Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

After taking a night bus from La Paz to Uyuni, we got off in Uyuni and were immediately bombarded by hoards of people trying to sell us tours to the salt flats. We had to fend off the vultures so we could walk to the center of town to look at agencies ourselves. I don’t want to spend too much time on how the lady we booked with lied to us, but if you want more information on that you can read this earlier post:

We booked a tour for that day, not wanting to actually stay in the town of Uyuni, with the plan of being dropped off in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile after our three day tour. We were in the car waiting for everyone else in our tour when all of a sudden I hear Chris say, “No. Way. You have got to be kidding me.” I turn around, see nothing to worry about and ask what is wrong. With one small word I instantly know that our next three days are going to be interesting. “America,” Chris responds. Our fellow countryman (who we have managed to run into three previous times during our trip) gets into our car. For anyone who hasn’t read our blog up to this point, America said things like “Ho-la” when attempting Spanish. That is, if he tried to speak Spanish at all. Luckily, three cool Brazilians named Pedro, Francisco, and Rodolpho got into our car too, so the tour didn’t end up being a disaster.

Our desert crew

Once everyone was loaded up in the car, we headed to a sort of “train cemetery” in the middle of the desert, about 3 km outside of Uyuni. You’re allowed to climb over all of the trains, which meant there were hundreds of tourists doing it because it was the first stop for every tour group.





We then went to the salt mounds where it can create awesome reflections if there is any water on the ground, which unfortunately there wasn’t. After that we headed to the salt flats where there was nothing around. It’s here where you can do some great perspective photos. We also stopped by an island in the middle of nowhere that had hundreds of cactuses on it.













Strange things happen in the desert

It was a long drive after that to our hotel for the night. A lot of this tour consisted of driving, but the landscape was breathtaking so it was worth it. The hotel we stayed at was made of salt which was definitely interesting. And when we walked in, the floor was just a bunch of loose salt. Everyone wondered what it would be like if we sprinkled some of it on our food, but no one was brave enough to do it. One major perk to staying a salt hotel is that it is surprisingly warm. The insulation was great which was essential because it was freezing outside.

Dinner in the Salt Hotel

Chris and I tend to avoid drama at all costs, but sometimes that doesn’t mean much when you meet people like America. There were a few outlets that of course were overcrowded by all of the people staying at the salt hotel. Chris finally found one for our camera, making sure it would be charged for the next day. At some point, America unplugged our camera and plugged his in. Chris noticed, unplugged America’s camera, and plugged our back in. Some 30 minutes later a conversation along the lines of this happened:

America: “I can’t believe you did that.”

Chris: “What?”

America: “You know what. You unplugged my camera. I can’t believe you did that.”

Chris: “You unplugged our things first!”

America (condescendingly): “Do you know what this is?”

America then proceeds to hold up an adapter that you could plug multiple things into at once. Which is interesting since he decided to not plug our camera in.

Chris: “Yeah, well our things weren’t plugged in.”

America (even more condescendingly): “I don’t think you understand. There was a short circuit which is why your camera wasn’t charging.”

Chris: “No, I’m pretty sure it was because you unplugged our camera.”

America (seriously, he somehow got more condescending with every sentence): “No. You don’t get it. You don’t understand these things. I’ve worked as an electrician and it was a short circuit.”

Apparently, you have to work as an electrician to understand the concept of a short circuit which is news to me. Eventually the bickering came to a stop (though not the condescension), and tension was in the air. America eventually went to bed, so it was us and the Brazilians as they swapped around a guitar.

The next day involved some more driving. While our driver/guide was nice the first day, he seemed to develop some sort of grudge toward us on the second day. It ended up being fine because hanging out with the Brazilians was a hoot (and the funniest one somehow ended up being the one who spoke almost no English or Spanish). We saw a variety of lagoons, some teaming with flamingos, and all somehow having different colored waters.





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Just so the flamingos know, this is a no flying zone.
Taylor wishing she had another layer


Tested out the climbing scene in Bolivia






So many flamingos


Our second night was spent at a refugio that was, well let’s just say, not made of salt. It wasn’t nearly as nice and was bone-chillingly cold. We somehow ended up in the wing that was even colder than the rest of the “refugio”. It was a miserable night’s sleep, but I suppose that didn’t matter too much because we had to wake up at 5 am for our last day.

After a breakfast of cold pancakes, we were off to see some geysers. Thankfully we were one of the first groups there so we had the whole place mostly to ourselves. The whole area smelled badly of rotten eggs/farts which I suppose was caused by high amounts of sulfur. Despite the unpleasant smell, it was an awesome place to see. The next stop was to some hot springs. Chris and I didn’t personally get in because the frigid air made it seem not worth it.

Geysers in the sunrise


Really enjoyed the sunrise that day



Wearing literally everything I have in my backpack and still cold



“Caution: Stay away from the steam vents” – we saw this on the way out.
Bolivia or Mars?


