Monthly Archives: October 2016

Mi Teleférico – La Paz, Bolivia

What happens when a city goes to build a metro to help with its traffic issues, but can’t due to the unstable nature of the soil it is built on?   It goes for the opposite approach and builds a cable car (teleférico) system instead!

La Paz has the largest commuter cable car system in the world and it continues to grow!  With 3 lines (red, yellow, green – the colours of the Bolivian flag) already in operation, and 8 more planned in the next few years – it really will be amazing and efficient when it is complete!

I did a 3 hour tour of the teleférico system with Hanaqpacha Travel while I was in La Paz to ride all 3 lines in a circuit and to understand a little more about what I was seeing as we glided over the top of the city.

La Paz - Mi Teleferico - cable cars - Bolivia

Given we did the tour on a Thursday – at the top of the red line I had the added bonus of walking through part of the El Alto street market.  This is the largest open-air market in Bolivia and a place where you can literally buy almost anything – from cars to toilet paper (top images below).

The seller with the male audience had a dildo (for demonstration purposes) and god knows what else he held up to convince guys that he could help them with potions for sexual dysfunction.

Or, if you are really brave, you can get a tattoo …. !

Or you can enlist the help of a shaman for any number of rituals and blessings (bottom images).

El Alto Market - La Paz - Bolivia

Back on the teleférico, I have to say, this would have to be the most relaxing public transport ever!  Super-clean, strict number regulations for each car (for safety), almost silent, and a birds-eye view of the city – it was so peaceful!   It would be awesome to travel to work like this each day 🙂

 

Recommendation:  You don’t have to do a tour to ride the lines – you can just do them individually.   But this way you get to do the complete circuit and get a couple of bonus minivan rides (between the lines) thrown in for good measure.

Cost:  US$8 for the tour.  3 Bolivianos for each ride if you do it individually.

Time:  3 hours

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Red Cap Foodie Tour – La Paz, Bolivia

Another country, another perfect opportunity to explore the culture through one of my favourite mediums – food 🙂   I really struggled to find a cooking class, but I did come across the Foodie Tour by Red Cap Walking Tours – so immediately signed up.

Daniel met me in front of the San Francisco Church (the favoured meeting place of most tours) and off we headed to the nearby Mercado Lanza as our first stop.  Yes, you guessed it, once again I was the only person doing the tour 🙁

We started off with one of the most common snacks in Bolivia – Api con Pastel.   Api is a warm corn-based drink that is laced with sugar (of course) and spiced with cinnamon and clove.   Has quite a mild flavour in fact.  The reason it is 1/2 purple and 1/2 yellow is that is a mixture of Api made from the black corn and Api made from the regular yellow corn.

The pastel is a little like a cheese empanada from Chile – deep fried pasty with cheese inside and dusted with icing sugar.  Why oh why does fried food have to taste so good!

Api con pastel - Bolivain Food

Api y Pastel – one of the most popular Bolivian snacks

The little food shops in the market are very small indeed (see picture above left) – and when we arrived there was actually a queue at this particular shop for their Api con Pastel – great sign!

The next stop was another popular drink in Bolivia – Jugo de Multivitamina.  Yes, you read that correctly – Multivitamin juice.   It includes all sorts of fruit, honey, cereal, water or milk and an egg if you wish – oh and sugar of course.  So juice with a twist.

The story goes that it it was developed as a “complete meal” for the people who came down from El Alto (a city directly above La Paz city) to work in the markets.  Because they would need to leave super-early in the morning, they wouldn’t have time to have breakfast – so this became their breakfast.

Jugo multivitamina - Bolivian Food

Mine was pretty banana-y but tasted good and had puffed wheat on top. It was at this point that I remembered to pace myself and realised that wouldn’t be able to finish each of the foods I tried.  I only ended up drinking about 1/4 of this one.

