4 Hidden Cambodia Tourist Spots Near Angkor Wat

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

You’re planning a trip to Cambodia and you’re hoping to find some other spots. You want to escape the tourists yet stay close to Angkor Wat. With this list of four of my favorite spots near Siem Reap, I hope you can visit these hidden sites tucked away from the main tourist trail.

Each of these tourist spots is within a one or two day trip from Angkor Wat and could easily be added on to a traditional Cambodia itinerary.

Banteay Chhmar

Satellite Temple in the Jungles of Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar

Imagine visiting Angkor Wat without the tourists. Picture a temple half reclaimed by the jungle, with massive trees growing out of the faces and towers. Sounds pretty magical, right? That’s what you’ll find when you visit the temple complex at Banteay Chhmar.

Located a full days journey from Siem Reap, Banteay Chhmar features a massive central temple with the enigmatic carved face towers similar to those found at Angkor. There are four smaller satellite temples surrounding the main temple as well.

Though Banteay Chhmar lacks the preservation of Angkor Wat, there is a certain charm to its tumbling walls and neglected towers. Without the crowds, you can take your time and appreciate the remarkable beauty of this ancient Khmer temple. Stroll around the grounds, scan the bas-relief murals, and gaze up at the faces of long-dead kings as they stare out at a now-vanished empire.

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Face Towers of Banteay Chhmar

How to Get to Banteay Chhmar

From Siem Reap, take a bus or taxi to Serey Sophorn/Banteay Meanchey. All buses that go to Battambang will pass through this town. From there, you need to get a taxi to Banteay Chhmar. The community-based tourism cooperative located in Banteay Chhmar has one taxi that they run, otherwise, you can easily find a car waiting near the bus depot that will take you to the temple for a small fee.

Banteay Chhmar Cambodia

Strangler Figs Growing in Banteay Chhmar

Accommodation in Banteay Chhmar

Banteay Chhmar doesn’t have any traditional guesthouses or hotels, so if you’re looking for those, you’ll want to get a room in Serey Sophorn and take a taxi up to Banteay Chhmar. It is very doable as a day trip.

If you want to sleep in Banteay Chhmar, the people who live in the village around the temple run a Community Based Tourism project (CBT) that runs homestays in the village. Get in touch with them ahead of time to let them know you’re coming. They have an office in town, but when I visited in June 2017, it was unmanned.

Koh Ker Temple Cambodia

Koh Ker Temple

Koh Ker

Another impressive remnant of the Khmer Empire, this ancient temple complex sits only 75 miles (120km) from Siem Reap, making it an easy day trip. This tourist spot has the added benefit of being less well known and thus lacking the crowds associated with Angkor.

Though there are over 180 temples and sanctuaries in the Koh Ker region, the main attraction is Koh Ker temple, a square stepped pyramid rising dramatically out of the surrounding Cambodian landscape. Also worth a visit are the beautifully carved red temple Prasat Prahom, and the fantastical Prasat Pram overgrown by strangler figs.

How to Get to Koh Ker

The easiest way to get to Koh Ker is by hiring a private taxi for the day. A taxi to and from Koh Ker stopping at several temples along the way should set you back about $70.

prasat preah vihear temple cambodia

Preah Vihear Ruins

Preah Vihear Temple

Arguably the most impressive temple in Cambodia, this little-known tourist spot sits atop a mountain on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. Older than Angkor Wat, it is built in a similar style and can be reached in a two or three day trip from Siem Reap.

Preach Vihear Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva and stretches 2,600ft (800m) on a north-south axis at the top of a mountain in the Dangrek Mountain range. The sight of a thousand-year-old temple standing on the edge of a 1,600ft (500m) cliff looking out across the Cambodian floodplain is not something you will soon forget.

How to get to preah vihear temple

Main Entrance to Preah Vihear

This tourist spot also has an intriguing modern history. Because of its location on the border between Thailand and Cambodia, the two countries have had several conflicts over ownership of the temple.

In June of 1962, the Hague ruled that Preah Vihear Temple belonged to Cambodia. And yet, the two countries continue to dispute ownership. If you visit today, you will still see Thai soldiers positioned across the border, a few fortifications, and maybe a Khmer soldier sitting idly waiting for something to happen. The area has been conflict-free since 2013, but it may still make sense to check with your embassy before visiting.

Preah Vihear Temple Cambodia

Temple at Preah Vihear

How to Get to Preah Vihear

This may be confusing so read closely. There are two places in Cambodia called Preah Vihear: the first is the temple, the second is a city of the same name. You do not want to go to the city. The nearest town to Preah Vihear temple is the village of Sra’aem.

There are minibuses that run from Siem Reap to Sra’aem, passing through Anlong Veng. Tickets should be $10-15.

From Sra’em, it’s 18 miles to the temple. You can hire taxis or a moto in town or your hotel may be able to help you find a ride. Expect to pay $15 round trip.

Entrance to the temple is $10 and you need to show your passport to buy a ticket. Getting a ride to the top of the mountain is a further charge, you can pay a motodop ($5) or take a truck ($25). It’s also possible to hike to the top using the ancient staircase. I highly recommend taking this track if you’re relatively fit an adapted to the heat in Cambodia. Bring snacks though, there is no food at the top.

Where to Stay

There are several guesthouses in Sra’aem that line the main road through town. Rooms in any of them should be between $8 – $15, depending on the time of year and your negotiation skills. When I visited in June 2017, I stayed at the Soksan 66 Guesthouse and I thought it was perfectly comfortable.

Ta Moks House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Ta Mok’s Mountain House

Anlong Veng

This town, situated 83 miles (135km) north of Siem Reap, is home to some stark reminders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge Genocide. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Anlong Veng was one of the most remote towns in Northwestern Cambodia, inaccessible by road. This inaccessibility made Along Veng the perfect stronghold for the Khmer Rouge leaders in the dying days of their power.

A quick history lesson for you: from 1975 to 1979, Cambodia was ruled by the communist Khmer Rouge who orchestrated a massive genocide, killing over a quarter of the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge was controlled by Brother Number 1, Pol Pot, and a group of his cadres, including Ta Mok (Brother Number 4), Son Sen, and Khiev Samphan.

When the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 and pushed the Khmer Rouge out of their capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retained control of the fringes of the country, continuing to fight a guerrilla war for decades. Pol Pot, Ta Mok, and many others made their home and center of control in the remote town of Anlong Veng

Today, physical signs of this complicated history remain in Anlong Veng. The five most notable dark tourist spots in Along Veng are Ta Mok’s house and lake, Son Sen’s grave, Pol Pot’s Grave, Ta Mok’s Mountain House, and Pol Pot’s House.

In town, tourists can visit Ta Mok’s house and see the artificial lake he constructed in the 1990s. This is easily reachable by foot, just head north towards the mountains from the roundabout in town and the driveway will be on your right.

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For all the other sites, you will need to have your own transportation or hire a motodop driver in town for the day. I highly suggest hiring a driver, because many of these tourist spots are incredibly hard to find, and some are not signposted at all. A motodop for the day should cost between $10-$20 depending on your negotiating skills.

To reach the remote sites, follow the road north towards Choam and the Thai Border. The home and grave of Son Sen sit off the road to the right, shortly before you reach the mountains. Son Sen was once a leader of the Khmer Rouge, but his death was ordered by an increasingly paranoid Pol Pot in the late 90s.

Up in the Dangrek Mountains, just on the border with Thailand and directly across the street from a gaudy casino building, Pol Pot’s tomb sits quietly unadorned on a small side street. It is something of a travesty to think that a man who ordered the death of a quarter of his countrymen should be buried in such a beautiful place.

Just before the border crossing, take a right onto an unassuming dirt road and you’ll soon come to Ta Mok’s mountaintop vacation home, now the location of a Peace Museum and Khmer style resort with small pavilions and hammocks perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the floodplain below. This is a good spot to enjoy a picnic lunch, as bizarre as that sounds.

The last spot of the day, if you have the energy and fortitude to reach it, is the most gruesomely interesting. Deep in the jungles of the Dangrek Mountains sits the remains of the house of Pol Pot.

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Road to Pol Pot’s House

Following the road that passes Ta Mok’s mountain home, continue east, climbing up and down mountain slopes, through small villages, across wide open farmland, and through several military encampments. The border between Cambodia and Thailand is a bit porous up here and there is a chance the road passes in and out of both countries.

After many kilometers, a few forks, and lots of confusion, the road shrinks down to a muddy single track through the jungle, culminating in the graffitied shell of structure: the home of once all-powerful Brother Number One.

Pol Pot's House Anlong Veng Cambodia

Once you soak up all the eeriness you can handle, head back down to Anlong Veng to recoup from your day of dark tourism.

How to Get to Anlong Veng

There are mini buses that run from Siem Reap to Along Veng every day, several times a day. Tickets should be $8-10.

Accommodation in Anlong Veng

There are several guesthouses on the main road in Along Veng, some nicer than others. I stayed in a perfectly comfortable family guesthouse in a room for $5, though I negotiated somewhat aggressively for that price. Expect to pay $7 to $15 for a room with a fan or A/C respectively.

Tourist Spots Off The Tourist Trail

Each of these tourist spots is located with a day or two of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. If you only have a short amount of time in Cambodia and you want to understand this country’s history on a deeper level, I hope you’ll consider exploring one or more of these gorgeous and important tourist sites.


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Discove 4 Off the Beaten Path Tourist Spots in Cambodia - What to do near Siem Reap after you visit Angkor Wat4 Tourist Spots to Visit in Cambodia after you finish touring Angkor Wat and Siem Reap

Hiking Peru’s Alpamayo Circuit Trek without a Guide

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is one of the most beautiful long distance hikes in the world. Slightly more stunning than its more famous cousin, the Cordillera Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo rivals even the pristine peaks of Nepal’s Annapurna Circuit in grandeur and scale.

This roughly 87-mile trek encircles the majestic Alpamayo Mountain, sometimes called “the worlds most beautiful mountain” within the Huascaran National Park. With massive gains in elevation, a wealth of biodiversity, and jaw-droppingly beautiful vistas, the Alpamayo Circuit earns its right to be named one of the greatest treks in the world.

In October 2015, I set out to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide. Though this is a long and intimidating trek, it is possible to do without the help of a Peruvian guide or porters, as long as you’re fit, knowledgeable about wilderness survival, and adventurous.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek Views Mesapampa Pass

View from Mesapampa Pass

For full disclosure, I took on this trek with my then boyfriend and our donkey. It was part of a longer 3-month backpacking trek across Peru, for which we purchased a donkey in nearby Huaylas. But don’t worry, you don’t need to buy your own donkey to take on the Alpamayo Circuit solo.