Bolivian hot baths, but when the temperature is 20°F (-6°C) you won’t find us in there.
Some places really looked like from another planet

There were a few more stops at lagoons before we got to the border. Of course America also happened to be continuing to Chile with us so we had the displeasure of being in his company a bit longer. We eventually made it to the Chilean border crossing, where we had to wait an hour in our van. That’s because everyone that worked there decided to have breakfast at 10 am and close the whole border down. After the border was opened, we passed through and were dropped off in San Pedro de Atacama. America teamed up with a 20-year-old Brit (let me remind you that America is in his thirties trying to relive his college days) and when we got off the van we went our separate ways, never to see each other again.




Saw a few foxes trying to cross the border with us



The Amazon Basin in Bolivia

Chris and I were hesitant about taking a plane because of the cost but we figured this could be our big splurge of the trip. We were even more hesitant when we saw the plane we would be taking. It was rather tiny and our bags were on the other flight going to Rurrenabaque, but like most things on our adventures we just hoped all would end well. We landed at the airport which can be described best as a mud patch. There was an asphalt landing strip in the middle of the a jungle. Shuttles had to drive all of us to the actual “airport” which was a big wooden shack where our bags thankfully were.


Front of the plane was taped on so we knew it was extra secure.
Taylor excited to get into a plane so small you have to duck to get in.
We can see the pilots and out the front window as we fly.
It’s like a private jet, only with about 20 people crammed inside.
Mud patch of a landing strip for Rurrenabaque’s airport
The new modern airport in Rurrenabaque
The only airport where you can fit the entire building in one photo.

We were driven into town on another shuttle and randomly chose a reasonably priced hostel that ended up not having Wifi. Womp womp. Not wanting to spend too much time in the actual town of Rurrenabaque, Chris and I started wandering around the town asking different agencies about their Amazon tours. There were two types of tours: the Pampas tours and the Jungle tours. The Pampas tour is more of a relaxed tour where you float down a river in a boat and look at wildlife, which are plentiful. The jungle tour is when you spend a few days trekking in the jungle building your own shelter, cooking your own food, and exploring, but see much less wildlife. After going to many agencies, many of which too expensive for our budget, Chris and I decided on a Pampas tour because we wanted to see wildlife.

View of the sunset from the terrace in Rurrenabaque

The next morning we got up early and walked to our agency to go on our three day, two night adventure in the Amazon. And yet again, our past came back to haunt us as we saw America walking around town. Luckily, he ended up booking at another tour agency so our interactions with him were limited. All tours essentially do the exact same thing, so the price you pay is more a determinant of the quality of what you receive, but that is not even always necessarily the case. We paid about the average, hoping to get something more than the super cheap tours where your guide might not be as helpful. Usually groups range anywhere from 6 to 8 people with one tour guide.

We showed up and to our surprise were the only two in our group. The others who had signed up hadn’t been able to make their flight so they had to reschedule. We figured this had both its positives and negatives, but again we were just going with the flow. Our tour guide was a man named Jaime, a local Bolivian whose skin was worn from years in the sun. He wasn’t too friendly at first, but we knew he’d grow to love us.

Just the 2 of us and our guide on our private tour

It was about a three hour drive to the river from Rurrenabaque. We helped Jaime load up the boat, which was like a super long canoe that had folding seats on each side attached to the boat, and a motor on the back so no paddling for us. As we headed down the river Chris and I saw so many animals. We were super excited when we saw our first alligators and caimans, not yet realizing there were literally thousands in the river. As we floated down the river for a few hours we saw heaps of wildlife– all different types of birds that we don’t even know the name of, capybaras (my personal favorite), pink river dolphins, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, one sloth super high up in a tree (still counts in my book), and turtles. Floating down the river also meant super high temperatures and us sweating more than we ever have in our lives. Chris and I were smart enough to wear sunscreen but when we saw people from other tour groups, people clearly had not done the same.

One of the hundreds of caiman that line the riverbanks
Alligators were the smaller of the two, not that it makes them small by our standards
Lazy gator
Capybara cooling off in the river
Family of capybaras (aka world’s largest guinea pigs)
Baby capybaras on the river’s edge
The mohawk bird



Turtles on turtles on turtles


The monkeys would hangout all over our ecolodge




Taylor’s face after seeing a turtle get eaten by an alligator

At night we went to this fielded area that had a “bar”. (Bar in this case means yet again another wooden shack with an unfriendly owner who was mean to Chris when he tried to buy me a snickers that was severely melted.) All the other tour groups were there so people were playing volleyball, drinking beers and chatting about their days. We got the feeling though it was more a time for all the tour guides to hang out with each other and chat. Eventually we went back to our ecolodge and had a plentiful dinner. Food on this whole tour was a big plus. There was plenty of it and it was decent. Another group was staying there from our company but they were on their second day of their tour.

