Travel Style

13

In July, I jumped around the Balkans, seeing:

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  • Kotor, Montenegro
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Mostar & Sarajevo, Bosnia

The Route

I’ve spent all summer in ex-Yugoslavia other than a quick trip to Spain. The plan has been to learn the Serbo-Croatian language. I wanted to switch bases from Belgrade to Zagreb via an efficient route that would let me see more of ex-Yugoslavia.

Eventually I settled on flying from Belgrade to Tivat, Montenegro and bussing the rest of the way to Zagreb with stops every few hours along the route. Tivat Airport has seasonal service all across Europe with a heavy emphasis on Russia. It serves all the beaches of Montenegro, including Budva and Kotor.

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In Montenegro, I went to Kotor, which has an inferior beach, because the city is prettier and less overrun by Russian tourists than Budva. From there, I took a three hour bus to Dubrovnik, possibly my favorite place in the world. From there, I was a four hour bus from Mostar, which is one of the most terribly divided cities in the world but surrounded by incredible beauty, and four more hours to Sarajevo, which is a capital city unlike any other I’ve seen in Europe.

I had planned to continue by bus to Banja Luka, de facto capital of the Republika Srpska country-within-a-country-that-is-Bosnia and from there to Zagreb, Croatia, but I had to get to Zagreb sooner than expected, so I just flew from Sarajevo.

I could have gone from Dubrovnik to Hvar Island and from there to Split in the middle of the trip. Split also has good bus service to Mostar. I would like to at least get to Split in the future, but after Kotor and Dubrovnik, I was sick of the beach/tourist party scene already, so I skipped Hvar and Split.

Kotor

From Tivat Airport, I paid 8 or 9 euros–the currency in Montenegro even though the country is not in the Euro Zone, kind of like Panama, Ecuador, and El Salvador use the US dollar–to Kotor. That is a rip off for this part of the world, but it took about 15 minutes of cajoling the taxi drivers by hanging around their stand and keeping a positive attitude to get them down from the 15 or 20 euros where they started.

I stayed at Montenegro Hostel 4U, which was under 20 euros for a dorm bed even in high season. It has a good location 5 minutes walking from Old Town and right on the beach.

The two main things I did in two days in Kotor were to hike the back way up to St. John’s Fortress and cruise Kotor Bay.

St. John’s Fortress: Fun Hike, Amazing Views

Following a tip from the Blonde Gypsy, an American travel blogger based in Kosovo who travels the Balkans widely, I took the back way up to Kotor’s number one attraction.

The main hike up to St. John’s Fortress leaves from the Old Town and is a giant staircase, 1,350 steps and 400 meters up.

By contrast, the Austro-Hungarian route the Blonde Gypsy recommends is a winding path past an old church and farms that meets up with the main path by climbing through a stone window.

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The back way has several benefits:

  1. It’s an easier, though longer, walk than the staircase.
  2. If you go up the back way and down the main staircase, you get two sets of views.
  3. In the morning, the back way is more shaded. Neither way is shaded in the afternoon.
  4. The back way is free. The front way requires a payment at the entrance (under 5 euros.)

The back way is mostly an obvious path.

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The trail is also marked by concentric white and red circle symbols.

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After passing a donkey, a homemade cheese-buying opportunity, and the ruins of a stone church, I had to climb through a window to rejoin the main path.

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From the main path, I had spectacular views of Old Town and Kotor Bay.

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I couldn’t recommend this hike more highly. It took me under an hour and a half roundtrip including frequent breaks for pictures. Go up the back way and down the steps. Go in either early morning or late afternoon to avoid the heat.

The back way starts just outside the city walls near the Northern Gate. As you exit the Northern Gate, cross two bridges, turn right at the main road, and follow it to the end where a dirt path continues. That’s your path.

Kotor Bay Cruise: A cheap way to see the Bay, Islands, and Perast

I paid 15 euros for a morning boat cruise of Kotor Bay that stopped briefly at Our Lady of the Rocks Island and the town of Perast.

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-20-18-pm The island’s church and the town are cute and worth a look if you’re in the area. The cruise gets you there cheaply.screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-20-25-pm

Touts for the cruise hang out at right by the tourist information booth outside the Old Town’s main gate.

Thoughts on Kotor

It has rocky beaches, not sandy beaches. If you’re there when a behemoth cruise line empties out for the day, the Old Town is crazy crowded. It has made the conscious decision to strangle nightlife with 1 AM closings in the Old Town.

Overall, I think it is a good alternative to Dubrovnik. It isn’t quite as nice, but it’s half the price.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

I had been to Dubrovnik twice for 23 hour layovers on previous Europe-hopping itineraries. I knew that the cliffs beneath Buža Bar were one of my favorite places in the world, and I wanted to see more of the town and area.screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-20-46-pm But between a language lesson, two cliff jumping sessions, a nap, and going out every day, I didn’t see everything I wanted to. More for the next trip!

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Dubrovnik’s Old Town is stunningly beautiful, and I treated myself to a weeklong Airbnb stay there for my birthday. (I saved big on the stay with this booking method.)

I did walk the City Walls one day, which costs about $20 and takes an hour or two depending on how many stops you want to make. The views of Old Town, the harbor, the cliffs, the sea, and the islands are marvelous.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-21-04-pm screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-21-12-pm screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-21-29-pm screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-21-36-pm My birthday coincided with a fireworks show that was part of the summerlong Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-22-07-pm The bottom line on Dubrovnik is that it looks like this,screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-22-17-pm so everything is insanely expensive, easily double the rest of the of Croatia. You pay first-world tourist prices.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-22-24-pmAnd I, one of the biggest cheapskates I know, still think that Dubrovnik is worth a trip. However I recommend going late in September, maybe even the beginning of October. The water temperature is the same as July but accommodation prices drop by half. There are also far fewer tourists. For additional savings, you can self-cater at the Konzum grocery store in old town and save on alcohol there.

I’m following my own advice for savings and going back to Dubrovnik this month for a few days. It’s just $100 roundtrip from Zagreb. Hopefully I can report on Korčula, Lokrum, and Mt. Srđ after this trip.

Mostar, Bosnia

You will not believe a city like this exists in present-day Europe. Mostar is a city ravaged by war from 1992-1994 that has only been partially rebuilt and is still completely segregated between “races” you can’t distinguish.

Mostar is most famous for its Stari Most, meaning “old bridge”, which is a misnomer. It was 427 years old until it was destroyed in the 1990s. It has been rebuilt, and you can jump off of it or watch locals do the same, but I was too chicken to jump 25 meters into the ice cold river below.

I stayed at Hostel Majdas, a small family run hostel with beds for 10 euros. The main draw here is the daylong tour of Mostar and Herzegovina. One of the owners ferries you through the city to see the war ruins, then takes you to Kravice Waterfalls, and the old towns of Pocitelj and Blagaj.

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You see quite a lot of natural beauty, eat like a king, try some homemade syrup juices from a local grandma, and learn some disturbing things about the Bosnian War and current Mostar. Example: Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims are in separate schools learning separate histories, which seems like a recipe for another war to me.

I highly recommend two days in Mostar and taking a tour like the one I took.

Tip: One euro is worth about 1.95 Bosnian Marks, but merchants in Mostar will treat euros as being worth 2 marks, so you actually save 2.5% on everything by using a foreign currency. This was not the case in Sarajevo.

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo is an interesting capital city for history and culture.
screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-7-23-46-pmThis is the place Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which plunged the world into World War 1.

Twenty years ago, the city was just coming out of a four-year siege. For war history, I enjoyed the Tunnel Museum (the Bosnian Muslims endured the siege because of a tunnel under the airport runway) and the 11/07/1995 Gallery.

For older history, I enjoyed walking to the Yellow Bastion overlooking the old town.

Sarajevo has good food if you like ground beef. I recommend Ćevabdžinica Zeljo for Ćevapi, the ground beef fingers served with bread and cheese that is enjoyed throughout ex-Yugoslavia.

Bosnia will blow your mind. It’s not what you think of when you think of Europe. It’s much cheaper, poorer, and more battle-scarred. I really enjoyed my time here.

I’ll do you a favor and not explain my understanding of the history of the conflicts in Bosnia if you do yourself a favor and read up on the Bosnian War on Wikipedia and then book yourself a trip there.
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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

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4

A month ago I wrote about ridesharing apps Uber and Lyft. If you aren’t familiar with Lyft yet, it is very similar to Uber in that it is a mobile application that connects people in need of rides to drivers. Both are somewhat of a substitute for your standard taxi service.

I have a friend named Cate that used to drive for Uber, and recently made the switch to driving for Lyft. Let’s find out why.

The Interview

When and how did you first hear about the opportunity of driving for Uber?

When it first came to Charleston, SC (where I live) last July is when I heard about it and started driving. 

What prompted you to start driving for Uber?

The flexible hours and relatively high pay were enticing.

 
When and how did you first hear about Lyft?

I heard about Lyft from an out-of-town Uber passenger who asked me if we had it here, too.

 
What was the tipping point for you with Uber when you decided to transition to Lyft?

It was really the customer service, or lack thereof, at Uber that prompted me to switch over to Lyft. Plus, they kept on lowering the fares to a point where it wasn’t worth driving. And they showed no signs of intentions to raise them again.

 
What are the largest differences you can already see between driving for Lyft versus Uber?

The customer service is on point with Lyft, much more so than Uber. Uber was always replying with pre-written and obviously computer generated responses that did not end up pertaining to the question you asked. And there was no phone number you could call to talk to anyone in person.  With Lyft they have local representatives that you can call if you are having problems and they will help you. Also, the employees and riders seem happier in general. 

Have you ridden as a customer in an Uber or Lyft? If so, what was your experience?

I have ridden in both, and from a customer standpoint, they seem very similar. With the exception that Lyft gives you the option to tip via credit card when you get out the car, which is always nice, especially when you have an awesome driver. And Lyft doesn’t surge as much yet because the demand is not as high for Lyft, therefore prices are steadily cheaper than Uber on average. At least in my town (Charleston, SC).

What are the pros and cons to using Lyft vs Uber, from the perspective of a driver?

The only downside of Lyft is that they don’t have the flashing light notification when you get a call like Uber has. So sometimes calls are easier to miss if you aren’t listening to your phone’s music and have the radio on instead. Huge upside of Lyft is that they pay you out when you hit $50 or you can wait until the end of the week. And you get tipped, which Uber tells its riders not to do.

 
What are the pros and cons to using Lyft vs Uber, from the perspective of a rider? Putting yourself in the perspective of the rider, which rideshare service would prefer to use?
I would prefer Lyft, simply because if you have happier employees, you are more likely to have a better ride. And Lyft seems to be stepping up more in that area than Uber does.
 
What’s the weirdest/funniest thing that has happened to you driving Uber? Any other anecdotes?
I’ve been invited to two different threesomes with middle aged couples. That was probably the weirdest. One time I got a really drunk girl who couldn’t remember which hotel she was staying in so we had to drive around for forty five minutes until we passed one she recognized. That was at 4am. Lovely.
 
Any tips on the best way to save money when using Uber or Lyft? 
If any of your friends drive ask them for their promo code. Every driver has one. Build from there.
 
Any any other comments or points you want to raise that you think would be helpful for readers (for those thinking of driving or riding)?

As a driver, make sure you keep a towel in your car. You never know when that will come in handy. I also invested in a taser for safety purposes, although I’ve never felt like I was in a position to have to use it. Please don’t get pepper spray. That’s a bad idea in a small car space.

As a rider, just be polite and that will get you so far with a driver. Know where you are going, and if it is somewhere obscure, offer faster routes because sometimes we aren’t familiar with all the shortcuts and our GPS isn’t either. It’s a lot easier and safer for someone to direct you in an unfamiliar area than for you have to constantly be referring to your phone.