From there we went for a stroll through the market that sets up each night in Calle Comercio on our way to Alaya – a very traditional restaurant near the centre of the city.   There I had my first ever sip of beer and, as expected, I really, really didn’t like it.   Huari is apparently the best beer in Bolivia – all the Bolivians I’ve talked to agree on this point 🙂

Huari Beer - best in Bolivia apparently

The first main course, which we had at Alaya, was Fritanga – apparently Daniel’s favourite Bolivian dish.   It is very, very different to a Fritanga in Nicaragua!  Nothing BBQed – but rather incredibly tender pork that melts in your mouth, with rehydrated dehydrated white potatoes (turns out these are really bland) and corn in a fantastic sauce.

Fritanga - Bolivian Food

It is served with Llajua – Bolivia’s spicy chili sauce – but for me the flavour of the Llajua and the flavour of the sauce for the fritanga didn’t go together.  I reckon the Llajua would taste awesome with the Pastel above, but when I suggested this to Daniel he looked at me like I’d grown 2 heads.

After eating too much Fritanga (it was soooooo good!) we headed to our last stop – the Sol y Luna cafe, just around the corner.   There we started off making a Singani Sour – very much like a Pisco Sour in Peru or Bolivia, but using Bolivia’s grape spirit, Singani, instead of Pisco.

Singari Sour - Bolivian drinks

Daniel showing me how to make a Singani Sour

Then came our soup – Jan’qipa Soup – which is made with a corn base as well as onions, carrots and spices. It had a pretty mild flavour but was warm and hearty and Daniel was telling me that it reminds him of visiting his grandmother.

Sopa de Jan'qipa - Bolivain Food

Then our second main meal of the night – Pique Macho – also known as the best drunken food in Bolivia.  The story of its origin that Daniel told was that there were a couple of drunk guys who went into a small comedor (restaurant) about 3am and asked the casera (the lady who cooks) for a meal.   The lady was about to close up shop and she didn’t really have anything much – so she threw together offcuts and all sorts of leftovers that she had.  The guys asked her what it was called and she said Pique Macho.   They loved it so much that they raved about it and, through word of mouth, heaps of people kept going to this lady and asking for Pique Macho.

Then one day the Mayor turns up and asked for Pique macho.  The lady figures she can’t really feed the Mayor offcuts and leftovers so she threw some pork (salchicha – kinda like hotdogs), chicken and beef together with potato fries, capsicum, tomatoes, onion, hardboiled eggs and cheese – and this has become the Pique Macho Bolivians (particularly drunk ones) love today.

Pique Macho - Bolivain Food

It was really, really good – and the added bonus for flavour is that the meat is all cooked in beer 🙂

By this time I was completely overstuffed (a feeling that continued right through the next day) but really enjoyed trying all the different dishes and Daniel was great fun.

 

Recommendation:  Don’t eat lunch.  Remember that you don’t have to finish everything (I forgot this initially).  A fantastic way to get to try some of the most traditional dishes of Bolivia.

Cost:  USD$30 which includes all food and drinks

Time: About 3 – 4 hours

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Cholitas Wrestling – La Paz, Bolivia

Imagine WWF wrestling – you know that really weird “fake” wrestling that you see from time to time on TV?  Got that good and firm in your mind?  Great!

OK – now imagine WWF wrestling but done by indigenous Bolivian women (Cholitas) wearing traditional clothing.  Yes – this is what I went to see the other night in La Paz!

Cholitas Wrestling - La Paz - Bolivia

Tourist ticket stub for Cholitas Wrestling

It was held in a large sporting stadium (read shed) that looked like it was more regularly used for basketball.   Overwhelmingly, tourists made up the crowd, though there were a few locals come to witness the spectacle as well.

It’s not often that the guys are the warm-up for the girls, but the night started off watching 4 guys having a go.  I have to admit, their efforts were not terribly impressive – I felt they only had a fraction of their heart in it.  So used this time to also pick up my snack (popcorn and full-strength coke) and souvenir from the souvenir stand (all included in the tourist ticket).

Cholitas Wrestling - La Paz - Bolivia

Then, after about 20 minutes, the girls came on, and they were much more impressive in their commitment to the activity.  The Cholita in green (below) was very, very sassy – she strutted her stuff around the arena when she walked in for her introduction, danced with several of the guys in the audience and really played it up for the crowd.

