Lares was my first high altitude trek and it was my first time going over a high pass at 14,760 feet, not made easier by the rocky soil and unstable footing. Plus, the air is thin up there. Going up the high pass was so tough that one of the trekkers in our group – not me, I swear! – had to hire a mule to carry her to the top. It was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever had to do. But cresting the pass, feeling like you’re on top of the world, with endless vistas of mountain peaks before you and a brilliant blue-green lagoon below – that made every leg-screaming step worth it.
Last week, we finally got the chance to pry our travel expert, Anabel Mota, away from her work so she could sit down with us for a short interview. Anabel has traveled all across the continent so we couldn’t think of one anyone better to answer some questions about traveling in Latin America.
1. Let’s get the most important question out of the way first. You’re stuck on an island for 30 days and you can only drink one of the these, what do you choose: 1. Malbec wine 2. Pisco sour or 3. Caipirinha?
An island? What punishment! I would say #3, but only if I can get a little umbrella to go with it.
2. As our travel expert, everyone is incredibly jealous of how much you’ve traveled, so give our readers your favorite destination and favorite memory of that trip.
So hard to choose! But I would say the Lares trek in the Sacred Valley. I was with a great group of trekkers led by an awesome guide fluent in English, Spanish, and Quechua and he made our interactions with local villagers really meaningful.
3. What do you prefer, traveling alone or with someone else?
I’m usually a solo traveler by circumstance, but I have to admit that nothing compares to meeting up with a old friend somewhere along the road – or finding a new one – and sharing in the adventure. When you’re feeling foreign in a foreign place, it’s reassuring to have someone to talk to about what you’re experiencing.
4. How would you describe your personal Machu Picchu vacation?
While living in Cusco, I had the chance to go to Machu Picchu three times and each visit was unique and distinct. It’s such a magical place – there really are no words to capture the sensation of being there and trying to wrap your mind around the place and the setting and the incredible history behind it all.
My first visit was especially memorable because it was exactly on the 100th anniversary of the “scientific discovery” of Machu Picchu by the Yale professor Hiram Bingham. It was a clear morning and my friend and I got there early enough to see the sunrise and we also got to climb Huayna Picchu.
Ideally, you want to have 2 days at Machu Picchu. On Day 1, arrive and take a guided tour and explore the main parts of the citadel. On Day 2, climb up to Huayna Picchu, or if you’re not up for the physical challenge, take the easier hike to the Sun Gate – the pictures are best from this angle – and take some time to just sit and soak it all in.
5. Your cannot-travel-without item?
A good pair of shoes to walk in. Everything else is provisional. Oh, and my water bottle. I get sad when its empty, but I’ll carry it with me to the ends of the earth.
6. What’s the difference between experiencing Iguazu from the Brazil side from the Argentina side?
On the Brazil side, you get spectacular panoramic views of the falls. It’s the closest thing to seeing the falls from above without actually leaving the ground. But our South America World Wonders package, which takes you to 4 amazing places in just 11 days, goes directly to the Argentina side and I think this approach is great. From the Argentina side, you get to go into the falls. You can go on treks through jungle paths, take a boat ride to Garganta del Diablo – there’s no better way to experience the sheer power of all those millions of gallons of falling water. When you see this sight, you’ll understand Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous exclamation: “Poor Niagara!”
7. In which city/country did you have your best dish ?
In Buenos Aires, at Cabaña Las Lilas, a top parrilla in Puerto Madero. That’s where I had my first bite of grass-fed beef, a bife de chorizo cooked to perfection. The flavors! Just wow. I’ve never been a huge fan of red meat, but Argentina turned me around. That said, I could live off freshly made Peruvian ceviche for the rest of my life.
8. After all this traveling, if you had to give one piece of advice for a first-time traveler to Latin America, what would it be?
Leave your expectations at home. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t be excited about it. After all, you’ve probably been planning this trip for a long time. But go with an open mind. Latin America will blow you away if you let it. Don’t stress about the minor details and travel hiccups. Savor every moment, every meal, every unfamiliar sight. Also, talk to locals, even if across a language barrier. They will value the intent just as much as you do.
9. What’s on your South America travel bucket list?
I’ve done the Lares and Salkantay treks, but I definitely want to go back to Peru for the classic Inca Trail.
Latin America for Less organizes tours to Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Costa Rica. Contact us to start planning your dream vacation.