$50 in Free Lyft Credit

If you haven’t signed up already, sign up through this referral link to receive $50 in free Lyft credit. Feel free to share you promo codes and sign-up links in the comments as well.Screen-Shot-2016-07-29-at-8.40.43-AM-e1469797925160-1

FYI, The terms and conditions say that these ride credits are only valid in the following markets: Atlanta; Austin; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Denver; Los Angeles; Miami; Nashville; New York City; Orange County; Phoenix; Pittsburgh; Sacramento; San Diego; San Francisco; Seattle; Silicon Valley; Tucson; Washington, D.C.

Bottom Line

Personally, and as a rider/customer only, I have had solely positive experiences with both Uber and Lyft. That being said, I don’t use them as consistently as some of you probably do since I live most of the year in Argentina , where Uber just recently arrived to the country (and Lyft doesn’t exist).

But from Cate’s perspective, Lyft does appear to be a better employer. And happy employees are more likely to breed happy customers. Thanks for your time Cate!

If you haven’t checked out my original post on Uber VS. Lyft, What’s Better?, give it a look and share any experience you’ve had with the two ridesharing services in the comments so we can crowdsource a comparison for all MileValue readers.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

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17
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I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

Narrowing Peru down to just ten things to do, see, and eat doesn’t do it justice. Sure people say that about every country, but Peru really is unique. The seat of the Inca Empire and its attendant marvelous ruins, the country also boasts the Amazon Rainforest, the world’s highest navigable lake, deserts, beaches, and a mega-city in a country twice the size of Texas.

Honorable Mentions

Hike the Inca Trails in Cajamarca

The northern city, way off the beaten path, where the Inca Empire ended, Cajamarca was the site of the battle where Pizarro and 168 men defeated 80,000 Incas and captured their king. In the city, you can see the ransom room where Atahualpa was held until his people filled it with gold and twice with silver. Atahualpa was then killed. The few museums and ransom room might hold your attention for a day.

But for me the star of the area is the miles and miles of Inca trails heading in every direction. Get a good guide to take you for a day or two of hiking. You’ll learn about the ancient culture that spread across western South America, and you’ll pass tiny towns of just a few houses surrounding a lake. My day strolling along the Inca trails around Cajamarca was one of the most fun days in Peru.

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Photo by Carlos Daniel Gomero Correa

Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Cajamarca (CJA)

Hotels: There is the Wyndham Costa del Sol Cajamarca which is ranked first on TripAdvisor. Apart from the Wyndham, there are many independent, smaller hotels to choose from, like Posada del Puruay which has a 9.3 rating on booking.com and is second place for the Cajamarca area just behind the Wyndham on TripAdvisor.

Time needed to visit: 2 days

Try Pisco in the Desert

Just a few hours south of Lima by bus are a trio of interesting cities: Nazca, Ica, and Pisco.

Nazca is home to the Nazca Lines, geoglyphs dating to the 5th century. The lines are best viewed by a short flight in a tiny plane over the animals and other shapes etched into the desert.

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Photo by ilkerender

Ica is home to Peru’s vineyards. They churn out wine and Peru’s national drink, pisco, which is a grape brandy. Seriously– don’t make jokes that pisco is Chilean. Anything bearing the name pisco but not produced in Peru cannot be legally brought into Peru.

Tour the vineyards and taste pisco, which is up there with ouzo on my list of worst alcohols in the world. Pisco is not totally irredeemable; it is a part of the tasty national cocktail, the pisco sour.

Ica is also the gateway to Lago Huacachina, which is a backpacker’s haven and a place to sandboard down the huge dunes. A thrilling– because of how reckless the drivers are– sandbuggy tour costs under $20.

ica

Pisco, the city, was devastated by a 2007 earthquake. It is the gateway to Paracas National Park, marketed in Peru as the “poor man’s Galapagos.” An inexpensive half day boat tour is sure to see tons of sea lions and birds, and if it’s the right season, penguins.

Getting there: Buses connect Lima to all three cities and there are buses among the cities too.

Hotels: There aren’t many chain hotel brands you’ll recognize. The top ranked hotels on TripAdvisor are the Casa Andina Classic Nasca (Nazca), Hotel Vinas Queirolo (Ica), Hotel La Casona (Pisco).

Time needed to visit: 3 days

10. Get “Misti” Eyed in Arequipa

Arequipa is Peru’s most beautiful and second-largest city. Nicknamed la ciudad blanca for the many buildings constructed from white volcanic sillar, Arequipa has the most beautiful Plaza de Armas in all of Peru.

My top two picks for the day in Arequipa are the Santa Catalina Monastery, a 16th century labyrinth for the sisters, and Museo Santurios de la Altura. The museum features Juanita, a mummified twelve year old found on a summit near Arequipa. The icy temperatures preserved her for 500 years and gave archaeologists amazing insight into Inca religion.

At night, grab a meal and a pisco sour somewhere near the plaza. Peruvian and Arequipan specialties abound. I recommend rocoto relleno, a mild pepper stuffed with ground beef, and ocopa arequipeña, potatoes in a spicy cheese sauce.

For the adventurers, Arequipa is the gateway to El Misti, the snowcapped volcano that smiles down on the plaza. Tour operators’ competition makes the price $100 or so and they’ll take anyone up who wants. But it is a tough climb, and many people turn back before the summit.

Arequipa is also the gateway to Colca Canyon, which is #4 on this list.

Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Arequipa (AQP)

Hotels:  There are plenty of tourists, hotels, and infrastructure in town. Los Tambos is a good option. it averages five stars on TripAdvisor (with over 900 reviews).

Airbnb shows plenty of options right around the Plaza de Armas. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October.

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Time needed to visit: 2 days, 3 if you want to climb El Misti

9. Eat Ceviche in Mancora

Mancora is the best beach in Peru. While Peru has a ton of Pacific coastline, most of its beaches are too cold for swimming because of a cold current from Antarctica. That current is replaced in the north by a warm current, so Mancora’s water temperature averages a pleasant 75 degrees.

Mancora is a tiny town of under 10,000, and its main street is the Pan-American Highway, so the star here is the beach and seafood. The beach has good surf for beginners and experts, with cheap surfing lessons in English and Spanish. When you’re not on the beach, try ceviche, fresh raw fish cured in lime juice.

For ceviche, I recommend asking your hotel where to eat. For breakfast, I recommend Green Eggs and Ham, and for snacks and desserts, Papa Mo’s Milk Bar.

Mancora is a world-class beach year round. The high from December to March can reach 100 degrees. During the rest of the year, it’s a more mild 80 degrees.

In the years I’ve been going to Peru, Mancora’s popularity has surged, especially among young people, with both Peruvian hostel chains building big hostels in town. That makes parts of town loud all night, but should not deter beach fans from heading to Mancora.

Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LAN from Lima to Tumbes (TBP), which is an hour north by car of Mancora.

Hotels: There are some beautiful and cheap hotels right on the beach, like DCO Suites Lounge & Spa, ranked #1 on TripAdvisor.

There’s also a decent selection of Airbnb properties. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October, and prices look very reasonable (take into account that during high season, late December through March, prices will be higher).

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Time needed to visit: 2 days

8. Play Golf in Iquitos

Iquitos is the largest city in the world only accessible by boat and plane. This city of 400,000 is in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, so the main transportation options are public boats to other towns and modified motorcycles with a bench seat for three under a canopy behind the driver.

Iquitos is one of several Peruvian gateways to an Amazon Rainforest excursion (#2 on this list), but it has a number of interesting things to do in its own right. Check out the Belen market, where the homes float on the Amazon River.

Iquitos is also home to a large expat community. One of the projects they’ve undertaken is starting a golf course, the only one in the Amazon Rainforest. On the day I went, I was the only person at the course, so some journalists who were doing a story on the course followed me around, taking pictures for the story. One tip: if you hit the ball in a water hazard, let the caimans have it.

At night, an ice cream on the malecón, river boradwalk, is a nice way to beat the humidity. During the day, try the Yellow Rose of Texas, an authentic American steakhouse run by an expat, and an Iquiteña beer, my favorite in all of Peru.

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Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima to Iquitos (IQT).

Hotels: No major hotels brands, so you’ll have to go indie. Nativa Apartments is the highest ranked accommodation in Iquitos on TripAdvisor. Epoca has great reviews on booking.com.

There are also cheap options on Airbnb. The screenshot below is a search for accommodation for two people on a night this October.

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Time needed to visit: 1-2 days for Iquitos, more for the jungle.

Bottom Line

Those are the honorable mentions and #’s 10-8. For most people who are going to Peru for a week or two, they won’t have time for these places. But if you’re going on an extended trip, I recommend at least a brief stint in each for to gain a well rounded sense of all the culture and landscape Peru has to offer.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

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The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® 60,000 mile offer has expired. Check out the current best credit card offers here.

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Seclusion from the hustle and bustle of normal airport traffic. Speedy wifi. Food. Drinks. Comfortable seating for naps. Outlets for recharging devices.

These are all things I value about airport lounges. What’s the most important amenity to you?

Now, we can all agree that, generally, lounges in the United States aren’t on the same level as international carriers’ abroad. But American Airlines lounges have greatly improved in the last year or two. They are also in the midst of renovating higher traffic lounges.

Check out the list of American Airlines lounges here.

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An Admirals Club Membership, which provides you access to 50 American Airlines lounges and 40 partner lounges worldwide, costs $550 annually. The easiest and cheapest ways to gain access to all of these lounges is via the:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®, which grants access to yourself as well as a maximum of 32 other people to all Admirals Clubs. You can add up to 10 authorized users and each one will get access to American Airlines lounges for himself and two guests. They get the lounge access no matter what airline they’re flying, and even if you, the accountholder, are not present.
    • This card currently has a 60k sign up bonus for spending $5,000 within three months of opening the account, but that is changing on August 31, 2016– most likely to 50k.

You can also get access to all the Admirals Club lounges (along with Priority Pass lounges) with the:

  • Citi Prestige® Card, which offers American Airlines lounge access on any day you are flying American Airlines flights for you and either your spouse and kids or any two guests.
    • This benefit only applies to cardholders that apply by August 31, 2016. If you apply after, you will not get Admirals Club access. The benefit will end for all cardholders, no matter when you applied for the card, on July 23, 2017. If the Prestige is a card you were already considering, now is the time people! Note that nothing is changing regard the Priority Pass benefit.

Let’s take a look at some of the best Admirals Clubs.

5. LaGuardia International Airport, New York (LGA)

Terminal B, Concourse D

This lounge’s most appreciated quality is that it provides an escape from notoriously crappy Terminal B at LaGuardia, along with the notable views of New York. It looks pretty stylish and comfortable. Try to snag a window seat and watch planes take off and land amidst the backdrop of New York City’s skyline.

Hours: 

Sunday – Friday: 5 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Saturday: 5 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.

4. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Terminal 2

This recently renovated Admirals Club is described as big, open, and clean with comfy seats. There is a big skylight and a few trees that contribute to a peaceful ambiance. It has also has showers.

Hours: Daily,  4:00 a.m. – 12:00 midnight

3. Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL)

Scott’s favorite American Airlines lounge is at Honolulu International Airport. It is shared with Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand Business Class passengers, so its offerings are slightly upgraded. You can’t beat its garden views.

It has tasty food options that are more of a meal than just snacks.

Screen-Shot-2015-04-15-at-9.12.55-PM

These yelp reviews rave about the customer service as being a stand-out quality. That can make all the difference if you have an undesirable seat or irregular operations/weather delays and need help rearranging flights.

Travelers with young children will also appreciate the large play area.

