Archive for the ‘Pirwa La Paz’ Category
We’re compiling some of our favorite tips for new travelers and veterans who could use a reminder, based on more than a decade providing budget lodging for travelers throughout Peru & Bolivia- and of course, our own travels!
If you’re a budget-minded traveler or backpacker, the largest portion of your travel budget is probably allotted to international fares. Despite the falling dollar and local inflation, the exchange rate still goes in your favor, making daily expenses in Peru and Bolivia pretty cheap. If you’re splashing out on the trip, try and stretch it out a little- the most frequent regret by travelers is not having scheduled enough time.
Enjoy Cheap Eats
Avoid tourist-oriented restaurants and choose a moderately-priced menú. 5 to 10 soles, or 10 to 20 bolivianos, is enough for a quality lunch (you can find even cheaper options, but cleanliness is often sacrificed at the cheapest locales). Staying at hostels with guest kitchens is smart. Consider budgeting for one great meal in each city (ceviche in Lima, alpaca in Arequipa, etc) and eating on the cheap otherwise. 9 times out of ten, you can get away with eating street food…the tenth time can be a real downer however, as you have to forgo planned excursions and endure bus trips. If you’re going for it, try anticuchos (shish kabobs) but avoid fried food like papas rellenas, which become bacterial magnets when left to sit after frying.
Demonstrate Money Smarts
Traveling internationally without informing your bank beforehand is just begging for them to freeze your account at the most inconvenient moment- don’t risk it. Avoid getting scammed by getting average prices before arriving in the airport, learning to spot counterfeit bills, and studying your money before handing it over (so that an unscrupulous vendor or taxi driver can’t switch it and then return it saying its false). Never accept American dollars with nicks, tears, or excessive folding, because not even the banks will accept them from you while in Bolivia or Peru. Negotiate with both vendors and taxi drivers, because the first price offered is almost never the fair one. If you bring your iphone with you, tap into free hostel wi-fi to contact family back home through messengers rather than more expensive telephone calls….but never let it out of your sight because it will be the first thing stolen. If you don’t want to take the risk, stick to the internet cafés at a sol an hour.
Save on Lodging
If you’d like to spend more than week in a city of your choice, one of the best ways to save on lodging is to work shifts at the hostel in exchange for your stay. This lets you spend more time in a city and actually get to know it beyond the tourists’ quarters. If you’re looking to shave a night or two off your budget, night buses have the triple advantage of traveling cheaper while saving a night’s lodging and also allowing you to sleep through an uncomfortably long ride.
Leave the curling iron behind, and use that space for the things you actually need. During your trip to Bolivia or Peru you are likely to encounter cobblestone streets and dirt roads, oppressively sunny afternoons coupled inexplicably frigid mornings and nights, and during the November through March rainy season, frequent rains and mud. Bringing lightweight layers is wise, and decide on your altitude sickness plan ahead of time.Bathrooms are not often stocked with soap/disinfectant or toilet paper, so if possible keep some on hand.
Have any tips to share? Add them in the comments!
Those of you traveling through Bolivia or Peru during the holiday season will notice that Christmas here is quite different than in many other places. Firstly, it falls in summertime and, in the Andes, the rainy season. Rather than ubiquitous Santa Clauses on every corner and in every shopping mall, there’s the live-action neighborhood nativity with real animals and people. As for homes, the range of nativities is impressive, from plaster boxes to hollowed out and painted gourds, but exterior decorations are not as popular, although you can find festive displays along the cities’ main streets and central plaza. In Bolivia, baby Jesus will be removed on the Epiphany (Jan 6th) and taken to mass.
