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On the Road: Peru – On the Pisco Trail

February and March mark the season for saluting pisco, Peru’s national drink. It all begins February 2 with International Pisco Day and continues with Ica’s Festival de la Vendimia and nearby Huacachina’s Festival de la Sirena.

 

 

The grape harvest is coming in, and the Vendimia Queen is making the rounds of Ica’s wineries to stomp huge vats of the fruit. (The day before our tour visited El Catador, she had done a stint there.) Large clay urns hold the fermenting juice until it is time to pour it all into massive copper stills over huarango wood fires. The resultant pisco drips forth, and after aging, is poured into glasses for our enjoyment.

 

A pisco still. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

In this harvest season, pisco isn’t the only drink available. Many of the bodegas also produce wines, including perfecto amor, a perfectly lovely mix of young wine and pisco – and which packs quite a punch. (You’ll feel fine sitting down while enjoying a few glasses of it, but watch it when it comes time to stand up!) Also available only during March is cachina, a very young wine fermented for only seven days to two months. Be forewarned that this also can knock you for a loop.

 

Some bodegas still use old-fashioned urns for fermenting the grape juice. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Tours to one of Ica’s more than 80 wineries teach all the steps that go into making this prized national liquor and offer free samples of it. Most of the bodegas are small, family-run operations, like Lovera, Mendoza and El Catador. Tacama, one of Peru’s largest pisco producers, is also near Ica.

 

Lovera piscos and wines. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

A fantastic place to visit is Museo Lazo. This is not only a small pisco winery, but also a museum filled all sorts of oddities related (and not-so-related) to the fruits of the vine (Camino Reyes 150, Salas. Tel: 403-430, URL: www.bodegalazo.com).

 

Tours of Ica’s wineries often also include a stop at Cachiche, a neighborhood that for centuries has been known for its witches and healers, and to a bewitched, seven-crowned date palm.

 

A monument in honor of the Witches of Cachine. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Ica is just one of the five regions in the country’s new Ruta Integrada de Pisco, a tourism route embracing over 200 pisco bodegas in Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and Tacna departments. Peruvians debate where the best liquor comes from, but one thing is assured: each town has its own twist on pisco cocktails. The most famous is the Pisco Sour, but while journeying through Peru, be sure  to also try the Tacna Sour in that city, or the Machu Picchu and Bandera Mokewana in Moquegua. Salud!

 

Try a Bandera Mokewana or a Machu Picchu. 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.

On the Road – Peru: Nine Great Northern Coast Get-Aways

Peru’s Northern Coast, from Trujillo to the Ecuador border, is lined with delightful beach resorts. This region is famous for its world-class surfing, though other marvels await visitors to this landscape that changes from desert scrub forest to mangrove swamp. After a day of kite boarding, deep-sea fishing or zip-lining, head to the thermal baths to relax your muscles. Birdwatching and hiking are also excellent adventures. The seafood cuisine is superb.

 

The most famous of these are Huanchaco and Máncora. V!VA Travel Guides also takes you to some that are not so well-known to international travelers. Many make easy day trips from the major cities. But all have lodging, if you want to spend a night watching the moonlight slithering across the waves.

 

Huanchaco's famed caballitos de totora.

Huanchaco

Just 14 kilometers (8.5 miles) north of Trujillo is Huanchaco, which according to Chimú mythology was the landing-spot of Takaynamo, who ordered the construction of the famous ancient city of Chan Chan. Huanchaco is famous not only for its surfing, but also the fishermen who still use caballitos de totora for their daily outings. Ask to use one of these reed rafts to ride the waves.

 

 

 

Pimentel. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Pimentel

Pimentel, only 11 kilometers (6.5 miles) from Chiclayo, has a broad, pale-grey peach. The seaside malecón is lined with beautiful gardens and mansions dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is another good surfing spot. Archaeology buffs can check out Huaca Agujereada and Huaca Blanca. Pimentel is another village where fishermen still use caballitos de totora.