Hours: Daily, 5:45 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

2. Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Terminal A

Yelp reviews are pretty good for this Admirals Club. One yelper commented about the impressive showers: “They have 6 wall jets, a hand-held shower head AND a massive rainfall shower head”. Wifi is quick and there is plenty of seating and outlets.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 12.05.00 PM
Photo by Nelo Hotsuma

But the real reason this lounge is in second place is the “lounge within the lounge”.  There is no Flagship lounge at DFW, but there used to be. It is now just incorporated into the larger Terminal A Admirals Club, but not many people notice or know about it. One Mile at a Time gives directions on how to find it. What’s so great about it? It’s super quiet. No one is there. And it’s directly connected to a room with exercising equipment, which is pretty unique.

Hours: Daily, 4:45 a.m. – 10:15 p.m.

1. Narita International Airport, Tokyo, Japan (NRT)

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 8.47.50 AM
Photo by Nelo Hotsuma

Located near immigrations, this Admirals Club has many highlights. The food looks tasty, offering things such as burgers, sushi, salad, dumplings, pasta, fruit, cheese, crackers, and chocolate mousse. There are even automated beer dispensers.

American style outlets are located near seating so you don’t have to worry about converters. Reviews report good views of the runway and quick wifi. You can shower and nap (nearly every yelp review says its quiet) after a long international flight.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 9.36.42 AM

Hours: 

Thursday – Monday: 7:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday & Wednesday: 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 p.m

Bottom Line

I only focused on Admirals Clubs in this post, but you can also access Alaska Airlines lounges when flying American or Alaska on the same day, or select Qantas Clubs when departing on the same day on a Qantas operated flight or an American marketed flight operated by Qantas.

Did I leave out any of your favorite Admirals Clubs? Let us know in the comments which are your favorites and those that don’t deserve attention.

  • You get an Admirals Club membership by signing up for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®. August 31, 2016 will be the last day to get the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® sign up bonus of 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles.
  • You also get Admirals Club access by signing up for the Citi Prestige® Card by August 31, 2016, that will last through July 23, 2017.
------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

21

I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

7. Wander the Inca Streets of Cuzco

cuzco

Almost every visitor to Peru will come to Cuzco because it’s the only way to get to Machu Picchu (#1) and the Sacred Valley (#3), but the city itself is worth your time.

The most important thing to know about Cuzco is that it is over two miles above sea level. You must prepare in advance to avoid altitude sickness. If you know that you don’t handle altitude well, it may be worth your while to purchase acetazolamide (Diamox) and take it for a few days before flying from Lima–at sea level–to Cuzco on a one hour flight. (Now’s as good a time as any to tell you not to take legal, financial, or medical advice from this blog.)

My brother had a severe negative reaction to the altitude in Cuzco that manifested over several days and caused us to visit the emergency room and fly back to Lima before we had planned. I’ve never had a problem in Cuzco with the altitude. Here are the steps I take to mitigate the effects.

  1. Take an early morning flight from Lima, and check into a hotel that allows you to check in whenever you arrive.
  2. Drink some coca tea in the lobby while checking in. Every hotel and restaurant in Cuzco has coca tea. Why not deal with the altitude the same way as the inhabitants of the region have dealt with it for centuries? Coca can also be chewed. You may notice that coca is the base of the substance and word “cocaine.” Coca itself though is not a harmful drug, just a mild stimulant, less stimulating than caffeine.
  3. Take a nap. Resting is crucial to acclimating. Getting up too early for the flight ensures I can fall right to sleep. After waking up, I have half the day left to explore, and I’m pretty acclimated.
  4. Continue to walk slowly and avoid alcohol for at least the first 24 hours.
  5. Hydrate.

Once you’re acclimated, it’s time to explore the city. For me the main highlights are around the Plaza, Qorikancha, and Sachsayhuaman.

The plaza itself is my second favorite in Peru behind Arequipa’s. It’s a beautiful place to while away hours reading or people watching. Make sure you see it by day and by night; it’s like two different worlds. Surrounding the plaza are several churches, the largest and most interesting being La Catedral.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 5.18.38 PM

Walking distance from the Plaza–everything in tiny Cuzco is walking distance–is Qorikancha, which I think is the most interesting ruin within Cuzco. These Inca ruins were once a temple literally completely covered in gold. Pose outside with entrepreneurial locals in customary dress and their llamas for a small tip.

Included in any package tour is Sachsayhuaman, an incredible fortress made of massive stones. I enjoy tour guide humor, and here you’re sure to get a joke about the similarity the pronunciation bears to “sexy woman.”

sexySachsayhuaman will cause you to marvel at the sheer size and wonder how much sweat had to go into its construction. Then consider that what you see is one fifth of its original size!

Cuzco has the best backpacker nightlife in Peru; you’ll find the clubs and young people clustered around the plaza at night.

Cuzco is also the best place in Peru to try anticucho and cuy. Anticucho is beef heart on a stick, preferably grilled on the street. Pay your 50 cents, and try it with whatever sauce they offer! Cuy is guinea pig. Tourists seem to think gross foods are less gross if they’re referred to as a delicacy, and cuy is the ultimate delicacy. Try to find a restaurant that lets you pick your own guinea pig.

Getting there: 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on LATAM from Lima

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 4.24.43 PMHotels: There are tons of options, indie as well as major hotel brands. Pick your hotel by its proximity to the plaza.

Time needed to visit: 2 days (not including the Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu)

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.11.58 PM

The Food in Cuzco by Sarah Page

Eating well is important to me. There are few things in life I value more than a good meal.

Possibly my favorite traditional dish from Cuzco, and maybe even the best thing I ate in all of Peru (especially considering it was dirt cheap), was a spicy pork stew-like dish called adobo. The adobo I sampled was delicious but in a nondescript location a block off the Plaza de Armas, near the intersection of Mantas and Avenida del Sol. It was a sort of convenience store in the front and a very basic restaurant in the back. Order the adobo de cerdo, and be warned that it will make your nose run.

Adobo de cerdo
Adobo de cerdo

I also thoroughly enjoyed Cuzco’s central food market, Mercado San Pedro. You can browse interesting and weird ingredients, sip on fresh juices and smoothies from one of the many vendors near the entrance, or head towards the back to get a cheap and authentic meal.
Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.13.06 PM

Here are a few restaurants I recommend in Cuzco:

6. Stroll the Cliff Parks in Lima

Everyone hates Lima but me. So let me evangelize for a few paragraphs. Lima is a bustling, traffic snarled, dirty, gray, ugly 9 million person mega-city. You can’t avoid it since you’ll be flying in and out of Lima, and you shouldn’t try to avoid it.

Why? Because Lima is also the most exciting and beautiful city in all of Peru. To not enjoy Lima is to not enjoy Peru. All parts of Peru, good and bad, are present in the city, along with one third of the people.

While other places have things to see or to do, Lima is just a place to be. Enjoy the street vendors, the taxi bargaining, the combis (public big vans or small buses), and the residential areas with their spiked fences and security guard on every block.

If that doesn’t sound as charming to you as it does to me, then I’ll tell you about the gem of Lima, it’s mile-long stretch of verdant parks on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.17.49 PM

The stretch starts at Larcomar in Miraflores. Miraflores is one of two dozen districts in Lima, and it has the highest concentration of nice restaurants and hotels, so you’ll probably spend most of your time there. Larcomar is a shopping mall in Miraflores overlooking the Pacific Ocean, featuring a movie theater, two night clubs, an arcade, international chain restaurants, and local restaurants. Stop in for a pisco sour at sunset.

From Larcomar there is a string of parks heading northwest. The highlights include:

  • Parque del Amor, with its love poems on the tiles around the park and a gigantic statue of a couple making out in the middle
  • El Faro, an old lighthouse looking out over the Pacific
  • paragliding, every afternoon, just southeast of El Faro, paragliders line up to take you on tandem flights; a few years back it was $40 for a 15 minute flight over Miraflores

Take a book and your walking shoes, and spend a day traversing the parks. At sunset on clear days, watch the sun dip into the water over the horizon.

Other things to consider in Lima are the museums (in particular, the Larco Herrera Museum), the nightlife (the two clubs at Larcomar), and the casinos. I highly recommend Casino Atlantic City and Majestic, both in Miraflores. They have games with favorable rules and very low limits in dollars or soles.

Lima is the gastronomic capital of Peru. Ask at your hotel for the hottest restaurants. But don’t leave without trying Bembo’s, Peru’s answer to McDonald’s. The spicy aji sauce is a must-haves. And I highly recommend trying out a restaurant with a menú priced at five or six soles ($2).

In Peru, a menú is a set meal or small selection of options. For instance, you might get to choose one of the three appetizer choices and one of the three main courses. If you leave the main tourist streets in Miraflores, you’ll find a ton of hole-in-the-wall places with a blackboard scribbled with a few choices. In addition to dishes I’ve already recommended, I highly encourage you to try:

  • Aji de gallina- shredded chicken in a mild (or occasionally spicy) and creamy yellow pepper sauce served over potatoes and rice; my favorite Peruvian dish
  • Lomo saltado- strips of steak fried together with vegetables and french fries

Five or six soles is a good price point. It’s not too cheap that you’ll get low quality, but it’s not so expensive that you’re at a touristy place.

There’s so much I haven’t mentioned in Lima, like the historic center and its shanty-town outskirts. Lima is a place that can be skipped over in a day, or it can reward you for weeks.

How to get there: To learn more about how to get to Lima, the gateway to the rest of Peru, read the Prologue to this series.

Hotels: The best located hotel is the Marriott in front of Larcomar. In general, I would strongly recommend staying in Miraflores, and not in the center where some major brands have their hotels. There is nothing to do in the center after dark.

Time needed to visit: 1+ days

The Food in Lima by Sarah Page

Lima has a thriving gastronomy scene, with options for every budget spanning from street and market food to famous establishments like Central, ranked in the top 5 restaurants in the entire world.

Whatever you do don’t leave Lima without sampling your fair share of ceviche, the city’s signature dish. There are many different types of ceviche, but essentially it always involves a type of seafood cured in lime juice with raw onions, cilantro, hot peppers, corn, and sweet potato.

I also recommend trying Nikkei style food, a fusion of Japanese and Peruvian that is taking South America by storm. I did a tasting menu at Maido, one of Lima’s top restaurants that specializes in Nikkei and is also a sushi bar. It was and will probably always remain amongst the top five dining experiences of my life.

One of the many courses of a tasting menu at Maido
One of the many courses of a tasting menu at Maido
More from Maido
More from Maido

Here are some more pictures from other eating adventures in Lima.

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.21.07 PM
The dessert course of the tasting menu at IK
Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.17.00 PM
Bam Bam’s ceviche sampler
With the Chef from Bam Bam
With the Chef from Bam Bam
Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 7.17.26 PM
Concentrado de cangrejo, a type of crab soup

Restaurants I recommend in Lima:

An important thing to note about the cebicherías of Lima (restaurants that sell ceviche) is that many are only open for lunch, so be sure to check the hours beforehand.

Bottom Line

Lima is the gateway to the rest of Peru, so one way or the other you will pass through the city. As the pulse of the nation, I think Lima is worth spending time in apart from just flying through. Stroll along the cliff parks and eat in one of it’s many acclaimed restaurants.

Cuzco is the gateway to Machu Picchu, so again you will have the choice to either spend some extra time there or just pass through. I recommend spending extra time. As the ancient Incan capital, it’s a culturally and historically rich place. The food isn’t too shabby either.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

0

I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

4. Hike into Colca Canyon

Me in the Colca Canyon
Me in the Colca Canyon

Cañon de Colca is marketed as the deepest canyon in the world, twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, and who am I to dispute it. I love everything about the canyon except the wake up call. The canyon is only 100 miles from Arequipa but that equates to a four hour bus ride, with most buses leaving Arequipa before 4 AM. That’s why in every picture I look like I’m asleep.

Once there, trips usually start at Cruz del Condor, a lookout where Andean condors float effortlessly above thermal drafts.

From there, I think it’s best to make it to Cabanaconde, from where you can easily hike to the bottom of the canyon. At the bottom, you’ll find three cheap hostels next to each other with beds for under $10 a pop.

