Planning a trip

It is never easy to plan a travel trip, more so when you have many considerations like school schedule and taking leave , making arrangements for your house and garden so that you are not greeted with a garden that has dried up and the house carrying a deserted look. 

Planning a trip took a lot of time and effort since we had to deal with too many issues like visas and hotel stays and other arrangements to be made to see the interiors etc ...and after many hiccups we were finally there at our dream destination and where best to start other than Peru and Machu Pichu which is the pride of Peru? When we planned a trip to South America we were not prepared for the enormity of the continent and the difference in culture and life style of the different countries.

Peru and Machu Pichu

 However, things were in finally place and we arrived at the Jorge Chavez International Airport located in Lima , capital city of Peru. Incidentally Peru has just one International airport so you have to plan your trip from here. We were told that we had to reach Cusco from where we take a train and then a bus to reach the gates of Machu Pichu. In effect Machu Pichu was at a distance of more than 1200 kms from Lima.

Before I go further with our trip details let me give some information about machu Pichu which we all know is a heritage site and one of the modern day wonders. Machu Picchu means "Old Mountain or Old Peak " . It is a pre-Columbian Inca site located at a height of 7,970 ft above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru. It is also referred to as The Lost City of the Incas. The city was built in such a way that it was supposed to be inaccessible to outsiders and remained so for many centuries until an American Archaeologist Hiram Bingham came across it from air and later climbed up to it.

So we flew to Cusco and from there we took a train to Aguas Calientes , a small town located quite close to the ruins of Machu Pichu and from there we took a bus right up the winding roads to Machu Pichu. It took us less than 6 hours and we were all amazed .

Awestruck at Machu Pichu

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That's what happens to all those who visit Machu Pichu for the first time, no matter how many pictures and videos you have seen you are not quite prepared for such a grand spectacle as that and you end up gasping in wonder.  Words fail you and you are not sure what to do, whether to look at the incredibly beautiful mountains or the winding valley below or at the ruins spread out before you. The best thing to do is to take your own time, look around and slowly go from one level to the other since there is a lot to see at the top.

Most of the history of Machu Picchu is still unknown, even though there are many books on the subject, a lot of their content is pure speculation. Incas built a city that was shrouded in mystery and remains so to this day .This mystery that surrounds the city makes it all the more interesting and fascinating to people around the world. As we came up on the bus the mountain top appeared to be some sort of mirage appearing and disappearing from a veil of clouds.

By the time we had reached up the place was covered with thick clouds and one could see a few walls and part of the mountain through the clouds. Within a matter of minutes the clouds cleared and the mountain was visible in all its glory. There were some back packers who had climbed all the way up taking the old Inca trail. according to them the trek was as beautiful or incredible as the actual site. Apparently there are numerous ruins on the way and some abandoned settlements and of course the usual rivers, streams and waterfalls !

We spent 3 glorious hours there on the top looking at the ruins and also walking down to various view points from where you have magnificent view of the valley and the river below. But all good things come to an end and so it was back to the bus and the train and then on to Lima.

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Lima

Lima is a busy town which was formerly a desert and is like any other International cities .It is also a historical city and has some ancient building built by the Spaniyards. It has pleasant to moderate weather all through the year and is a much visited city now because it is the gateway of Peru being the only city in the country to have an International airport. Since Machu Pichu is one of the most popular destinations in the world it is but natural that Peru too has gained in importance.

We spent a day in Peru visiting the museum , a lovely Cathedral, The Plaza which is another iconic building and visited a night club recommended by some tourists to see a Salsa dance performed by trained dancers and it was good. We flew out of Lima the next day to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Brazil and Iguazu waterfalls

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We arrived at Rio and were immediately absorbed into the spirited city. It is a happening city with extremely good looking people both men and women and generally rio is a fun place to visit. It is actually a strip of land jutting out to the sea, so has beaches all round it. It is a huge city in terms of both population, and land area.

The famous twin beaches Copacabana and Ipanema is the most sought after place in Rio and we did what most tourist do, spend a day on the beach. It is an experience never to be forgotten, the lovely Spanish girls in all shapes and sizes parading themselves on the beach, many of them in itsy bitsy teeny weeny bikinis and some not even that ! However everyone was having a blast from what we could see and so were we...

Later we went up the famous Sugar loaf mountain, Pao De Acucar after waiting in the long Que for over an hour to catch a cable car. The mountain top can only be reached through a cable car, actually two cable cars one to a smaller mountain and then on to Pao de, the sugar loaf mountain . The view from the top of the mountain is spectacular and we also got to see the sun set from there which was an added bonus.

