As a winner of our Tour Leader Awards, UK-based Explore Tour Leader Sue Guthrie had the chance to travel on any Explore trip of her choice. With the world at her feet, she chose Atacama to Machu Picchu, and here she shares the highlights of her experience.
“I joined the tour a little late, so my adventure began in the town of San Pedro De Atacama, the funkiest little town in the middle of nowhere. It was made up of small narrow streets and Spanish looking squares, plus shops, shops and more shops. We took a trip to the desert and Moon Valley - awesome is the only word to describe it. The scenery was stunning and we finished the day off with a wonderful sunset over moon valley. As the sun went down the moon came up! Brilliant! If this was a sign of how my holiday was to continue – I knew I was in for a treat!
A highlight of the area was El Tatio Geysers. At -15 it was freezing, but we were rewarded by an incredible display of steam and water. We had our breakfast outside and, though I could barely feel my feet, it was a wonderful experience.
We said goodbye to Chile and the volcano-dominated landscape. The day ahead was to be filled a plethora of colourful lakes! First we saw the white lake, a beautiful body of water in the middle of nowhere. Next we saw the famous Green Lake. It wasn't green when we arrived, but with perfect timing, the wind moved the waves across the lake, and the water transformed into a wonderful green colour, right in front of our eyes. If that wasn't incredible enough, we also stopped at the Challviri Lagoon, a pink lake, famous for its rare flamingos.
Another spectacular and colourful day.
Uyuni is the biggest salt flat in the world, like a sea with no water, with islands jutting out of the bright expanse. Words cannot really describe it, photographs do not do it justice; you have to go there to see and believe. Stopping at Fish Island for lunch, I took a small trail to the top, and sat and overlooked the pans through the forest of cacti. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever seen.
After another stunning drive we arrived in Potosi. Potosi is the highest city in the world of its size, and even walking up hills can make you breathless. Our lovely guide Diether took us on the most amazing city tour through the streets. Potosi oozes with life; there’s beautiful old Spanish colonial architecture, friendly dogs roam the streets and the markets buzz with life. I loved Potosi! I think it was one of my favourite places on the trip.
Another of my favourite places (I have a lot of them it seems!) was La Paz. Franz, our local guide, gave us the most wonderful city tour. The city views were just amazing - all the houses so densely packed into the city, littered all over the surrounding hills, with snow-topped mountains in the background. We also visited the witches market, to see Llama foetuses, and all kinds of weird and wonderful things that the Bolivians believe protect them from evil – a very unique experience.
An introduction to the ancient history of South America was had at Tiahuanaco, a pre-Inca site. An old pyramid stood before us, and we walked and took in the ambience of this ancient site. You could tell that this place had had a very spiritual function for the people here. Faces carved into the stones showed different expressions, terraces were laid, pyramids built to the gods and ancient stone walls built around to defend the place.
We definitely had an interesting experience at Lake Titicaca! We boarded a boat and set off across the lake, but the weather changed and instead of glorious sunshine, we had torrential rain. It was nice to see the lake in stormy weather with weird cloud formations; it seemed more mysterious. It was hard to get photographs because the rain was so heavy, but the ones here are of a sunnier time!
In Peru, I wanted to experience everything I could so I splashed out and treated myself to the optional train journey from Puno to Cusco, named one of the top ten train journeys in the world. We boarded the Andean Explorer and spent the whole day marvelling at the incredible scenery. Whether watching from the luxurious travelling carriage or the observation area at the back, it was great to meander slowly through this untouched scenery.
Now in the Sacred Valley, our experiences were plentiful. We visited Moray, which was an almost eerie sight. Inca terraces were dotted all around, almost like crop circles. The local market was full of wonderfully dressed cholitas selling their flowers, fruit and vegetables - the colours and smells were very enticing.
And then it was time to visit Machu Picchu. I walked up to the Sun Gate, an hour uphill (how on earth the Incas built this city is beyond me) and as I saw this marvellous feat of engineering unfold before me, I was truly speechless. After the marvels of Chile and Peru I’d already experienced on this trip, and everything I’ve seen during my time as a Tour Leader with Explore, I can safely say there is nothing else in the world quite like that moment when you see Machu Picchu for the first time.”
Sue travelled on Atacama to Machu Picchu
. She has been short-listed in Wanderlust's World Guide Awards - you can help her win by emailing Wanderlust in support fo her. You can find full details on their website