After a few relaxing days in Cusco after finishing the Inca Trail, we caught an overnight bus to Arequipa, Peru, “The White City.” It’s known as the white city because of the white stones that are used in the majority of construction.
Our favorite spot in Arequipa, Chaqchao. Chaqchao is a local chocolate company that hosts chocolate making classes and also serves Peruvian craft beer. We weren’t able to get into a chocolate class, but we still enjoyed hanging out at Chaqchao and pairing chocolate and beer.
At Chaqchao, we found this awesome wooden beer crate from Cumbres brewery, and we couldn’t resist buying it as a souvenir. Unfortunately it was about the single most inconvenient souvenir for two people traveling with just backpacks.
After driving all day we stopped for the night in Chivay, a small town that serves as the gateway to the Colca Canyon. For dinner, we went to a traditional dance show where the dancers randomly pulled guests out of the audience and forced them to begrudgingly make a fool of themselves. We sat in the corner and fearfully avoided eye contact with the dancers, but nevertheless Denny was picked during the final dance of the night and dressed in a traditional Andean women’s dress because apparently the embarrassment level wasn’t high enough already.
The next morning we drove to the part of the Colca Canyon where the condors nest and hoped they would fly close enough for a good view. During the right time of year the condors fly within 10 yards of the viewing platforms, but this was during the low season when there are only a few condors left in the area.
From Chivay we caught yet another bus to Puno, Peru, a small town near the border of Bolivia on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world. We spent one short night there before getting a bus across the Bolivian border. We were nervous about crossing into Bolivia because we had heard it could be quite a hassle, but we had no problems. We made it through customs easily and then continued on to Copacabana, Bolivia.
From La Paz we travelled to Potosí, an old mining town that was once the wealthiest city in Bolivia due to its silver mines. Today it’s just a shadow of its glory days.
After a couple nights in Potosí, we bussed to Tupiza, where we would begin our Uyuni Salt Flat tour. During most of our travels we had great experiences with bus travel, but everything changes once you’re in Bolivia. Our 6 hour bus to Tupiza was packed full of people, with about as many standing in aisles as in seats. The lady across the aisle from me had purchased one seat but was traveling with her two small boys whom she allowed to spray foam canisters inside the bus and spill a number of wet snacks and treats on the floor. At one point the youngest boy filled his palms with foam and clapped his hands, spraying the foam all over us and our bags. Though we didn’t see it on our bus, we heard from other travelers that in some busses, people travelled in the luggage compartment below the bus.
Needless to say, we were ready to get off the bus by the time we arrived in Tupiza. The following morning we loaded up into an off-road SUV and began our 4 day tour to the Uyuni Salt Flat. The next 4 days would be spent driving for hours on end through a vast desert landscape, sleeping in grungy accommodations in the middle of nowhere, and exhausting our limited music selection on our iPhones, to arrive on the final day at the largest salt flat in the world.
This tour was full of a range of brilliant, otherworldly colors, from the vibrant hues of green and red lagoons to the dazzling white of the salt flats.
This particular part of the desert is full of interesting rock formations, the result of the powerful winds that blow.
Sunrise on the salt flat. Certain parts of the flat are covered in a thin layer of water, creating beautiful reflections. Driving over the water was like sailing over a silk-smooth sea and this moment as the sun began to rise and light up the sky in a radiant glow of colors was one of the most magical moments of the trip.
We finished up our tour, spent one night in the town of Uyuni and caught a plane the next morning back to La Paz to begin our long journey back to the US.
Our last supper in South America. This dinner in one of the highest rated restaurants in the capital city of Bolivia only cost about $10 per person.
After sleeping a bit, we woke up at 1:30 am, took a taxi to the airport, flew from La Paz to Bogota, Colombia where we had a 5 hour layover, then flew to Panama City and waited another 2 hours, and then finally flew to Orlando, Florida, taking our first steps back in the US after nearly four months. All in all we were in transit from 1:30 am to 10:00 pm for more than 20 hours of travel time getting from our hotel in La Paz to our hotel in Orlando. We could have found a much easier itinerary if we were paying for our flight but we flew free with miles and had no other options.
Our stay in Orlando was for one purpose only, to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. During our trip we both re-read all of the Harry Potter series and at some point decided the best way to end our trip would be a stop at Harry Potter World. We expected it to be magical, and we were not disappointed.
We were expecting Orlando to be warm, but we happened to be there during a bitter cold front and were shivering most of the day.
Kreacher, in the window of #12 Grimmauld Place.
After our magical day at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we were finally ready to head back home to San Diego. Our trip was one of richest and most exciting times in our lives, but we were ready to come home to the city we love and see the people who mean the world to us.
There’s a whole big beautiful world out there to explore, but sometimes the comforts of home are just what you need.
This is the end of our posts about our time in South America, and we want to say thanks for following along on this journey of a lifetime. Even though the trip is over, life doesn’t stop with it, so we’ll still be posting stories and photos here on a regular basis. Because, after all, this is our simple adventure. This is life in progress.
Yours in adventure,
Sarah + Denny
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