There’s more than enough to see in the Sacred Valley without hoofing it over the mountains and braving the sandflies of the Inca Trail. The Urubamba valley has a plethora of ancient ruins, sacred sites, wonderful wildlife and spectacular views. There is reliable, easy to find transportation around the area, and it’s great for leisurely exploring the Inca way of life. And you still end up enjoying Machu Picchu, rested and ready to explore.
Cusco is the starting place for all your Inca adventures. It’s also where you start your journey on the famous Inca Trail, which is the original highway from the capital to one of their most sacred cities. The original purpose of the trail was more about pilgrimage and devotion to the ancient Gods. While a good deal of it has been torn down by the Spaniards and the elements, a lot of the attractions are still there. It’s not just about the ruins, but communion with nature, like the original builders had intended, and walking the footsteps of the natives.
The best place to start exploring the Sacred Valley is to start from Cusco. Before it was conquered and large portions of it destroyed by the Spanish, this city was the capital of the largest empire in America’s history: the Inca. The Inca originally came from around Lake Titicaca and established their capital here sometime in the 13th century AD. They built a vast empire and ruled until coming into contact with Spanish conquistadors lead by Francisco Pizarro in 1533.
The center of tourism for Perú is located south east of the capital in the middle of the Andes. This is where the mountain range is at its widest point, sloping down one the one side to the deserted beaches along the Pacific coast, and cutting through cragged ridges into the Amazon on the other. It sets the scene for some of the most spectacular views in the world, with tall mountains and glaciers running down to hidden lakes, rivers tumbling through deep green gorges, cascading over waterfalls into deep pools, swaying fronds from all sorts of trees and shrubs teeming with exotic birds and animals. No wonder this is where the Inca chose to locate their capital of their vast empire, Tawantinsuyu.
One of the advantages of South America for the Eurasian and North American tourist is that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere. That is, when it’s summer in the north, South America is in the middle of the winter. This is because of the alternating tilt of the Earth’s rotating axis. The end result are some interesting Christmas parties in South America, featuring pools, outdoor barbeques and trips to the beach.
A small isolated village in the Cuenca region of Ecuador (that’s to the south east of Guayaquil in the middle of the Andes) gained a certain amount of notoriety in the 1960s when doctors announced that it had some of the longest living people in the world. While it wasn’t exactly the fountain of youth (judging by the aged faces of the villagers), it was certainly remarkable how these people were living well into their 130s. Clearly there was some secret these people were keeping about keeping old age at bay.
For getting up close and personal to the falls, the Argentine side is a lot better. There are two routes: the paseo superior and the paseo inferior. They both are a series of trails, bridges and catwalks that give you spectacular views of the falls. The paseo superior goes over the top, while the inferior climbs down to the base of the falls, so you can get a good view looking up.
Another advantage to the Argentine side are the two free boat tours that will get you close to the falls as well. It seems the locals will do anything to get you wet.
One of the things that you can’t miss when traveling in South America are the Iguazú Falls. They are called Cataratas de Iguazú or Foz do Iguaçu depending on which side you are standing on, because they are exactly on the border between Argentina and Brazil. Seeing the falls from both sides is definitely worth the trip, and each side has its own advantages.
An entire city with waterways for streets is fairly unique; you have to give the Venetians credit for that. However, there are numerous other locations and neighborhoods that are connected only by boats, and a lot of them are surrounded by fascinating views and wildlife. One of those is a on the Paraná Delta, in north east Argentina on the border with Uruguay.
Just 50min by train from Argentina’s capital, it’s could still be considered a suburb of the capital. The positive thing is that it’s so close that it’s definitely easy to include in a couple week South America vacation. It’s still off the radar of most foreign tour routes, and is a favorite retreat for the local Bonairenses.
Who hasn’t heard of the romantic tales surrounding the Spanish Main? And the Pirates that plied the waters of the Caribbean, swashbuckling and riding the high seas? Of course part of the mysticism of pirate lore is that the Caribbean is a tropical paradise. Sparkling crystal water of soft white sands, warm tranquil weather and nature just a few steps away. Who wouldn’t be entranced?