No trip to Peru is complete without visiting the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. Composed entirely of totora reeds and inhabited by the local Uros communities, the islands slowly drift across the tranquil lake that separates Peru from Bolivia. Sailing through this magical landscape, at a dizzying height of 12,421 ft (3,860m), and exploring the drifting islands of Uros and Taquile is a rare and special experience.
Puno is the city that sits on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. Most people who travel to this region stay at least one night in Puno, widely recognized as the entryway to Lake Titicaca and the famed floating islands.
In recent years Puno and its surrounding areas have added some unique and amazingly luxurious hotels that allow travelers to revel in the natural beauty while providing world-class comfort. Here is a selection of the top three luxury Puno Peru hotels that will ensure you a one-of-a-kind experience:
Hotel Libertador Puno
Beautifully located right on the shores of Lake Titicaca, on Esteves Island, this 5-star hotel boasts some of the most impressive views of the lake. The only true 5-star hotel in the city of Puno, the Hotel Libertador offers first-rate amenities and excellent service.
Although all rooms feature excellent vistas of either Puno or Uros Island, ask for a room directly facing the lake and its islands for an unforgettable experience. The dramatic views at sunset and sunrise of the glistening city lights shimmering on the crystal clear waters of the lake are unparalleled.
Guests can revel in the breathtaking landscapes while tasting delicious regional cuisine in the restaurant, soaking in the Jacuzzi, or sipping a cocktail in the hotel’s cozy bar. The other two hotels below are located in the surrounding areas of Puno and not in the city itself.
Casa Andina Private Collection Isla Suasi
Casa Andina hotel is located on a private island in Lake Titicaca called Isla Suasi. The verdant gardens and sweeping views of the lake are what make this hotel the best luxury lodge in the area. Far from spoiling the beauty of the lake, the Casa Andina Private Collection Isla Suasi has been carefully designed to blend with the environment. Solar-powered, surrounded by terraced gardens, and constructed with native materials, the hotel manages to enhance the already beautiful landscape.
This is the perfect place to commune with nature while being pampered by the wonderfully friendly and attentive hotel staff. Each room boasts striking views and the absence of telephones and televisions on the island creates a wonderful disconnect from the rest of the world. If you are looking for peace and serenity, Suasi Island is the perfect place to get away from it all, but there is plenty to keep you busy. Even the most active travelers will find plenty to do as nature hikes, wildlife spotting, canoeing, and stargazing are all available activities on the island. In the evening, guests can cuddle up near the wood burning stove in their rooms to stave off the Andean chill.
Leave your worries at the doorstep and indulge in a truly luxurious experience with a stay at Titilaka Hotel. This 5-star hotel has interesting contemporary architecture and design sprinkled with indigenous touches. The idyllic location on a private peninsula on the shores of Lake Titicaca offers some of the best services near Puno.
The eighteen, fully equipped suites all feature heated floors and spa bathrooms, as well as exceptional views of the lake. Contemplate the stunning sunset while sipping a local cocktail from the hotel’s waterfront terrace and enjoy an intimate fireside dinner, prepared with fresh regional products.
With its outstanding array of first class services, including private guided excursions, 24h room service, internet access, babysitting service, and more, Titilaka provides guests with luxurious services and a unique Puno vacation.
Just on the other side of Peru’s northern coastal desert is a tropical oasis known as Ecuador. Graced with green banana trees, verdant valleys, terrific hikes and horseback riding through its national parks, mainland Ecuador has a lot to offer travelers. If you plan to visit Ecuador to take a Galapagos tour, consider spending an extra week or at least a few days on the mainland to take full advantage of your Ecuador vacation.
For those who have a thirst for adventure, mainland Ecuador is the perfect playground. Once you land in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, you can explore the country before you head to the Galapagos Islands. Start with a Quito city tour and a visit to the fascinating Mitad del Mundo museum, where you’ll learn about the scientific discovery of the equatorial line, and then visit the lively Otavalo market, where you can stock up on souvenirs.
Next, get outdoors and take a hike around Cotopaxi Volcano, south of Quito. At 19,400 ft (5897 meters), it is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. You’ll want to spend plenty of time romping around the Cotopaxi National Park, 84,000 acres of preserved land that is home to Andean condors, pumas, spectacled bears, llamas, and more. You can take day hikes around the park to visit traditional towns and explore gorgeous landscapes, or join a multiday mountaineering expedition to ascend the summit, where you can peer into the crystal waters of Lake Quilotoa.