Sunset over the pampas

The night activity was to go look for caimans and alligators in the river. They stand out because of their gold/red eyes when you shine flashlights on them. The other tour group who had done it the night before asked if they could join us because they enjoyed it that much. We agreed though Chris and I ended up regretting that because a few of them were obnoxious. I also feel they sort of rubbed Jaime the wrong way, which was unfortunate because we had gotten him to like us during the day. It was still cool to see all the animals though and the stars were beautiful that night. We went to bed after that which was yet another adventure. There was a mosquito net over our bed but that didn’t keep all the bugs out. Chris spent ten minutes trying to kill all of them or get them out. I just accepted my fate and laid down and tried not to think about it. It might have been that Chris was spooked by the huge spider he had seen in the corner of our room. Also, it was so unbearably hot that it was hard to fall asleep, but eventually we did.

Our ecolodge
Our ecolodge from the boat with the outhouse bathrooms on the right

The next morning we woke up to a nice and hearty breakfast and a super grumpy Jaime. We didn’t know what his problem was, but once I called him out politely and told him that he didn’t help us pick out our rubber boots for the anaconda hunting, he seemed to sort of come to his senses and was much nicer. We were off to go in search for anacondas, which Chris was super excited for. We had to walk through a marsh (las pampas) with super high grass and muddy and cracked grounds. If we thought it was hot the day before, it was nothing compared to this. There was no longer the comfort of the slight breeze that came from being in a boat. Our sweat soaked trek eventually led us to a small caiman infested lagoon, where we would begin our search for anacondas and any other types of snakes.

Let me say one thing about snake hunting. It’s hard. Chris and I had no idea what we were looking for and there’s mud and grass everywhere. And heat. So so much heat. Jaime was leading us through mud that at times went almost knee deep, but our rubber boots kept us relatively clean. Getting out was another story. Jaime gave us some useful pointers though and although we sometimes got stuck for a few minutes, Chris and I ended up without any major falls into the mud. We circled the lagoon searching while other tour groups did the same. After about two hours Chris and I were definitely dehydrated and feeling the sun, with no snakes to be found. Finally another tour group found one, on the opposite side of the lagoon and we had to circle all the way around again. It was brutal but we saw a baby anaconda (and probably ruined its home in the process 😦 ).

Baby anaconda

After finding an anaconda, we headed back to our ecolodge and were very grateful for the three hour break before our next activity– piranha fishing! Jaime took the two of us out on the boat and we headed only 15 minutes upstream before he parked our boat right next to a caiman. Apparently it wasn’t an issue to use our shoddy fishing poles (a line attached to a little piece of wood) that had meat on the hooks right next to huge caimans. Jaime assured us that the small pieces of meat on our hooks were nothing for caimans.

Piranha fishing was slow going at first but eventually Chris was able to catch a baby! We were about to throw it back when Chris dropped it in our boat and it went under this wooden plank where we couldn’t reach it. I, apparently, am not a natural when it comes to fishing. It’s not just because I got a hook stuck in my thumb. I was somehow unable to catch a meat-eating fish with meat at the end of my hook. And I promise you they are always biting. I just couldn’t reel the suckers in. Jaime said we weren’t leaving until I caught one. And when I did, what did I do? Freak out, almost fall out of the boat, and dropped my fish in the same unreachable place Chris did. But I caught one! Chris and I both ended up eventually catching two babies, with Jaime being the only one to catch adult piranhas.

Professional piranha fisherman
Happy she got it in the boat

Our last day on the tour was pretty relaxing. It was supposed to be swimming with pink dolphins, but the whole piranha, caiman, and alligator infested waters didn’t really appeal to me and Chris despite Jaime’s assurances that it was safe. He just took us for a picnic instead, where we could see the pink river dolphins swimming and playing with each other. We then took the boat back to the starting point and saw a huge dead caiman floating upside down right before we arrived. Chris and I headed back to Rurrenabaque, took a flight back to La Paz (in an even scarier plane), and were ready to set off for our last stop in Bolivia — Uyuni!

Pink river dolphins
Some groups went without even seeing them, we saw tons.
Ended our tour with lunch at this lagoon before heading back.

La Paz, Bolivia and the “Death Road”

The drive from Copacabana to La Paz was a short one by South American standards (around 3 hours) and the six of us rolled up to the bus station in La Paz. Max was determined to stay at a hostel called Adventure Brew Hostel because he thought his friends were going to be there. Even though the hostel was a bit pricey, we decided to all stay there so as not to break up our merry group of travelers. Chris and I think it ended up being worth it since the hostel had ping-pong, pool, unlimited pancakes for breakfast, and one free beer each night (it was brewed by the hostel and was actually decent).

Our main reason for going to La Paz was so Chris could do a mountain biking excursion on what is called the “Death Road.” It is so aptly named because before an alternative road was built for drivers, it is estimated that around 200 to 300 people died a year on this road. A road that is only 69 kilometers long. And when I say die, I mean roll off a cliff that will plummet you hundreds of feet below. Apparently 18 mountain bikers have also died on this road. Needless to say, I was not going to partake in this activity. Chris now had three friends to do it with though–Tom, Max and Peng. Karine and I were fine with finding another activity to do that day.

NOT. Every other excursion that Karine and I were remotely interested in were booked for the next day. That’s what we get for waiting until the day before to book. Karine and I, with our heads held low, went back to the agency where the boys booked their tour. Chris was surprised that I ended up signing up for it, but I just hoped that the grandmas (who I was assured also did the Death Road) would be in our group so I had someone I could stick with.

