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Monday, July 23, 2012

South America Travel Diary: Cusco (Peru)

The travelogue is continued from the previous post..

After resting for 2 nights in Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil and also its Business capital, we headed towards Machu Pichu, the main highlight of our trip. But it was still a long way to reach there! After about 6 hours of flight we reached Cusco, via Lima. There is no direct way to reach Machu Pichu. You have to either trek from Cusco or take a train to the base of the mountain and bus to the top.

Plaza de Armas

Cusco (or Cuzco) is a small city in Peru in the south eastern part and at one point it was the historical capital of the Inca Empire. It was also declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1983 and it's also the historical capital of Peru. It's a very small & laid back town (I wouldn't even call it a city). There are cobble stone streets, not even proper roads. It is quite filthy and looks very ancient. Since we went in the winter time, it was super chilly! If you have to see Machu Pichu, you have to go there when it is winter in the base, so it is not raining at the mountain top. Hence we had no choice but to bear the cold! We stayed in Hotel Terra Andina which was extremely posh compared to the city standards! Their service was superior and the food was good too. I highly recommend this place if you are visiting Cusco.

Even though it is very touristy, there wasn't much to see in the city itself. Visited their famous Cathedral, Iglesia del Triunfo which was a short walk from the hotel and got a short glimpse of the city's Plaza de Armas, the main central square. The cathedral is supposed to look very beautiful in the night under the lights but we were too tired to stay up as we had an early morning train. The cathedral is known for a Cuzco School painting of the Last Supper depicting Jesus and the 12 apostles feasting on guinea pig.

This image below is courtesy google. Just wanted to put it up here to show the panoramic beauty capturing the cathedrals and the Plaza together.

And wherever you go, there seems to be a "Bata" store :-) I was suprised to see it in a city as small and remote as Cusco!!

Cusco is a necessity on your itinerary if you plan to visit Machu Pichu. It's a good way to break your journey and stay over, but not much to do there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

South America Travel Diary: Sao Paulo (Brazil)

South America had always been on our to-do list for a long time, mainly to visit Machu Pichu, one of the new wonders of the world. Since we would anyway travel half way around the world for it, we thought we might as well include other places and make it a longer vacation! So after a lot of research and changing minds off and on, dropping plans off and on, we finally decided up on this itinerary for May 2012. And this is how it looked!

Singapore - Doha- Sao Paulo - Lima - Cusco - MachuPichu
MachuPichu - Cusco - Lima- Santiago de Chile - Rio De Janeioro - Iguazu - Sao Paulo - Doha - Singapore

17 days, 3 countries and 7 cities...that was the best we could fit in, with a packed travel schedule. There were more that I would have loved to do like the Fernando de Norona Island and the Amazonas and up north of Brazil as well as Argentina but that would mean a month long of travel and being home sick! So I was quite happy with this short and sweet and interesting itinerary :-)

Being in the far east, there were very few options with the flights to SA. None of the flights seemed to go via Pacific direct to SA. Either fly through United States or go all the way through Africa/Middle East/Europe. If you fly through Johannesburg, you can save about 3/4 hours but you have to change the airlines, check out, check in and go through all the hassle. So we chose Qatar Airways and transitted through Doha, with a total of 22 hours flight + 2 hours transit. It was the cheapest option available and our first time with Qatar airlines. They are known for their 5 star service but they did manage to screw up our vegetarian meal request, which was placed a month back! It was my first time in a long haul flight and though I was mentally prepared for it, no amount of preparation helped especially in the 2nd leg which was 14.5hrs. It seemed as though time was not moving and I was just waiting to jump out of the plane! Finally it landed in Sao Paulo in the late afternoon. What an awesome feeling of relief it was!

Sao Paulo is a business district of Brazil. There is nothing touristy out there, though they have tried to "create" some tourist attractions but trust me, it is worth a skip. We had to include it in our trip as Qatar flew only to Sao Paulo and not Rio. We stayed close to the Providencia which is the heart of the CBD area and the hotel was close to restaurants, pubs, malls, MRT etc. The choice was more for convenience as we did not have much plans in that city. We just had 2 days of rest and were eagerly looking forward to fly to Peru.


It didn't take us long to realize that language is a MAJOR problem in Brazil, even in a very touristy place like Rio or a business district like Sao Paulo!! If you are travelling alone and not with a tourist group or package tours, you cannot manage by speaking English, 'coz English is an alien language there. People expect you to speak Portuguese and if you cannot, then most of them don't even care to make an effort to understand or speak English. Well, I had spent 6 months to learn basic Spanish and was prepared to survive in Peru & Chile and was hoping to manage even in Brazil thinking it would sound similar or people would speak some Spanish at least. Well, I was wrong! So we picked up a Portuguese dictionary and started finding our way around and managing to convey at restaurants as to what we want to eat. It's especially difficult if you are a quirky vegetarian, like yours truly! :-) It was the first time I realized what "feeling lost" truly means!

So my 2 cents - if you are planning in advance, do learn some basic conversational portuguese if you wanna survive there during your travel! And definitely learn Spanish if you are visiting the other countries in SA!!

Stay/Getting Around:
The hotels in Sao Paulo in the central area are quite expensive and an average hotel can range between $100 to $150 (USD) per night. We did not prefer staying in hostels this time mainly becoz of the long, tiring flight. You can use the metro to get around easily, so it is a good idea to stay close to a metro station. If you want to take cabs, then good luck with explaining to the cabbie in Portuguese on where you wanna go. The names of the places/roads dont sound anything like what they are's a weird language! :-/

I am not the right person to give details on Food, coz I am limited to the Veggie stuff. But we did find some nice Italian restaurants, coffee bars for breakfast and even an Indian restaurant (Tandoor) in Providencia. Definitely recommend Tandoor, so you can see how Indian food has been adapted to suit the Brazilian palate ;-) Gopala Madhava is another restaurant (only the name sounds Indian) but it has vegetarian Brazilian cuisine! It is owned by a guy who is a devotee of ISKCON and hence the name. Try it!

Things to do:
1. If you are a lover of history/art, you can visit some museums in this city.
2. Party around and go pub hopping.
3. Take the open top bus city tour
4. Visit hotel Unique or Edificio Italia which are skyscrapers to get a full view of the city..
5. See Ibirapuera Park

We didn't do any of the above :-) Just chilled and roamed around as it was our pit stop!

More coming up in the next post...!