Monthly Archives: April 2012

On the Road – Peru: Free Hiking Near Arequipa

Last week, I filled you in on 10 free attractions awaiting travelers in Arequipa. But many tourists arrive here to do some trekking in the Colca Canyon. The recent increase of the canyon’s entry fee to a staggering $26 for non-Latin Americans will leave many shoestring travelers in the dust.


Not to fear, though. Arequipa’s campiña (countryside) offers several great opportunities to get out of the city for some fresh sunshine and incredible vistas. The awards along the way include waterfalls, ancient rock paintings and traditional villages.

El Misti from Yanahuara’s mirador. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Two miradores just west of downtown give splendid views of the volcanoes: one in Yanahuara (2 km / 1.2 mi from downtown Arequipa) and another called Carmen Alto (6.7 km / 4 mi north of Ca Puente Grau and Av Bolognesi; follow the signs).


In the Cayma district west of Arequipa, a 15-kilometer (9.2-mile) Inca trail runs through the Valle de Chilina, along west bank of the Río Chili to the Santuario La Virgen de Chapi de Charcani (General Varela 1070, Acequia, Alta Cayma). Along the way are waterfalls, and places to rock climb and fish. There is one campsite.


Cayma’s Oficina de Desarrollo Turístico publishes a rough map of the route (Plaza de Cayma 408, Cayma. Tel: 054-254-648, E-mail:, URL:


The Valle de Chilina may also be hiked along the eastern bank of the river. From downtown Arequipa, walk north to Parque Selva Alegre, turn left to the end of that road, then right at the end of that one. Continue straight and take the third path down. This road also leads hikers through a landscape of ancient terraced farm fields, forests and scrub-brush lands overshadowed by Chachani and El Misti volcanoes.

Paisaje Arequipeño. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Just to the southeast of Arequipa is the Ruta del Loncco, places where you may hike through the bucolic countryside, to waterfalls, petroglyphs (petroglifos) and traditional villages. Yarabamba (15 km / 9 mi from Arequipa) are the Petroglifos Gayalopo y Guanaqueros. A few kilometers to the south is Quequeña, where you may hike to the Petroglifos Cerro Boracho, Trompín Chico and Quebrada de la Zorra creek. Further south is Sogay, with waterfalls. In these towns, there are campsites.


These villages’ websites have more information about their attractions: Yarabamba (URL:, Quequeña (URL: and Sogay (URL: Minibuses for Yarabamba and Quequeña pass by Venezuela and Avenida Mariscal Castilla ($0.60).

Waterfall. Photo by Carlos Zúñiga.

Any of these hikes may be done as day trips from Arequipa. Bring along food (a picnic would be perfect) and water, sun protection (hat, sun screen) and good walking shoes. Keep valuables back at the hostel. The more tranquil hikes are in the three villages south of the city.



Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.



Bogotá – a city of contrasts

In many ways Colombia‘s capital, Bogotá, epitomizes the Latin American city, with its mix of crumbling colonial architecture and modern office blocks, vast divide between the rich and poor, and soaring population. The third highest capital city in the world (it stands at 2,600 meters – 8,530 ft – above sea level), it is both highly cosmopolitan and, in some regards, stuck in the past. With much to attract the artist, the historian and the pleasure-seeker, Bogotá has become a big destination for world travelers.

Bogotá by night

Though it may not immediately appeal (the daily rain and cloudy skies may have something to do with this), give it time and Bogotá will surely win you over with its abundance of museums, beautiful churches and plazas, sprawling parks, first-class cuisine, and, of course, its famous nightlife. In addition, you will find a thriving art and music scene. Any trip to Bogota should incorporate the historic and cultural center of La Candelaria; the world-renowned Museo del Oro; northern Bogota (in particular Parque de la 93, the Zona T and the Zona Rosa) with its diverse mix of flashy restaurants, bars, clubs and malls; the famous Sunday flea market in Usaquén; and finally, if you’re lucky, a performance at the beautifully ornate Teatro Colon.

Plaza de Bolivar, Bogota by Szeke

Travelers will find that Bogotá has recently undergone a serious makeover, though crime is still prevalent and visitors should be alert around tourist areas and government buildings. However, with massive investments in reviving public spaces, expanding infrastructure and improving social services, the Colombian capital now thrives as a case study of urban transformation in South America.