The next day we visited the famous land mark of Brazil – The statue of Christ the redeemer ( Cristo Redenter) which is situated on top of Corcovado mountain .We took a train which took us through the Tijuca Rain forest and again the view was magnificent and the statue at close quarters is really something and the view was astounding from up there. We could see the sugar loaf mountain right across and the entire Guanabara bay. Many people trek all the way up, taking anywhere between 2 – 4 hours and they get to see the best of the rain forest .

There was much more to see and do in Rio but sadly we had already made bookings for our tour to Iguazu, for which we had to fly to Foz do Iguacu from where we got to  see the tamer version of the water falls from the Brazilian side after which  we had to take another flight to reach the Argentinian side of the waterfalls.

Iguazu , the Great Waterfall

According to locals the name of the Iguazu Falls comes from the Guarani word for "great water." And it is indeed Great! Because nothing prepares you for the spectacle that these amazing waterfalls present. The sheer volume and the size is simply astonishing. There are more than thirty rivers draining into the plateau all of which come together to form the magnificent waterfall.

As we approached the waterfalls by bus and then walk up to it, the noise was deafening which was understandable since there are 275 waterfalls plunging together over a height of 60 meters covering a distance of 2470 meters, which makes them the biggest falls in the world in terms of water volume. The tropical rain forests behind and around them only adds to the magnificence of the waterfalls.The sight of the waterfall makes you go weak in the knee because it is extremely forceful and voluminous dwarfing everything around it. I have never seen a sight as glorious as that. There is a huge platform built on the other side from where you can view the waterfall.

Apparently, after the construction of the huge Itaipu hydroelectric power plant ,built jointly by Paraguay and the Brazilian government , it provides 12,600,000 KW of power which satisfies almost 40% of Brazil and Argentina's power needs. We also visited the dam which is one of the largest in the world built jointly by both the countries and is considered as a masterpiece of technology.

The waterfall can be viewed from different levels and from across a hillock and you get different look each time because they are spread out into a huge horseshoe shape and tend to look different from different angles. There are hotels and many resorts on both sides of the river and many tour agencies provide sightseeing opportunities around the area also take you on a tour of the rain forest. According to other tourists who have visited it during the rainy season the waterfalls double in size and that is something that I cannot even comprehend. Nature's bounties humble you and make you realise how powerful it is and how insignificant you are !

The Pantanal

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Our tour operator recommended Pantanal so much that we decided to add it on, since visiting South America again would be expensive so why not see it this time. So, we were back in Brazil to see its bounty and beauty, The Pantanal – which is nature’s paradise.

The name "Pantanal" comes from the Portuguese word pantano which means wetland, swamp or marsh. Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world extending to hundreds of thousands of kilometers across 4 countries in South America namely Brazil , Bolivia and Paraguay and Argentina. But most of it is located in Brazil in the states of Mato Grosso do sul and Mat Grosso.

Pantanal is nothing but a net work of waterways, lagoons and lakes connected to each other with marsh lands and tropical islands in between .During rainy season the entire place gets submerged under water . Pantanal is spread across an area of 75,000 square kms which is vast by any standards. The place was simply breath taking although you cannot cover the entire stretch in your life time.

We got to see a little of it in a days time, visiting one of the little islands by boat where they have a resort and coming back through a different longer route again on a boat. T he only way you can see pantanal is through boat. We were told that it was also home to Anacondas besides several other species. There are many hotels and resorts , although a strict check is kept since the countries want to preserve the ecological balance by not having any obstructions in the name of buildings and resorts amidst a place so natural and beautiful.

Corumba is the main area in Pantanal and most tours start from there. It is a lovely place filled with water ways and waterfalls and colorful birds. We stayed in a jungle lodge at Bonita another smaller place close to Corumba from where we got a lovely view of the Pantanals as far as eyes could see. Bonita was a little paradise of waterfalls, lagoons, bays with water springs, crafts, pre-historical caves, archeological sites, just to name a few.

We spent two days visiting the various interesting spots and also went on several boat trips trying to explore the Pantanal from different spots. The sad part is that there is a continuous deforestation which has adversely affected the Pantanal and many ecologists feel that unless care is taken the entire place might disappear in 50 years of time

Conclusions

At the end of our tour which had taken us to some of the most beautiful spots on earth, we still felt that there was much more to be seen there for example Angel falls in Colombo and many such natural wonders. South America is home to Amazon and many other natural wonders and there is a lot to see and experience . Hopefully we would be able to see more of South American countries and its natural wonders in the coming days.


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