The Colca Canyon
The Colca Canyon

If possible hike through the small agglomerations of people that just got power in the last decade or two. The whole area was only connected to a road in the 80s, so the people are not living too much differently than they always have.

The canyon is a good place to relax, read, write, and reflect. The vistas at the top are incredible, and the way of life on the bottom is amazing. Just plan at least double the time to get back up as it took to get down.

One food tip: when you get to the Colca area, and your bus is boarded to sell you the mandatory $25 tourist ticket, some ladies may get on selling vicuña empanadas. Buy them! You will be buying a fried pastry filled with potatoes and vicuña meat, the wild cousin of the llama.

Getting there: a few hours by private or tour bus from Arequipa

Hotels: the lodging is not particularly comfortable on the canyon floor, but it’s a place I want to return to for a third time

Time needed to visit: 2+ days, “+” recommended

5. Spend the Night on a Man Made Island in Lake Titicaca

Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake, straddling the border of Peru and Bolivia. It’s a huge, beautiful, blue placid surface dotted with tiny islands that have been inhabited for centuries.

titi

Lake Titicaca is at an even higher elevation than Cuzco, so take adequate precautions. There some helpful comments regarding altitude medication/thoughts on preparing for altitude in the Machu Picchu post of this series.

Lake Titicaca is ringed by incredibly unimpressive towns–Juliaca and Puno, Peru and Copacabana, Bolivia. They should be avoided at all costs as they have nothing interesting and are more dangerous than other cities in the region. It should only take a few minutes in either of the Peruvian cities to book a tour of the lake.

The Peruvian tour of the lake will usually hit three main areas: islas Uros, Amantaní, and Taquile. The most impressive are the man made islands of the Uros.

The floating, man-made island of Uros.
The floating, man-made island of Uros. Photo by Christian Haugen

The Uros islands are made out of the lake’s tall reeds. They are constantly rotting away and need to be replenished by their inhabitants’ work. The inhabitants make everything from the tortora reed–their islands, their houses, and their boats. Their ancestors have lived on the islands for centuries, supposedly to get away from bellicose mainlanders.

If you’re persistent, you can find a tour operator who can get you a night on one of the islands. There will be nothing to do but watch the stars and talk to some of the most cut-off people in the world. Their only contact with the outside world is with the daily tourists and maybe a weekly trip to the small city of Puno. The family I was staying with only knew one thing about America, that it contained Utah. (The islands feature Mormon and Seventh Day Adventist churches dueling for souls.)

Amantaní is an interesting island with old religious ruins at the top of a hill with the best view of the lake. The tours usually include a night on the island, staying with a family, and a dance where they let you put on some interesting local dress. Most tours end with a day on Taquile to buy the local handicrafts.

The lake is too cold to swim in, the islands are all trying to become tourist traps, and yet the charm is unmistakable. The blue waters on a cool day at 2.5 miles above sea level are one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The people are some of the least corrupted I’ve met. And sitting on a man made island watching the starry sky is one of my favorite experiences in Peru.

Hotels: hahahahahaha, you’ll be sleeping on a bowed mattress inside of a reed hut

Time needed to visit: 3 days

How to Get There

4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way will get you there on LATAM from Lima to Juliaca (JUL), which is an hour from Puno and the main gateway to the lake.

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 5.40.02 PM

Bottom Line

The Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca are similarly interesting in that they hold populations of people that live a lifestyle of a previous era amongst a geographically stunning backdrop. The accommodations are more rustic than some other places in this Peru series, so they may be destinations better suited to those who don’t mind.

I highly recommend not missing them.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

0

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what about a video?

We all need inspiration for our next adventure– or at the least, a little distraction. All of the Snapchat accounts below will provide you with plenty of both as their owners scamper around the globe capturing it all via multi-second videos.

To quickly follow any of the people below, just open your Snapchat camera and take a picture of the Snapcodes below (the yellow dotted square with the ghost).

1. Anna Everywhere, @Anna-Everywhere

Blog: Anna Everywhere,  Instagram: @anna.everywhere

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.15.33 PM

Out of all the research I did, Anna Everywhere’s name seemed to pop up the most. She’s quite the travel vet having been on the road for over 10 years now. And her story is a bit unique to the majority of bloggers on this list– she didn’t quit her day job for life on the road. She just started off her adult life as a nomadic one. Anna’s lived in many different places around the world and has explored 70 countries from various bases, managing to publish a book on international law and get a masters degree along the way.

Where she is now: New Hampshire

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.15.42 PM

2. Drew Binskey @drewbinsky 

Blog: The Hungry Partier, Instagram: drewbinsky

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.02.03 PM

Drew loves food, adventure, and partying. His Snaps certainly reflect that. Those things high on your priority list? Follow him!

Where he is now: Bolivia

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.02.12 PM

3. Travel Dave, @DAVEBRETTUK

Blog: Travel Dave, Instagram: @TravelTomTom

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.23.53 PM

I love the fact that he reviews luxury hotels for a living. If you’re interested in traveling to Southeast Asia or India, and you love luxury hotels, that’s where he’ll be all of 2016.

Where he is now: India

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.27.29 PM
This picture isn’t from Travel Dave’s Snapchat (he hasn’t updated his Story today), so I took this picture of the ITC Maratha in Mumbai from his Instagram account.

4. Matt Karsten, @ExpertVagabond

Blog: Expert Vagabond, Instagram: @ExpertVagabond

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.35.11 PM

Professional Photographer Matt Karsten shoots beautiful Snaps, but his story alone is inspirational enough to get you off that couch and on a plane. Having barely traveled until the age of 29, he’s now been a full time traveler for five years.

Where he is now: New Hampshire (I’m guessing Matt Karsten and Anna Everywhere are friends? They’re Snapping from the same place right now.)

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.35.32 PM

5. Travel With Bender, @travelwitbender

Blog: Travel With Bender, Instagram: @travelwithbender

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.38.07 PM

This Snapchat account is unique because it follows a family of four. They’ve been to over 67 countries and show you how to do it with kids in tow.

Where they are now: Mexico

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.38.16 PM

6. Adventurous Kate, @AdventurousKate

Blog: Adventurous Kate, Instagram: adventurouskate

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.06.16 PM

As the title of her blog describes, Kate’s brand is centered around solo travel for women. Like many of the people on this list, she quit her job in her mid 20’s and is now a full time solo-traveler.

Where she is now: South Africa

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.06.25 PM

 

7. Lee Abbamonte, @LeeAbbamonte

Blog: LeeAbbamonte.com, Instagram: @LeeAbbamonte

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.05.41 PM

This guy has been to every country in the world. And he claims to be the youngest American to have ever done so. Enough said?

Where he is now? Dewey Beach

8. Krista Simmons, @krista_simmons

Blog: kristasimmons.com, Instagram: kristasimmons

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.42.50 PM

Foodies, this one’s for you.

Krista Simmons is global correspondent for Travel + Leisure Magazine, so her Snaps are food porn in gorgeous locations.

Where she is now: New York City

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 3.42.59 PM

9. Expat Edna, @ExpatEdna

Blog: Expat Edna, Instagram: expatedna

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.06.13 PM

Edna Zhou’s lives abroad as an expat, traveling often but using Paris as her base. Her situation is a lot like mine, just replace Paris with Buenos Aires.

Where she is now: Rio de Janeiro at the Olympics.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.06.04 PM

10. Chelsea Handler, @chelseahandler

www.chelseahandler.com, Instagram: @chelsea handler

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.07.24 PM

Chelsea Handler is hilarious.

She’s also traveling around the world filming her new Netflix-exclusive series Chelsea, so she’s been Snapping some interesting destinations.

Where she is now: Los Angeles (I think)

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 4.07.12 PM

Honorable Mention: Gary Arndt

I can’t technically put him on this list because as far as I know, he doesn’t have a Snapchat account, but Gary Arndt has an Instagram account and blog (Everything, Everywhere) that will blow your mind. As a three time winner of travel photographer of the year with all seven continents and a 180 countries in his repertoire, this guy will give you serious ideas about places you’ve probably never heard of.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

9

I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

2. Swim with the Pink Dolphins in the Amazon Rainforest

Sixty percent of Peru is Amazon Rainforest. Peru’s natural beauty rivals its historical and cultural beauty. The most accessible jumping off points for visits to the rainforest are Puerto Maldonado in the southeast and Iquitos in the northeast.

I think Iquitos is a more interesting city, but otherwise the options are pretty equal. In both cases, you’ll have the chance to take a boat down the river to the eco-lodge of your choice in all budget ranges. Choose one in your budget range with a good first-hand review or internet reviews.

Daily hikes will reveal a wealth of interesting plant and animal life. Nightly hikes or boat rides will spot the nocturnal animals like caimans. There aren’t a lot of amazing animal ecosystems left, so a chance to see a rainforest full of monkeys, butterflies, frogs, and lizards shouldn’t be missed.

But by far the coolest animal in the Peruvian rainforest is the pink dolphin–yes, they’re really pink.

pink

Spotting or swimming with these guys is the highlight of the Amazon. The other highlight is the lack of cell phone service. Bring some good books, and because electricity is scarce even at the lodges, a charged e-reader might be advisable.

The main lowlights in the jungle are the intense humidity and mosquitos. Bring your DEET-packed bug spray and mentally prepare yourself to be wet the entire time.

If you’re extremely adventurous, you can take boat cruises down the Amazon of varying length. You can even cross into Brazil or Bolivia via boat. I haven’t done any of the boat cruises, but I’d be interested if anyone has any experience.

Hotels: eco-lodges or tents depending on your price range.

Time needed to visit: 2-5 days.

How to Get There

4,500 Avios from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado or Lima to Iquitos each way and a few dollars in tax (flying LATAM).

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Best Time to Visit

The high tourist season for the Peruvian Amazon is the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, June to September. There are less mosquitoes and animals tend to hang out around the rivers more, making sitings a bit easier. But as always, tourist high season = higher prices. A pro to going during the wetter, more mosquito ridden time aside from cheaper services/accommodation: water levels are higher in the summer, making exploration of the river more accessible.

3. See the Less Famous Inca Ruins in the Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley is the area around Cuzco dotted with Inca ruins, tiny towns, and Quechua speakers. Most people see some of the sites as part of a package tour that includes Cuzco and Machu Picchu. The area is amazing, and should not be rushed through. It rewards the independent traveler.

I think the must-sees are Ollantaytambo, Q’allaqasa and Intihuatana at Pisac, and Chinchero Market. (Pro tip for any Spanish speakers: Quechua speakers pronounce “ll” like “li,” so Quechua place names are pronounced this way. That’s why the nickname for Ollantaytambo and the first name of Peru’s president are pronounced “Olianta.”

Ollantaytambo is a small town with cobblestone streets and stone houses. The city has been continuously inhabited for 900 years, so you can see for yourself the urban planning of the Incas. The town itself deserves a long walk in the evening. (Maybe the night before taking the train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. More about taking the train from here to Machu Picchu at #1).

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But the star of Ollantaytambo is the terraced fortress smiling down on the town. These are some of the best Inca ruins in Peru and show how the Inca farmed and how they protected their cities. You can also see the stone storehouses on the mountain that the Incas used to preserve their crops. How the Incas figured out that the location and design of the storehouses preserved their crops longer is beyond me!

ollantay2Q’allasqa is one of my favorite Inca ruins, a well-preserved citadel on top of a mountain. Intihuatana is the nearby Temple of the Sun, the Inca god. What’s so great about these ruins is that they almost rival Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo in impressiveness, and they are completely deserted. Pisac’s big market days are Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so if you come on other days, these ruins are all yours.

Finally, while Pisac’s market is bigger, I prefer Chinchero’s market. Chichero’s Sunday and smaller Tuesday/Thursday markets have all the tourist tchotchkes you can buy throughout Peru: Inca chess sets, llama figurines made with real llama fur, “alpaca” scarves (that are mostly llama fur.)