Sadly, there were no grandmas in our group so I took that role and was easily the slowest person in the group. The 64 kilometer mountain biking trek is almost completely downhill and begins somewhere above 4500 meters. This means one thing: snow. Our hands were completely frozen as we went down a paved road, which comprises about the first 20 kilometers of the ride.

View looking down the “Death Road”

The road then switches to the “deadly part” which is made of dirt and plenty of rocks. There are crosses that line the roads that drop off over cliffs. This was not a comforting sight as we road down the trail, our cheeks bouncing. To be honest though, I think you have to be a bit of an idiot to die on a mountain bike on this road. The road is never particularly narrow, and slowpokes like me can just stick close to the wall and avoid the cliffs. I imagine that people who have died were trying to be too flashy and somehow ended up tumbling over some cliff edge.

Taylor, not yet regretting her decision of coming along.
Chris, looking like hes done it before.
Peng, stoked to be there
Tom, letting you know who’s boss.
Karine, a little tense after the first bike she had had bad brakes.
The two of us nearing the end
Taylor’s head needed the Large helmet and Chris’ needed the Small.

Which leads me to the French girl in our group… She seemed a bit crazy and edgy, but nothing outlandish compared to some other people we have seen on this trip. Her and her boyfriend were the only two in our group who hadn’t splurged on the nicer (and seemingly more reliable) bikes offered by the company. Towards the end of the ride, Chris had been nice enough to stay with little old me in the back. We eventually caught up to Karine (which should have been our first sign that something bad had happened since I never caught up to anyone on the trail). She was standing next to a cliff edge, looking over the side and shouting in French. Chris and I immediately stopped next to her and asked what was wrong. She was definitely flustered and eventually told us that the French girl had fallen.

Chris and I looked over the edge and saw the French girl, caught in a tangle of plants and trees, some 20-25 feet below. She was standing and talking which were all good signs. We asked if anything hurt, and while she said her leg was in pain, she was able to stand on it for the most part. Her boyfriend, who was laughing at her, seemed to find the whole thing rather amusing. The guide who always stayed at the back caught up to us and seemed to go into panic mode when we had told him she had fallen over the edge. He seemed to calm down a bit when he realized that she wasn’t dead, but we still had to figure out how to get her up, since it was impossible for her to climb up a vertical cliff.

The guide went to a nearby construction site where there was long metal tubing that was somewhat malleable. He brought it over and started to bend it into a large loop. Once he finished that, he sent the loop down to her and five of us started to pull her up as she held on. We were eventually able to bring her back up and something good came of it. She was so scared after falling off a cliff (what a wuss. Am I right?) that she became the grannie in the group and I was no longer leading the back. Everyone in our group eventually did make it to the end with no fatalities and all in all it was an adventurous, eventful and great day.

Our tour guide making the loop we used to hoist the girl up

Our time in La Paz was not just limited to dangerous bike rides though. We did some exploring of the city as well. On one day our merry group of six took the teleferico to get a good aerial view of the city. We also got a view of a car that was wedged in between two cliffs, so that was nice too. We also ended up at the local handcraft markets where we bought some souvenirs, which inevitably led us to the witchcraft market. If you are ever in need of some petrified llama fetuses, that’s the place to go. Two thumbs up for that. I guess there was some nice incense too. Surprisingly, we left that market without any purchases.

View of the mountains from the Teleferico
View of La Paz from the Teleferico
The car wedged between the cliff

And as for night life in La Paz, we can’t tell you much. We ventured out to the “party” hostel called the Wild Rover on one of our nights there. We had a decent time but were basically surrounded by a bunch of gringos. And you’ll never guess who was there? Our fellow countryman who Chris and I dubbed “America”. He was drinking like the alcohol at the hostel bar was the last left in the whole of Bolivia and hitting on women in their early twenties because nothing screams attraction more than a thirtysomething man wearing camouflage pants trying to relive those college years. Overall though, I can’t complain too much (although I seem to be) because America doesn’t become a nuisance quite yet in our adventures in South America.

After many more days in La Paz then we had planned, Chris and I left our group and splurged on a flight to the Amazon. We figured a 40 minute flight was better than a 24 hour bus ride (little did we know we would have so many more of those to come).

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

After leaving Puno we headed to Bolivia with no visas but all of the paperwork either in person or on my phone. Chris and I were undeniably stressed since we had read horror story after horror story on the internet of people being left behind by the buses, all belongings on board. Things actually went rather smoothly all things considered. The ONLY thing that they actually cared about was the 135 US dollars (no shocker there because you know, who cares if we aren’t vaccinated for Yellow Fever?). The only minor hiccup was when they denied one of Chris’ $20 bills for a tiny tear, but I had one extra that we just switched out. If they hadn’t taken that $20 then we would have been out of luck, but the traveling gods were on our side that day.