Cholitas Wrestling - La Paz - Bolivia

There were 3 rounds of Cholita wrestling, each lasting about 10-15 minutes.  It was weird.  It was bizarre.  Here’s a small taste of what we witnessed:

 

It was also really weird because the “referees” also got in on the action in each round – either holding down one of the combatants or fake-punching them as well.

Cholitas Wrestling - La Paz - Bolivia

I’ve never understood the WWF thing and, after this even bizarrer display, I still don’t get how people like this type of wrestling (men or Cholitas).   Still – it was an experience!  And you can even have your photo taken with the Cholitas at the end 🙂

Cholitas Wrestling - La Paz - Bolivia

Recommendation:  Cholitas wrestling only happens on Thursday and Sundays in El Alto above La Paz.  I went on a Thursday, I suspect the Sunday spectacle is much bigger.  I booked through Hanaq Pacha Travel.

Cost:  90 Bolivianos (~$15) for the tourist ticket, which includes transport to and from, entrance, snack and two trips to the toilet.

Time: About 3 hours including getting there and back.

 

 

 

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More Zebra action…

Wandering around La Paz yesterday I started noticing that there are also tons of murals about the Zebras de La Paz.   Couldn’t resist 🙂

Zebras de La Paz

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Zebras de La Paz – Bolivia

The first day I was in La Paz, I was slightly bamboozled to see Zebras working the major intersection near one of the key plazas in the city – the Plaza San Francisco.   I learned about the Zebras de La Paz (or Zebras for peace – depending on which interpretation you want to use) the next day on the Red Cap Walking Tour of La Paz, and it is a very cool story 🙂

zebras de La Paz - controlling traffic

Anyone who has been to La Paz knows that the traffic is absolutely insane and traffic signs are in no way respected.  So in 2001, the government started the Zebra initiative to raise road safety awareness and provide some extra “protection” for pedestrians at busy crossings.  The zebras have since won the hearts (if not the minds – the traffic is still crazy) of the La Paz population, as while they are waiting for the traffic to come to a halt they can often be seen dancing and interacting with pedestrians.

zebras de La Paz - interacting with locals

To make the initiative even cooler, the people who become Zebras are often disenfranchised youth who may otherwise have been headed down the wrong path.  So a social initiative in several ways.

You (yes, even tourists) can even become a Zebra for a day if you would like – you just have to be willing to be happy and active and interact with others!   Here is one person’s story about their experience as a Zebra for a day in La Paz.   And here’s another another great story about the Zebras de La Paz initiative if you want to know a bit more.

Or – you can just watch them in action 🙂

 

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Free Walking Tours by Foot – Cusco

I’ve become a huge fan of “Free walking tours” in each of the major places that I visit.  The idea is that the tour itself is free and you pay a “tip” at the end depending on how much you enjoyed the experience.  So, given I didn’t really have any plans for Cusco, and I wasn’t planning on revisiting the major Incan ruins in the area, I decided to join Free Walking Tours by Foot for some more insight into the city itself.

I started out doing the Downtown Cusco Walking Tour, which goes for about 2.5 hours and takes in the sights listed on the webpage.   Elvis was our guide and he was absolutely brilliant!  Very knowledgeable, full of information, encouraged lots of questions and had an awesome, awesome sense of humour that I particularly appreciated 🙂

For example, one of the things you do on the tour is learn a little about llamas and alpacas.

Llama:  A domesticated Guanaco.  The llama is the Peruvian version of a horse and it is used to carry cargo.  They are often larger than alpacas but not always, and the way to tell the difference is that the llama looks like it is wearing eyeliner (top image).

Alpaca:  A domesticated Vicuña.  The alpaca is the Peruvian version of a sheep and is used for its wool and meat.  They actually come in 2 types.  As Elvis put it, you have the “French Poodle” alpaca and the “Rastafarian” alpaca.  The quality of the wool is the same for both.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Elvis, the llama and the alpacas. He had names for each of them

Elvis also does an amazing job of explaining the layout of an Incan Palace while visiting the Palace of Pachaquteq, including how the Incans got light into the centre of their structures, and how roof slopes and drainage systems worked together.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Top: Ruins of a patio in the Palace of Pachaquteq. Bottom left: Original Incan path and drainage system. Bottom right: What is inside an Incan wall – they are thick!

