Where to go and what to do in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia?
February 6, 2014 10:21 AM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I will be spending the next 3-4 months travelling in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. Where should we go and what should we do?

We'll be starting in Uyuni, Bolivia and ultimately ending up in Medellín, Colombia. We are looking for suggestions on where to go. We speak fluent Spanish (and English.) She has already done Machu Picchu twice so that likely won't be part of the plan. We love trekking, hiking, and nature and have a tent and sleeping bags but I know it's the rainy season right now so that might be a little difficult. We love nature, hiking, cities, pueblos - we're basically up for anything. We are trying to do things on a pretty small budget and we're not too interested in super-touristy places.

posted by saul wright to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My friend just got back from a long trip to Colombia and her favorite spot was the Valle de Cocora, which is near the town of Salento. Her photos of the wax palms rising through the mist were unbelievable. She said it was a little touristy but not crowded, and the majority of the tourists were Colombians on weekend trips.
posted by theodolite at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2014

I really enjoyed Copacabana, Bolivia. Picturesque little place right on the shore of Lake Titacaca. There is one memorable hike we did just outside the city, going uphill to find El Horca del Inca. We also took a cheap tour of the lake and spent a nice afternoon hiking Isla del Sol from north to south. Really charming, laid back experience. There will be tourists there, but not nearly as many as you'll find in places in Machu Picchu.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:35 AM on February 6, 2014

In Uyuni I would strongly recommend you privately hire a driver for the salt desert and volcano valley tour. We did the usual 3-day tour with an agency and had a good experience but while I was there I heard (and witnessed) horrible stories of people being way too cramped in an old truck and getting stuck for hours in the high plateaus because the old truck broke... We went through Peru, Bolivia and Argentina and the Uyuni landscape was one of the most amazing moment of our trip. Our driver told us he was often doing private tours that can last up to a week. If I could I'd go back and do 5 days, which gives you enough time to climb a volcano. Also if you want to take some time off Lima you should head to Lunahuana, a quiet town with great weather and surrounded by wineries.
posted by ddaavviidd at 11:01 AM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also if you plan to go in the jungle you can fly from LaPaz to Rurrenabaque, and from there the tours are much cheaper than in Peru, plus it's a great town to hang around for a couple of days (especially as it's at a much lower altitude than the rest of Peru).
posted by ddaavviidd at 11:03 AM on February 6, 2014

Potosi and Sucre are great in Bolivia, make sure you take a island tour overnight in Lake Titicaca. Arequippa is a really cool, pleasant town.
posted by sandmanwv at 11:07 AM on February 6, 2014

Yes, the Salares del Uyuni are a must see.
Riding a bicycle down Death Road from La Paz was also a highlight. 61km on a bicycle descending from 4 650m altitude to 1200m was a lot of fun - just be careful.

In Peru, Machu Picchu is great, but I enjoyed spending time in the Valle Sagrada closeby just as much. The hills there have many ruins worth visiting, but as it's not as popular as Machu Picchu itself, you can enjoy them without the crowds. I guess this area might not be on your itinerary at all though if your friend has been there twice.

Arequipa and hiking in the Colcha canyon are also worth a visit.

In Colombia, my favourite spot was Parque Tayrona, a national park on the beach which allows a limited amount of visitors. The jungle and beach scenery is great, and it had a great vibe to it. You can rent a tent for camping or sleep in the hammocks in a lapa overlooking the sea.
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 12:01 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

While traveling in Ecuador, I hooked up with Gulliver Expeditions, who organized a lot of my trips and lodging. A guy named Eran Hayoun owns and operates Gulliver, I was impressed with him and he runs a good operation. I stayed out in the countryside at Hosteria Papagayo, a 3-star hostel which was comfortable and nice, where I went horseback riding and downhill biking on a nearby volcano (can't remember which volcano, sorry). I had a great time hiking a few mountains, with a guide organized through Gulliver (a guy named Fernando Iza, who was amazing): Corazon, Pasochoa, Iliniza Norte, and Cotopaxi. I climbed them in that order, and they're ordered in increasing difficulty. Corazon is a good day hike, same with Pasochoa (though longer, higher, and involves some scree). Iliniza Norte gets pretty cold and there's some scrambling to reach the summit, it's more exposed and longer. These three were meant to acclimatize for Cotopaxi, which was amazing. I wouldn't say any of them were touristy - though a lot of people travel into Ecuador to climb Cotopaxi, it's not a touristy vibe at all. If you do Cotopaxi, I recommend staying the night prior at Tambopaxi, which I believe is the only lodging in the National Park - it's beautiful and will help you acclimatize.

I also spent a week in the Amazon, though at a more upscale (but AWESOME) lodge which sounds a bit out of your price range. But if you'd like info on it, I'd be happy to pass it along.
posted by hootenatty at 2:07 PM on February 6, 2014

seconding tayrona national park in Colombia. also, el peñol/n de guatape was a great day trip from medellin! it's a rock with 700-something stairs that you can climb, and the view from the top is gorgeous.
posted by sabh at 3:40 PM on February 6, 2014

Ooo I got back a week ago from five months in peru, ecuador and Bolivia!

A few highlights:
-Quilatoa loop in Ecuador was one of my favorite things all trip. You're trekking from one tiny village to another through a beautiful part of the Andes, and there's lots of people to meet along the way. Lots of fun. And super cheap, too- spent about $15/day.

-The non-Machu Pichu ruins around Cusco in the Sacred Valley. You have to buy a tourist ticket for some ridiculous amount, (I think around $50) that gets you into lots of littler sites and is good for ten days. My favorite was Pisac.

-Salt flats were great, but I assume you're going to do that if you're starting in Uyuni. We did this at the very end of our trip and only had time for a one day tour, but everyone said amazing things about the 3 or 4 day ones.

-Banos in Ecuador is a fun town- quite touristy, Ecuadorian and international tourists alike, but there's a lot of outdoor things to be done from there and the cloud forest is beautiful. Mindo was also a beautiful eco-tourism oriented town in the cloud forest- lots of waterfalls, birdwatching, etc.

-We also spent about half the time volunteering, first at a school in a small town in Ecuador and then for just a few weeks at a wildlife refuge. Both were great experiences (also very affordable- in fact cheaper than traveling around was).
posted by geegollygosh at 5:39 PM on February 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would nth going to Copacabana up on the lake, but with one caveat; make sure you go during a new moon.

If you're there during a new moon, and its clear out you'll be able to see the craziest display of the Milky Way that no one in the northern hemispheres gets to see. It was the closest thing to a religious experience I've ever had in my life. It was so bright, you could read a book by the light it gave off. Lots of astronomy nerds end up in Copacabana, as do alot of other travelers. It's a nice place to chill for a few days.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:19 PM on February 6, 2014

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