But what makes Chinchero’s market better than most markets is that it is attached to a real locals’ market. Locals come from surrounding villages to sell their crops, animals, and other products. You can watch how real markets have worked in Peru for centuries.

Here’s some bargaining advice gleaned from economic theory worthy of Gary Leff. Just be ruthless and get the lowest price you can, which is probably under half of the original asking price and may be as low as one fifth depending on the item. Aren’t you being selfish as a rich foreigner by doing this to a poor Peruvian?

No. Economic theory would suggest that if people overpay the vendors, vendors’ expected earnings will increase, causing more people to choose selling at the market on the margin. More vendors will rush in driving expected earnings back down to where the marginal vendor is indifferent between selling at the market and his old job again. So overpaying doesn’t enrich the vendors long term; it just creates more of them.

There’s plenty to do in the Sacred Valley, so don’t skip over it on the way to Machu Picchu, and see it independently if you feel comfortable traveling that way. It will be more rewarding than a packaged tour, which will rush through these site and will ensure you are always at a place packed with tourists.

Hotels: Base yourself in Cuzco, and do day trips. The exception is Ollantaytambo where I recommend an overnight en route to Machu Picchu. More in the Machu Picchu section.

Time needed to visit: 3+ days

How to Get There

You can take private cars, tour bus, or public bus from Cuzco or between these towns. To learn how to get to Lima, read the Prologue of this series. To learn how to get to from Lima to Cuzco, read the Machu Picchu section of this series.

Sarah Page’s Two Cents: The Sacred Valley

I did not travel to the Amazon when I visited Peru. I did spend time in the Sacred Valley though, and found the towns dotting it to be culturally rich and charming. While I loved the historic architecture and significance of Cuzco, it’s full of tourists. The Sacred Valley still maintains that untouched charm that off the beaten path travelers strive for.  Below are some of my recommendations that I particularly enjoyed in the Sacred Valley.

Pisac

I recommend hiking to Intihuatana from the trail that begins in the town and winds up through the Incan terraces. There are beautiful views along the way you won’t see if you take a bus to the top, and overall the hike isn’t that long (from my memory it took a couple hours, but I stopped for a lot of pictures).
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Intihuatana

Walking down from Intihuatana on the other side of the mountain is more terracing.

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Wind down through that for about 10 minute and you’ll get to a parking lot where you can either take a bus or a taxi back to the town of Pisac.

Ollantaytambo

Another Incan ruin I enjoyed that Scott didn’t mention is Puma Marca. There is a trail you can take from the town of Ollantaytambo all the way to the ruins.  Overall the hike takes anywhere from four to six hours roundtrip on foot. It winds through terraces along the side of a mountain, looking down on farms, rivers, and eucalyptus tree forests nestled in a valley. I was completely alone the entire time, except for a few local farmers and cows I passed by.

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The Incan ruins are beautiful as well, and not so commonly visited. I had them all to myself even though I was there during the peak tourist season.

Puma Marca
Puma Marca

The hike to Pumamarca isn’t exactly the most well marked, but you can google the directions to follow. Just pack lots of water and snacks and a sense of adventure and you will be greatly rewarded. It’s one of my fondest memories in Peru, and traveling, perhaps ever.

Food in the Sacred Valley

I ate at a lovely little place called Mullu Cafe in the square of Pisac that head a massive menu full of interesting, healthy options. It’s always refreshing to find tasty, healthy food when traveling as it’s not the easiest to come by. The owner’s name is Josip, so be sure to say hello if you stop in. You can tell him Sarah from Buenos Aires sent you!

And while we’re on the subject of food: if you drive by a place near Lamay (in the Sacred Valley) with a large statue of a guinea pig, STOP.

Sarah Page Maxwell in the Sacred Valley
If you see this guinea pig statue in the Sacred Valley, stop and eat!

They serve a delicious “cuy”, aka guinea pig, which is a traditional dish in this region of Peru. The woman in this picture had spent hours roasting the cuy rotisserie-style, by HAND. The Peruvians take pride in their cuy.

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In Ollantaytambo, two meals stick out in my memory. One was the Aji de Gallina at a place called Coffee Tree. Aji de Gallina is one of my favorite traditional Peruvian dishes made with shredded chicken stewed in a spicy, creamy sauce served on top of rice. La Esquina was great for hearty, creative salads (again, a hard thing to come by traveling!) and serves the local craft beer Sacred Valley Brewing Company.

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Bottom Line

You can see exotic flora and fauna in the Amazon in one of the few truly diverse animal ecosystems left on this planet. You can see ancient Incan ruins set in charming towns throughout the Sacred Valley, with great hiking and food to boot. Don’t miss out on either of these destinations as they lay at the heart of Peruvian culture.

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

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23

I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016.

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

1. Machu Picchu at Dawn

Some sites are so hyped, you think they can’t possibly deliver. Machu Picchu is one such site, but it has delivered for me three times. The key to Machu Pichhu: for the most memorable, awe-inspiring trip to Machu Picchu, do not go on a package tour, and arrive at dawn.

Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the Background

The Logistics of Machu Picchu

Buy a ticket online at http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ (Clicking on the Union Jack will give you a mostly-English Spanglish page.) One entrance ticket to just Machu Picchu is $38. You don’t have to buy the ticket months in advance. There aren’t any tickets available for the following week, but if you look one week out there’s tons available (416 on July 29). Granted, this is the high season, so if you’re buying a ticket in the low season you probably don’t need to buy with much advance notice at all. But you should buy the tickets when you know what day you’ll be at Machu Picchu because there is a strict limit of 2,500 visitors per day.

To get to Machu Picchu, you have to get to Cuzco. That’s easy enough by bus from Arequipa or Puno or by air from Lima for 4,500 Avios and a few dollars tax each way on Latam Airlines (although I would check the price of cash tickets, I see them now for $78 one way).

From Cuzco, you have to get to Aguas Calientes, the city at the base of Machu Picchu. You can only do that by train…

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A clown doing tricks on the Vistadome train.

…or by hiking the Inca Trail. More on that at the bottom of this post.

Alternatively you can take the train from Cuzco (technically the station is called Poroy), Ollantaytambo, or Urubamba. I recommend taking it from Ollantaytambo but returning to Cuzco. Taking the train from Ollantaytambo is cheaper, and since you’ll want to see Ollantaytambo (see #3), it saves you from backtracking. It’s like an open jaw train ticket.

You can buy your tickets online at https://www.perurail.com/en/. I recommend buying the train ticket for the afternoon or evening before going to Machu Picchu and the latest return you can get on the day of your trip to Machu Picchu. There is not much to do in Aguas Calientes, so you don’t need to spend extra time there (although I do recommend Indio Feliz for a meal, and the hot springs are OK).

Example: If you want to see Machu Picchu on August 15, buy the Ollantaytambo – Machu Picchu ticket for the afternoon or evening of August 14, and buy the Machu Picchu – Cuzco ticket for the last train on August 15.

From Aguas Calientes, you have to get up the mountain to Machu Picchu. You can walk it or take the bus. The bus costs about $8 each way. I take the bus in the morning because the buses start at 5:30 AM, when I don’t have the strength to walk an hour plus up a steep hill at high altitude. But if you like hiking and saving $8, I think the walk back is pleasant.

When you get into Aguas Calientes on your afternoon train, go buy a bus ticket immediately from the bus departure area for the earliest departure time you can snag; buses start at 5:30 AM.

Why not do a packaged tour of Machu Picchu?

The vast majority of packaged tours get to Machu Picchu about 10 AM and leave in the mid-afternoon. Not only do you miss the incredible sun rise over the mountains, but you miss the tranquility of being at the site with only a few dozen people. You will not want to feel rushed or herded. You will want to explore Machu Picchu at your own pace.

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So I strongly recommend seeing Machu Picchu independently and being up the mountain as early as possible. That will give you a few hours to relax and explore on your own. Then right at 10 AM, as the place will become flooded with visitors, you make your escape up Huayna Picchu.

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View of the bus route from Huayna Picchu. Look at all those switchbacks for only $8.

Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu) is a mountain overlooking Machu Picchu with incredible views and photo ops. The hike is about one hour up. It’s not particularly tough, but I had to stop several times to catch my breath because of the altitude. If you are in moderate physical condition, you can handle it.

Important Note about Huayna Picchu: Only a limited number of people are allowed up Huayna Picchu in two groups, one that is allowed to enter between 7 and 8 AM, and another that can enter between 10 and 11 AM. I strongly recommend being in the 10 AM group, as the first time slot is a better time to be at Machu Picchu than the second.

To get a slot in either group, you have to purchase it in advance as part of your ticket. These tickets are much harder to come by than just Machu Picchu tickets. A scan of the ticket website shows that combined Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu tickets should probably be purchased at least a month in advance.

A ticket just to Machu Picchu is $38, while the Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu combined ticket is $45.

Guides: I went once with a guide, but I hiked Huayna Picchu during his tour. The other times I was without a guide. That was fine for me. Any guide book will have information as good as most guides.

Outside the ruins are a number of willing guides. Make sure you negotiate the price in advance and clarify that that is the total price. “That was the price per person!” is a classic trick. No guarantee on quality. The best guides and most expensive are in Cuzco.

Getting there: 4,500 Avios from Lima-CUZ on Latam (or a cheap cash ticket), train to Aguas Calientes, bus to ruins

Hotels: Aguas Calientes has all manner of hotels in every price range. There is an $1300/night hotel at Machu Picchu itself, the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. If you have the money for one room there, you probably have the money to put your favorite travel blogger up for a night in another room!

Time needed to visit: 6 hours including Huayna Picchu

When to go: The best weather coincides with peak season of June to August. December through April is the rainy season, but the crowds are gone, and Machu Picchu looks incredible shrouded in clouds. My pick is February, when the Inca Trail is closed, so there are fewer people at Machu Picchu than any other time. But if you want do a trek, that’s a different story.

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Trekking to Get to Machu Picchu

An Aside by Sarah Page

I’m going to chime in here as I traveled to Peru last year and hiked the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu over the course of four days and three nights. It was a fantastic experience that I will absolutely never forget, and I highly recommend it. I also recommend that you be in relatively good shape though if you do one of the longer treks like this, as it is a lot of hiking over the course of several days.

Some of the popular trail options include:

  • Inca (the one you’ve probably heard of, by far the most popular)
  • Salkantay
  • Lares
  • Vilcabamba
  • Cachicata

You also have options when it comes to the length of the trek you choose– packages are offered for anywhere from one day to two weeks on varying trails.

You have to have a permit to hike the Inca trail, as tickets to enter are strictly capacity controlled by the Peruvian government. They sell out months in advance (especially for the high, dry season). You can check availability for the Inca trail here. You also must do the trek with a guide authorized by the Peruvian government (they should take care of the permit for you). I do not think the rest of the trails I named above require that you have a permit to enter, nor do they require you be accompanied by a guide.

There are packages where you trek with a group (like I did) or you can hire a private guide.

If you’re going to do a trek, it’s probably wiser to choose dates during the dry season (June to August). I love hiking, but hiking when it’s wet and cold (the Salkantay trail mounts peaks that are above the snow line) can be miserable. There will be more people on the trails and at Machu Picchu at this time of course.

Here are some pictures from when I hiked the Salkantay.

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We only look a little bit cold, right? On the Salkantay you reach the highest summit on the first day: approximately 15,000 feet. The rest of the trail is much more amiable. You actual hike through multiple microclimates and are walking through coffee and banana plantations by the end– I found the diversity to be the most interesting thing by far.

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Entrepreneurial Peruvian outside of a coffee farm :)

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I used a tour operator named Enigma and also recommend it highly. The guides were super knowledgable and friendly, and the food was impressive. Every time the group arrived to a destination for a break or to camp for the night, the guides/staff had already set up a tent with table and chairs (as well as a separate tent for themselves in which they erected a make shift kitchen), where hot drinks and delicious meals were served.