(Left to right: Christmas festivities at Pirwa Colonial‘s Bar in Cusco, the HSBC building in Lima, and the 3 Kings stopping traffic in Lima)
In Lima, during the week before Christmas, there are celebrations and concerts throughout the city’s parks and plazas. The one you don’t want to miss is the HSBC Christmas show in historic San Martin Plaza:
In both Peru and Bolivia, the big day is Christmas Eve, rather than Christmas day, with the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. The streets fill throughout the day with families carrying the Christmas baskets provided by employers- generally large plastic tubs filled with flour, rice, sugar, cooking oil, a chicken, sparkling cider, milk, and chocolate. Those who aren’t carrying baskets are carrying roasting pans as they take their chicken or turkey to or from the neighborhood ovens.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Cusco for Christmas Eve, you’ll want to head to the Plaza de Armas as well. There, in the final days before Christmas, the Santurantikuy (Saints’ Sale) fair pops up. Peru’s largest folk art fair is a lively affair thanks to the food and drink vendors which pop up. In the years directly following the Spanish conquest of Peru, the fair mostly sold nativity figurines, especially the Niño Manuelito (Enmanuel, the child Christ, who legend holds appeared to Andean peasants) in many different variations. The most traditional incarnation is that of a child sitting in a wooden chair with one foot raised, exposing a wound where those making a wish can insert a thorn which won’t be taken out until the wish is granted. Nowadays, you can find pretty much anything at Santurantikuy: woven goods, leather handicrafts, ceramics, wood and stone carvings, silverwork, paintings and sculptures. Don’t miss it, but beware pickpockets in the crowds as there will be many people. (I should mention as well that if you’d like to stay right in Cusco’s main square, check out Pirwa Posada del Corregidor, or Pirwa Suecia B&B which is just a half-block from the square.)
At midnight, the fireworks begin throughout Peru and Bolivia, accompanied by firecrackers, sparklers, roman candles, and miniature sticks of dynamite known as mata suegras (mother-in-law killers). The explosions throughout the Plazas and in front of most homes, with little to know control, is one of the biggest surprises for unwary tourists. With hundreds going off all around you, some at very close range, it can all feel a little war-zone, but in the end it’s a unique memory to take home with you. The following day most of Peru’s cities look like ghost towns, and it can be difficult to find open restaurants and stores. In La Paz, however, work goes on and the city bustles the same as ever.
Traditional Christmas Treats- What to Try!
Picana: In Bolivia, Picana, a spiced soup made of chicken, beef, and corn, is eaten traditionally on Christmas day.
Tejas & Pisco from Ica: These products from Peru’s Ica region are present at many celebrations- pisco brandy for toasting and tejas candies for gift-giving
Hot Chocolate & Panetón : Throughout Bolivia and Peru, Christmas is synonymous with hot chocolate and panetón. Yes, it’s fruitcake. Yes, the “fruit” comes in gummy candy form…and yet, the ubiquitous panetón (and if you’re in Bolivia or Peru during the holidays you will definitely eat a LOT of it) is surprisingly tasty and habit-forming. Come next year, you’ll be craving it….
Don’t let visa fees (for United States citizens) or sketchy public transport dissuade you from including Bolivia in your South American travel itinerary- its varied landscapes of tropical jungles and rivers, high Andean plains, glacial mountain peaks ascending into the clouds, buzzing metropolises, and the world’s highest navigable lake and largest salt flats are continually astounding visitors and bringing Bolivia into their top-ranked travel moments.
#1: La Paz
Your arrival in La Paz may be a bit of an altitude shock, but it’s a lively stop, especially during Carnaval in February. Aside from empanadas, humitas, and other tasty specialties, unique attractions such as the fabled Witches Market and the Burnt Palace, and activities like Cholitas wrestling and bridge jumping, it’s also the base for a host of day trips from biking to mountain climbing.
- Plan a restful first day or two in order to acclimatize to the high altitude.
- For nightlife, try Mongos, La Gitana, or the Sopocachi area in general.
- La Paz is definitely Bolivia’s culinary highlight. If you’re on a budget, hit the market near Plaza San Francisco.
- If you’re exploring La Paz and feel lost, walk downhill- you’ll hit Prado or one of the other main avenues eventually, from where you can orient yourself or take a taxi.
- The tourist strip is Sagarnaga Street south of Plaza San Francisco- if you’re looking for a café with wi-fi, souvenir stores, hiking equipment, and the like, it’s all there.
- For affordable lodging just a block and a half from the La Paz bus terminal, visit Pirwa La Paz!
Thrill-seekers can’t pass through La Paz without tackling the infamous Death Road, a steep, narrow road with hairpin turns, blind spots, waterfalls, sheer drops from jutting cliffs, and spectacular views of green mountainsides in the mist. The ride begins just an hour outside of La Paz and takes riders from the cold high Andean plains into the subtropical Yungas valley. If you’re in search of a non-stop adrenaline rush and unbeatable bragging rights, this one’s for you.