He also explained the importance of why Incan walls slope inward and the significance of the trapezoid that is so ubiquitous in Incan structures (it is the Incan equivalent to a Roman arch, and protects against earthquakes).

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

The only shop we visited on the whole tour was right at the end – an alpaca goods shop where Elvis’ brother works.  But there was absolutely no pressure at all to buy anything.  Rather, they continued to give to their guests by finishing the tour with a small “Peruvian exotic fruits” tasting – Granadilla, Aguaymanto and Chirimoya.  Brilliant!

Contrast this to an experience one of my friends had with a different company – where they mostly visited shops and had a lot of pressure to buy.  Make sure you book with the right company!

In fact, I was so impressed with first tour, that I went back for a second one!  My last day in Cusco I joined Elvis again (yay!) for the Puma Walking Tour.  Elvis recognised me from 2 days prior and said up front that the tour would cover some of the same ground.  I said that was fine – and in the end, there was only a small amount of overlap because Elvis changed the tour up a bit to make sure there was plenty of new stuff for me as well.  Awesome, awesome guy!

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

On the Puma walking tour with Elvis, who is explaining how the important area of Cusco is shaped like a Puma.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Elvis explaining how the (much larger and much harder than normal) stones of the Tupac Yupanqui palace were worked and moved into position

Qoricancha Sun Temple - Cusco

The Puma Walking Tour also takes in one of the most important temples in Cusco – the Qoricancha Sun Temple – that shows pre-Inca, Incan and Spanish stonework

Recommendation:  When you are in Cusco – definitely look up Free Walking Tours by Foot and join Elvis on at least one of his tours.

Cost:  Free, but please leave a generous “tip”.  The tours are fabulous and need to be supported appropriately.  Think of what you would pay for a city tour somewhere else before deciding how much you will give.

Time:  2.5 – 3 hours

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Cusco Culinary – cooking workshop

As you have probably figured out by now if you have been reading this blog for a while, one of the first things I do before heading to a new place is search for cooking classes on offer there. Fortunately Cusco had many choose from, and in the end, I decided upon the dinner menu from Cusco Culinary.

Christian, the chef, came and met me at my hostel and off we headed to the San Pedro Market as our first stop.  Yes – once again – I was the only person doing the cooking class (definitely developing a complex) :-/   The nice thing about that this time was that it turned out Christian had worked in Australia for a few years, so our non-cooking related conversations were largely about Australia and 80s music 🙂

The San Pedro market is quite clean and orderly (markets in South America are much less crazy than Central American ones), with the ubiquous fruit and veg stands and plenty of dried products – including meat and potatoes!

San Pedro Market - Cusco

Always love visiting the fruit and veg sections of latin american markets. San Pedro in Cusco also had dried (and rehydrated) potatoes (bottom left) and dried alpaca meat (bottom right) for sale

It is also full of really cool stuff that costs an absolute fortune in Australia – especially dried fruit and nuts, and all the “superfood” type stuff – quinoa, kiwicha, maca powder, chia seeds, etc.  All this is very, very cheap in Peru.

San Pedro Market - Cusco

The fresh cheeses looked amazing – too bad they were not pasturised (no, not willing to knowingly chance that).

San Pedro Market - Cusco

And for the first time ever I saw a bread section in a market!

cusco market

There are essentially 2 breads in Cusco – the large round one is sweet (and only comes in that size), and a small savory one that is largely hollow and that gets served everywhere with jam.   Neither are loaf-like – apparently the altitude of Cusco (3400m) means that the bread struggles to rise!  There was also only one type of sweet treat – the empanada on the right with sprinkles on it.  It was actually quite yum and a little like shortbread!

After walking through the market, we headed to where the class would be held and I have to say – it was absolutely beautiful inside!   One of the most beautiful and best equipped cooking workshop venues I’ve been in (and I’ve been in quite a few).

