these were the kind of thoughts I had:

“I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”

“Is there a small dog beside me?”

“Should I tell them about the dog? I’m telling them about the dog.”

“Oh my goodness, my allergy to the cold! Am I going to get hives from the sudden temperature change? Are those hives? Oh, it’s just sweat beads”

“The next time they bring in more burning hot coals via that flap I am leaving”

“What would my 97-year-old grandmother make of this?”

“Is this what giving birth feels like?”

“Did he just say to surrender you know to the womb of mother earth? Are you flipping kidding me?”

“Is that small dog still in here…oh my god it is…oh my god, its little head is drenched!”

“I might take my top off, it’s pitch black after all”

“Woah, those are some seriously sweaty boobs.”

“Please don’t add more water to the coals Mr Medicine Man, please…oh god dammiiiiiiiiit!”

“Surely if a Scot Terrier can do this, I can too”

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Above: From earlier that day at the yoga retreat, blissfully ignorant of the hell to come

There was chanting which I tried to join in to distract my mind from the suffering, but I could barely breathe let alone SING. So I just rammed my face, forehead, cheeks into the slight coolness of the wall (which wasn’t that easy given the wall was curved) and focused on breathing in hot air.

When they brought in the 4th round of coals I thought “Nope, that’s it,” and said to the girl beside me “I think I need to get out”. She said “You can lie down, it helps” which was an absolute lifesaver. Instant relief as I pushed every piece of dripping wet flesh I could into the dirt, not caring about the painful pebbles or how insanely filthy I was going to be. I felt bad for the dog that I nudged to the side, but I needed every patch of earth I could get my body on. After that it was bearable, and I made it to the end, which felt like a massive personal achievement. Far more than going overseas on exchange to Italy at the age of 16 or graduating university.

How did I do it?

With the help of the cool earth, I was actually able to push through the insane situation and bear it. Did I “surrender”? Haha. Towards the end, they opened the flap door one more time and threw water all over us, which came as a terrible shock, eliciting some ridiculous gasping type sounds on my part. Then after who knows how long (time is an illusion after all, ha!), we all crawled out, again in a clockwise direction on our hands and knees, before finally meeting normal air again. I hugged the two medicine men – god knows why – then we all proceeded to an icy nearby river to “refresh”. My experience of this was half crawling across rocks so as not to fall, then flailing around in 20cm deep cold water, pathetically splashing myself to get rid of the dirt, gasping some more and trying not smash my bruises from tubing gone wrong earlier that day. My poor body! We then went back to the campfire where I stared mindlessly at the full moon and tried to warm my now FREEZING body on the fire. But, hey, at least my mind was quiet and I was “present”.

I spoke with other people about their experience, and some of them said they would do it again. And people say I’M a nut bag! I am not so sure I could do it again. A week later, I gave a steam bath in Baños a go (full story here), and that was only for 3 minutes at a time, and my head was free. Maybe because I was on my own and without any peer pressure it was harder to stick it out, I’m not sure. Generally though, these weird and wonderful experiences are one-offs – better not to know what you’re getting yourself into.
“We all come from the earth, we are all connected…”

Spirituality disclaimer: I actually did get a lot out of the experience, and I am a big fan of Eckhardt Tolle’s The Power of Now. It was just too hard to resist taking the piss out of the whole wanky thing!

Animal disclaimer: The dog was unharmed. It didn’t seem to want to leave. The leader said it was a “perro sagrado” (spiritual dog) hahaha

Machupicchu – Dyndal’s disappointment and 7 tips

Machupicchu – Dyndal’s disappointment and 7 tips

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Machupicchu…so famous, so necessary to visit, such a pain in the ass!

I feel a bit negative and super sheepish writing that, but I want to be brutally honest. Despite it being obviously amazing, it wasn’t exactly the experience I had hoped for. Perhaps I was at the start of my travels and not quite “in the groove” yet, I am not sure. Perhaps it just didn’t fit with my personal type of travel: spontaneous, winging it and value for moolah. Or perhaps I am just a Debbie Downer lol.

But, why? What went wrong?

The planning

One thing I wasn’t thrilled about was that I had to plan everything around the famous Inca ruins, and I wasn’t even doing the Inca Trail, which you have to book six months in advance. In fact, I didn’t even know I was going to South America six months beforehand – who are these organised freaks?!