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Pro tip: If you hire a porter (donkey) to carry any of your things, make sure you don’t put anything in that pack that you might want with you on a daily basis as the donkeys walk at a different pace from the people. And if you’re hiking the Salkantay especially, wear waterproof boots. I learned those lessons the hard way.

Bottom Line

If there is one thing you should not miss when you go to Peru, it’s Machu Picchu. It lives up to its reputation.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

I originally wrote this series in 2012.  As it has turned out to be quite popular, I am in the process of updating it to reflect current information for 2016. 

“Top 10 Things to Do, See, and Eat in Peru” Series Index

Why Peru?

There’s no country I know better than Peru, and I’m including the United States in that statement. Over the course of five trips, I’ve spent about six months in Peru. I even made it on a mistake fare for only $238 roundtrip from Los Angeles a few years ago.

Just to give you a taste…Peru has Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, the Andes, the Amazon Rainforest, awesome beaches, interesting deserts, amazing history, internationally-acclaimed gastronomy, one of the world’s mega-cities, friendly people, a neutral Spanish accent, cheap everything, and great mileage-redemption opportunities. 

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A field of wild growing quinoa

I get a lot of questions about what to do, see, and eat; where to stay; and how to get around in Peru, so this series is for all those that are curious.

In the coming weeks I will be updating this series I originally wrote in 2012 (linked above), with new and relevant travel logistics, prices, insight, and tips. This post will talk about some Peru basics like how to get there, when to go, and safety. I’ll start with safety because I think fear is what keeps a lot of people from seeing one of the best countries for tourism in the entire world.

Peru Safety

Peru is a developing country where you should take all the normal safety precautions. If you do, you will be in no more danger than many European countries and substantially less danger than in Central America or Mexico. In my opinion, by far the number one danger to tourists in Peru is taxis.

Not their driving–although I’ve definitely been in a taxi that reversed several blocks against oncoming traffic–but the possibility of an armed robbery by a person posing as a taxi driver. Peru, like many developing countries, has a lot of unregulated taxis operating. And anyone who slaps a taxi sticker on the window of a car is operating a taxi business.

That means enterprising criminals slap a taxi sticker on a car to rob tourists. Luckily this is very easy to avoid. You are most vulnerable at airports or bus stations when you have all your luggage and don’t know anything about the new city. At major airports, there will be an official taxi service. At the Lima airport, it is right outside the exit from baggage claim/customs. Take a taxi from there and you pay double the street price but ensure your safety.

At hotels, casinos, and nice restaurants, the doorman will assist you. He knows the safe taxi drivers, and sometimes only lets those he knows into the taxi area. Ask for a taxi de confianza, and you’ll  be on your way.

If you find a trustworthy taxi driver, ask for his card. He will love the prospect of future business, and you can call someone you know from then on.

If for whatever reason, you find yourself in a situation where it is impossible to follow these tips, at least mitigate the danger of picking a robber by only traveling in taxis with a driver and no other passengers, picking a car that has been painted such that it is a full time taxi, and pick an older driver.

From the preceding, you might conclude that taxis pose a grave risk to a traveler in Peru. In my experience, taking street taxis without following the foregoing precautions for six months, I’ve never had an issue. But for the utmost safety, choose your taxis as I’ve outlined.

An important side note about how taxis function in Peru: they do not use meters. You will need to negotiate a price to where you are going before you get in to avoid getting ripped off. If it’s your first time going to a new location you have no idea how much it should cost, ask someone trustworthy before heading off to flag a cab.

Other Safety Risks

There are other safety risks like the remnants of the Shining Path–Sendoro Luminoso–in the rural, mountainous east, and growing cocaine production in the jungle northeast. But you won’t be going near those places, so they won’t endanger you.

When to Go

The bad stuff is out of the way. Your fears have been allayed. When should you go? Anytime!

Peru is a tropical country, so the seasons are less hot-cold and more wet-dry. High season is North American summer as American and European travelers have more time to visit. That’s a fine time to visit as it’s the dry season and mild temperatures prevail.

My favorite time to visit is North American winter. January and February are the warmest months in Lima, and they’re the only time of year when the Lima isn’t covered in a low, persistent cloud cover that makes the city seem uglier and more somber (not to mention extremely humid).  Unfortunately January and February are the wet season in-and-around Cuzco, where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time. But I think Machu Picchu is especially mystical shrouded in cloud and fog, and there are less people.

All times of year are fine for visiting, and all times of year have drawbacks.

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Pisac, Peru in the Sacred Valley

How to Deal with Money

Avoid the ATMs and money exchange houses at airports as they have the worst rates (this advice does not just apply to Peru, it applies to basically anywhere). If you really need to, change a tiny bit of money at the airport just to pay your taxi driver, and then use an ATM or change house around your first accommodation to get more cash. If you are a serious international traveler, you should consider opening a Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. It sounds a lot more serious than it actually is–the basic gist is that you will pay zero ATM fees worldwide.

There are a good deal of places in Peru (especially the smaller and more rural areas) that only take cash, so it’s good to have on hand. Small change is handy for tipping as well. Standard tipping rates are 10% on meals.

If you’re going to use a credit card abroad, it should go without saying to use one with no foreign transaction fees. And if you can, use a Mastercard as opposed to a Visa or American Express as you’ll probably lose less on currency conversion fees (a whole different beast than foreign transaction fees).

How to Get There

Lima (LIM) is the international hub in Peru with direct flights to many US cities on the following airlines:

  • American Airlines- Dallas, Miami
  • Avianca- Miami
  • Delta- Atlanta
  • LATAM- Miami, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, Washington, D.C.
  • United- Houston and Newark
  • Spirit Airlines – Fort Lauderdale

In addition, many people find great deals to Lima on Aeromexico (via Mexico City) and Avianca (via San Salvador, airport code SAL).

Lima is an easy place to get to with a cheap cash ticket or a miles redemption. American Airlines has the most options since it partners with LATAM. From North America to Peru (South America Region 1), American Airlines charges:

  • 17,500 miles one way in economy from January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14 flown exclusively on American Airlines planes
  • 20,000 miles one way for other economy awards (flying partner LATAM or American outside of the Off Peak dates)
  • 30,000 miles one way in Business Class

If you have them, the cheapest ways to get to Peru from the United States are:

  • with 15,000 Alaska miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights
  • with 15,000 Etihad miles each year from January 16 – June 14 or September 7 – November 14 on American Airlines flights

This is because you can still book old American Airlines chart prices with Alaska or Etihad Miles, at least for the moment.

For other ideas about how to get to Peru cheaply with miles and points when your origin isn’t the United States, read this post about how to book a round-the-world trip in 2016.

How to Get Those Miles

American Airlines Miles

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Limited Time Offer: The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® with 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles and Admirals Club lounge membership
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Alaska Airlines Miles

The Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card’s and the Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card’s are both currently offering 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 within three months of opening the account (on each). Alaska cards are, as far as I know, still churnable.

While I can not directly link to the current public Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Card offer, you may find it by clicking below if you decide to apply. (I receive a commission, and your support keeps this blog going.)

Etihad Miles

Etihad miles are most easily accrued via transfer from SPG Points, ThankYou Points, and Membership Rewards.

The Citi Prestige® Card comes with 40,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $4,000 in purchases are made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open. Read my review of the Citi Prestige Card.

Bottom Line

Stay tuned for the following posts with updated travel information about all the highlights of Peru.

My next post in this series will start the Top 10 countdown. Is there anything you want to make sure I cover or add to this series? Leave it in the comments.

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Machu Picchu

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

3

I travel a lot internationally. My nomadic lifestyle means I’m outside the United States for the majority of the year, withdrawing cash from ATMs pretty regularly. If I didn’t use a debit card that reimburses all ATM fees (international and domestic), I would be losing a lot of money.

Thankfully I have one that does just that with the Schwab Bank High Yield Investor Checking Account. You can read all about how much money it saves me in this post about how I pay zero ATM fees worldwide. It charges no maintenance fees, no ATM withdrawal fees, and has no minimum balance.

Right now Charles Schwab is running a promotion. You can sign up for the same account I have and get a $100 for doing it.

How to Get a Charles Schwab Checking Account with No ATM Fees Worldwide and $100 Sign Up Bonus

Step 1: Click this link, and then click Open an Account.

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Step 2: You will be given the following options. Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.05.29 PMIf you want the High Yield Investor Checking Account (what I have) with no maintenance fees, no withdrawal fees, and no minimum balance/minimum deposit requirement, then click Schwab Bank Checking Account.

Step 3: Click continue.

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Step 4: You will ultimately be taken to this screen.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.22.10 PM

You are required to open a brokerage account in conjunction with the High Yield Investor Checking Account, but don’t worry, the brokerage account also has no fees nor a minimum deposit/balance requirement.

Step 5: Either log in to Schwab if you already have an account or create a new one if you don’t, and follow the rest of the prompts for registration.

Terms and Conditions

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 2.16.56 PM
(click to enlarge)

Notice that the first line of the terms and conditions states: “A minimum deposit of $1000 is required to open most Schwab brokerage accounts…”, but don’t let that confuse you. If you open a High Yield Investor Checking Account in conjunction with a brokerage account via the steps outlined above, you will not be required to make a minimum deposit of $1,000 (nor keep any minimum balance in the brokerage account– I do not even use mine). However, if you choose Brokerage account in Step 2, then the $1,000 minimum deposit/balance requirement will probably apply.

I chatted with a Charles Schwab representative online that confirmed this.

Bottom Line

Applying for this debit card will trigger a hard credit inquiry, so I wouldn’t really consider signing up unless you travel often and will truly benefit from this account aside from the $100 bonus. The $100 bonus should just be icing on the cake to a card that will otherwise save you money with all the reimbursed ATM fees.

Application link (I don’t receive any compensation if you sign up, but you do have to apply via that link if you want the $100 bonus).

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

18

I’m honestly a little confused by the motives of the participants in tonight’s scam, so I turn to the commentariat for insight on who was doing what and how I could have acted differently.

Background

Budapest Honeypot Scam

A well-known scam in Budapest, Hungary is that a girl or girls, ideally pretty, comes up to a guy or guys, flirts with them, convinces them to go to a bar, orders drinks, and then the bill is outrageous. This page describes the scam in full, and the first commenter gives his experience losing $353.

I’m well aware of that scam, and twice in Budapest a few years ago, pretty girls came up to flirt with me on the street.

Of course, I dismissed them immediately because zero times in my life have women come up to hit on me, at least not as blatantly as these two women in Hungary. It was obvious that something was off.

Belgrade Taxi Scam

A well-known scam in Belgrade, Serbia is that the taxi meter runs up much faster than it should. In fact, my American friend and I were in a taxi with a $30 meter after a 3 km taxi ride last year in Belgrade. We got out and didn’t pay. Read the full story here.

Tonight’s Adventure

I was walking along the strip of splavovi (raft night clubs) when I spotted two girls, one of whom was wearing an outfit that made me want to talk to her. They weren’t along the main riverfront sidewalk, they were on a sidewalk that connected that to the road.

I walked up and we started chatting. One girl was engrossed in a phone call, and the other one and I chatted about why I was learning Serbian and how I was progressing.

The other girl gets off the phone and says they are going to a splav called Lašta that is in another area. By this point, the girl I’ve been talking to is loving me, so she invites me to come. I tell them that I really do not want to go because I was planning on going to a splav just a few meters away, but that I have a rule that I cannot turn down adventure.

We walk up to the road and there is a line of taxis. Phone girl goes up to the nearest one and talks to the driver. I am not listening, not that I would understand any way. She breaks that conversation off and goes to talk to the driver of the next taxi. She breaks that off and goes back to the first. Some sort of agreement is reached and we hop in, the girls in the back and me in the front.