We headed to Copacabana (not the famous one in Barry Manilow’s song) which is another town on Lake Titicaca, but on the Bolivian side. The town was super touristy, but no complaints from us after being in Puno. We ended up booking one of the more expensive hotels in town (since our visa from Bolivia supposedly required that), though it ended up being a blessing since we met four people who we traveled with for about a week.

The town of Copacabana, Bolivia

We met Max, a fresh-faced 19-year-old from Quebec, when his two travel buddies happened to be sleeping after an overnight bus. We walked Copacabana a bit with him, which can only last about an hour considering the town is so small. After returning to the hostel we also met Karine, a 25-year-old also from Quebec whose name I still can’t pronounce, and Tom, a Belgian who hopped onto the French-Canadian bandwagon. Another guy, Peng, who had met the other three in Cusco also decided to join.

The main attraction in Copacabana is Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca. Chris and I did not plan on visiting it because we figured it couldn’t be that much different than the island of Tequile, but that all changed when we found out that Tom and Max were going to do the “Death Road”. (The Death Road is this mountain biking tourist attraction outside of La Paz). Chris knew I had no intention of doing it and he preferred to do it with someone. We didn’t want to head to La Paz without them though and just be waiting around, so we decided to head out to the Isla del Sol with them.

Shortly after arriving to the island we were greeted by a friendly llama


All of us missed the 9 am boat ride which meant we had to wait around until 1:30 for the next one. We got to the very windy and cold island in about an hour. The walk up to the hostel we wanted to stay at took yet another toll on my lungs. By the time all of us had settled in, we were all starving. We wandered around looking for this plethora of restaurants that was supposed to exist. We eventually found them, though most were closed. Our group ordered three large pizzas to share and invited a Dutch guy to join us when it appeared he was eating alone. He was actually meeting his friends there and our group of 6 turned into a group of 12. We all swapped travel stories and had a great dinner.

Not a bad view from our dinner table


The only problem was that our late arrival and long dinner didn’t leave much time to actually explore the island. We had a nice sunset from our restaurant, but that and our walk up to the hostel was about all that we saw. We all resolved to get up early the next day (rather, I was the only one against this idea) to at least walk to the top of this hill that we saw from our restaurant. And that we did. Was it worth it? Meh. I’d say it was debatable, but I trudged along with everyone anyway. We had time for a quick breakfast before we took our boat back to Copacabana. A quick note on the boat ride back to Copacabana: There was a fellow American onboard who is the reason people hate Americans– woefully ignorant, unnecessarily loud, and rather boastful for no legitimate reason. He comes into play later in our travel stories (sadly to say…).  That’s for another blog post though… Anwyay, we got back to Copacabana and our merry group of six all booked a bus to our next stop, La Paz!

View from the top of the hill

Lake Titicaca, Peru

After leaving the majestic Machu Picchu and lively city of Cusco, we headed to the crap-hole town that is Puno. The streets are riddled with trash (which actually isn’t too uncommon in Peru, but here it was even more unseemly), there are hoards of people everywhere, it’s impossible to breathe with all of the fumes from the cars, and most places smelled like pee. But this is where we had to go if we wanted to go to Lake Titicaca on the Peruvian side.

Taking the night bus in, Chris stated that he read that Puno was nicer than Juliaca, the town before Puno that our bus stopped in. It became apparent rather quickly that that meant nothing. That comparison was like saying Compton is nicer than Detroit. Sadly we had to extend our stay in Puno for two reasons. The first reason being that we hadn’t gotten our Bolivian visas yet (US citizens have to pay 135 US dollars to enter. It’s called a “reciprocity fee” and exists because of how much it costs Bolivians to get into the US). The visa supposedly required a lot of paperwork which included: a booked hostel, proof of leaving country, economic solvency (because apparently poor US citizens are going to trek all the way out to Bolivia, pay $135 and then try and make it big there), 2 passport-sized photos, and a Yellow Fever vaccination. We were worried about getting the visa at the border and were hoping we could do it in Puno. (This didn’t end up happening.) The second reason was that we hadn’t done any research on how we wanted to do Lake Titicaca, so we spent a day figuring that out.

There were a bunch of agencies that set up homestays on the island but Chris and I thought it would be more cost effective to just take a boat ourselves and try and find something while we were there. We ended up going to two “islands” in Lake Titicaca. I put islands in parentheses because the first island was one of the floating reed islands of Uros and was somewhat of a joke. It was clearly a tourist trap (someone called it the Disneyland of Lake Titicaca on TripAdvisor which we found to be fairly accurate). It was definitely interesting that it was an island made of reeds, but it was also clear that no one lived on this tiny island and it was just a place meant to sell souvenirs. A woman invited Chris into her “home,” insisted on taking a photo of him sitting (which turned out to be blurry), and then demanded that he pay her 10 soles (a little over 3 US dollars.) I wasn’t there for the incident but I imagine a lot of scoffing from Chris, who told her he would not pay. What was interesting was that the next day when we took a boat back, we went past the actual floating islands of Uros where people actually live, and it seemed like it would have been a much better place to take tourists.