For those of you who are headed to the Huaraz region of Peru looking for adventure, the Alpamayo Circuit is the granddaddy of them all. If you’re thinking of trying this Andean adventure, here is everything you need to know to plan and trek the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide.

Donkey in Peru Cordillera Blanca

Beautiful Chana

Table of Contents

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek
What to Pack
What to Budget
Getting to Hualcayan
The Itinerary: A Day by Day Guide for the Alpamayo Circuit
Day 1: Hualcayan to Wishcash
Day 2: Wishcash to Ruina Pampa
Day 3: Ruina Pampa to Cruze Alpamayo
Day 4: Alpamayo Base Camp Day Hike
Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo to Laguna Safiuna
Day 6: Laguna Safiuna to Jancapampa
Day 7: Jancapampa to Quebrada Tuctubamba
Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba to Quebrada Huaripampa
Day 9: Quebrada Huaripampa to Tuallipampa
Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa
Conclusion

Ruina Pampa Cordillera Blanca

Goofing in Ruina Pampa

Before You Go: Planning Your Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek can be completed in as few as 8 days, though I recommend setting aside more time than that. However, if you have a limited amount of time, bring enough supplies to last at least 8 days. My trek lasted 12 days, but that included some slow hiking and getting lost. This guide is a 10-day itinerary, allowing for a few days spent exploring lesser-known high Andean landscapes.

Any trek in the Cordillera Blanca begins from Huaraz, a town in the Ancash Region and the center of all trekking in Peru. There are several bus companies that will take you from Lima to Huaraz in about 8 hours. Z Buss is one of the cheapest but other, better-known bus companies also make the route.

Before your trek, spend a few days in Huaraz to acclimatize to the altitude. You’ll be spending almost the entire Alpamayo Trek above 4000m (13,000ft). If you try to do this trek without getting acclimatized first, you will almost certainly get sick.

If you spend a few days in Huaraz and you’re still worried about altitude sickness, you can easily pick up some altitude sickness pills, called sorochi pills, at any pharmacy or “botica” in town.

Huaraz is also the spot to rent any gear you’ll need, buy supplies, and find trekking buddies. Most outdoor shops in town sell maps of the Cordillera Huayhuash with the Alpamayo Trek included. There are various qualities at various prices ranging from about 40 soles to 100 soles.

For food shopping in Huaraz, there are a few small grocery stores in town. These are generally well stocked but overpriced. The best place to get supplies for your hike is in the Mercado Central. There, shops sell all kinds of nuts and seeds in bulk at half the price of the supermarket. You can also find cookies, biscuits, instant noodles, hot cocoa mix, and everything else you could possibly need for an 8 to 12-day trek.

camping in Peru alpamayo trek

It gets cold

Planning for the Alpamayo Trek Without A Guide: What to Pack

Sleeping – Waterproof 3 season tent, sleeping bag 16F, sleeping mat
Clothing – Layers! Silk pant liners, hiking pants, waterproof pants, warm pants for sleeping, t-shirt liner, hiking t-shirt, fleece jacket, waterproof shell, gloves, hats, socks and sock liners (at least 2 pairs), hiking boots, camp shoes
First Aid – minimum first aid kit including iodine, bandages, scissors, tweezers, anti-inflammatories, anti-histamines, sorochi (altitude sickness) pills
Kitchen – stove, gas, pot for eating, knife
Food – enough for 8 to 12 days, keep in mind that water boils lower at elevation so rice and pasta won’t cook so well. Things like oatmeal and instant noodles work best.
Other – Map, water filter or method for cleaning water (I used a Steripen), length of cord, other misc camping needs

Many camping supplies can be rented in Huaraz, and gas canisters that work with MSR stoves like the Pocket Rocket can be purchased. You’ll also want to pick up your Huascaran National Park pass in Huaraz. I didn’t and they still made me buy it on my way out of the Santa Cruz trek. There are checkpoints. You need to buy the pass.

Backpacking Budget for Peru’s Alpamayo Trek

Because you’ll be taking on this trek unsupported, you may actually be surprised by how cheaply you can do it. A Peru backpacking budget can be quite small, especially if you’re planning to spend most of your time in the mountains.

Costs associated with this trek include renting any supplies in Huaraz, purchasing your food, your transport to and from the trek, and the Huascaran National Park Pass. The numbers below are just an estimate and depend on your own planning and experience. They reflect my reality when I made the trek in October 2015.

Transport: Collectivo to and from Caraz, 12 soles, taxis to and from Hualcayan and Cashapampa, 70 soles total, cheaper may be available for the adventurous Spanish speaker.
Gear Rental: gas canisters 10-25 soles, sleeping bag $2-$10 per day, tent $5 to $15 per day.
Food: Estimate 100 soles for 10 days
Map: 40 to 100 soles depending on quality
Huascaran National Park Pass: 65 soles for 21 days.

These prices are more of an estimate than a definitive number, but if you’re looking to hike the Alpamayo Circuit without a guide, expect to spend somewhere in the region of 352 soles plus the cost of any gear you need to rent. That’s just over $100 for a 12 day trek. Not too shabby. Obviously, if you have to rent tents or sleeping bags it’ll get more expensive.

Donkey Grazing in Hualcayan Peru

Chana grazing in Hualcayan

Getting To Hualcayan

The Alpamayo Circuit begins at a small village called Hualcayan. To get there, get a collectivo to Caraz. They leave from the main road in town and the cost of a one way trip is 6 soles. From Caraz, ask around till you find the taxi station, then ask for cars going to Hualcayan. There may also be collectivos, so if you’re trying to keep this low budget, I suggest asking around town before getting into an expensive taxi.

There is a campsite in town where you can spend the night, the locals will ask for a small fee to camp there but this village is the last time you’ll be asked to pay a fee before camping.

When I was there in October 2015, there was no checkpoint for the Huascaran National Park pass in Hualcayan.

The Itinerary: A Day by Day Trail Breakdown of the Alpamayo Circuit

hiking in peru alpamayo trek

Day 1 Hiking up to Wishcash Camp

Day 1: Hualcayan (2900m/9514ft) to Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft)

Day one begins with a steep ascent then becomes a more gradual climb. You’ll find yourself winding up the mountainside through low scrubs and grasses. At one particularly exciting point, the trail cuts across a massive scar left over from a long-ago landslide. It’s not a particularly frightening crossing, the trail is large and stable, but it bare and exposed with plenty of stunning views of the valley below.

Towards the end of the day, you’ll find yourself cresting some rounded hills. The campsite, Wishcash, is located on the top of one of these. There is a small stream there for drinking water but little shelter from the wind.

It’s not a particularly tough day of trekking, but you’ve climbed up above 4300m/14,107ft and you’ll need to acclimate, so it’s probably a good idea to stop here before attempting the passes above you.

Once you’ve set up camp, there is plenty of exploring to be done around the campground. If you hike just a bit uphill, you can look down the cliffs at a beautiful lake. It’s probably possible to hike down to the lake, about 300m down, but I didn’t find the trail.

If you’re feeling strong and acclimated, you could potentially continue hiking up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, another 500m/1600ft up from Wishcash and just below the first pass of the trek. Listen to your body and if you start to feel dizziness, headaches, or nausea, turn back to Wishcash.

Peru adventure travel

Horse in the village next to Ruina Pampa

Day 2: Wishcash (4300m/14,107ft) to Ruina Pampa (4000m/13,123ft)

This is an incredibly grueling day crossing two high altitude passes with steep descents and ascents in between. When I hiked it, I divided the day into two separate days. On the first day, I was feeling a bit put out by the altitude, so we just hiked up to Laguna Cullicocha at 4850m/15,912ft, sitting just below the first pass. It was a very short hike and we spent the late morning and entire afternoon messing about around the lake taking pictures and letting our donkey rest. I loved it, but if you’re carrying all your own supplies and trying to make the circuit in a set time, it’s probably not the best plan.

Otherwise, it’s onward to cross Osoruri Pass at 4860m/15,944ft, then follow the trail as it drops steeply into the valley below, only to climb back up a demanding set of switchbacks to Vientona Pass at 4770m/15,650ft.

We stopped here for a quick lunch, then continued toward towards our destination for the day: Ruina Pampa. From Vientona Pass the trail zig zags relentlessly down the mountainside. Once you reach the valley floor, you’ve more or less made it. There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

There is a small village down there, just a few families living in almost complete isolation. I chose to camp there and the few villagers I met were very welcoming and friendly, even sold us some firewood.

To get to the official campsite, follow the trail up the valley for maybe another kilometer and you’ll find the campsite sign.

Ruina Pampa Camp Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Ruina Pampa Campsite

Day 3: Ruina Papa (4000m/13,123ft) to Cruze Alpamayo Camp (4150m/13,615ft)

After the rigors of your two passes yesterday, you’re rewarded with a fairly easy day of hiking up the Ruina Pampa valley. The trail itself is stunning, it hugs the wall of the valley, giving you a view of the river below as it winds down from the glaciers in the distance. You’ll meander through ancient ruins and corrals, the last remains of an ancient civilization.

After not too long, you’ll find yourself in a wide open valley surrounded on three sides by massive mountain walls. This is Cruze Alpamayo Camp, so look for the official campsite or just find a dry spot to set up your tent.

Peruvian Andes Adventures Cordillera Blanca

On the way to Cruze Alpamayo

A word of caution: Beware Andean Valleys! They look like beautiful places to frolic but in fact, they are watery quagmires just waiting to eat you alive. Approach with caution.

You’ll probably arrive at Cruze Alpamayo Camp by lunchtime. If you’re feeling energetic, follow the path that hugs the mountainside towards Laguna Jancarurish. It’s a stunning crystal blue lake sitting beneath a massive glacier. The hike to get there is a bit dicey and you might lose the trail, but don’t worry, the lake is just behind the large wall of rocks.

Alpamayo Base Camp

Alpamayo Base Camp

Day 4: Hike up to Alpamayo Base Camp and Lakes

Most tours skip this section, but if you’re lucky enough to be hiking without a guide and making your own itinerary, I can’t encourage you enough to include this mini day trip up to the Alpamayo Base Camp. It was perhaps the most beautiful day of hiking I had in all of Peru.