 

 

 

Paddling a balsillo in Yacila. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Yacila

Piura’s port is historic Paita, birthplace of Almirante Miguel Grau (hero of the War of the Pacific against Chile) and where Generala Manuela Sáenz (Simón Bolívar’s confidante) lived her last days. Seventeen kilometers (10 miles) to the south of Paita is Yacila, is a fishing village on a small, rocky cove. Here men here still use balsillos, traditional rafts made of five logs. To the south of Yacila are other beaches, like Los Cangrejos, La Islilla, La Laguna, Hermosa, Gramitas, Té para Dos and Las Gaviotas.

 

A glorious sunset at Colán. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Colán

Colán, 15 kilometers (9 miles) to the north of Paita, has long been one of northern Peru’s great beach resorts. Oystercatchers, several species of gull, whimbrels, pelicans, frigate birds and blue-footed boobies are frequent visitors to the five-kilometer (three-mile) long Playa Esmeraldas. At the southern end of the beach, fossil-rich bluffs meet the sea. The sunsets are absolutely stunning here.

 

 

 

 

 

Cabo Blanco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Cabo Blanco

Cabo Blanco’s earned its fame many decades ago with its world-record catches of marlin and albacore. It drew Hollywood stars, sport greats and industrial barons. The old Fishing Club closed several decades back, but slip a few soles to the caretaker to let you see the fishing trophies and Room 5, where Ernest Hemingway stayed when The Old Man and the Sea was filmed here. Cabo Blanco is still renowned for its fishing, as well as kite boarding and a world surfing championship. While in town, drop into Restaurant Cabo Blanco to chat with Pablo Córdova, Hemingway’s bartender, while enjoying an absolutely delectable chicharrón de mariscos.

 

 

Los Órganos

Los Órganos is a relaxed, little-touristed beachside resort that is the jumping off point for deep-sea fishing and other boating excursions. If you happen by between August and November, hop aboard for a ride out to see the migrating whales. Another popular activity kite surfing.

 

Las Pocitas and Vichayito

These two towns just south of Máncora offer a more peaceful scene. The long, broad beach is edged with lush vegetation. Enjoy days soaking up the sun and sunset strolls along the strand. These are perfect places to rent a bungalow and do a maximum chill. They are especially good for families.

 

Máncora's raison d'être: Surfing. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Máncora

Máncora is the perennial favorite for national and international tourists. This once-upon-a-time fishing village has grown tremendously in the past three years, drawing not only backpackers, but also travelers with deeper pockets. Máncora’s surfing is famous globally, and many of Peru’s greats have set up schools here. The scene is diversifying, with kite boarding, wind surfing, zip lining in the inland desert forests and mud baths.

 

 

Sunset at Zorritos. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Zorritos                                

Between Máncora and the Ecuador border is Zorritos. This mellow town has over 30 kilometers (18 miles) of broad beach to stroll along and a sea that is warm year-round. Near town are several national parks protecting desert forests and mangroves. Take a day trip into Puerto Pizarro to boat around islands full of nesting frigate birds and to a crocodile breeding center. Head into the hills to soak in your choice of hot springs or thermal mud baths.

 

 

 

 

The sea is cold up to the Máncora area, where the Humboldt Current veers westward to the Galápagos Islands. Surfers will need to use a wetsuit.

 

Another warning to travelers: These beaches are a popular get-away for Peruvians and Ecuadorians during holiday seasons, when prices rise steeply. In a few weeks, it’ll be Semana Santa, or Easter Week — one of the biggest vacation times. If you’re looking for relaxation and tranquility, you may want to head elsewhere April 1-8 this year.

 

 

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.

 

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On the Road – Peru: Three Classic Peruvian Dishes and Variations on Their Themes

Last Thursday (February 2), the Organization of American States officially launched the World Day of the Pisco Sour. Since 2003, Peru tips the hat to its national drink during the first weekend of February.

 

The pisco sour is just one of three hallmark treats travelers to Peru have the opportunity to savor. The other two dishes are ceviche and cuy. These delights, though, have variations on their themes that visitors shouldn’t miss out on.