The touristic floating islands


The real floating islands that people live on

After going to the first “island”, we went to a second island called Tequile. We had mentioned to a Peruvian working on the boat that we planned on staying and he told us he would take us to a nice family, which ended up being his family, which ended up being next to his family’s restaurant. So much for an authentic homestay, but it ended up being all right. We declined overpriced meals from them, which meant we ate oreos and ritz crackers that we had brought because EVERYTHING shut down once all the tourists took the boat back to Puno. Tequile isn’t the island people usually spend the night on, so we were some of the only gringos there. That also meant there wasn’t much to do on the island once the sun went down. Chris and I found an awesome place to watch the sunset and then twiddled our thumbs after. We ended up going to bed very early which was fine because it was freezing cold when the sun went down, so much so that three alpaca blankets were needed in each of our lumpy beds.

One of the many knitting men of the island
It’s all manual labor here
The sunset was definitely one of the highlights of staying overnight on the island

The next day we ate a healthy breakfast of more oreos and ritz and then started to explore the island. We found some ruins on the island and accidentally entered into some religious ceremonial grounds where the “Do Not Enter” sign was much too faded. Again we were some of the only gringos so the exploring was peaceful. The elevation, not so much. I was dying the whole time, but we did make it to the top.

We hung out with some locals on our breaks from hiking


We found arches scattered all over the island
Shared the path with some more locals

After exploring, we headed down to the docks a little early because we were paranoid about missing the boat back. We spent one more night in Puno and planned on going to Bolivia the next morning, no visas in hand.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Essentially right when we got to Cusco, Chris and I started looking into how to do Machu Picchu. We started scoping out some agencies to get an idea of prices, all of which seemed hefty. Not that I’m saying Machu Picchu isn’t worth it, but the tours didn’t seem that ideal. Everything is planned out minute-by-minute and each tour only gave us a couple of hours to explore Machu Picchu on our own. We weren’t liking all of the constraints so we started doing some more research on how to do it on our own.

On the way to Aguas Calientes

We figured it out after a lot of googling and decided on taking a combi (minibus) and train to get to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you can take a short bus ride (20 minutes) up to the ruins of Machu Picchu. Hiking is also an option, but Chris somehow hurt his back on the walk to our combi, and he couldn’t carry his backpack let alone do a couple hour hike. That coupled with the fact that Chris got sick in Aguas Calientes made it clear that the bus was our best option.

Cliffside road from the Combi window

We had to postpone Machu Picchu by a day because of Chris’ rumbling tummy, but I was feeling ok so I decided to indulge in some overpriced hamburgers at our hostel’s restaurant. They were well worth it, considering I got them on more than one occasion, but I knew Chris was truly feeling sick since he didn’t want any.

Gateway to Machu Picchu, the town of Aguas Calientes

After a quick dose of antibiotics Chris and I were back in action. We took the bus up to Machu Picchu, got there almost at opening at 6 am and stayed until around 11 am. I can’t do it justice in words, and pictures can’t really either (unless you have one of those fancy thousands of dollars cameras), but here are a bunch of pictures anyway that will help to show the magnificence of the ruins.

We made it.
This place truly is impressive
A pack of alpacas or a lot o’ llamas?
Taylor made a friend






After seeing Machu Picchu we headed back to Cusco, again opting for the train/combi means of transportation. While in Cusco we happened to run into Chris’ friend Kate and her boyfriend Eric at our hostel. Chris and Kate had been talking about the four of us meeting up, but we weren’t sure that it was going to happen, so running into them was a nice surprise. We got lunch with them and wandered pretty aimlessly around Cusco in search of some good coffee for Kate. That was fruitless since she ended up with the standard poor-tasting Nescafe, but good times were still had! We met up again after dinner (Kate and Eric cook healthy meals, something very different from our diet of Oreos and milkshakes) for a couple of games of pool and some beers. We called it an early night, and after a very short but nice hang out session with Kate and Eric and one more day in Cusco, Chris and I headed to our last stop in Peru.

The Peru Rail train in Aguas Calientes
View from the train window.

Salar de Uyuni Tours in Bolivia

Chris and I don’t take tours too often if we can avoid it, but there are times when you have to. Here is our experience for the Salt Flats in Uyuni and we hope the advice can help.


Do the Salt Flats. It has been one of the highlights of our trip. It is not something to miss if you are going to be in Bolivia. And if you are in Chile and plan on going to Bolivia, wait to book it in Bolivia, where it will be significantly cheaper.


GO BY PRICE. I don’t care what they promise you. Most of it is lies. We booked with a woman through Wara Tours and were adamant that we did not want to be moved to another company. Didn’t matter. We were sold to Betto Tours. They do this because they want to fill each car to capacity (6 tourists to each Toyota Land Cruiser…you’ll never see so many Land Cruisers in your life). We paid 750 Bolivianos and the three Brazilians in our tour group only paid 690 Bolivianos and got a bottle of wine for each night. All agencies do the same tour so honestly it’s the luck of the draw on your driver/guide. Ours ended up being temperamental, but overall was fine. You might get an awesome guide. You might get the grumpiest dude in the world. Just try and make the best of whatever your situation is. Usually people in your group are good enough to make up for it anyway.