Cusco Culinary cooking class - beautiful school

First up, a tasting plate of Peruvian fruits that most people have probably not tried before.

Cusco Culinary cooking class - fruit tasting

Because I’m a cooking school and a Latin American market aficionado, I’d actually had them all – but it was a wonderful way to start the evening.   Clockwise from right:

  • Granadilla – one of my all-time favourite fruits – like a very, very sweet passionfruit
  • Tuna (fruit of the prickly pear) – admittedly I hadn’t eaten the red one before, the green one is what you get in Chile.  It’s full of seeds (as you can see) and not terribly sweet
  • Lucuma – unusual to try it as a fruit rather than as icecream, which is usually the way it is eaten.  It’s texture is that of a boiled sweet potato – and it kind of tastes a little like one as well
  • Aguaymanto (someone told me it is a gooseberry) – slightly tart and, I have to admit, not my favourite
  • Chirimoya (custard apple) – anyone who has been out to dinner with me in Chile knows this is my juice of choice
  • Pepino Dulce – I’d seen these in Australia on occasion but they were always too expensive to buy.  I’d tasted one the week before – it actually tastes a little like a honeydew melon

We also started with a very typical Peruvian drink – Chicha Morada.  Unlike other chichas, this one is not fermented.  Rather, it is made by boiling black corn with other fruits and spices.  Very mild flavour.

Cusco Culinary cooking class - drinks

Left: Chicha Morada; Right: Peruvian Pisco Sour

And the very first thing we made in the class was a classic Peruvian Pisco Sour (right).  I only put in 1/2 the Pisco – which was a good move for someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.   I’m definitely getting the hang of 1/2-strength Pisco Sours now 🙂

Fruit and drinks out of the way, it was time to start on the entree – Quinoa Crusted Causita.   A causita is basically a cold potato dish where the potato is flavoured with the ubiquitous yellow chili of Peru (not spicy).  In this case, we made a sushi roll out of it – with cooked chicken and avocado inside).

Cusco Culinary cooking class - causita

Have to admit, it wasn’t the best dish in the world – not enough flavour for me – but it did look impressive and you have to love my plating abilities: including my plate swirls!

Next up was one of the most common dishes in Peru – Lomo Saltado.  I’d had it a few times before and always thought it was a bit “meh”, but this one showed me how good it could be – it was very, very tasty!  Note that  Christian wore his Qantas chef gear especially for me 🙂

Cusco Culinary cooking class - lomo saltado

Finally – dessert.  I didn’t actually get to make this, as it is prepared by the chef.  Chocolate Lava pudding.  I cannot begin describe how delicious this was!   The best dessert-with-molten-insides I’ve ever had!  So glad they gave me the recipe!

Cusco Culinary cooking class - dessert

Recommendation: I highly recommend the dinner cooking class by  Cusco Culinaryand I’m sure their lunchtime class is just as good.  Food is delicious and it is a lot of fun.

Cost:  $65

Time: ~4 hours

 

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Rainbow Mountain – Cusco, Peru

This is my 4th time in Cusco, Peru.   The previous 3 times I concentrated on Machu Picchu (yes, I’ve been there 3 times but have never hiked the trail), other Incan sites (Sacsahuaman, Pisac, Moray), and (my personal favourite) the Salinas de Maras.

This time around, I didn’t plan to stay very long in the area – but I wanted to catch up with two German girls I’d met previously in my travels: Jenny (from my Mindo adventures in Ecuador) and Rebekka (who I’d met in Cuba) – and was intrigued by the day hike to the Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca Mountain) – something that I’d never heard of before.  Apparently it wasn’t a thing 11 years ago when I was last here because it was covered in ice and snow.  However, thanks to global warming, it is now one of the most popular day trips from Cusco.

Be warned though – it starts very, very early!   Unfortunately Rebekka wasn’t feeling well, so Jenny and I bundled into the minivan with several other travellers at 3am for the start of the adventure.

After about 2 hours of driving, we stopped for breakfast at a small village just as the sun was rising.  Nothing fancy – bread, jam, cheese, eggs, coca tea – but very welcome.  Then it was back in the minivan for another 40 minutes (and an impressive flat tyre) to the start of the trail head at ~4200m above sea level.

