I am starting this blog just before embarking on a 3 week trip to the Americas (US, Chile, Bolivia (hopefully... more on that later, and Peru). Over the last 6 months or so that i have been planning this trip, i have realised that the resources available on the web for planning a trip in this region are not as extensive as say for any part of Europe, US or even South East Asia. A large part of the information that i have needed such as modes of transport and their schedules between point A & B, visa application issues etc i have got from blogs such as these where travellers have described in detail their experiences while travelling. Hopefully this blog would prove useful for those planning their trip to this region as well as provide us with a platform to share our travel experiences with others.
Coming back to our trip, this will be adventure for us as this is the first time that we would be travelling to a set of countries with an approximate itinerary rather than a well planned one. We plan to travel to Bolivia but given that Bolivia does not have an embassy in India, we would be applying for our visa in Santiago, Chile. We have been assured in conversations in broken Spanish with the Bolivian Embassy in Santiago (credit to Pooja and her 3 months of Spanish classes, actually more to her Spanish instructor who took over the conversation when it wasnt going anywhere :)) that the visa process can be completed on the spot if we have all the papers with us. However, given my general experience dealing with a lot of Embassies and the experiences of others that i came across from the internet things will not be as straightforward. We would be in Santiago for 3 days and need to manage our Bolivian visa during that time otherwise the approximate itinerary i have planned would need to be rescheduled in a hurry.
A large part of our local travel through Chile, Bolivia and Peru would be by bus and given the general uncertainty on whether we would be going to Bolivia along with the fact that very few bus companies have online websites in English where you can book tickets, we have decided to keep our plans flexible.
Unfortunately Peru & Bolivia are currently seeing a lot of protests from farmers (not too dissimilar from India) and the indigenous population. Their favourite means of protest is to block roads and rail tracks (sounds familiar.. doesnt it :)) which can leave even those with the best planned itineraries in a jam as you are stuck in a place for days till transport options open up. Given all these variables we have decided to keep our itinerary as flexible as possible.
Ideally if everything goes according to plan we would be travelling as per the following itinerary:
13th Aug - Fly from Delhi to New York on Qatar Airways
14th Aug - In New York, taking night bus to Niagara Falls
15th Aug - Niagara Falls
16th Aug - Travel by bus back to NY from Niagara and reach there by the evening
17th Aug - Evening flight to Santiago to New York
18th Aug - Santiago (apply for Bolivian visa)
19th Aug - Day trip to Vina del Mar and Varparaiso from Santiago
20th Aug - Santiago with a late evening flight to San Pedro de Atacama
21st Aug - In San Pedro, take tours to the Moon Valley etc
22nd Aug - Take the 3 day tour to the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia
23rd Aug - Salt Flats tour
24th Aug - Reach Uyuni in the afternoon and take the train to Oruro in the night
25th AUg - Reach Oruro early morning and take the bus to La Paz, overnight in La Paz
26th Aug - Take bus to Puno on lake Titicaca, overnight in Puno
27th Aug - Tour the isalnds on Lake Titicaca for the whole day and take the night bus to Cusco
28th Aug - Cusco
29th Aug - Go to check out the Inca ruins in Ollanta before taking the train from Ollanta to Machu Picchu, overnight in Aguas Calientes on the foothills of Machu Picchu
30th Aug - MPD - Machu Picchu Day, overnight in Aguas Calientes
31st Aug - Early morning train to Ollanta and then on to Cusco, overnight in Cusco
1st Sep - Flight from Cusco to Lima, overnight in Lima
2nd Sep - Evening flight from Lima to NY
3rd Sep - NY
4th Sep - NY, late night flight back to Delhi, back in Delhi on 6th morning
I would have preferred to have spent a little less time in the US but given our reliance on using my Continental Onepass miles for funding the flight legs from the US to South America & back, this was the best we could do basis the flight availability for using points. I would also have preferred to have done the entire itinerary in reverse starting from Lima and ending in Santiago as it would have given us time to acclimatise to higher altitudes in Cusco (~3,200 m) before we moved to La Paz (~4000+ m) and the altiplano. With our current itinerary there is a serious chance of us getting hit with altitude sickness as the drive from San Pedro (~2400m) to Laguna Colarada (~4400m) goes up really quickly and the first night on the Uyuni tour is spent at really high altitudes. Hopefully a combination of Diamox (a prescription drug available in the US that helps your blood absorb more oxygen, which is an extremely rare commodity at an altitude of 4000m+) & Coca tea will keep the symptoms away.
After the flight to San Pedro on the 20th and before the train to Machu Picchu on the 29th, we have no confirmed hotels booking, or bus/train tickets (see i did mention the flexible itinerary didnt i). In countries where not many people speak English, hopefully Pooja's 3 months of Spanish classes would keep us out of trouble and on the right track, it would definitely be intersting to calculate the ROI on those classes :)
Travel to Peru & Bolivia involves the additional pain (literally & figuratively) of getting your yellow fever vaccination. Otherwise you stand the risk of being quarantined on your return at an Indian airport for 6 whole days. A detailed post on the procedure to get vaccinated and get presented with your yellow fever international vaccination certificate (pure gold dust if travelling in South America & Africa is high on your agenda) follows.