Old street in La Candelaria by NapaneeGal

Find out more about Bogotá and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Obama in Colombia

Last week, US President Barack Obama was in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia for the three-day Summit of the Americas, the sixth such summit since 1994. The last day of the summit, April 15th, saw Obama attend a ceremony in Cartagena’s Plaza San Pedro, in which land ownership titles were restored to representatives of Afro-Colombian families who had been displaced from their homes by armed rebel groups. Cartagena (and Colombia as a whole) has a large Afro-Colombian population, and an estimated 21 percent of the country’s population are of African descent.

Plaza San Pedro_by Urzula Araya

Many of the families involved in the land-ownership ceremony come from the town of San Basilio de Palenque, two hours east of Cartagena. The town was founded by run-away slaves in the late 16th century, and was an important center of resistance against Spanish rule and slavery. It has preserved its cultural traditions well (the town’s language is a unique blend of Congo River languages fused with Spanish), resulting in UNESCO declaring it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Go in October, where you can savor the annual musical and cultural festival, Festival de Tambores de Palenque. 

Festival de Tambores, San Basilico by Simón Sánchez S

Plaza en San Basilico de Palenque_by Paula

You can find out more about San Basilio de Palenque, Cartagena and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide, available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Also, be sure to take a look at award-winning travel journalist Tracy Barnett’s review of VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide on

On the Road: Peru – Free in Arequipa

Shoestring travelers arriving in Arequipa may feel a bit hogtied. Many of the museums, churches and even Colca Canyon charge entries way beyond the pockets of many who have to watch the céntimos. The Museo de Santuarios Andinos now charges $7.50 to enter and Monsterio de Santa Catalina $13. As of January 1, 2012, Colca Canyon is charging an entry fee of $26 – double what it was the year before.


But beyond the looming presence of these star attractions of Arequipa and its region, are things to do and see that don’t charge nary a cent:


Arequipa's Cathedral. Photo by Lorraine Caputo


The Catedral, La Compañía and other churches are free during mass hours (typically Monday-Saturday 7 a.m.-9 a.m., 6-7:30 p.m., Sunday 6:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., 4:30-7:30 p.m.). Please respect the services and don’t take photos.


Two of Arequipa’s beautiful colonial mansions are free (with no guides to tip) and have art exhibits: Casona Iberry (Ca Santa Catalina 101) and Casa Tristán del Pozo (Ca San Francisco 108). Casa de la Fundación de Fierro, near Iglesia San Francisco, is now an artisans’ market (Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-1 p.m., 3-6 p.m. Ca Puente Grau and Pasaje San Francisco).


Casa Tristán del Pozo has a collection of arequipeña watercolors. Photo by Lorraine Caputo


More finely preserved colonial architecture, including the ancient Capilla de San Lázaro, is along the narrow streets found in the San Lázaro neighborhood, north of Calle Puente Grau. When the Spaniards arrived, this part of the valley was where the Inca nobility lived. After the Conquest, this continued to be an indigenous neighborhood.


Iglesia San Lázaro. Photo by Lorraine Caputo


During the Spanish viceroyalty, Yanahuara was another indigenous neighborhood. Its pleasant plaza is a mere 20-minute walk (2 km / 1.2 mi) west of downtown. Along one side is a mirador (viewpoint) of Chachani and El Misti volcanoes and along another side, a 17th century church with an intricately carved façade.


Yanahuara's mirador. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Beyond Yanahuara is Cayma, another historic neighborhood with an 18th-century church and many buildings associated with Inca writer Garcilaso de la Vega and South American Liberation General Simón Bolívar (3 km / 1.8 mi from Arequipa).


On many clear days, you can see a plume of smoke rising from Volcán Misti. It is no cloud: the volcano is active, and has registered increased fumarole activity since 2011. To learn more about this and the other active volcanoes towering over the city and the risks they pose, drop by the  Centro de Sensibilización sobre los Riesgos Volcánicos en Arequipa (Monday-Saturday 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Ca La Merced 110).