Head south along the Avenue of Volcanoes, a strip of geological quirks, jagged peaks, and volcano-fed hot springs. This area has often been traveled via the Devil’s Nose train, popular because travelers can ride on the roof enjoying unobstructed views of the volcanoes. Keep in mind that the train is not always in service and can be uncomfortable, so it’s better to simply take a bus from place to place.
South of the Avenue of Volcanoes is the town of Baños, a backpacker’s destination with a bit of nightlife and endless opportunities for outdoor activities. Go mountain biking, river rafting, and hiking, before rinsing off with a refreshing dip in the natural hot springs. Baños is also a popular launching point for excursions into Ecuador’s eastern rainforest.
Spend a day in Cuenca, a cobblestone walk back in time, and check out the Inca foundations on many of the buildings. Then spend a day or two exploring the Cajas National Park, hiking along the 70,534 acres past the 250 plus lakes and wetlands. The Cajas is a terrific place for birdwatching, and many of the endemic species are endangered.
Also in the Cuenca area are the Inca ruins of Ingapirca. It’s possible to do a 4 day trek along Inca roads to reach these impressive ruins. Although not as impressive as Machu Picchu, the Ingapirca ruins in Ecuador show the extent of the Inca’s empire, which spanned Ecuador, Peru, and parts of Bolivia and Chile.
The Ingapirca trail is an excellent alternative Inca Trail trek, as it is less crowded than the famous Inca Trail. It’s possible to hike the Ingapirca Trail without a guide, although there are numerous trekking companies that offer guides, equipment and provide transportation to and from Cuenca or Quito.
Continue south to the charming city of Loja, just four hours past Cuenca. This modern city has a very European feel, with its four universities and bright and cheery plazas. Just outside of Loja is the Podocarpus National Park. 361,465 acres of cloud forest and paramo forest make this stretch of land especially appealing to outdoor enthusiasts.
You can wander through this green oasis without meeting anyone! Spend a night – or a few – at the Madre Tierra Hotel & Spa in the quiet town of Vilcabamba, where you can kick off your boots and enjoy a drink with the friendly locals, or head for the backwoods on a horseback riding tour through breathtaking tranquil valleys.
Costa Rica is world-renowned for its beautiful nature and multitude of national parks filled with volcanoes and incredible landscapes. The only drawback is that, unfortunately, you are usually not the only person present admiring the paradisiacal beauty. Sometimes it can feel like everywhere you go, a flock of tourists have decided to follow you and accidentally stand in all your pictures.
If you want to get away from the crowds, you should make a small detour to the Tenorio Volcano National Park, located in the northwestern part of the country not far from La Fortuna. This often-forgotten park is a true oasis of nature, and holds astonishing sights that will leave you speechless.
Perhaps the most spectacular of these natural wonders is Rio Celeste, a river situated in the heart of the Tenorio National Park, and one of Costa Rica’s prime secret spots. In the past, travelers tended to bypass the park because of its remote location and the previous lack of adequate public transportation. More often than not travel guides didn’t even mention the location which also contributed to its lack of popularity.
Even today there is only one way to reach Rio Celeste and that is from the Rio Celeste Lodge. This small, unattractive construction lost in the rainforest, with its rustic rooms, can hardly be called a lodge. However, if you are ready to leave comfort aside for one night, you will not regret it. With better access and more travelers visiting, the lodge is progressively improving its infrastructure. The lodge’s charming owner will invite you to join his family for a typical local dinner before you head out on your hike to Rio Celeste the next morning.
Rio Celeste is known for its magnificent turquoise color, almost artificial looking, which comes from a natural blend of water and various minerals from the ground (for the chemists out there, the mix comes from sulfur from the volcanic activity and calcium carbonate). This otherwise ordinary river suddenly turns into a magical light blue stream before precipitating into a striking waterfall.
A trek to Rio Celeste involves a pleasant, yet somewhat challenging hike through the cool rainforest of the Tenorio Volcano National Park. The four-hour hike to and from the Rio Celeste Waterfall is sprinkled with astonishing views. Admire the blue lagoon, a natural pool filled with turquoise water, and los Tenideros, where the water suddenly takes on a striking sky-blue color, and any number of natural hot springs located along the banks of the rivers.
The trail then stumbles onto the great Rio Celeste Waterfall, one of the most beautiful sights in all of Costa Rica. Descend the steep stairs that take you to the bottom of the waterfall, and just take in the enchanting beauty of the scene for a while before getting back onto the trail.
Legend has it that when the world’s creator painted the skies, he dipped his paint brush into the river, giving it its striking light blue hue. Biologists still haven’t been able to determine the effects of the combination of minerals, so it is recommended not to swim in these waters, although some do at their own risk. You can take a swim a little further away where the water regains its clarity, and enjoy a relaxing dip in the hot springs.