Set out from camp and follow the same trail towards Laguna Jancarurish. Instead of heading to the lake, follow the switchbacks up the mountainside in front of you. At the top, you’ll find another high valley opening up in front of you with snowcapped peaks rising up all around. This is the Alpamayo Base Camp valley.

There is a trail up to a high Alpamayo Base Camp above 5000m/16,400ft. We missed it when coming up from Cruze Alpamayo, so I’ve not made that ascent. Instead, we visited some lakes beneath the glaciers.

To find the glacial lake beneath Alpamayo, hike across the valley towards the distant peaks and you’ll find another lake similar to Jancarurish. There isn’t really a trail to get there and it’ll take some intrepid trailblazing to get across the valley, but the lake is beautiful and you really feel that you are standing among the mountains.

Bring layers. It’s damn cold.

Head back down to camp at Cruze Alpamayo that night and prepare yourself for the toughest climb of the trek the next morning.

Cordillera Blanca Trekking

Cruze Alpamayo Views

Day 5: Cruze Alpamayo (4150m/13,615ft) to Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft)

Today is the day you cross the intense, grueling, and breathtakingly rewarding Cara Cara pass. The day begins with your journey to find the trail. Cara Cara pass is across the valley and above you, but at least when I was there in October 2015, I struggled to find the trail. No matter, make your own way up the mountainside heading in the right direction. This is where it helps to have a map.

Eventually, you’ll find the trail again, I promise. Just keep using the map and heading up.

The trail begins in a straight line up the mountainside as it passes two lakes. It’s probably one of the toughest single pieces of trail in the whole circuit. Eventually, you’ll work your way out of the grass and come to a final small lake, more of a puddle really, and the rest of the climb is all loose rocks and scree.

The trail zigzags steeply up the final ascent as the winds begin to swirl around you. The last few steps are so sheer you may worry you’re going to slip back down the mountainside.

Give yourself a treat and don’t look behind you until you’ve reached the top of the pass. The view from Cara Cara is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever seen. Just pure Andean glory.

Cara Cara Pass Alpamayo Circuit Peru

View from Cara Cara Pass

Once you’ve had your fill of the view, it’s time to move onwards and hike down into the valley below. Thankfully, the trail is less steep and far less windy on this side. After initial switchbacks, you’ll follow a relatively smooth trail along the valley wall and up to cross the second pass of the day, Mesapampa Pass at 4500m/14,760ft. This is a significantly easier ascent.

Another breathtaking view awaits you here, then it’s onward and downward to the valley below and the waiting Safiuna Lake camp at 4200m/13,780ft.

Gara Gara Pass Alpamayo Circuit

View from Cara Cara looking towards Mesapampa

Day 6: Laguna Safiuna (4200m/13,780ft) to Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft)

I got pretty lost on this section and never made it to Jancapampa. The trail was very difficult to follow. That plus a few other reasons, and we bailed out for a different option. But before I frighten you, let’s discuss what I did and what you ought to do instead.

From Laguna Safiuna, continue hiking down into the valley then follow the trail along the wall of the valley over towards the bridge. In October 2015, they were in the process of building a massive new bridge but I imagine it’s finished by now. Cross over the river and head up towards Huilca, a small village. Really, it’s two or three houses surrounded by livestock, including alpacas, sheep, goats, and even some horses.

From there, the trail is meant to continue up to Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa.

I did not do this. The trail up towards Yanacon path is incredibly difficult to find and possibly nonexistent from the valley floor. Instead, since I couldn’t find the trail, I asked one of the local village boys to help me out. He seemed unsure about where the path to Yanacon was but kept pointing to another, much more obvious trail, that went up the valley on the other side. He told me it would take me out to Pomabamba, the closest main town. and my ultimate

Our original plan was to hike to Jancapampa and leave the donkey grazing there with a villager while we popped out to Pomabamba to pick up supplies. So, if this young guy told us there was an easier path to Pomabamba, fine. We opted to skip Yanacon path and follow the alternative trail. This took us out to a village, the name of which I cannot remember.

It took us a further two days to make the trek out to that village. This was due in part to length, but mostly we were held up by the most delightful Peruvian family. We met them just over the next pass, sitting by a lake eating chocho and checking up on their cattle. Instead of hiking, we spent most of the afternoon hanging out with them and walking around in the valleys looking for injured cows.

After two days, we made it out to this small village, found a family willing to guard our donkey for two days for a fair price, and hopped in a collectivo out to Pomabomba. After two days in the big city, we got a collectivo back to the village and from there it was just a day’s walk over the hill to Jancapampa.

But if you’re not intending to restock in Pomabamba, I suggest having more fortitude, and a better map than I had, and heading up towards Yanacon pass and down to Jancapampa. My best advice is just to commit to hiking up in the right direction and eventually, you’ll find the trail and the pass.

Jancapampa is a small village where you can purchase cookies and instant noodles, so if you’re running short on supplies, this is where you’ll want to restock.

Peru treks

Day 7: Jancapampa (3500m/11,480ft) to Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800m/12,470ft)

From Jancapampa, the path heads uphill, crossing through farmland and pastures. You’ll cross the Tupatupa pass at 4400m/14,435ft and head down into a valley below. The trail winds through this valley heading uphill. I chose to follow it for most of the day right up until the base of the next pass. There are plenty of open grassy areas for camping and the trail follows a river, so water is readily available as well.

Alpamayo Circuit Trek

Day 8: Quebrada Tuctubamba (3800/12,470m) to Quebrada Huaripampa (4150m/13,615m)

Another grueling climb. I decided to wake up early, around 4am, to try to beat the sun and catch the sunrise from the top. I didn’t quite make it, but close, and it was well worth it!

The trail begins with tight switchbacks through Andean flowers and rocky scree. The top is all jagged rocks and makes for some great exploring. You’ll catch some views of the trail up to Punta Union across the valley, with a few glimpses of snowcapped peaks beyond. Once across, the trail down the other side is a well-maintained switchback that passes through both open rocky land and some groves of the endangered Queñuales trees.

Enjoy this last ascent in your Alpamayo Solitude because after this, the trail joins up with the immensely popular Santa Cruz trek, so you’ll be sharing the trail with donkey trains, tour groups, and plenty more trekkers. Makes for more social campsites but there is something to be said for the solitude of the Alpamayo Circuit.

Anyway, you can choose to camp that night in Huaripampa, it’s a wide open valley that unlike most Andean valleys is actually dry and great for camping. Or you could choose to go up and over Punta Union on the same day. If it’s the dry season I say go for it, but if you’re hiking in the Peru’s rainy season, as I was, better to wait until the next day. Afternoons in the rainy season mean clouds and limited visibility.

Punta Union Santa Cruz Trek Peru

View towards Punta Union Pass and Santa Cruz

Day 9: Huaripampa to Tuallipampa (4250m/13,945ft)

The trail heads up out of Huaripampa, passes three high Andean lakes along the way, and then zigzags all the way up to Punta Union, the breathtaking main pass of the Santa Cruz trek, with views of snow-capped peaks and crystal blue lakes far below you.

Unfortunately for me, I hiked this in October during the beginning of the rainy season and my view was mostly of fog. Oh well.

From Punta Union, it’s a long but easy slog down to Tuallipampa, a wide open grassy campsite sitting beneath sheer rock walls.

Megan and Donkey Alpamayo Circuit Peru

Just me and my donkey Chana

Day 10: Tuallipampa to Cashapampa

This is the end. If you have enough supplies, you can take an extra day, climb up to the other Alpamayo Base Camp on this side, and camp at the Llama corral campsite further down. I did not choose to do this, only because after so many days of hiking, my legs were pretty tired and I was ready to eat some pizza.

The trail out of the Santa Cruz trek is gradual and very easy. You’ll wind down through the valley, passing by the extremely picturesque Laguna Jatuncocha, before finally finding yourself in the relative civilization of Cashapampa.

There is a checkpoint at the end of the trail where you’ll need to show your Cordillera Blanca pass. Then walk down into town and find yourself a taxi. Some of them wait at the trailhead, others can be found in the town’s main square.

You can get a taxi from Cashapampa to Caraz the price is negotiable. I recommend spending a day or two in Caraz, it’s a lovely town and a good jumping off point for a few other treks. But if you’re in a hurry, you can catch a collectivo back to Huaraz for 6 soles.

Laguna Jatuncocha Santa Cruz Trek

Laguna Jatuncocha

Conclusion: Final Thoughts on the Alpamayo Circuit Trek

The Alpamayo Circuit Trek is truly one of the most splendid hiking experiences in all of Peru. During the course of the 8 to 12 days, you’ll cross over several massive passes, hike through a huge variety of environments, and get up close and personal with snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Though far less popular than the nearby Huayhuash Circuit, the Alpamayo Circuit is the perfect hike for intrepid explorers who want to experience the ultimate Peruvian Andean adventure.


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The Complete Guide to the Sacred Valley of the Inca in Peru

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Trekking & Hiking

No trip to Peru is complete without a visit to the verdant Sacred Valley of the Incas. Located in between Cusco and Machu Picchu, most tourists only spend a day or two here before heading off to take on the Inca Trail. But take it from someone who lived there for a year, you may want to reorganize your trip to make more room for this tucked away paradise.

The Sacred Valley of the Inca is unlike anywhere else on earth. In a single day of exploration, visitors can take in sweeping vistas of snow capped peaks while enjoying an organic locally grown feast. With just a few days, the adventurous tourist can hike to waterfalls, visit ancient Incan ruins, and learn about a vibrant indigenous culture that still carries on today despite many hardships and obstacles.

There is so much to love about Peru’s Sacred Valley. It is one of my favorite places in the world and I’m delighted to share with you my complete guide to visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Chicon Glacier Hike

Understanding Life in the Valley

As with any visit to a foreign land, you cannot expect to fully understand the depth and complexity of life there in just a few weeks or months. But there are a few things you can learn that will help you understand the culture of life in the valley.

This valley was once very near to the center of Incan society. And those Incan ancestors left behind more than just ruins.

Much of the population are Quechua people, an indigenous group descended from the Incans. These people speak the Quechua language and some don’t speak Spanish. Though most are Catholics today, their ties to their ancient culture are still evident.

Pachamama, a mother earth figure, features heavily in local folklore. Hikes and other journeys often begin with a ritual offering of 3 coca leaves to Pachamama.