There’s no mucking around in starting to gain altitude – the first 15 minutes of the walk is up quite a steep incline (hmmm…. where did all that acclimatization from the Huayhuash trek go?!).  At the top, you are greeted by about a million locals with their horses!  They cleverly give you the chance to experience walking up hills at altitude before offering up their horses – and there are quite a few people who realise how difficult the hike is going to be and take advantage of the 4-legged form of transport.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

The next 30 – 45 minutes is actually very easy walking along flat ground.  They don’t want you to miss the trail though – it is marked by large piles of rocks.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

And there are some really nice views of the valley with alpacas and llamas roaming the landscape.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

The trail then starts to ascend again and it just keeps going up.  It takes about 2-2.5 more hours to climb to the the viewpoint for the Rainbow Mountain at ~5200m.  I remembered my tricks from Huayhuash though: walk slowly, keep breathing – and was still one of the first up there.   Though there would have had to have been at least 100 more in my wake!

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Looking down to the trail from the Rainbow mountain viewpoint. It is a very popular day hike!

And despite the fact that it scores 4.5 stars out of 5 on TripAdvisor, and other bloggers rave about it, Jenny and I were more than a little underwhelmed 🙁  It quite literally is one mountain…

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru
Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Fortunately there were some other nice views as well, not just the main one.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Didn’t stay at the top for too long – like all high points, it was very windy and freezing cold and the weather was getting progressively worse – but couldn’t resist some more llama and alpaca photos on the way back 🙂

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

It started to hail (only small) about 1/2 hour from the minivan, and then started to rain when I was only 5 minutes away … it could have held off for 5 more minutes :-/

From there it was back to the place where we had breakfast – this time for lunch – then back to Cusco.

 

Recommendation:  Hmmm…. it was great to get out and do some exercise and some more hiking. But it really was quite underwhelming and there were waaaaay too many people for my taste in hiking.

Cost:  120 Nuevo Soles (~$40) is the going rate if you book when you arrive in Cusco.  You won’t miss out so don’t pay more than this by booking in advance.

Time: 3am – 6pm  –  it is a long day.

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Sand Dunes and Sand Boarding – Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina is a small oasis surrounded by sand dunes and looks pretty amazing, until you realise it is only 5km outside the large city of Ica in southern Peru.

Huacachina

If you’ve never seen reasonably large sand dunes and are travelling through Peru – this would definitely be worth a visit (though unfortunately the water in the oasis is rather polluted), but if you are a keen desert visitor like me, you could probably skip.  However, since I ended up there for a couple of days I figured I’d go for the sunset dunes excursion at least.

Huacachina - Sand Buggy

Every agency offers this tour and everybody does it.   Essentially you and your companions strap yourself (race-car style) into a sand buggy, and your insane driver roars around the desert, getting (vertically) sideways and dropping over the crests of steep sand dunes –  making sure that your stomach is well and truly left behind.

Well, unless he happens to get bogged…

Huacachina - sand duning

In between times, there are plenty of opportunities for sand boarding – starting with “baby” slopes and working up to higher and higher dunes.   I’m sure that I sandboarded a much higher dune in Yemen standing up (see one of my all time favourite images, image 10 of this gallery – the two black dots down the bottom of the dune are people), but here they almost insisted that you go down on your stomach to avoid any injuries.

Huacachina - Sand Boarding

You definitely go faster this way (if my memory serves me correctly) and you can be assured to get sand absolutely everywhere throughout your clothing and body, and because you have to hold your legs up, you end up with pelvic bruises – but hey – no pain no fun 🙂

 

Then, if you do the sunset tour, obviously you get to watch the sunset – well, kind of.  It wasn’t really a sunset because the sun simply disappeared behind dunes rather than setting, but some beautiful light nonetheless.

Huacachina

Recommendation:  You can’t really be in Huacachina and not do this excursion.  It’s a bit of a thrill but prepared to get very, very sandy!

Cost: 40 Nuevo Soles (~$12)

Time: ~2.5 hours

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