 

Other mixed pisco drinks: the Mokewa Linda (left) and the Machu Picchu (right). Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The pisco sour is the one cocktail most travelers will try while in Peru. Made from a grape brandy distilled in the southern part of the country, this drink also includes lime juice, bitters, syrup and egg whites.

 

Peru’s most esteemed pisco distilleries are in Moquegua, a colonial town located midways between Arequipa and Tacna. Here, bartenders carefully pour two other more colorful pisco creation. The Machu Picchu begins with about an inch of grenadine liqueur, atop which orange juice is poured, then mint liqueur. The result is a drink with stripes of red, orange and green. The Mokewa Linda is prepared the same way, with grenadine, grapefruit juice, mint liqueur and curaçao liqueur, painting a drink the colors of Moquegua’s flag. With either, add a jigger of pisco right down the middle, so as to not disturb the colors.

 

The way to enjoy these two beauties is to sip through a thin straw while drawing it through the different layers, letting your mouth savor the fusion of each flavor.

 

 

Ceviche. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The most classic Peruvian cuisine is the ceviche. This dish is made of chunks of fish “cooked” in lemon juice, seasoned with a variety of spices and served with thick slabs of sweet potato (camote), corn on the cob (choclo) and cancha (roasted corn nuts). It is best tried in Lima and along the north coast. It is an easy plate to prepare:

  •  After washing it in salt water, cut a one-kilogram (2.2-pound) fillet of corvina into 1-2 centimeter (0.5-1 inch) cubes. Place in a bowl and season with 3-5 cloves of minced garlic and salt to taste. Add three finely chopped, fresh ají limo (Capsicum chinense or Capsicum baccatum), the juice of 8-10 freshly squeezed limes, black pepper and 1.5 tablespoons of chopped cilantro. Let rest for 10 minutes. Serve on a bed of lettuce, with a thick slice of corn on the cob, camote and cancha. Garnish with thinly sliced red onion, a sprig of seaweed and fine slices of ají limo.

 

Tiradito. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

A variation on this theme is the tiradito. In this, the chunks of fish are smaller, the corn kernels are mixed in and the onions are chopped instead of sliced. Another distinction is that yellow – instead of red – chili is used.

 

 

Cuy on the grill. Photo by Dan.

 

Another classic offering on Peruvian menus, cuy, is more problematic. For many Westerners, it dredges up memories of Fluffy running around in its cage, twitching its little nose. Cuy is nothing more than guinea pig. It was one of the few animal protein sources pre-Columbian nations from southern Colombia to northern Chile had to eat. In many areas, the whole, skinned animal is placed over a wood fire and cooked to succulent perfection. In Moquegua, the folks have a variation on this dish. The cuy is split down the middle, dredged in coarse cornmeal and weighted down with a flat stone while cooking. It is then served simply with boiled potatoes.

Moquegua's version of cuy. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

While in Peru be sure to try these time-honored dishes—as well as the variations on their themes. You will come to a deeper understanding of the country’s varied traditions and regions. Buen Provecho!

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Six Recent Incredible Ancient Finds

Machu Picchu before the crowds. Photo by Dawn Wohlfarth.

When most people think of Peru and archaeology, one site looms in their minds: the Incas’ glorious Machu Picchu. Peru, though, has ruined cities of many other pre-Columbian cultures that rival Inca remains. Two areas that local archaeologists consider to be equally – if not more – important than the Sacred Valley are the North Coast, between Trujillo and Chiclayo, and the Chachapoyas regions where every year, startling new finds are unearthed.

 

The news has been chock-full of discoveries and recoveries. Yale University has finally returned thousands of artifacts Hiram Bingham had taken from Machu Picchu. A new museum is being built in the Sacred Valley to house those treasures. Remember, travelers: During the month of February, the famous Inca Trail is closed for maintenance, but the archaeological site does remain open.

 

Journeyers heading to Arequipa may be disappointed to discover that the mummy Juanita (also known as La Dama de Ampato) is not on display at the Santuarios Andinos de Arequipa museum. She is receiving special treatments to preserve her.