Many who live there still talk of the ancient Incan understanding of the three-part world: hana pacha, the upper world, signified by a Condor; Kay Pacha, the middle world, signified by a panther; and Uku Pacha, the lower world, signified by a serpent.

Today, the Sacred Valley is an agricultural area. The high Andean villages make up some of the last pastoral communities in the world.

Sacred Valley

Overall, Peru is still considered a developing country and had a poverty rate of 25.8% in 2011, according to the UN. Clean water is difficult to come by and illiteracy is still commonplace.

Yet poverty isn’t the story in Peru. The modern culture in the Sacred Valley is vibrant, unique, and bursting with pride. In general, the Peruvians (I met) who live there are welcoming, accepting of tourists, and willing to educate outsiders about their culture and way of life.

Before you go, make sure you purchase a 10-day Boleto Turístico in Cusco. This pass will give you access to most (but not all) of the major tourist attractions in the Sacred Valley.

The Three Main Towns

There are many small villages running through the Sacred Valley. These vary in size and each one has its own flavor and secrets. That being said, here are the five main towns that every visit to the Sacred Valley should include:

Pisac

Pisac is the second most famous town in the valley and home to the largest population of foreigners in the valley. The town is dominated by a massive set of Incan ruins climbing up the mountain above town.

There are two ways to visit these ruins. For the adventurous, the ruins can be reached by hiking up a long Incan staircase, just head uphill from the market until you find the gateway. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take a taxi up the mountain behind town and walk across to the ruins from there.

Entrance to the ruin is included in the Boleto Turistico.

After you finish exploring the ruins, spend some time walking around the market in the main square. This is one of the most touristic markets in all of the Sacred Valley. It’s a great opportunity to see what kind of handicrafts and trinkets are on offer, but there are less expensive markets selling most of the same products. If you see something truly special, get it! Otherwise, wait till you get to Urubamba.

Ollantaytambo Free Ruins

Pisac also has a whole host of opportunities for yoga workshops, retreats, vegan food, and plant medicine retreats. Many restaurants in town offer Ayahuasca diet menus, and there are shamans all over town offering their services. Just – do your research before booking! Some of these are great experiences, while others can turn into nightmares.

For workshops and yoga retreats, I can personally recommend Nidra Wasi. I took a yogic cooking workshop there in 2014 that was worth every penny.

Ollantaytambo

The gem in the crown of the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo is the most beautiful and iconic town on this list. Called the “Living Incan City” this town is unlike any other in the world. Built by the Inca over 500 years ago, today the town lives on, with Quechua people still living in the structures built by their Incan ancestors.

Rio Urubamba

What to do in Ollantaytambo

The main highlight of Ollantaytambo is the majestic ruin rising up above the town. You’ll catch your first glimpse of it from the main square. Just walk down the hill to reach the entrance. The entrance fee is covered by the boleto turistico.

These ruins, called Temple Hill colloquially, are unfinished, having been abandoned before completion over 600 years ago. Still, there are many structures and monoliths that are astounding to witness in person. The Temple of the Sun, located at the top of a long stair climb, features some of the remarkable stonework that makes the Inca famous. The many gardens, fountains, and foundations that run along the bottom of the mountainside will have you dreaming of what life was like before the Spanish arrived. This temple deserves at least a whole morning just for exploration.

If you have extra energy and time in Ollantay, smaller, less majestic ruins cling to the opposite side of the valley. Entrance to these ruins is free, if you can find it. Walk down the last alleyway in town and then look for a small path leading up the hill. These ruins were the storage houses for potatoes, grains and other foodstuffs.

Where to Eat in Ollantaytambo

Once you’ve finished exploring Ollantaytambo’s impressive ruins, it’s time for a snack. My personal favorite place to eat in Ollantay is Heart’s Cafe. This social enterprise cafe uses its proceeds to provide healthy meals and support to women and children living in high Andean communities. They have some of the most delicious food in Ollantay with vegan and vegetarian options.

Urubamba

Urubamba is situated right smack in the center of the Sacred Valley. This town is often overlooked by tourists because it lacks the quaint charm and stunning ruins of Pisac or Ollantaytambo. But in truth, you cannot fully understand life in the Sacred Valley without a visit to Urubamba.

A visit to Urubamba provides the opportunity to look behind the tourist performance and see what life is really like for the local Quechua people and Peruvian transplants that populate the Sacred Valley.

Urubamba is a hidden gem of the Sacred Valley, especially for those who love good food. The market at Urubamba is a gathering place for local farmers from all across the valley and up in the mountains. There are a few days a week when it explodes into a hive of activity. I’ll talk more about that in the event section of this article.

Urubamba Streets

Streets of Urubamba

Where to Eat in Urubamba

There are many restaurants in Urubamba worth checking out. The top choices serve the increasingly popular Novo Andino cuisine, while other cafe’s tend to focus on organic vegetarian meals.

El Huacatay serves up Novo Andino classics like Trucha (trout) or Alpaca meat. The restaurant is cash only and reservations are recommended in the high season. 30-40 soles per plate.

Paca Paca sits a bit uphill from town but is well worth the walk or moto ride. The restaurant offers a funky artistic vibe with wood oven pizzas and a good wine selection. Pastas are also recommended. 30 – 40 soles per plate

Kaia is my last and highest restaurant recommendation. It isn’t the most expensive or sought after restaurant in town but it is the most charming. They offer organic food prepared with love. Kaia also often has music performances or other artistic events. I recommend the chai tea with almond milk! 15-25 soles/plate

What to Do in Urubamba

Other than a visit to the market, what else does Urubamba have to offer?

The Plaza de Armas has a lovely traditional church with a view of the mountains behind. Get some ice cream from one of the heladerias or carts situated on the square.

Visit Urubamba’s modest ruins, the Palacio de Hyuana Capac – a humble remains of a once proud fortress. May only be interesting to true archaeology nerds like myself. From there, you can check out Urubamba’s Cemetery to get a sense of how Peru honor their dead, or walk down a true Inca trail as it winds out of town.

Urubamba is also quietly becoming an artistic hub of the valley. To find more information about this, the best places in town to visit are Kaia Cafe or El Arte Sano. Both have artistic performances, events, and workshops every month.

Lastly, Urubamba is a great town to use as a jumping off point for some epic hikes. I’ll talk about the best one, hiking up to Chicón, further down in the hiking section of this article. On top of that, a walk through the dirt roads that lead uphill out of town will often lead to small pathways winding up into the foothills of the Andes. You never know what you might find.

There is a short hike that goes up to the cross above town, providing a great outlook over Urubamba towards Cusco. To get there, head uphill on the main road, Yanaconas Chicón, until you see a zig zagging path going uphill on your left. Follow that trail all the way up to the cross. The top is a great spot for a picnic.

Urubamba Hike to the Cross

View from the Cross above Urubamba

Chinchero

Though not technically in the Sacred Valley, Chinchero is usually included in most Sacred Valley tours and it’s a town worth visiting for it’s impressive ruins, local market, and gorgeous countryside.

Chinchero is the highest town on this list, sitting even higher than Cusco at 3,700m (12,100ft), so make sure to spend some time in either the Sacred Valley or Cusco before heading to explore Chinchero. The headaches and nausea that accompany altitude sickness don’t make for a great day of exploration.

The highlight of a visit to Chinchero is the set of ancient Incan ruins and Spanish missionary church that dominate the town. At the ruins, you’ll find well maintained terraces and a few large boulders with Incan engravings and carvings.

But the true state of the ruins stands as testament to the tumultuous history that created modern Peru. Above the ruins, where once the main temple of the Incan ruin soon, it has been replaced with a Spanish cathedral, built by the conquering Spaniards to subdue the local people. It’s lovely to look inside, but the juxtaposition of Incan and Spanish will make you stop and think about colonialism both past and present.

Chincero also boasts a fairly popular market selling tourist goods as well as local wares. Tuesdays and Thursdays are the best days for the market, but it will probably be somewhat open most days of the week.

If you are particularly lucky, you’ll stumbled into Chinchero on a festival day. These days, the main square comes alive in a frenzy of colorful activity. If you find yourself in a Chinchero festival, remember to be respectful first and foremost. Ask before photographing women, stand at the back, and be respectful of local traditions. You’re witnessing a genuine part of the Quechua indigenous culture that is alive and well.

view from Maras village

The Streets of Maras

Maras/Moray

A visit to Maras, Moray, and the Salineras Salt Mines are a must if spending time in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The sites can be visited by a combination of hiking, biking, and taxis. I suggest beginning with a walk to the salt mines, which I outline below in the hikes section, then head up to Maras, where you can easily find a taxi to drive you out to Moray.

More commonly, people hire taxis from either Cusco or the Valley to take them on a full tour of the salt mines and Moray. Moray entrance fee is included on the Boleto Turístico. Salineras is not included, but it’s only $3 extra.

The salt mines are a work of terracing that dates back to the Incan empire. Built much like the green terraces found elsewhere, these are used to harvest salt. The flats are flooded and then the water slowly evaporates, leaving behind pure salt.

The Peruvians who work on the salt flats are part of a co-op system that dates back to Incan times. Everyone shares in the work and benefit from the harvests. Anyone can have access to the salt flats – as long as they are willing to pull their own weight.

Moray is the site of the famous circular Incan terraces. These were used, perhaps, to experiment with different crops. In truth, however, archaeologists cannot say for certain why the Incan build a circular pit of terraces here and not elsewhere. Whatever they were built for, they are a beautiful and mysterious spot to spend an afternoon.

Best Hikes in the Sacred Valley

Most tourists visit the Sacred Valley for it’s villages and markets, but there is more to be explored in this sun-drenched land. Indeed, the Sacred Valley is perhaps one of the most accessible and unexplored hiking locations in all of Peru. If you’re comfortable in Alpine environments and a very serious outdoors enthusiast, you can choose any valley and start hiking upwards to see what happens. As always, be respectful of any indigenous people you meet, ask permission before camping, and use caution.

If choosing a random trail and seeing where it goes seems a little too high risk for you, here are a selection of my favorite single-day and multi-day hikes in the Sacred Valley of the Inca.

Lares Trek

Though less popular than it’s more famous siblings; the Inca Trail and Salkantay trek, this two or three day Trek a stunning alternative to those heavily trafficked trails. The Lares Trek has three variations . Each begins at a different village in the valley, runs up and over the Andes, and finishes up at the Lares Hot Springs. Each route has it’s own benefit and, having personally hiked two of them, I believe that all three routes are equal in beauty.

sacred valley views peru

Sacred Valley Views

Option 1: Beginning from Huarán

This hike begins from a small village just outside of Huarán, following a well trodden footpath up into the high Andes. After several hours of hiking, you’ll come across the rural Quechua village of Cancha Cancha.