The amazing sceneries of Rio Celeste are definitely a must-see for travelers to Costa Rica, and are certainly worth the little extra effort. This is truly one of the most magical places in the country, if not in the world. Don’t miss out on one of nature’s amazing wonders while it is still a relatively unknown tourist attraction.
Category: Costa Rica
Considered the playground of Ecuador, Baños is a small town nestled into the foot of the active Tungurahua Volcano alongside the Pastaza River, surrounded by lush green mountains and roaring waterfalls. A place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years, Baños’ main attractions are still to this day the Basilica dedicated to the Lady of the Holy Water, and the fresh water springs naturally heated by the volcano.
The town’s gothic style basilica is dedicated to the Virgin, believed to have performed numerous miracles, rescuing people from volcanic eruptions, car crashes and falls among others. Travelers can even see a pile of canes and crutches in the church attesting to the miracles that have taken place here. Locals flock here year-round to pay their respects and touch some of the holy water flowing from the virgin’s statue, but international travelers come looking for a different kind of healing.
Sprinkled throughout the town are numerous natural baths that welcome travelers from all over South America and abroad, as well as its local inhabitants. It’s not uncommon to see Ecuadorian families strolling along in flip flops and bathing suits, colorful towels hung over sun kissed shoulders as they head to soak in the outdoor pools. The most famous and popular are the Baños de la Virgen, open until late in the evening, where bathers can soak in the steaming waters under a star strewn Andean sky.
The water is believed to have medicinal properties and attracts people hoping to find relief for their various ailments. Whether you believe in the water’s healing capabilities or not, the baths are still undoubtedly the perfect way to relax sore muscles. And most likely, your muscles will be sore if you decide to partake in any one of the many activities available in Baños.
Climb up the volcano to see lava flows, bike down the highway of waterfalls to Puyo, a jungle town 34 miles east, or horseback ride through the verdant greenery in the morning before river rafting along the Pastaza River in the afternoon. If you just want to relax, head to the countless spas in town for a massage, or body treatment, after bathing in the hot springs.
The small streets of the town itself are full of small family-owned restaurants and guesthouses, crowded with the international traveler interested in trying some of the finest food in the country. Ecuador isn’t so famous for its cuisine and, for a small town, Baños has an impressive array of dining options. Travelers weary of the standard chicken and rice dish will delight in the variety of international cuisine in Baños, including Italian, Thai, Mediterranean, Swiss, and German.
For a real treat, meander down to the main street in town, eyeing vast tables stacked with candy sweet enough to give your dentist a little additional work. You will notice melcocheros (toffee makers) in doorways, their arms working overtime to stretch and beat taffy by hand. Each doorway has a wooden peg that the candy makers use to wrap the melcocha around before stretching it back and wrapping it again. Any good melcochero will give you a free taste of the warm sugary taffy, and most people end up buying a square or two.
On weekends, a small caterpillar train blasting music carries families with young children through the streets, while the numerous bars and peñas (traditional live music venues) in town provide the setting for a rowdy night. The unique blend of lively nightlife, excellent food, and proximity to endless sports activities, volcanoes, and thermal baths make Banos a special place. Plan for a weekend trip, but don’t be surprised if you end up staying a week.
For more information about Baños and Ecuador travel opportunities, contact a Peru For Less travel advisor.
With its gigantic avenues, impressive traffic jams, and continuous day and night movement, Lima is the perfect example of a booming dynamic South American capital. Although it is usually neglected in favor of Peru’s world-wide celebrated countryside filled with mysterious history, glorious landscapes, and stunning archeological sites, a Lima tour is a must for travelers who want to understand Peruvian culture.
Lima is a city for city lovers who relish getting lost among crowds, meandering through shaded streets, sampling street food bursting with flavor, and peeking around hidden corners. It’s almost impossible to become bored in this city, for Lima is a metropolis that takes years to know. Lima has countless neighborhoods to wander through from posh San Isidro with its ancient olive grove, to picturesque bohemian Barranco, to Miraflores with its cliff side promenade boasting ocean views, and each has its own distinct ambiance.
However, the increasing chaos, with the constant overflow of people, taxis, cars, and buses, has made it harder and harder to explore the various neighborhoods in Lima without losing precious time in traffic. Luckily, this is all about to drastically improve.
Soon, Lima will open its first subway line, a long overdue project that is finally heading towards a happy ending. The Lima electric train project started in 1986 but was halted for over 23 years before construction finally resumed in 2010. In July 2011, the electric train will ride across town, covering 8 districts and transporting over 250,000 people each day. This Tren Urbano as it is known will constitute a significant improvement in the quality of life for many people, reducing commuting time from sometimes two and a half hours to a single half hour.