- Avoid budget operators in this case and with a reputable agency, one which has moved thousands without a single incident and which boasts top of the line equipment.
More information: Want to book a ride on Death Road?
#3: Canyoning in Coroico
Most travelers don’t take the time to stop in Coroico in the subtropical Yungas valley despite Death Road ending just a half-hour away. That’s unfortunate because the warm pools and expansive views are perfect for relaxing. If you have the time, you can give canyoning a try: rapelling down through waterfalls.
#4: Rurrenabaque to the Pampas & Jungle
From the gateway town of Rurrenabaque you have two choices: into the pampas (the tropical marshlands) or into the jungle, depending on whether you opt for upriver or downriver. Although it may seem counterintuitive since the lush jungle has more plantlife, you actually get to seem more wildlife during a pampas tour, as many animals tend to gather by the riversides. Travel along exuberant and exotic plants while appreciating monkeys, pink dolphins, piranhas, capybaras, cayman and anaconda, among others.
Find More info on Jungle & Pampas Tours in Bolivia here.
#5: Uyuni Salt Flats
Tours of Uyuni don’t only include the world’s largest salt flats (which become a large mirror during the rainy season), but also boast other surreal landscapes marked by gigantic cacti, red and green lagoons, feeding flamingos, ‘islands’ of prehistoric coral, shooting geysers, hotels made entirely of salt, and bizarre eroded rock structures in the dali desert.
- There’s a lot of ground which will be covered in a Jeep 4×4, so checking the group size is important for your comfort.
- Bring sunglasses for the sun’s reflection on the sand, sunblock, gloves and a hat, walking shoes, and warm sleepwear. If traveling between Nov. and Feb., bring a raincoat as well.
More info: Spend three days in Bolivia’s Uyuni Salar!
If Coroico didn’t make it onto your list, Copacabana is another town that’s ideal for relaxing. It’s gained a reputation for being something of a backpacker’s resort town. Although massive Lake Titicaca is too cold for swimming, the views are tranquil and expansive. Hiking enthusiasts will find several options both on the outskirts of town and on the islands of the lake.
- It’s famously difficult to withdraw money in Copacabana because of the lack of ATMs and the limited bank operating hours (and bank fees), so try to have some cash on hand.
#6: Isla del Sol
Most travelers stop in Copacabana to visit Isla del Sol, an island considered sacred even in pre-Incan times and which is the site to which the Inca themselves traced their mythical origins. Alongside pre-Columbian ruins, you’ll see the Spanish-named Fountain of Youth, and the Inca steps of Yumani. One-day tours visit the northern side of the island, while two-day tours take in more of the island.
- If you are planning on spending only a few hours on the island, head for Challapampa on the northern side- you’ll be able to hike to Yumani stairway and down to the return point.
- There are some small hostels on the island if you’d like to stay the night.
Pirwa Travel Service offers numerous Copacabana and Sun Island combo tours, which you can browse here.
Adventures in the Amazon
It was announced this month at the IUCN World Conservation Congress that Madidi National Park, Bolivia’s most important protected area, may be the most biologically diverse spot in the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), together with Bolivia’s Park Service, SERNAP, published a report on Madidi’s biodiversity which took 15 years and the participation of 50 scientists from around the world to produce. What does it say?
- Despite the monumental effort, the report estimates that 2/3 of the park’s total biodiversity has yet to be scientifically observed or reported, mainly in the tropical montane or cloud forests of the tropical Andes.
- In Madidi, you’ll find 11% of the world’s bird species.
- The park provides refuge for 12,000 plant varieties, more than a thousand bird species, a thousand butterfly species, and more than 200 mammal species.
- Although the large cats of Madidi, the pumas and jaguars, are rarely seen, record numbers of leopards were recently spotted by camera traps.
- The park protects a number of fascinating animals, some endangered like the jaguar and some found nowhere else in the world like the recently discovered Madidi Titi Monkey.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the bright macaws, white-lipped peccaries, monkeys, jaguars, giant otters, and sloths.
- The small Spix’s Disk-Winged Bat rounds off one end of the spectrum at .14 ounces, while the Lowland Tapir weighs in at the opposite extreme of 660 pounds.