The people of Cancha Cancha are used to seeing tourists passing through but that doesn’t necessarily mean they want you walking around in their church or school. Be respectful and ask village elders for permission before wandering willy-nilly through their village taking photos. Not many villagers speak Spanish but simple sign language usually does the trick.

Continuing on from the village, you’ll soon reach a large, black Andean lake, the perfect spot for your first campsite. Day two you’ll hike up and over the ridge then down to the main road. Follow the main road until you reach Lares.

Option 2: Beginning from Urubamba

You’ll hike up out of town towards Pumahuanca, an absolutely stunning ecological area. You’ll be following a river and the path is actually a road for much of the beginning. Eventually it becomes a footpath that will lead you up and over the Andes.

On the way you’ll pass through a rural village, pastoral farmland, an ancient Incan ruin, and have breathtaking views back towards Cusco. Once you cross the pass, it’s a long walk down a dirt road until you reach the Lares Hot Springs.

Option 3: Beginning from Yanahuara

This is the only route I haven’t personally tried. The route from Yanahuara leads up to a large lake sitting at about 4000m. Camp beside this lake then continue up and over the pass and down to Lares and the much needed hot springs.

Inca Trail from Chinchero

Yes, it’s an Inca Trail hike, but it’s not THE Incan Trail. Here in the Sacred Valley, there is one long continuous hike that anyone can do, for free, on an authentic section of the Inca Trail.

It runs from Chinchero down to a small village called Urquillos. The trail can technically be hiked in either direction, but I recommend beginning in Chinchero and hiking down to Urquillos, unless you’re a true sucker for punishment.

Get a taxi or combi van up to Chinchero then head to the ruins. Walk down through the terraces to the very bottom and head off towards the forest and mountainside. You should find the start of a pathway leading down. After less than 5 minutes of walking, you’ll see a sign indicating that this is an authentic Incan Trail.

The trail leads down a steep mountainside to the village of Urquillos, close to the Aranwa Sacred Valley Resort. Pop in there to ask for help getting a taxi, or simply stand on the main road and wave your hand until a passing bus or car picks you up.

sacred valley above urubamba

On the way up to Yanacocha

Laguna Yanacocha Hike

One of the most beautiful day hikes in the valley, the hike to Yanacocha is incredibly popular with locals but little known to tourists. It may be a good idea to find a local guide to show you the way, as this trail can be difficult to find. Your hotel in the valley should be able to help you find a knowledgeable guide.

The trail begins from Huayoccari, first winding through eucalyptus forests, then slowly ascending the mountains above.

The trail will open up onto high Andean farmland, then alternate through forests, slow scrub, and more pastures. If you’re lucky you may see some wildlife but it’ll mostly just be cattle.

When you come to a large flat rock, you know you’re almost there. This is a great spot to have a rest and take some photos.

The last part of the trail is steeper as you approach the lake. The big reveal comes as you scrabble up the last climb to find a most incredible sight: a large, crystalline black lake sits beneath towering cliffs.

Apparently there is another lake higher up and a trail to access it, but I never tried it. Hiking up to Yanacochoa at 4700m was enough for me.

Remember to bring water and snacks (at least!) or better yet a full lunch to eat at the lake.

naupa iglesia sacred cave hike near Ollantaytambo

Roadside map on the way to the Naupa Iglesia

Naupa Iglesia Hike

Really more of a short morning stroll than an full hike, the Naupa Iglesia is a mystical hidden gems in the Sacred Valley. Frequented by locals and expats, you’ll be unlikely to encounter another tourist at this secretive Incan site.

The Naupa Iglesia is found in a cave sitting atop some old terraces. Inside the cave is a stunning carved altar, partially destroyed by the Spanish, and a mysterious stone door carved into the wall of the cave. In front of the cave are several structures containing the human remains.

To reach this site, take a taxi or combi to “el puente Pachar” or the Pachar Bridge. You should see a large sign for a Circuito Turistico when you disembark from the car. From there, head on up the road that leads through the village and up the valley. Stay on the road and look to your right hand side. When you see some crumbling terraces, follow the path up them and you’ll find the cave at the top.

If you have a guide, there is a beautiful hike that goes from there up to a majestic waterfall and onwards. That is a full day excursion and not to be undertaken without a guide.

Hiking Chicon Glacier Hike Peru

Trying to get to Chicón

Chicón Glacier Hike (Chi’qun)

Chicón, alternatively spelled Chi’qun to respected the Quechua, is the massive glacier and mountain peak above Urubamba. It’s peak is visible as you drive from Cusco to the valley, visible from the main square, and featured prominently in this music video from Calle 13, one of my favorite songs.

The peak of the mountain is 5,530m (18,000+ft) and the glacier sits just a few hundred meters below that. Needless to say, it is a very rigorous and demanding hike. Though technically possible to achieve in just one day, you’re better off bringing camping gear and giving yourself two days to attempt this trek.

To get there, find a taxi to drive you up the Chicón valley to the end of the road. There are also combis that leave from the main road very early in the morning if you can find them.

From the gate, you walk up the road until you come to the flat, cleared area. Perhaps it’s a mine, but I’m not certain. After that, follow the switchbacking trail as it leads up and up and up. It’s a rigorous ascent and this trail is unforgiving.

Full disclosure: I got altitude sickness up there and did not make it all the way to the Chicón glacier. If you attempt this hike and make it to the lake below the glacier and to the glacier itself, write me a comment and let me know how it goes! I’m dying to go back for another attempt.

Salineras to Maras

Less of a hike and more of a day trip on foot, it is totally possible to walk from Urubamba to the Salineras flat mines and up to Maras. I really enjoyed this walk and I recommend it to other travelers who love seeing the world on foot.

From Urubamba, you’ll want to cross the main road and find the lower road that runs parallel, one block closer to the river. Follow this for a few miles until you see a sign for the rainbow bridge and Salineras. Cross the bridge. On the other side you should find an official who will take your 10 soles or $3 for the price of entrance. Hang onto the ticket he gives you.

Follow the road along the river then upwards into the valley. You can’t see the salt mines yet but you are almost there. Hike the winding path up the hill and you’ll soon find yourself in amongst the salt mines.

When you enter the mines from the bottom they are slowly revealed to you, bit by bit. It won’t be until later, once you reach the top and look back, that you’ll realize the full expanse of the salty wonderland you’ve been wandering through.

Salineras Incan Salt Mines

Salineras Salt Flats

After you’ve had your fill of the salt mines, there is a trail that cuts up the hillside all the way to Maras. Head through the parking lot and look for the trail cutting straight up the hill. It will be narrow at first but will eventually open up into a sort of narrow road. Look out for mountain bikers coming downhill!

This road winds up the enticing valley all the way to Maras. Once you arrive in Maras, you should be able to find taxis to take you out to Moray or back down to Urubamba, or even onward to Cusco.

Best Events

Spend a year in the Sacred Valley and you’ll soon notice that the rhythm of life in the Sacred Valley is marked by festivals. Each one had something unique and wonderful that sits locked in my memories. But few of them recur every year. Here are a few of my favorite yearly or monthly events happening in the Sacred Valley

Cervecería Saturdays

The Cervecería del Valle Sagrado is a craft brewery located just outside of Urubamba, in the small village of Pachar. They are open most weekdays from 2-7 and if you have a free afternoon I highly recommend dropping in for a flight or at least a pint of one of their delicious brews.

If you’re lucky enough to be in the valley at the end of the month, head out to the Cervecería for their monthly party. On the last Saturday of the month they stay open until 10pm and expats and Peruvians alike from all over the valley congregate to drink, chat, and be merry. It’s a great place to meet other engaged people while drinking delicious beer. Just make sure to arrange a ride home at the end or be prepared to spend ages trying to hail down taxis in the dark!

Sacred Valley Peru

Sacred Sushi Sundays

Another regular event in the valley, this one takes place in the hippie village of Pisac. Each Sunday all the expats and some Peruvians congregate at Sacred Sushi Sundays. Yep, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

Enjoy delicious vegan treats like sushi or organic curry, as well as some sweet treats, spring rolls, and other delicacies. All dishes are vegan and made lovingly by a collection of expats living full time in Pisac. You can find them each Sunday just up the hill from Apu Organics.

Market Day in Urubamba

This tri-weekly event easily became one of my favorite things about life in Urubamba. As I mentioned above, the Urubamba market is the one of the best places to see what everyday life is like for the Quechua people living in the valley. Especially on Market Days. Three days a week all the local farmers from across the valley and up in the mountains converge on Urubamba to sell their wares, drink chicha with their friends, and generally make merry.

Every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday is a market day, with Wednesday and Friday being the largest. The day begins early. People start setting up as early as 4am and the party lasts all morning. By noon things are shutting down and it’s mostly finished by 2pm.

During the morning the streets are filled with locals in their finery: hand woven garments in every color of the rainbow. People sit around chatting with friends and drinking chicha: a local alcohol made from corn.

The market itself overflows it’s banks like a river in the rainy season. For at least four blocks in each direction, women and men lay out blankets and sell their produce and products at extremely discount prices. This is best during the rainy season when the farmers have the most to sell.

Food vendors walk the streets selling all manor of street food. Feel free to get adventurous, approach women sitting with pots and ask to eat. You’ll get a delicious meal for often 3 soles or less. Just be warned, you may also get food poisoning.

On especially vibrant market days, you may also get live bands or musicians wandering the streets, but this is usually only when it overlaps with my final event suggestion, religious festivals.

traditional peruvian festival costumes in pisac

Women in their festival finery

Religious Festivals

I debated whether or not to include this one in this guide. The religious and cultural festivals of the Sacred Valley were easily some of my favorite days spent living in Peru – but they are very much NOT for tourist consumption. These festivals, like the famous one dedicated to El Señor de Torrechayoc are religious events and authentic expressions of the unique blend of Quechua culture and Catholicism that exist in the Sacred Valley.

If you are lucky enough to be in the valley during a religious festival and you stumble onto their parades or parties, be respectful. Do not try to join the parade, do not take pictures without first asking permission. You are a visitor there, and this parade is not being put on for you. Count your blessings and enjoy this amazing expression of an indigenous culture that hasn’t yet been stamped out by the continuing oppression of colonialism.