Serbian taximeters go up 3 dinar (3 cents) at a time, rather rapidly. I couldn’t immediately tell anything was wrong, but I quickly noticed the meter went over 1,000 and then over 2,000 when I knew the total fare should be under 1,000 ($9.)

During the ride, everyone was having a blast. I was entertaining the girls with my week’s worth of Serbian (guy who doesn’t speak the language correctly is a bottomless comedy well), and the taxi driver was enjoying our conversation and being friendly. The only potentially interesting comment during the ride was phone girl saying I was good looking like a model. That raises the probability she was honeypot scamming me, but not to 100% because that was actually only the second time this week a Serbian told me that, and the first was not scamming me.

Although I noticed that the meter was way too high, we were on traffic-less roads, zipping along way too fast for me to try to get out. I decided the best plan was to get out immediately when we stopped and handle any altercation from outside the car. When we got close, I unbuckled my seat belt to be ready to hop out, and when we stopped I immediately got out and walked a few meters away while the cab driver called, “My friend!” At this point, the meter was over 5,000 dinar ($46) for what should have been a $6 ride.

While I watched, the girls and driver seemed to be having a conversation about the meter. One girl had a 1,000 dinar note out and the other had a different note (200?). I inferred the girls were saying that they would not pay 5,000 and were offering a more reasonable amount. The driver tried to call me over, but I stayed five meters away.

He got out of the car and walked toward me. He was young, but short and chubby. In a fight, I didn’t know who would win, but in a flight, I really liked my chances, so I walked away, trying to keep distance. I walked by the girls and said, “5,000 dinar is insane. It’s a scam. What did you pay him?”

Phone girl said, “He says it is customary for the man to pay the taxi. He wants you to pay.”

He picked up his pace, so I started to jog away. He started to jog, so I started running and didn’t look back. I ran a few hundred meters, looking for hiding places and eventually found a gate to parking lot that was rather dark. When I got into the parking lot, I saw police cars and police men at the edge of the lot conducting sobriety tests. I decided to sit in the lot. I figured if nothing happened for 20 minutes, I could just go to the splav like nothing happened, and if anyone came through the gate, I could walk to the police. After about five minutes two guys came through the gate.

Have you seen that research about how unreliable eye witnesses are? I get it. The adrenaline was pumping, and I really don’t know if either of those guys was my taxi driver, but they seemed to pick up the pace when they saw me, so I walked over to the cops. When I got there and looked back, I didn’t see the two guys any more. I asked the cops how much a taxi from where I started should have cost and they said a maximum of 1,000 dinars. When I said, my meter said 5,000, the guy said “What was the license plate? We will take him to prison.”

I didn’t get the plate, and I didn’t take the cop up on his offer to stick around and watch for the taxi exiting to arrest him. I just hailed a cab and went back to the area where I had been originally. Although this ride was slightly longer in distance because the one way roads were against us, it cost just 692 dinar, less than one-seventh of the scam taxi.

Comment

Were the girls in on the scam? Could I have done anything differently? (Other than not going with two strangers in a taxi because I am going to keep doing that. I think the risk is pretty low based on the valuables I carry, the city I’m in, my ability to read people, my size, and my gender.)

I’ll give my thoughts below, but I don’t want to influence you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think the girls were very unlikely to be in on the scam, but I think they sold me out at the end to make things easier for themselves.

My reasoning is that most people are terrible actors. Atrocious. Not good. Even most people who are professional actors are bad. Most amateurs who “act” like they like you in a honeypot scam are so outrageously over the top and phony. They come up to you, which basically never happens to guys. They give you unwarranted compliments. They are pushy about their plan. They have no coherent back story.

These girls were standing alone a little out of the way. They would have to be very patient to initiate their scam like that instead of going up to guys. They didn’t seem overly into me. Inviting me seemed more like an afterthought. They laughed a lot, but no more than usually happens to me. (It’s hard to describe in words, but I contend 99.9% of honeypot scams fall well outside the reality of most people’s interactions, and this interaction was normal to me.) They talked to two different taxi drivers before we got into one.

Their reasoning for going to the club was that phone girl’s ex-boss was there and invited them. That’s a reasonable backstory, though not so great that I consider it evidence one way or the other.

The girls didn’t notice the insane meter during the ride, which counts against them a bit, but I really don’t have much of a feel for how much most people look at the meter–I am a cheapskate who looks constantly–and this one was mounted very low where they would have had to have leaned forward to see it.

When we got there, the girls seemed to be having a reasonable disagreement where they were offering 1,000 dinar for the ride. Again, I can’t imagine scammers would nail this detail so well, since most people are bad actors.

So, I think the girls were not in on the scam. But I think they sold me out. Instead of saying, “No. Nobody is paying this scam,” phone girl said rather nonchalantly that the driver wanted me to pay. I can’t fully condemn her because my heart was already pumping and English isn’t her first language, so I don’t know exactly what she was trying to convey with that line. But I do think that they had decided, “Well either the driver will scam Scott or not, but either way we aren’t paying, so let’s just get in the club.”

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

1

I was almost the star of a Quilmes Copa America commercial in Argentina. Quilmes is the biggest beer brand in Argentina. The Copa America is like the World Cup but only for South American countries (except this year for the 100th anniversary it is being held in the United States and six North American, Central American, and Caribbean teams are playing too.)

I assume this commercial will be running nonstop for the next month in Argentina, where the Copa America will be one of the biggest stories, and I auditioned for the lead role of American Border Patrol Agent!

Back Story

There is a very active Facebook group called Buenos Aires Expat Hub where all things interesting to expats are shared. Last month, a casting agent posted in that group that they were seeking Americans for a commercial audition for the next morning. I replied because I always seek out unique experiences, and she got back to me with the script and address for the audition.

I memorized the stilted English that only an Argentine could love.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 6.17.37 PMThe next morning I walked a few blocks to the casting office. They were casting commercials for several huge companies, and I was surrounded by professional actors and their girlfriends.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 6.18.02 PM

One pretty actress came in to audition, and when she turned her head I noticed that her face and neck were completely different colors from all the make up she had caked on. These people were serious. I, on the other hand, was carrying the little bag they give you when you fly Emirates First Class with a water bottle and a protein shake so I could go to the gym afterwards.

About an hour after I was told to arrive, they called three of us into a small room to audition. There was a 40-something American guy who was clearly a professional actor who said he had been living in Buenos Aires for ten years. There was a Dutch guy who spoke English like a Dutch guy. There was a frequent flyer miles blogger.

Screen Shot 2016-05-29 at 6.17.44 PM

We had to stand up one by one and have pictures taken straight on and of our profiles. We introduced ourselves, and then we ran the lines.

When it was my turn, I channeled the menacing Border Patrol Agents who threatened to x-ray me on my way back from Central America. I tried to over-act my part, since subtlety doesn’t seem to be prized based on the TV I’ve seen in Argentina.

It was over in five minutes, and I was out the door. I figured I had a very slim chance of hearing from them again, but I actually got an email that night.

“QUILMES PRE SELECCION” the subject blared, and it asked several questions that they’d already asked me like whether I was available on the day of filming and whether I’d shave my beard.

Five days later I got another email telling me I was still in the “PRE SELECCIONADOS” (what is this a credit card mailer?) and telling me I’d get a call first thing in the morning and that wardrobe fitting was the next morning.

That was it. I never heard from them again.

I never expected to get the job, so I put the whole thing aside as a funny story and travel memory.

Then, last night in Prague, I got an text from my friend in Buenos Aires saying she had seen the commercial. Here’s what I am not starring in:

I’ll give the commercial a 7/10 and the actor an 8/10. He certainly did better than I would have.

Are any readers “big in Japan (or Argentina)”?

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

1

I recently spent three days in Bonito, Brazil, a small city in Southwestern Brazil famous for its caves and rivers.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 1.19.54 PM

There are two ways to get to Bonito:

  1. Fly twice weekly from Viracopos-Campinas (Sao Paulo area)
  2. Fly to Campo Grande and take a four hour bus

I flew into Bonito on Azul Airlines on a Sunday from Rio de Janeiro (via Viracopos-Campinas) and flew out the next Wednesday to Sao Paulo (Azul/Viracopos-Campinas/Free Azul Bus Trip Report Here). I thought a three day trip was perfect to see the highlights of the area.

Overall Bonito has the coolest caves I’ve ever seen and the best river snorkeling I’ve ever done, however the tours are run in an overly slow and expensive way.

The Tours

I did the #1, #2, and #3 things to do in Bonito according to Trip Advisor (if you ignore that #1 and #2 are the same thing.)

Rio da Prata

On Monday, I snorkeled the Rio da Prata. The tour cost 156 reais, the transportation was 60 reais (transportation is charged separately on all Bonito tours), and an option buffet lunch was 48 reais for a total cost of $76.

I was picked up at 8:30 AM from my hotel and driven about an hour and a half out of town in a minibus on which I was one of two non-Brazilians.

The tour guide spoke basically no English. I don’t mean he didn’t have the ability to speak English. He definitely did have the ability to get his point across in English when needed, but he wouldn’t try. He would say something in Portuguese, and that was it. This was a theme throughout my trip to Bonito (partly because I had the same guide Wednesday), and I found it very annoying. Not knowing what’s going on is frustrating, and I only got the basic idea in Portuguese most of the time (due to the similarity with Spanish, which I speak.) If Bonito wants to draw more foreign tourists, and it already draws enough that guides should be bilingual at least for the script of their tours, guides need to speak Portuguese and English on the tours.

We arrived at 10 AM and were given knee-length wetsuits and a snorkel. We were driven to the woods and walked another 20 minutes to the river.

We snorkeled about 25 minutes, walked a few minutes to another part of the river, snorkeled another 25 minutes until our branch hit a bigger river, and then could snorkel another 10 minutes or be driven in a boat the final stretch. I chose the boat because while the first 50 minutes were very cold, the last 10 minutes were unbearable.

I didn’t get any pictures of the snorkeling, but here is a google images search for the activity. As you can see, the snorkeling is amazing. I’ve never seen such a quantity of fish while snorkeling anywhere in the world, and the very clear water means great visibility. Other than the “dourado,” which I heard people repeating over and over, I am not sure which species I saw out there. Some people in my group spotted an alligator–hopefully a small one!

About 2 PM, we finally made it back to the lodge on the property where a buffet lunch was being served. It had a small salad bar, chicken, beef, rice, beans, potatoes, and a large dessert selection. It is a bit expensive for Brazil at 48 reais ($14), but otherwise unimpeachable. The food was being refreshed quickly and was delicious. During lunch, a torrential downpour started. I hadn’t brought a sweatshirt–a mistake I wouldn’t repeat–so I huddled near the foods’ warming trays for the next half hour.

At around 3:30, we left and headed to the nearby Buraco das Araras, which is a sinkhole where you can spot macaws. I learned about this additional stop on the Rio do Prata tour after booking. If you want to pay 68 reais ($19) extra, you can go on the 1.5 hour walk. Otherwise, you sit in a covered pavilion with a TV showing a Brazilian soap opera and a wifi network that doesn’t work. The compulsory combination of these two tours is supremely frustrating as I was in the half of the group that didn’t join in the second tour.

At about 6:30 PM, we were dropped back off at our hotels.

I would definitely recommend the Rio da Prata snorkeling, though you would be much better off with your own car. You could be back in town by 4 PM by skipping the macaws.

Abismo Anhumas

This was the highlight of the trip.

An abismo is a cave with the opening on top. In the Abismo Anhumas, the tiny opening leads to a large cavern below with a lake in which you can snorkel, scuba dive, and boat.

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First you rappel 72 meters down, and later you have to pull yourself up the 72 meters.

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This tour is very expensive and includes a lot of waiting around, but I still highly recommend it.