Travelers will have the chance to experience firsthand this tremendous accomplishment and see Lima’s first steps towards creating a fully developed public transportation system and growing into a true 21st century capital, and a Latin American city of the future.
Another noteworthy embellishment to Peru’s increasingly trendy capital is the brand new and chic extension to the already gigantic shopping mall of Jockey Plaza in the eastern Monterrico district. Opened on November 24th, Boulevard Jockey is the most luxurious shopping place in Peru and will, without a doubt, ravish all fashion addict travelers. Even those who are not keen on shopping will enjoy a stroll in this modern and stylish area and maybe try the new Italian restaurant on the Boulevard’s main plaza.
Exclusive luxury foreign brands have started opening their stores here, such as Hugo Boss, Montblanc, Calvin Klein, and Armani. Jockey Plaza made an investment of US$ 50 million to build this 7,600 square meter high class shopping area that should have over forty international fashion stores upon completion.
Every year, when the winter holiday season draws near, many become anxious to escape the cold and grey streets they stride along every day. If you too are feeling tempted to fly away toward exotic and warm destinations to enjoy Christmas under coconut trees, why not take this opportunity to experience a traditional holiday season in sumptuous Chile.
Chile puts on impressive holiday festivities that make for an unforgettable vacation. The central area of Chile, in the Santiago de Chile region, and particularly the city of Valparaiso, offer many great attractions around this time of year.
A 90-minute bus ride will take you from Santiago to the coastal city of Valparaiso, northwest of Chile’s capital, where a Cultural Carnival takes place every year in December right before Christmas. Here you can take part in the holiday merrymaking while enjoying a few days in the sun and relaxing on the seaside, as these are the hottest days of the year.
Usually the days leading up to Christmas are pretty quiet as this is more of a family holiday. On Christmas Eve Chileans generally retreat to their homes for a nice meal with loved ones and enjoy Pan de Pascua (fruit cake) for dessert. A Christmas libation you must try is Cola de Mono (Monkey’s tail), a traditional drink prepared with spirits, milk, sugar, coffee and cinnamon.
Religious celebrations are particularly impressive in Chile where the large majority of the population is Christian. You will be able to admire and, if you wish, take part in the many religious events that take place in the streets of every Chilean city around Christmas time.
If you are looking for a different experience, you can travel up north to the charming city of Andacollo known for its Festival of the Virgen of Andacollo, from December 24th to December 26th. This popular religious festival is one of the most widely attended in the country and surprisingly celebrates copper, Chile’s main natural resource. Andacollo was a settlement of Molle people, related to the Incas, who developed agriculture and exploited the copper resources in the region. In their native language of Quechua, anta means copper, and coya means monarch. The celebrations usually involve dances and pledges to the Virgin of Andacollo, or the “Queen of Copper.”
As in most countries, New Year’s Eve brings its fair share of excitement and cheerful celebrations throughout Chile. Valparaiso, with its world-renowned festivities and over a million visitors each year, is, beyond doubt, the place to spend an exciting New Year’s Eve in Chile. Admire the phenomenal fireworks at midnight and enjoy the multitude of fiestas going on everywhere in the streets. It’s really an amazing sight to witness the thousands of visitors packed together, heads aimed skyward, looking at some 30,000 explosions over the harbor. Be prepared to party all night long, as live bands usually play until the early hours of the morning on Plaza Sotomayor.
Believed to be among the most striking in the country, celebrations on the coastline attract hundreds of thousands of Chileans and travelers alike each year. The buoyant activity, swarms of people, and beautiful setting create a lively atmosphere you are unlikely to forget.
For those who are not tempted to sleep out on the streets, which large numbers of young people actually do, remember to book your hotels well in advance for New Year’s Eve as many people make reservations months ahead of time.
The sultry South American summer annually draws travelers from all corners of the globe. In Argentina, where the heat is particularly magnetic, swarms of sun-seeking visitors and locals flock to the eastern coast to soak up the intoxicating Argentine rays.
From December to late February and often early March, the beaches of Buenos Aires are crammed full, and for many travelers, such crowds significantly detract from the experience. The weather may be beautiful and the water perfect, but tripping over someone else’s umbrella is not anyone’s idea of a relaxing day at the beach.
However, venturing south of the city brings a pleasant surprise: a short flight from Buenos Aires takes you to Argentina’s oldest and most famous resort – Mar del Plata. Dubbed “ciudad feliz” (happy city) by its inhabitants, Mar del Plata is a thriving beach town with entertainment and sparkling white-sand beaches galore.