Smoking Misti. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Museo de Arqueología of the Universidad Católica de Santa María (the same university that  runs the Santuarios Andinos museum) offers a free dose of pre-Columbian finds and dozen mummies. The collection of pinturas rupestres (rock paintings) is quite stunning (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Ca Cruz Verde 303, Tel: 221-083).


Museo Sala de Exposición Casona Editora Peru highlights the printed arts (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-1 p.m., 2-5 p.m.).


Alpaca and llamas and .. oh, my! Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Mundo Alpaca is devoted to teaching the processing of alpaca and other native fibers, from shearing and sorting, to natural dyes and weaving. Women sit in the patios, sorting the raw wool and weaving intricate designs. Live animals graze in the garden (Alameda San Lázaro 101).


Wanting to step out for a flick but can’t afford a ticket to the cinema? Check out the schedule of events at the international cultural centers around town. They often host free movies, art exhibits, theater and other cultural fare. Brazil, France, the US, Germany and Italy all have centers. Art openings, usually held on Thursday evenings, are usually a delicious feast for the eyes—and taste buds.


La Alliance Française dishes up French culture in Arequipa. Photo by Lorraine Caputo


Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

Colombia's Lost City

Deep in the recesses of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, buried in a mass of undisturbed jungle, lies one of the ancient Tayrona nation’s most impressive cities, Teyuna, or Ciudad Perdida (Lost City).  Founded in around 650 AD, the archaeological site earned its name well, lying undiscovered until as recently as 1972, when local tomb robbers stumbled across it.


Trek To Ciudad Perdida The Lost City Colombia_by migpascual

The Ciudad Perdida, which sits at an altitude of 900-1,200 meters (2,953-3,937 ft) and  covers 30 hectares (74 ac), consists of the ruins of over 200 structures, including living quarters, stone roads and staircases, terraces, canals, plazas and ceremonial buildings. The North sector has the oldest buildings, dating to the Neguanje Period (650 AD). Twenty-six other sites have been discovered nearby, in the upper Río Buritaca valley. Because of its size and monumental character, it is believed Teyuna was the political seat for the region. Some archaeologists estimate Teyuna itself had a population of 1,500-2,000 and with the surrounding settlements, the region’s inhabitants numbered over 10,000.

Ciudad Perdida_by Threat to Democracy

It is possible to reach the Ciudad Perdida by a five-day, moderately difficult hike that takes you into incredible rain-forest, across streams and rivers, through Kogi Indian communities, and finally up a set of 1,200 or so steps to the immense ancient site. Treks can be arranged with a local tour operator in Santa Marta or Taganga, and cost from $300.

VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.

Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Walk to Ciudad Perdida_by tyo

Colombia – safer than you think

Say “Colombia” and most people will immediately think of something negative: drugs, guerrilla warfare, corruption, kidnappings or crime. This is hardly surprising, since these topics have featured heavily in past international press about Colombia. However, conditions in Colombia have improved dramatically in the past decade, and most parts of the country are just as safe to visit as other Latin American countries. But many tourists are unaware of this, meaning—unfortunately—they choose to avoid this gorgeous country.

Zona Cafetera, Colombia

In truth, Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries on the continent, and, if you don’t stray too far from the tourist areas and heed current safety advice, there is no reason why you shouldn’t include Colombia in your itinerary. Tourist numbers have increased greatly in the past few years, from 0.5 million in 2003 to 1.4 million in 2010, and the U.S. State Department declared in 2010 that security conditions had improved significantly. As long as you take precautions, you be well rewarded if you visit Colombia: you’ll find beautiful Caribbean beachesAndean highlands, the Zona Cafetera (Coffee zone), impressive archaeological ruins and fertile rainforest (the latter claims the highest diversity of flora and fauna on the continent after Brazil, making it a perfect spot for nature lovers). Even those places deemed safe and developed for tourism have hardly been touched by outside visitors.

Cartagena, Colombia

It’s not, however, just natural wonders that draw travelers to come here; there’s both vibrant  modern and colonial cities, good food, great bars and fantastic coffee, while the locals are reputed to be some of the friendliest and most welcoming in the world, and certainly haven’t lost their party spirit. It’s no wonder the national tourism board has adopted as its saying, “The only risk is wanting to stay.”

“Santa Marta, Colombia,” by Ben Bowes

VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide is available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from and Barnes & Noble.