The tour costs 700 reais plus 60 more to rent a full body wetsuit and snorkel plus 35 more for transportation, $228 total. Any evening before the tour, you have to go to the tour company’s office in town to learn how to rappel and pull yourself up and then to the scuba company’s office to be fitted for a wetsuit.

On the day of the tour, I was picked up at 6 AM at my hostel for the 30 minute ride to the abismo. Of the six people in the van, three of us were non-Brazilians, but again we got almost no English. Luckily one of the Brazilians was a 17 year old who had learned English from watching TV and movies and happily translated for us.

We arrived at the abismo at 6:30 AM, and that’s when the waiting began. In the eight hours from pick up to drop off, there was an hour of travel, an hour of doing, and six hours of waiting.

First we waited to rappel down in pairs. The rappelling down was extremely fun, very scary (to look down over 220 feet!), and took about three minutes. The delays were caused by having to send down all the people and equipment on the same two pulleys.

Once we got down there, the eight tourists (two more had arrived via their own car) were split into two groups of four for a 20 minute boat ride around the small lake to examine the stalactites, stalagmites, and walls.

Then we got into our wetsuits and snorkels and had a 15 minute snorkel. The snorkeling is all about seeing the underwater rock formations, which are marvelous, because there are very few fish in the cave. You can also scuba dive in the cave if you are certified, and I am sure that is more fun and more expensive.

After the snorkel, we waited several hours–because I was in the last pair–for our turn to pull ourselves out of the cave, which took about 20 minutes.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.15.14 PM

You will have quite a sense of accomplishment when you get to the top; it was exhausting, and something the 20 feet of practice a few nights before had not prepared me for!

While I got satisfaction out of pulling myself out of the cave, Abismo Anhumas needs a machine to pull people and things out to save time. According to an employee, they want one and are just waiting on the permit… for the last 15 years. Until they get that machine to pull you out, bring a good book on this tour. There is enough light at the bottom of the cave to read.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.14.56 PM

As frustrating as one hour of doing in an eight hour day is, I would still recommend this tour. The rush of rappelling down into a cave, and the beauty of pulling yourself out as heavy rainstorm rages outside–but only a few drops get into the opening and make their way down to the bottom–are worth the wait.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.15.29 PM

Here is a google image search for Abismo Anhumas.

Gruta do Lago Azul

On my last day, I did a half day tour to the Blue Lake Grotto that ended in plenty of time to catch my 4 PM flight.

This tour is only 45 reais plus 35 for transport or $23.

I was picked up at 8:30 AM at my hostel and returned by 12:30 PM. My guide from Monday was back to speak no English to a group that now included four foreigners. We drove 30 minutes to the gruta, which is literally next door to the Abismo Anhumas. We put on some helmets and walked a few minutes to the entrance. There are steps leading to the bottom of the cave. You check it out, take a few pics, and head back up.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.13.38 PM

The cave is stunningly beautiful–the blue effect is caused by magnesium or something–remember, no English explanation–but the tour is frustrating.
Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 5.13.58 PM

I was just in the cave region of Vietnam in January, and you mostly get yourself from cave to cave and walk in and out on your own schedule, which is quicker and more convenient than going in a tour bus. I assume Bonito has the tour bus system as a make-work plan for its citizens, but I’m sure the people of Bonito could do something more productive than turn a 1.5 hour activity (30 minutes at the cave and an hour roundtrip driving) into a 4 hour activity. (We sat around a lot before going in and after coming out of the cave. I have no idea why.)

All of my ranting about the pace of these tours leads to an obvious suggestion…

Renting a Car

There is a Localiza Rental Car agency in town that sends two people to the airport to meet planes. Renting a car is definitely the way to go if you drive stick and don’t mind dirt roads. (About 15 minutes each day were on paved roads, and the rest on dirt roads.)

With your own car, you’d save on the transport fee on the tours, and more importantly you’d save a ton of time. You could save 3+ hours on the Rio da Prata by leaving right after lunch instead of waiting around another 45 minutes then heading to the macaw tour for an hour and a half before coming home.

And you could combine Abismo Anhumas and Gruta do Lago Azul in one day. Get the earliest time at Abismo Anhumas and ask to be the first pair in your group to exit the cave. Then drive a few minutes to the gruta next door. (You do have to have a reserved time at the gruta, and the last one is 2 or 3 PM, but this is very doable, just set it up with a tour agency in advance.)

Before You Go/Getting In

If you land at Bonito Airport, you can make the 15 minute trip to town by bus for 25 reais ($7) or a taxi for 60 reais ($17). You must reserve your spot on the bus in advance. Any travel agency can reserve the spot on the bus.

I would recommend being in touch with a travel agency before you go to reserve your tours, especially the Abismo Anhumas during the high season (January, February, July, August) because it is limited to (I didn’t write this down) 15 or 35 people per day.

I stayed at the Papaya Hostel for 40 reais ($11) per night in a bunk in a dorm room. I recommend it. It had what you’d expect from a hostel (kitchen, lockers, high carb breakfast) plus a few extras like a small pool. The English owner was a very helpful island of English in an unrelenting sea of Portuguese. She corresponded with me at length before my stay to book my tours through their partner agency (as far as I can tell at the cheapest price possible.) And in person, she was happy to give restaurant recommendations, directions to the supermarket, and some bread and cheese for my breakfast the night before my 6 AM pick up. The hostel is fairly empty–seemed like 3-8 other guests per night–in the offseason, so don’t worry about a party hostel wrecking your sleep.

Food

I went to the #1 ranked restaurant on Tripadvisor, Zapi Zen, for dinner one night, mainly because our translator on the Abismo Anhumas tour was the son of the owner. It mostly has individual-sized pizzas for about $7. I ordered the Abismo Anhumas, which was eggplant and garlic.

Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.35.20 PM

The pizza was quite good, certainly far better than the string of all-you-can-eat buffets that line the main street. Brazilians love all-you-can-eat places that charge $10, leave the food out all day, and use only the cheapest cuts of meat. I don’t.

The best of that bunch is Casarao on weekends when it has enough people to actually refresh its dishes frequently. The buffet plus a water was 43 reais ($12).

At the Palacio do Sorvete, you can get sorvete assado (grilled ice cream.) Why not, I thought?
Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 2.35.28 PM

I’m really not sure what was happening. “Grilling” didn’t cause the ice cream to melt, and it wasn’t very special for 22 reais ($6.)

Bottom Line

Overall Bonito has the coolest caves I’ve ever seen and the best river snorkeling I’ve ever done, however the tours are run in an overly slow and expensive way.

You can do the area easily in three days, or two if you have your own car.

------------------------------------------------------------

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

If you liked this post, sign up to receive one free daily email every morning with all of the day’s posts! You can also follow MileValue on Twitter and Facebook.

The Chase Sapphire Reserve comes with 100,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months that you can transfer to United miles, Singapore miles, Southwest points, British Airways miles, or use for 1.5 cents each toward any flight, hotel, or car rentals.

Plus the card offers $300 in credits toward any travel purchase each calendar year, which is $600 in your first 12 months of cardmembership, $100 toward Global Entry, and worldwide lounge access. Basically it's the best credit card ever, even with a $450 annual fee.

cc-reward-320x50

18

I’m a nomad. Here are my current travel plans. Also see Late 2015 Travel, Early 2016 Travel, and Where I Slept in 2015.

I have a clear picture of where I’ll be until about October 2016. Last week, I booked a flurry of awards, mostly with obscure mileage programs to lock in my dates for 2016. Here’s what I’m planning, with links to already written Anatomy of an Award posts:

I am spending a few weeks in Brazil to visit friends and position for Singapore First Class flight. I was only planning on spending four days in Brazil, but it is unseasonably cold in Buenos Aires, so I am leaving a week earlier than planned. I’ll spend the extra time in Bonito, Brazil, which looks absolutely gorgeous.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 2.11.51 AM

I am spending the first two weeks in Europe in Barcelona, visiting friends in Germany, and in the Czech Republic, where I can’t believe I haven’t made it to yet–Prague seems like it is right up my alley. Then the heart of the trip begins.

My main goal for the Summer of 2016 is to learn the Serbo-Croat language. I really enjoy languages. I studied Latin and Spanish in high school and am a bit of a grammar nerd in English. After years of living and traveling in South America and Spain, I am fluent in Spanish. I could, of course, improve further, but I figure that I am good enough that the amount of effort I’d need to improve in Spanish would be better spent learning a completely new language.

In the past I’ve considered Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, and Serbo-Croat. I don’t like Brazil or Portugal enough to want to spend the months there to learn the language, and Bucharest (Romania) is a step below Belgrade (Serbia) and Zagreb (Croatia) in my mind, so I eliminated those languages. Russian was my top choice, but the hassle of getting a Russian visa (I’d have to come back to the United States and wait for days or weeks while the paperwork cleared) and the fact that it rains 15 days a month in St. Petersburg and Moscow during the Summer led me to pick Serbo-Croat. (Yes, I also considered learning Russian in another country but decided against it.)

The benefit of learning Serbo-Croat is that (please don’t start a linguistics debate in the comments over this sentence) it is the language of Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, and Bosnia. I can travel throughout those countries while learning the language. I think I’ll spend June in Belgrade with daily language classes to get a base and September in Zagreb. July and August when European capitals thin out as people head to the sea, I’ll head to the Montenegrin and Croatian beaches, and at some point I’ll find time for at least Sarajevo, Bosnia and Plitvice Lakes National Park.

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The drawback of Serbo-Croat is that it is a non-romance language with noun declensions, the Cyrillic alphabet (Serbia only), and only 12 million people speak it natively. But I’m going to give it a go and am eager to see what progress I can make in four months.

I plan to spend about 3.5 out of 4 months in Serbo-Croat-speaking countries over the heart of summer. The two weeks outside will be in Spain where I will follow the University of Virginia basketball team as it plays several games against lower division pro teams. (College basketball teams get to take a once-every-four-years international trip over the summer. They do it because it’s fun, and they get extra practices, which are especially useful for newcomers to the program, which UVA has six of this year.) I love Spain, I love UVA basketball, and I am eager to see the new players three months before I otherwise could.

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Finally I’ll head back from Europe to the USA in time to catch my friends’ wedding, visit family in Hawaii, and make the Chicago Seminars. That takes me through mid-October, after which it will probably be time to head back to Southern South America as Spring heats up.

Northern Hemisphere Summer 2016 will see me:

  • change hemispheres as the seasons change because everyone should live in Summer all year round
  • visit family in Hawaii
  • visit friends in Rio de Janeiro and Leipzig
  • return to favorites like Zagreb, Belgrade, Dubrovnik (cliff jumping!), Sao Paulo, and Spain
  • go to the Czech Republic, Bosnia, and Montenegro for the first time
  • explore natural beauty in Bonito, Brazil; a Croatian National Park; and the Adriatic coast
  • watch UVA basketball play four times in person
  • speak twice at the Chicago Seminars
  • …and hopefully learn the Serbo-Croat language

I’ll fly in products ranging from low-cost carrier economy to one of the world’s fanciest First Classes on the Singapore 777.

All of the awards were carefully thought out to maximize miles, so I am excited to explain why I’ve been and will be using so many Asiana and Singapore miles, and why you might want to use them also.

Some of the awards even touch on interesting problems like how long a transfer takes, what to do when there is only space in your desired cabin on some legs, and choosing which miles to use.

I still need to book the Lufthansa First Class award from Europe to the United States, and I will need to wait several months as Lufthansa only releases award space in First Class to partners within 15 days of departure. (Please don’t devalue in the next five months, Asiana!)

I still need to book Virginia-Hawaii-Chicago. Right now the award space isn’t very good, but I expect that it improves dramatically as my dates approach.

Hopefully your mid-2016 travel schedule excites you as much as mine excites me. Where are you headed?

I’ll crank out the rest of the Anatomy of an Award posts soon–where I break down how to search the award, how to book the award, what miles to use, and how to get those miles–and I’ll keep this post updated as I do.

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