Even without the trek, it’s SO touristy that you can’t just “rock up” to the ruins, which is my preferred way of travelling, or doing anything really. They cap it at 2,500 people A DAY, so the sooner you book an entry ticket the better. I thought I had left plenty of buffer for me to miss buses, take llama selfies and whatever other nonsense it is I do, but I was still cutting it fine. I got sick in La Paz (altitude, dirty market cheese, or both) and was stuck there four days living off water and cheap crackers. I tried to change my train booking, but PeruRail were unsurprisingly hopeless (I think I was emailing a monkey), so I couldnt do anything. This was despite making me fork out US$215 to listen to bloody pipe music non-stop for four hours. And then EIGHT hours on the way back when the train broke down.

Thank goodness there were llamas in there.

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It’s an epic tourist trap

I knew it would be touristy, but I have never experienced anything like it. Bus after bus after bus shipping hoards of people up the mountain, being asked by 50 different people every day if I want to eat at their restaurant and constantly paying 10 times more than anywhere else in Peru. And on the topic of money, all up it was about US$300 – the train tickets, the entry ticket, the bus ticket, the accommodation, the food, the tour guide. It’s all naturally way more expensive than the rest of Peru, but it just feels like such a tourist trap that you can’t even enjoy it. Did I mention there are literally THOUSANDS of people there each day? Makes it a bit hard to soak up the spiritual vibes when it’s all one way to avoid human traffic jams.

There are other magical places

For me, Machupicchu is this weird thing where you HAVE to go, and it IS still special when you’re there, perhaps a bit surreal after seeing it on every man and his dog’s profile pic, but it’s hard for me to say “it’s worth” that kind of money for a half day in the sun. I got way more out of Kuelap in northern Peru, which are spectacular ruins left behind by the Chachapoyas, waaaaay before Machupicchu was built and resembling something out of Indiana Jones. And it costs about US$30. And that includes lunch! I actually can’t recommend Kuelap enough to be honest.

If I can offer some advice (assuming anyone has survived my rant!), this is what I will share. And, of course, you can take it or leave it:

1. Do NOT go at 4am

Why on Earth everyone thinks they need to get up at the ungodly hour of 4am (some at 3am!) to go line up for at least an hour in the cold is beyond me. I actually think it’s just some kind of widespread misunderstanding, nobody actually questions why. With my abhorrence for early rising, I questioned it. Turns out there isn’t much to gain except fewer tourists and maybe a sunrise. You can avoid the crowds by going after 1pm and enjoy the afternoon light. So why not get an early train (actually, don’t do that – see point #2), start around midday, stay until 5pm and then spend the might in Machupicchu pueblo. You can then go to the thermal baths in the morning – win-a-ding-ding!

Apparently half the time it is misty in the morning and you don’t even see the sunrise. Plus how are you meant to enjoy it if your eyes are on fire from 4 hours’ sleep? So not worth it.

2. Do NOT get the tourist train

I mistakenly believed that the train was the only way to get there if you’re not trekking and that it was the train that costs fricken US$215 (big deep breaths). And they make you PAY for a Snickers. For real? At least they had a decent toilet, otherwise I may have blown a gasket. Let’s not talk about the pipe music though.

Turns out you can get a cheaper train, go by car, or even mini-bus it to the hydroelectric and then walk for a couple of hours. The latter option costs US$25 altogether. Funnily, I knew it would be a pain in the ass so I put a long-suffering friend onto it, but she didn’t have much success with the guide books either. So, despite needing to plan my visit it would’ve been better not to sort out the actual transport component until I got there.

3. Take a “sandwish”

I only took two bananas and then scabbed a muesli bar off a Mexican, but you can totally get away with taking more substantial food in – they don’t check your bag. It’s not a nightclub.

4. Get a tour guide

Preferably one who speaks English. It is worth the extra cash to get the most out of your visit. Plus, what’s another US$10 at this point?

5. Do one of the walks

If you’re up for it, the one that is practically vertical (Waynapicchu) has incredible views. But, again, you need to book in advance. A few weeks should be enough. If you’re lazy like me, the Inca Bridge walk is really lovely. Just be aware that if you’re scared of heights, the part before the bridge is a bit dodgy. You have to register your name before going in if that’s any indication.

6. Eat dinner at Indio Feliz

Recommended by Lonely Planet and Tripadvisor, this place is ridic. Sure, it’s US$22 which seems a joke in Peru, but on my first night I ate for US$11 and it was rubbish. For only double that I had the most beautiful 3-course meal from a super lovely multi-award winning French restaurant. You could never have that in Australia – take advantage!

7. Enjoy it

Once I got through all the drama (self-inflicted or otherwise), I did have to get my shit together and remember I was AT MACHUPICCHU. Try not to let the priciness, swarms of tourists and being hassled get you down. It is one of the world wonders after all.