Which leads me to my next point…sometimes the people in your group and you might not mesh that well. Again, try and make the best of it. As Americans, Chris and I pride ourselves on not being the stereotype of the obnoxious Americans. (At least we hope…) There was one guy in our group (who we had managed to run into two other times on our South American trip) who epitomized the obnoxious and ignorant American stereotype. He said things like, “I speak American. I don’t speak English,” and liked to brag about everything and anything. He didn’t even know we were in the Uyuni Salt Flats when we brought it up…Needless to say, we didn’t have much in common and there was even a minor tiff about the unplugging of electronics, but Chris and I went with the flow and it made our tour better. We didn’t need to be best friends, but civility helps. That being said, the three Brazilians in our group were a blast so overall your group will probably be entertaining and fun.


Wear sunscreen. Lots of it. Chris and I got roasted on the first day even though it wasn’t that hot or sunny. Dumb move on our part. The salt flats have such a strong reflection that my nose is now peeling like crazy. And Chris’ lips are wrecked. So make sure to lather up on the chap stick too.


Be firm with your driver. If you see your driver trying to drink alcohol at any point go up to them and make sure they stop. This didn’t happen to us but we met people who it did happen to. Most of the deaths that have occurred on the tours in the salt flats have been because of drunk driving. Your driver might try to play dumb because most of them don’t speak English, but it’s easy to get that point across.

Huacachina, Peru

After a quick pit stop in Lima, Peru we headed to Huacachina. It’s a small oasis found in the sand dunes right outside the town of Ica. There are only a few restaurants, a few hostels, and we got the feeling that most locals there actually lived in the town of Ica. All the hubub surrounds a small lagoon in the middle of Huacachina (that only locals are brave enough to go in).


There isn’t much to do there except sandboard, which is the main attraction that brings tourists to Huacachina in the first place. We signed up for a two hour dune buggie/sandboarding tour, where Chris got a real sandboard and I got a rickety piece of wood that had been painted white with black straps on it.


Chris and I ended up getting super lucky because there was a couple in our group that had hired a Swiss guide to give them sandboarding lessons. This was to our advantage because it meant that we were taken to the sand dunes that were further out and less frequented by tourists. Chris’ snowboard ended up being way too small for him, but that didn’t stop him from sandboarding down the sand dunes, where it was clear that his background in snowboarding made him a natural. I on the other hand was relegated to the sandboard that was a piece of wood. This was perfectly fine with me since I had no intentions of trying to stand up while going down the sand dunes. I laid down on my stomach on the sandboard, which to me was just as fun because I could pick up a lot of speed, putting my feet in the sand if I wanted to brake.

Chris at the top
Taking his turns on the way down
Hiking up to the peak

Not only was the sandboarding fun, but the dune buggie itself was half of the adventure. As per tradition for all drivers in South America, our dune buggie driver was loco. He would speed around the sand dunes, get to the very top of a sand dune, and then park right on the edge of a downhill. There were times where he would go so fast down the sand dunes that it felt like we were riding a roller coaster. Our tour ended with the driver taking us to a spot where we could watch the sunset over the oasis. There might not be much to do in Huacachina, but what there was was quality.



Huanchaco, Peru

Our last coastal town in Peru was the town of Huanchaco. We arrived with no plans for a hostel, but it was early afternoon, and the beachfront was littered with hostels so Chris and I started to wander. We happened upon a hostel called “La Gringa” so aptly named after the ex-pat, blonde-haired American that ran the place. She was clearly crazed and her manic laughter scared us off. We ended up at a place called Meri Surf Hostel, where we only paid 15 Soles (around 5 US dollars) for a room that had a view overlooking the ocean. It was yet again perfect for Chris, who could look out each morning and see if there were any waves.

Our hostel right on the beachfront (they had awesome waffles)

The waves the first day were not ideal for Chris and I was itching to actually get in the water and do something, so we opted for bodyboards. We ended up running into a Brit (called Bruno) that we had met in Banos, Ecuador who also decided to go bodyboarding. Floundering would be putting it nicely for what he was doing in the water, so Chris was nice enough to give him some pointers. Chris and I then ventured out into the water, which at the beginning consisted of us paddling over and hitting rocks every five seconds. Once we did get far enough out into the ocean the fear of rocks was replaced by the fear of getting killed by waves. The waves were by no means large to Chris, but to me I felt like Patrick Swayze riding into that last wave in “Point Break”. I ended up catching two waves, one of them with Chris, which was good for me. Chris decided to stay out in the water after I headed in since my crippling fear of drowning, getting eaten by sharks, hitting my head and becoming a paraplegic all forced him to stay with me and catch less waves himself. Once I was safely on the warm sand I watched as Chris caught wave after wave, doing 360s and goofing around. Eventually his lack of fat forced him to come in since the freezing cold waters of Peru made hypothermia seem like a possibility.