- In Madidi you can see one of the most powerful birds of prey, the Harpy Eagle, which regularly feeds on monkeys and sloths.
- Less than 4,000 humans live within the park, spread throughout 31 indigenous communities.
- Advocates believe that sustainable eco-tourism can be made to serve the aims of conservation.
Amazing Animals of Madidi
Traveling to Madidi
Getting There from La Paz & Admission
Most tours of Madidi National Park begin and end in Rurrenabaque, but if you’re interested in taking a tour of the Bolivian Amazon with Pirwa Travel Service, you can request transport to and from La Paz as an optional addition- there are both flights and buses. From Rurre, you continue upriver to the park, generally by motorized canoe. Most tour operators also don’t include the park admission which is paid in Rurrenabaque, which is currently about US$18/125Bs.
Lodging in La Paz
You can find Pirwa La Paz just a block and a half from the La Paz bus terminal, right in the city’s center of La Paz, not far from the Sagarnaga Street, Plaza Murillo, and San Francisco Church. We offer affordable shared dorms as well as private rooms, and all have 24/7 hot shower access and comfortable beds with semi-orthopedic mattresses and down pillows and comforters. There’s a TV & Movie Lounge and outdoor patios, and bar as well as free internet and wi-fi. When you want to explore the Bolivian Amazon or Marshlands, or other attractions such as Uyuni Salar or Copacabana, just stop by the travel information counter and the specialists of Pirwa Travel Service can help arrange all you need.
Lodging in Madidi
There are a couple renowned sustainable eco-lodges within Madidi. The tour itineraries that Pirwa Travel Service offers mention which eco-lodge is being used. The oldest and best-known is Chalalán Eco-lodge, located in Chalalán, near the amazing lake of the same name, along the Tuichi River.
Another great site is the San Miguel del Bala Eco-Lodge, which is owned and operated by the indigenous San Miguel del Bala Community, who built the ecolodge with the assistance and counsel of various NGOs (CARE, Conservation International, the UNDP, the Wildlife Conservation Society). It’s located on the Beni riverbank 40min upstream from Rurrenabaque. Their facilities include 3-person cabins with electricity and private bathrooms, and an 8-person dorm with shared bath. The cabins are scattered rather than grouped together, so that guests can enjoy the feeling of being alone in the rainforest. There’s also a traditional round-house with interpretation center and an exhibit on Tacana culture.
If you choose a tour based in Chalalán, you will be able to navigate the rivers and hike the rainforest trails with a community guide. There are cultural events as well, such as a special dinner featuring a traditional dish of the Bolivian Amazon, either dunucuabi catfish cooked in leaves or tacuara-style fish, cooked inside bamboo, and a Quechua-Tacana folkloric music and dance show.
In the Tacana community of San Miguel de Bala, you can learn about the traditional way of life (hunting techniques, handicrafts, the use of local plants, etc) and explore the surrounding jungle by boat and by foot- taking a dip by a nearby waterfall and exploring a jungle canyon! You’ll learn about how the eco-tourism project has improved lives in the community as well, exploring the village and visiting a local home and the school. You’ll also learn how to make sugarcane juice to offset the heat, how to weave, and thatched roof construction.
For more information on tours in Madidi National Park in Bolivia, check here.
Thanks to all of our friends who’ve visited us at Pirwa La Paz, the newest hostel in the Pirwa family. For those of you who haven’t stopped by yet, don’t miss out! With a central location just a block and a half away from the La Paz bus terminal (with free pickups depending on your bus’s arrival time), a mix of shared dorms and private rooms, hot showers 24 hours a day, comfy semi-orthopedic mattresses and down pillows, Pirwa La Paz is a great choice for those of you looking for affordable but comfortable accomodations and a place to meet fellow travelers.
Inimitable Pirwa La Paz!
Posted on July 2, 2012 by Pirwa
The hostel boasts common areas like the TV and Game Lounge, the outdoor patio with grill and tabletop football, and the bar. To top it off, our in-house travel agency, Pirwa Travel Service, is always ready to help you with your trip arrangements. La Paz is a city with great cultural and natural attractions, and if you’re passing through Bolivia we hope that you’ll stop by!