I won’t share the dates of these festivals because I truly believe they are not tourist attractions. But if you are lucky enough to visit during one, I hope you get lost in the colors and the sounds of an Andean festival.

Lare Trek Sacred VAlley Peru

Best Food

To close out this complete guide to your trip to the Sacred Valley, I just want to briefly highlight some of my favorite foods. Some of these can be found across Peru, while others are unique to the Sacred Valley. All of them are delicious and worth a bite or two.

Papa Rellena

A Peruvian classic. A potato is baked, then mashed up and stuffed with vegetables, egg, meat, and some spices. The whole thing is then deep fried. Served with a spicy “picante” salsa.

Rocoto Rellena

Take a somewhat spicy rocoto pepper and remove all the insides. Then they stuff the pepper with veggies, potatoes, and cheese. This is then deep fried and served with picante, a spicy salsa. Usually women with carts will sell both papa rellena and rococo relleno.

Yucca Frita

A simple yet decadent treat. A piece of yucca (tapioca, cassava) is deep fried and served with a delicious salsa.

Pollo y Papas

The national dish of Peru. Chicken roasted to perfection over hot coals and served with a generous helping of french fries. In the valley you usually have the option to choose between pollo broaster (deep fried), pollo a la brasa (roasted over coals), or pollo a la parilla (grilled). My favorite is a la brasa, it’s the perfect mixture of juicy and flavorful for me. I recommend getting un octavo (1/8 of a chicken), unless you’re starving, in which case it’s time to go big and order a quarto (quarter chicken).

Your meal will always come with a small bowl of chicken soup, usually with a chicken foot included, and all you can eat from the salad bar.

Cancha

Basically just Peruvian popcorn. The kernels of choclo, the massive white Peruvian corn, are roasted in salt and eaten. One of the best things to munch on while hiking in the high altitudes. Soothes stomach pain and gives you instant energy.

Pastelita

A little cake made from corn flour. Find women with massive trays selling slices for 1 sol each. Best tasting from October to December, though I’m not sure why.

Soup Peruvian Food

Typical Peruvian Soup

Menú

A menú is a traditional way Peruvian restaurants serve meals, especially lunch. Basically, the cook will prepare three meals and that is what you get to choose from. Every meal includes a soup and a main. They will write their two or three choices on a board out front and you walk in and tell them what you want. Your food will arrive in minutes. Menús can be as cheap as 3 soles but 5 to 6 soles is more common.

Be brave but also be aware, Peruvians eat a lot of offal so if you aren’t comfortable with that, check the definition of the meal before ordering!

Piccarrones

Little deep fried donuts served often with powdered sugar. 100% worth the calories.

The Salineras Hike to the Incan Salt mines

Salineras

Tamales

The tamales in the Sacred Valley are often sweet, but you can get both sweet and salty, just ask the woman selling them ahead of time which one you’re getting. I absolutely love both.

Pachamanca

This last one is unique to the Sacred Valley and a truly unique gastronomic experience. Pachamanca is a traditional harvest time meal. To make it, a large pit is dug in the earth and filled with hot coals. The coals are then covered with stones, potatoes, vegetables, more stones. This is repeated until the pit is filled. It is then covered with some earth and grass and left until all the heat has died out.

Family and friends then gather around the pit and slow remove the rocks, eating the root vegetables as they come out of the earth. Roasted or grilled meat is usually also served. It’s a truly communal way to celebrate all the goodness that has been delivered by Pachamama.

There are several restaurants in the valley that will cook a Pachamanca. Arrange a large group and call ahead to reserve your feast. If you have the opportunity to enjoy this ritual meal while you’re in the valley, you won’t regret it.

Where to Stay in the Sacred Valley

Since I lived in the valley, I never actually spent any time in hotels. However, I did teach the staff for various hotels and also taught yoga in some hotels, so I can recommend a few. Most are for people with larger budgets for accommodations but I do have one recommendation for budget travelers. These are all to be found around Urubamba, with one except being in Pisac.

Hiking in the Sacred Valley Peru

View from a hike above the Sacred Valley

Willka T’ika

This is less of a hotel and more of a retreat center. If you’re looking for a place to rest and escape for a few days, you couldn’t find a better option. Their staff are all dedicated and caring, the meals are all healthful with vegan options, and they have chakra gardens especially cultivated for walking and seated meditation. They can also arrange yoga workshops or classes for you if requested. Price: Luxury

San Agustin Monasterio de la Recoleta

Located in an old monastery, this beautiful hotel is a stunning place to lay your head before or after a long trek to Machu Picchu. I taught a few group yoga classes here and was very impressed with the staff and the setting. Truly a gorgeous place to stay. Price: Luxury

Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado

Absolutely jaw dropping hotel in an even more spectacular setting. Located a short drive from Urubamba, this hotel sits right on the Urubamba river, beneath high cliffs with views of the mountains. The staff are all dedicated, the food is excellent, and the rooms are comfortable and spacious. If you’re looking for a luxury retreat in the valley, this is it. Price: Luxury

BUDGET OPTION: Llamapack Backpackers

For the budget backpacker looking to stay near Urubamba, Llamapack is the most common option. They offer cheap dorms and single rooms, located just up the road from the main town, very walkable. Bonus, they are connected to a social enterprise rescuing Llamas. Price: Shoestring

Ollantaytambo Ruins

Exploring Ollantaytambo

Adventure Option: Skylodge Adventure Suites

This one of a kind hotel went viral not too long ago and for good reason. Where else can you stay in luxury suites only accessible by rock climbing or zip lining? Located 400 meters in the air, these adventure suites are 3 glass pods constructed of aerospace grade aluminum and perspex, giving you a nearly 360 degree view of the surrounding valley. The suites are only accessible through either a grueling via ferrata climb or a combination of hiking and zip lining. Either way, you’re going to earn your dinner beneath the stars. Price: Luxury

Pisac Options: Nidra Wasi

Mentioned this one in my Pisac section but I’ll mention it again. This guesthouse offers a communal space for workshops with a family atmosphere. Stay for the night or a month and take part in the many learning opportunities offered here in this spiritual center. Price: Low – Middle


That’s it. To learn more than that, you’ll have to come here and explore the Valley’s secrets on your own.

Have you visited the Sacred Valley, or are you planning a trip? If you can think of anything I missed, let me know in the comments!


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The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes  The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes

The Ultimate Guide to the Sacred Valley of Peru: Where to Go, What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay, and an Insiders Guide to the Best Hikes

Hiking in Kep National Park – Off The Beaten Path in Cambodia

Adventure Travel, Cambodia, Travel

The idyllic seaside village of Kep sits on the Cambodian coast only 26km (16 miles) from Kampot. Famous for its delicious blue crab, most tourists spend half a day in Kep, driving out for the morning or afternoon. But those willing to dig a little deeper – Kep offers a rare chance to hike through the jungle on well marked trails without a guide. For an independent outdoor lover visiting Cambodia, a visit to Kep National Park makes for an enjoyable day.

History of Kep National Park

remarkable fig tree kep national parkThe town of Kep is situated on a small peninsula jutting out into the Bay of Thailand. A small mountain looms above the sea, with houses perched around it’s base. Kep was once a coveted vacation spot for rich Cambodians and French Colonials, both for its beach and also for the many gorgeous art deco houses overlooking the sea. That came to an end with the onset of civil war and the subsequent Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s.

When the war was finally finished, Kep began the slow and arduous process of pulling itself back together. Part of this effort involved designating the mountains of Kep as a National Park. In 1993, the Cambodian government set aside 50 square km as protected land. But for many years, the park sat unused, forlorn and forgotten.

Then, in 2007, a French expatriate partnered up with the local authorities to begin building a network of trails in the park. Today, there are many kilometers of trails criss crossing the mountain; some accessible by moto or mountain bike and other single track hiking trails. All the trails are well marked, and maps can be found at Led Zep Cafe.

The trails in Kep National Park are not particularly challenging, but there are some steep sections. A basic level of fitness is needed. Remember that you are trekking through a jungle so use caution and don’t just blindly reach out to grab at trees or sticks – they just might be snakes.

trail markers kep national park

Trail markers in the park

I was lucky enough to visit Kep in May, 2017, and I loved the town so much I spent three days there. Here is a round up of my favorite trails for hiking and mountain biking in Kep National Park.

Best Hiking and Biking Trails in Kep National Park

main trail kep national park

Entrance to the park

Bopha Prasidh Road – 8km

This dirt road circles the park at the base of the mountain. Most of the road is raised up above the town, so you’ll get plenty of beautiful vistas of Kep, the sea, and even Phu Quoc island in the distance.

The trail is wide enough and smooth enough to be driven on a moto, as many visitors do, but I chose to ride my mountain bike around it. It’s also possible to walk the path as well.

At one point the dirt road spills out onto a paved road. Stay close to the mountain and you’ll head back up onto a dirt road again soon.

  • Pros: Great views of the surrounding countryside and seashore, with chances to spot some wildlife if you’re quiet and lucky.
  • Cons: Not a physical challenge, have motorbikes passing by every now and again.
  • Best For: Mountain Biking or Driving
view from Sunset Rock Kep National Park

View from Sunset Rock

Sunset Rock

The Sunset Rock trail is a moderately difficult hike up to a rocky outcropping overlooking the Bay of Thailand and Vietnam’s Phu Quoc Island. To begin, take Bopha Prasidh Road until you find the transverse trail. In May 2017 the transverse trail was not marked, so keep an eye out for a very steep trail cutting directly up the mountainside. After a steep beginning, turn right at the sign for Sunset Rock. From here the trail levels out. Overall, the trail is narrow but well maintained.

  • Pros: Stunning view of Kep and the ocean.
  • Cons: Tons of mosquitos – bring spray!
  • Best for: Breaking a sweat and getting an epic view. Bring a headlamp or flashlight if planning to stay for sunset.
Little Buddha Kep National Park

Little Buddha on the way to Phnom Kep

Phnom Kep

This is the trail that takes you up to the summit of the National Park. Phnom Kep sits at just about 300m above sea level, so while it isn’t exactly the most rigorous climb, it’s still a fun hike. There are several different routes to get up to the summit. All begin with the transverse trail. From there, follow the signs to Phnom Kep.

I took the Sunset Rock and Little Buddha route up, which wasn’t very steep, then took the Stone Horse route down.