The waves we were MUCH bigger when we were in it (maybe…)

The next day the waves were much bigger and Chris was able to go surfing. He was afraid of damaging the surfboard because the multitude of rocks (and since Bruno had been forced to pay for damages to his bodyboard the day before). I watched from the shore, but it was hard to make out which surfer was Chris. It got to the point where the rip current was so strong that there were no surfers in the good spot and I had no idea where Chris was. Apparently he had been swept to the other side of the pier, around a mile and a half from where he had started. He caught a wave in and decided that was enough for him. Even though he only caught a few waves, was constantly scared of hitting rocks and damaging the board, and didn’t like the waves quite as much as Lobitos and Puerto Chicama, he still had a good time.

Chris able to check out the waves from our hostel

Our other favorite part of Huanchaco was the chocolate cake. We found this bakery/pastry shop that had the richest chocolate cake. After eating at a restaurant named Menuland (which was deceptively good despite the poor name choice) we decided to have some chocolate dessert. Regardless of the fact that we both felt like barfing after indulging our sweet tooth, we decided the cake was worth it.

We didn’t take a picture of the chocolate cake, so instead here are some pelicans.

We left the coast of Peru, our stomachs full and Chris feeling satisfied after some great waves, and headed inland into Peru.

But not before Chris took a picture of the skateboard ramp at our hostel

Longest Left in the World? – Puerto Chicama

Continuing on the path well traveled by surfers and not many else, we headed to Chicama, Peru. The distance from Lobitos to Chicama is 512 km. Assuming we are traveling at 60 kph, which is slow for crazy Peruvian bus drivers, it would take us roughly 8 and a half hours to reach Chicama. Somehow Chris and I managed it in 14 hours…

This is partly due to the fact that we had to make so many stops. We went from Lobitos to Talara to Piura to Chiclayo to what we thought was Chicama. When all the surfers talked up Chicama to Chris so much, they forgot to mention that the name of the place we are going is Puerto Chicama. So they forgot a Puerto. Not a big deal right? Wrong. So very, very wrong. Chris and I thought we had hit the jackpot when the bus driver from Chiclayo to Trujillo said he would drop us off in Chicama. At around 9 pm we disembarked from the bus in the middle of nowhere when he told us we had reached Chicama. The bus quickly pulled away, and there Chris and I were, stranded on a dark major street, with all our belongings, and no idea where to go now.

We saw a moto-taxi in the distance and decided to ask the driver if he had heard of our hostel, “El Hombre”. He said he hadn’t so we asked where the beach was. Blank stare. We kept asking about “la playa” but to no avail. We went to another moto-taxi driver who was hiding in the dark. We had purposely passed him earlier, but our desperation gave us no choice. He also was confused and when we asked again about the beach he responded (in Spanish) with “Ohhhhhhh Puerto Chicama. This is the district of Chicama. You need to take a bus about an hour back where you came from.”

View from our hostel on the beach
View from our hostel in PUERTO CHICAMA


By the time we had made it to PUERTO Chicama, it was close to 11 pm. The hostel we wanted to stay at seemed abandoned and the only two options available were a hostel for 180 soles and a hostel for 140 soles. Considering El Hombre was supposed to cost us 40 soles, things were looking particularly bad for our wallets. We bit the bullet and went with the cheaper of the two expensive options, and it ended up being a couple’s home that they had turned into a sort of bed and breakfast. They were very friendly and I felt like we were cheating on them when we switched to El Hombre the following morning.


The woman at El Hombre was equally as friendly, though not shy when it came to gossiping. She told us how the couple we had stayed with have been steadily increasing their prices and how her and her family had helped them build their home/bed and breakfast because they live in a type of community that helps each other, but how the couple was quick to shut their doors on them once the construction was finished. She criticized the husband for only caring about money, whereas she just likes to provide inexpensive housing and it isn’t about the money for her. Apparently she is the daughter of a legendary surf legend in Chicama nicknamed “El Hombre” which would explain why she is so accommodating to the more cash strapped surfer crowd that frequents Chicama.

Sand dunes line the beachfront

Speaking of surfing, Chris again had yet another awesome surf experience in Northern Peru. While Lobitos had previously been the longest wave of his life, it was nothing compared to the waves at Chicama. Chicama is said to be the longest left point break in the world. Locals claim to have had rides up to 2.2km on a single wave. It’s about a 20 minute walk out to the point where the waves start as they hit the rocks. If the wave is big enough, it will connect all the way through the sections and set up for a ride so long that your legs will be burning. When the wave ends, it’s back to that 20 minute walk to the point to do it all over again. Chris came back three hours later, enough time for me to nap and play Plants vs. Zombies on the Kindle, telling me about the waves of his life. They weren’t necessarily “big,” but the long rides created by perfect lines made it so that it didn’t matter. What was most amazing was that for three whole hours he was surfing some of the best and longest waves in the world all by himself.

We ended up leaving Chicama after only two short days, though we probably should have stayed for longer. Our last surf town on the list was Huanchaco, where this time I might have even gotten in the horribly cold and uncomfortable water.

Taylor testing out the freezing water before jumping in at the next stop.
Taylor was not ready for her close-up