Mar del Plata’s 29 miles of gleaming shoreline is blessed with plenty of glorious beaches. Among them is posh Playa Grande, known as the city’s best shopping and hotel location. While the popular Playa la Perla is a local favorite, the best all-around beach in Mar del Plata is, without a doubt, Playa Punta Mogotes.
On all the beaches, visitors can try their hand at paragliding, sailing, boating, and windsurfing – among myriad other activities.
Sometimes called a miniature Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata isn’t just a beach town. The city’s topography also features towering cliffs and deep ravines. It is also a small, but lively cultural and entertainment powerhouse, home to excellent shopping spots along Plaza San Martin, a gorgeous cathedral, and a collection of turn-of-the-century mansions at the end of the well-known Avenida Colón. For nature lovers, it also houses a 988-acre (400-hectare) brilliantly-preserved forest, Bosque Peralta Ramos.
Summer in Mar del Plata is chock full of activity. If you go in December, check out Fiesta del Mar, a wild, exuberant celebration with rowdy live shows, colorful parades, and the coronation of a festival queen. Early March brings the world-famous International Film Festival, a quieter, but equally exciting showcase of both Argentine and international cinema.
Don’t forget that Mar del Plata is first best known as the fishing capital of Argentina. In January, the city hosts its annual National Fishing Festival, a jubilant affair that welcomes fishermen from all over the country. As one might expect, Mar del Plata offers some of the tastiest, most creatively-prepared seafood in all of Argentina.
The Peruvian Amazon is truly an extraordinary destination and a must-do for any traveler visiting Peru. One of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, the Amazon is also home to countless indigenous tribes that have learned how to tame this unpredictable region and live at peace alongside its spectacular wildlife.
As of today, there are over 1,500 recognized indigenous communities living in the Peruvian Amazon and anthropologists believe that a few uncontacted tribes may have found refuge in the deep heart of the rainforest, where they reside in complete isolation from the rest of the world.
Despite seeming untamed and wild to outsiders, the wonders of the Peruvian Amazon hold almost no mystery for its inhabitants who are used to nomadic life and know the intricacies of the forest. Several of the indigenous communities living in the Amazon have begun to share bits of their knowledge with curious travelers while teaching respect for the forest’s varied wildlife and fragile ecosystems.
The population of Puerto Maldonado and its surrounding areas are composed mostly of native indigenous tribes. The difficult conditions of life in the area have allowed the tribes to preserve one of the most virgin natural environments on the entire planet. This land has now been protected and includes some of the richest and most diverse parks and natural reservations of Amazon forest.
Puerto Maldonado is a great spot to acclimatize to the Amazon’s environment before starting an unforgettable journey inside the tantalizing rainforest. This jungle town, capital of the Madre de Dios department, is located in the southeastern part of the Peruvian Amazon on the banks of the Tambopata River. It is the perfect starting point to visit some of the most pristine national parks such as Manú National Park or the Tambopata National Reserve.
Peruvian Amazon’s most beautiful national reserves
The Manú National Park is one of Peru’s most famous reservations. It is almost inaccessible by road and therefore has remained mostly untouched, offering travelers the opportunity to observe many incredible species evolving in their natural habitat. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Manú National Park is home to over 15,000 plant species, 1,000 bird species, and some 200 species of mammals.
Another splendid reservation is the Tambopata National Park, located only a few miles from Puerto Maldonado, and also one of the most notorious jungle habitat reserves in the entire world. This 275,000 hectare reserve also houses thousands of plant and animal species. Less than 5,000 people inhabit the Tambopata National Reserve, making a living from the abundant natural resources of the Amazon.
The developing Amazon Eco tourism
Over the past years, concern for the protection of the Amazon rainforest and the well being of its inhabitants has been growing in Peru, leading to the development of a new form of tourism, “eco-tourism”, which allows travelers to take an Amazon tour without endangering the many species that call the region home.
More and more eco-tour companies are recognizing that the local population must be an essential part in the development of tourism in the region. This long overdue inclusion has finally allowed these indigenous groups to benefit financially from tourism. Several indigenous communities have developed projects that allow visitors to explore the forest and its varied wildlife while helping protect the land and support the local people
Posada Amazonas, located in the indigenous land of Infierno, is particularly striking in this regard. This lodge, situated in the province of Tambopata, is located deep in the rainforest, several hours from Puerto Maldonado by boat. The native Esé eja native community co-owns and co-manages the lodge, while using it as a source of sustainable economic development. In the heart of this national reserve, travelers can spot countless bird and wildlife species, learn about medicinal plants from the local Esé eja community, and support responsible tourism within the Amazon.