  • Pros: Break a sweat and get to reach the summit
  • Cons: No view from the top.
  • Best For: Getting to say you bagged a peak in Cambodia. Just don’t mention the elevation.
little critters in Kep national Park

Critters on the trail

How to Get There

Getting to Kep National Park is quite easy. If you’re driving into town on the main road from Kampot, follow the signs for the National Park from the roundabout where the road splits for the Market, Beach, and Park.
From there, the road heads uphill, the entrance to the park is behind the Veranda Natural Resort.

Entrance fee: $2 per day.

Phnom Kep Kep national park

No views but at least you get this funny sign at the summit

What Next?

After you finish up exploring the park, head down to the crab market to taste some of Kep’s famous blue crab, pulled right out of the sea to order. Ride on over to the beach to check out how local Cambodian people like to enjoy the seaside. If you’ve got plenty of time and love urban decay, try to find some of the deserted mansions left over from Kep’s golden era.

If you’re coming to Cambodia, I highly recommend adding Kep to your travel plans. It’s an often skipped over town, but it deserves more visitors. I loved hiking in Kep National Park – I saw monkeys, crazy insects, and found some great photo opportunities. In my opinion, Keep is a hidden gem of Cambodia.

Have you been to Kep National Park? What did you think?


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Get off the path in Cambodia and try hiking in Kep National Park near Kampot. Best Cambodia Travel Tips from Into Foreign Lands

Bike Tour Cambodia: Crossing the Northern Hinterland

Adventure Travel, Bike Touring, Cambodia, Travel

After my wild ride along the death road, my bike ride across Cambodia stretched across the far northern reaches of the country, from Banlung in Ratanakiri province in the east, through Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Anglong Veng, Banteay Chhmar, and back down to Battambang, the town where it all began.

If you’ve never heard of any of those towns before, don’t worry. Neither had I. The north of Cambodia is hard to get to, under developed, and hardly ever visited by foreign tourists.

It was some of my favorite riding of the trip, and including one of the best, most amusing, and most disastrous days of my trip. But I’ll get to that in a bit…

Day 1: Banlung to Stung Treng: 140km (Or, that was the goal)

After spending a few days in Banlung, a gorgeous town up in the hills, I was as mentally prepared as I could be for my first 140km day. As with my other big days during the bike ride around Cambodia, I was nervous before heading out.

The rode passed through hills, more down than up, through forest, rubber plantations, and pepper farms. I was on the lookout for a dirt road to Stung Treng that somehow wouldn’t add any extra distance to my day. The turning point for the road came about 45km into my day. I stopped for a quick second breakfast then headed out.

Dirt road through the jungle near Stung Treng, Cambodia, Into Foreign Lands

Similar to other backroads I’d pursued on my trip, it was an altogether pleasant experience. Quiet, rural, the road passed through some dense jungle at one point then returned to farmland. It was shaping up to be another perfect day.

I rode hard along this dirt path, enjoying the undulating hills and hoping for a tailwind that never came. I did get a pretty strong headwind for about 45 minutes as some rainclouds rolled in, but the promised rain never materialized and after awhile the wind let up as well.

Rickety Bridge near Stung Treng, Cambodia, Into Foreign Lands

Near the end of this dirt road, I came to a long and rickety bridge across a river. While I was making my way across it, a pickup truck came up behind me and followed me across. Once I reached the safety of the far bank of the river, I moved over to let them pass. Instead of passing, they stopped and rolled down their window. After the weeks and weeks of harassment from men, my guard was immediately up. But a woman who spoke English poked her head out and asked if I wanted to throw my bike in the back of their truck.

“We can drive you to Stung Treng.”

No thanks, I told them, I’m happy to ride.

And off they drove.

The rest of the dirt road was scenic and gorgeous but my legs were starting to feel all the hills. I’d ridden 60km without stopping at this point and I was looking forward to eating lunch.

Joining back up with the main road, I knew I had only 40 more kilometers to go before Stung Treng. I pulled into a restaurant.

A group of people were sitting at the table and invited me to sit with them. They were all smiles and then I realized… these are the people from the pick up truck! The same ones who offered me a ride on the bridge.

We got to talking again and they explained that they were from the Ministry of Health in Phnom Penh. They were up in the north to visit rural health centers. They invited me to come with them to visit some rural villages up on the border with Laos.

A Lotus Filled Lake in Preah Vihear Cambodia

I was torn. I wanted to finish my 140km day but I also wanted to have this adventure. After a bit of internal debate, I swallowed my pride and accepted their invitation.

Sitting in a car and being driven down the road, I felt a bit odd. It was so easy, so effortless. The scenery flew by the window so fast I could barely take it in.

I didn’t like it.

But I was excited to see where we would go.

We stopped not far outside of Stung Treng to visit one local health center, then headed up the road towards the border with Laos. Optimistically, I thought we were off to visit Siem Pang, a rural village I had originally intended to include in my bike trip but had to forego because of heavy rains.

But no. Instead we did something so uniquely Khmer, so ludicrous, I would’ve been disappointed if I wasn’t so amused.

We drove up to the border crossing. Told the guard to open the gate, drove right up to the gate where you pass from Cambodia to Laos, and then parked the car, and took pictures.

Yeah, we just went and literally looked at a border crossing. Didn’t cross the border. Didn’t stop to visit any villages. Just looked at the border crossing.

Then drove back to Stung Treng.

It was totally weird and totally Khmer. Plus the people were super nice. They got me a hotel room for $5 a night in Stung Treng and took me out for an incredible 4 course dinner that night. I got to learn about their lives, their children, and was even invited to stay with them in Phnom Penh (I did not, however, get any contact information from them, so it will never happen).

With my Khmer Friends in Stung Treng, Into Foreign Lands

I’m not at all disappointed that I didn’t ride those 40km. The experience of hanging out with my Ministry of Health friends was totally worth it.

Days 2 – 6: Cycling to Preah Vihear and Sra’aem with a Massive Disaster in Between

After my adventure with the Ministry of Health, it was time to tackle another 140km day. This time, I knew, there would be no rescue from well meaning Khmers.

Leaving Stung Treng, I followed the road for Preah Vihear. Expecting it to be a highway, I was surprised to find myself on a nearly deserted paved road through remote countryside and sparse jungle. Rocky outcroppings and cliffs jutted up out of the landscape to the north and south of the road.

The road itself passed up and over rolling hills. This surprised me. I had expected to find myself riding through the flat floodplains of Cambodia.

Before riding a bike around Cambodia, I was under the impression that most of the country is pancake flat. And it is. In the middle. But my route followed the edges of Cambodia. And the edges of Cambodia are made up of hills.

140km of hills later, I had reached Preah Vihear town. Tired, exhausted, but very proud of myself, I rolled into a guesthouse and passed out.

My mountain bike outside Preah Vihear on the Ride Across Cambodia

The next day I spent exploring Preah Vihear town by bike. The town sits at the base of a large ridge of mountains. No roads that I could find climb the hill, but I cycled around the base of it, found a nice lotus filled lake, and spent the rest of the day admiring the countryside.

Really though, I was resting up for the next day, a 80km ride up to Sra’em, the town at the base of Preah Vihear Temple. Confusing, I know. Preah Vihear Town is actually about 110km away from Preah Vihear Temple. Don’t ask me why.

For the ride to Sra’em, there is a paved road that runs direct from Preah Vihear Town. It couldn’t be easier to follow.

So of course, I had to look for an alternate route.

And on google maps, I found one.

Pro Tip: if you’re trying to plan a bike tour around Cambodia, don’t trust google maps. For the love of god, don’t trust them.

Always double check with the satellite imagery. If it is a wide, flat line of a road, you’re good to go. If it looks like a whisper of a trail through the jungle, don’t. Save yourself the energy. Take the main road.

But I didn’t check the satellite imagery. I just found this alternate route on google maps and decided to see what would happen.

And of course what happened was an adventure and disaster all rolled up into one.

My Disastrously Fun Bike Ride from Preah Vihear to ?????

I set off from Preah Vihear quite early in the day, my bike loaded up with all 15kg of my stuff, and quickly found myself riding up a wide dirt road. I imagined it would continue like this for the next 80km of the day.

Sometimes, I’m naive.

That wide dirt road lasted for about 20km, then ran into a collection of houses, something less than a village. After that, things began to get… interesting.

It became clear that this road was under construction. Large vehicles and random cliffs disturbed the otherwise smooth surface of the road. Sudden drop offs had smaller detour trails running along the sides. Eventually, I came to one such dip in the road and found myself facing a large puddle. Or a small river, depending on your perspective.

I looked for a detour trail but couldn’t find one. There was a large slab of wood sitting on top of the water. A few cautious footsteps proved that the wood was floating free, not attached to anything. The mud underneath was disturbingly slippery. The water came up to my mid thigh.

Not wanting to get my computer and camera equipment wet, I removed all my bags from my bike then carried them across the puddle, using the plank of wood for support and inching across it sideways at a speed slightly faster than a snail. The water was the temperature of used bath water festering in the sun.

At the last moment, the final step from the plank of wood to the safety of the dry bank, my foot hid some mud, I slipped, and went down, splashing into the surely malarial waters, desperately trying to hold my bag up over my head as I did so.

I had to laugh, because of course I fell in at the last possible moment.

Wet with water the temperature of recently released urine, I set my bags down on the dry road and looked back, contemplating how I was going to get my bike across. I could carry it, yes, but my balance on that plank of wood had been precarious at best.

This was a puzzle for sure.

As I was pondering this conundrum, I heard the rumble of a tractor not far off. Looking up, I saw that in fact there WAS a detour around this puddle, and I hadn’t needed to take all my stuff of my bike after all. At least I knew how I would get my bike across. I headed off at a jog down the detour, intending to ride my bike back to my stuff, skipping the puddle.

Two Cambodians ride on a tractor outside of Preah Vihear from Into Foreign Lands

Instead, the tractor emerged from the jungle with a Khmer couple sitting on top. They took in my situation in an instant and started giggling. Stopping their tractor, the young man got up, walked through the puddle like it was nothing, picked up my bike, and carried it back across.

I sheepishly followed him back across, laughing along with them at my clumsy attempts to walk through the Cambodian mud.

Putting my bags back on my bike, now safely across what I foolishly assumed would be the biggest roadblock of the day, I headed off up the road, quickly passing the slow moving tractor and friendly Khmer couple. We waved at each other as I passed.

A few more detours, easier to spot than the last, and I was feeling positive. I understood the situation now. All I needed to do was find the sneaky detours and I’d finish these 80km in no time.

Not so fast Megan.

I came up a hill and found myself in the middle of a construction zone, where some large equipment was building the road I was riding on. I had come to the literal end of the road. It ended in some rough dirt, gravel, and a cliff.

Thanks a lot, google maps.

After a little scouting, I found a smaller tractor road heading in the right direction. Skirting the construction equipment, I pedaled up a small hill and down the trail, congratulating myself on successfully navigating the wilds of Cambodia. I was so smart. I was practically a native Cambodian myself at this point.

House I found on my Bike Ride Across Cambodia Into Foreign Lands

And then I hit a lake. Not just a puddle this time, but a massive body of water. The road, the fields, the whole world was flooded. I couldn’t see the other side.

Well, thanks a bundle Cambodia. This really was the end of the road. No more sneaky shortcuts or tractor trails. I had to go back.

Turning around to head back to town, I was stopped by my two friends on the tractor. They smiled at me and told me to wait a moment. Then they started hollering across the lake. Shouting and generally causing a racket.

Five minutes later, I heard the soft put-put-put of a small boat engine, and a little wooden canoe emerged from the bamboo, captained by a Khmer man and stuffed to the brim with various packages.

When he reached us, my tractor friends set in motion unloading the small boat and transferring the packages to their tractor. They also spoke with the man about me. I told them I was trying to get to “Choam Ksant” the name of a village about 50km north of us.

The boat man looked at me, considered my bike for a moment, then told me that yes, there is a road, but no, you can’t take it. Too much water, too many bumps, basically.. it’s not possible.

But, he added, you can come to my village for a few hours to explore, then I will bring you back here.

That sounded pretty fun to me.

So we piled my bike onto the canoe and set off across the water and through the bamboo. A few short minutes later and we were pulling up to the cutest little Cambodian village. Traditional wooden houses sat atop stilts, surrounded by rice fields and grazing cattle. The village was empty of the store fronts and colorful signs that I had grown used to on the main roads of Cambodia. This was truly rural Cambodia, miles and miles from any paved road, tucked away behind forests of bamboo and lost amid winding cow paths.

The people were admittedly surprised to see me, but otherwise quite welcoming. Most people stopped me to take selfies or just to ask me where I was going. I spent about an hour mucking around on my bike on the cow paths that made a web north of the village. I tried to find the road to Choam Ksant but there were too many tractor paths going in every direction. I would’ve needed a guide.

After an hour or so of riding around, I headed back to get the canoe back to the road. I was joined there by a woman, her daughter, and the village drunk, who appeared to be inviting me back to his house. I pretended not to understand.

My mountain bike sits near a rice field outside of Preah Vihear Cambodia on into Foreign Lands

The canoe captain returned and drove us all, minus the drunk, back across the water to the road. The woman and her daughter quickly walked away, leaving me to sort out my bike while the canoe man watched over me.

He started trying to ask me for my phone number, even going so far as to wrap his arm around my waist and kiss all over my face. I pushed him off and got away from there pretty much as fast as I could. I talk more about that on my most recent vlog, so I won’t waste words on him here.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0N7HtG-iHI&w=560&h=315]

The ride back to Preah Vihear town was uneventful and I made it back around lunchtime. Took my room at the old guesthouse again and resigned myself to taking the paved road up to Sra’em the next day.

And indeed, the paved road to Sra’em was one of the smoothest 80km rides of the entire trip. It cut through sparse jungle and some military land, a bit spooky but nonetheless an easy ride. I made it to Sra’em with plenty of time to spare. Spent a day in the village, took an incredible trip up to the nearby Preah Vihear Temple on top of a mountain, and prepared for the final few days of my ride across Cambodia.


I thought I would cover the remaining days of the ride around Cambodia during this post, but I think this is enough excitement for one blog post. Stay tuned to hear of my exploits in Northern Cambodia, my breathtaking visit to Banteay Chhmar, and my victorious return to my Cambodian hometown: Battambang.

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Cycling Cambodia: A Bike Ride through Northern Cambodia with a few hilarious travel stories thrown into the mix from Into Foreign Lands

Busco Un Burro: Buying a Donkey in El Perú

Adventure Travel, Peru, Travel, Uncategorized

It turns out that buying a donkey in Peru is not the easiest thing to do. Which, if you have ever been to Peru, may surprise you. Donkeys are everywhere. More ubiquitous than the llama, almost as common as the cow, donkeys are used on every trek and they can be found in every field.

Understandably, after a year of living in close contact with Peruvian farmers and their donkeys, I came to the conclusion that buying one would be a simple task.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Buying a donkey took me 4 weeks from the day I started looking.

Okay, so why on earth was I trying to buy a donkey in the first place?

My then partner and I had this crazy idea to walk across Peru from the ocean to the Amazon. But we really didn’t fancy carrying all our supplies on our backs. So we decided to buy a donkey to help us out.

The mission started when we arrived in Chimbote in late August, 2015. Chimbote is a fairly large port city in Peru. We got a room in a small hospedaje, the cheapest version of a hotel in Peru, and went out to get a feel for the town.

 

A young girl, probably late teens/early 20s was working at a cell phone booth and we started talking with her. Eventually we mentioned that we were in town to purchase a donkey.

Her shock was plain to see.  Not in Chimbote, she told us, incredulous, but outside in the chakras (farm fields) in a town called Santa. But, she warned us, donkeys were very expensive, 2,500 soles, or about $700… WAY more than we wanted to pay.

Still, it was our first lead. So off we went next day to Santa, a smaller much more agricultural town outside of Chimbote. We soon found an agricultural products store and asked them, Busco un burro? Donde se vende? (I’m looking for a donkey, where are they sold?)

Our timid questioning was met with much belly slapping hilarity. Not in Santa! This is a town! Silly gringos, go out to the chakras!

Into a moto and out to the rural area we went. And that was how we found ourselves standing in a deserted collection of 5 mudbrick houses. No one around. Donkeys in all the open spaces. I could just see the tumble weed floating by in the distance.

What was there to do? We didn’t know, so we walked down the street until we found someone. Eventually we ran into a guy using an ox to plow his field so he could plant his quinoa. He said he might know a guy with a donkey and calls a friend. Pretty quickly we get the standard response ‘nooo, no hay’ (There aren’t any).

Why do we want one? He askes. And we explain that we are looking for a donkey to carry our stuff from the ocean, across the desert, up and over 2 mountain ranges, and out into the Amazon jungle.

He looks alarmed.

No, these donkeys, he tells us, are burros costeños (coastal donkeys). A walk like that would kill them. They aren’t made for carrying heavy things.

 

Well there was the crux of our mistake. We had been living high up in the mountains near Cusco, where all the donkeys were hearty mountain donkeys. We had completely forgotten to take into account the fact that coastal donkeys would be as ill equipped for high altitude life as we were.

We decide, with much trepidation, to complete stage one of our walk, across a desert and over one 4,800m (15,700ft) mountain pass, without donkey.

Probably the most painful decision of my entire life. I was committing myself to two weeks of walking through unforgiving terrain with up to 50 pounds on my back.

14 days later and we’d made it to the end of stage 1 and the bustling metropolis that is Huaylas, Peru.

Did I say bustling metropolis? No sorry, I meant completely dead mountain town.

Huaylas, which had been our mecca for 2 weeks, is a ghost town. The tiendas are empty. There is one hotel and we appear to be the only guests. The market has one lady in it who, at 2pm, doesn’t appear to be serving lunch.

Having placed all our hopes on this town as our best option to buy food and a donkey: we despair.

But over the next 4 days, this ghost town slowly comes to life around us and I begin to love it.

The one lady who works in the market is Maria and she becomes our biggest supporter in town. Every day she makes us breakfast and asks how the donkey search is going.

On day 2, Maria calls up her son, and he and his cousin take us up into the mountains to several villages, asking around for a donkey. We head up to tiny rural communities without cars and ask everyone we see if they have donkeys available. We are greeted by a chorus of ‘nooo, no hay’. But to give our guide, Ibo, credit, he never gives up and even commiserates with us: que hacemos? (What are we going to do?) I had this beautiful sense that we were his friends and he was going to help us until the very end.

On day 3, Maria takes us herself through town to ask some friends about donkeys. Even when we are away, she goes by herself to a different pueblo and actually finds someone willing to sell a donkey to us.

Not to mention Maria is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming. Her help turned Huaylas from a ghost town to a living Peruvian community of which we are briefly a part.

On Day 2 in the morning, before Ibo can take us up to the mountain villages, we take a walk through Huaylas and up to the next town, passing through all the farm fields in between. We speak with everyone who crosses our path. People ask us where we are staying so they can find us if they do find a donkey. A man offers to sell us his, but he wants 800 soles, still way more than we are willing to pay.

Day 3 of the Huaylas search was the day of success. After Maria took us to meet her friends without success, we went back and asked the man who owned our hotel if he knew anyone. He turned out to be yet another incredibly helpful and friendly character from Huaylas.

And so we are off again, following señor through the town to the house of a woman who may own a donkey. Well, she doesn’t know of anyone, we get another ‘noooo, no hay’ and are about to give up, when a tiny campesiña woman walks by and our host calls out to her. Asking, does she know anyone who wants to sell a donkey?

For the first time, we don’t hear ‘nooo, no hay’ Instead, as if in a dream, I hear her say, my mother wanted to sell hers, let me call her.

Her mother is an 88 year old Peruvian woman who is as small as child, but tough as nails and sweet as sugar. She says yes, she has a donkey, a female, who is made to carry things through the mountains, and she would like 250 soles for her.

Perfect.

Off we go with Felicity, not the 88 year old mother, but the daughter. She takes us down ‘just 15 minutes’ to the chakra where the donkey lives.

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Chana looking gorgeous on the day we met her

And the donkey is perfect. She is sweet, mild tempered, with healthy teeth, healthy feet, a good weight, and a clean, healthy coat of hair. I couldn’t be happier.

We work out the details with Felicity and head back up towards town. I expect it to be the end of it, but no. Felicity takes us into her home and makes us a delicious lunch from scratch. Canchita (peruvian toasted corn), a pea soup, and a vegetarian dish of veggies and potatoes over rice. During all of this she tells us about her life, raising a daughter by herself, making sure her daughter stayed in school. Her problems with monkey and her life struggles. It was one of the most amazing experiences I have had in Peru.

And after lunch? She has us help her herd her sheep down to the fields below town.

And that is how you buy a donkey in Peru.