 

 

The big news, though, is coming from the North Coast region. Long before the Inca rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca, this area was home to the great Mochica, Moche and Chimú empires. Today, the massive adobe cities’ pyramids are yielding astounding archaeological finds. Here are six of the most exciting discoveries and recoveries that are happening there:

 

  • Just in time for National Popcorn Day, the oldest evidence of that delicious treat has been found at Huaca Prieta in northern Peru. The 6,700-year-old remains show that a variety of corn (including that for popcorn) was being used 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

 

Ayapec (Huaca de la Luna). Photo by morrissey

  • Another great discovery is at Huaca de la Luna, near Trujillo. In continuing excavations there, archaeologists have uncovered a semi-circular altar upon which human sacrifices were done. Also discovered are stunning wall paintings. Visitors to this site now have an aerial walkway from which to enjoy the huaca’s many murals and a new museum.

 

  • In 2006, at El Brujo, another site near Trujillo, archaeologists found a most fascinating woman: la Señora de Cau, also known as the Tattooed Woman. Not only was she buried with incredible treasures, but her body was also richly adorned with art. Various pieces of this find are displayed at the Museo del Sitio Cau at the El Brujo archaeological complex.

 

Huaca del Brujo - Royal Tomb. Photo by Veronique Debord

  • Near Chiclayo, a tomb richer than that of the Señor of Sipán has been uncovered in the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological complex, nine kilometer (5.5 miles) south of Lambayeque. The Sacerdote de Chornancap (Priest of Chornancap) is causing quite a stir for the nine sets of ear piercings he has and his treasures. After study and restoration work are completed in six to eight months, the artifacts will be exhibited in the Museo Brüning, and later at Lima’s Museo Nacional.

 

  • Speaking of the Lambayeque’s archaeological riches: The priceless pendant, Cabeza de Mono Dorada, has been repatriated to Peru. This beautiful gold broche, inlaid with sodalite and other stones, was looted from a tomb of the La Mina archaeological site in Jetuetepeque in the 1980s. Experts have not yet decided where the public may view it.

 

  • Near Cajamarca, work is continuing on Poro Poro de Udima. The site was devoted to a water-centered cult. Once the rains let up in the region, Poro Poro de Udima will be open to the public through April.

 

Photos of all the new finds can be viewed at Arqueología del Perú’s website, which is an excellent source for keeping up with the country’s latest archaeological discoveries.

 

 

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.

 

On the Road – Peru: Chinese New Year in Lima’s Barrio Chino

The sharp cracks of fireworks fill the streets with pungent smoke and shreds of paper. The booming drums, the clang of brass cymbals announce the arrival of the dancers. Humans beneath the cloth dragon, lion and other animals raise the creatures up in the doorways of businesses, ensuring a bountiful coming year.

 

In China Towns all over the world, this millennia-old ceremony was celebrated to mark the beginning of the Year of the Dragon. In Lima’s Barrio Chino, shoppers were lured by the unusual music. Snapping photos with their cell phones, they followed the parade down the crowded streets.

 

 

During the second half of the 19th century, some 100,000 Chinese arrived to Peru. Most came to work in nitrate mining or on the plantations after slavery was abolished. Many were indentured servants, living a semi-slave life. In the 20th century, a second wave washed upon these South American shores. Today, Chinese descendants make up about 0.5% of the nation’s population.

 

 

The Barrio Chino is near Lima’s Mercado Central, just a few blocks east of the Plaza de Armas. Walking up Jirón Ucayali (a.k.a., Calle Cantón), you soon come to the large red gateways inviting you to stroll down the pedestrian mall paved with the 12 sign of the Sino horoscope. Several stands offer newspapers from China and another kiosk attends to spiritual needs.

 

The neighborhood extends from Jirón Junín to Jirón Puno, and from Andahuaylas to nearly Huanta. These bustling streets are jammed with dozens of chifas, (Chinese restaurants) with roasted ducks and pigs hanging in front windows. Import shops provide everything from foods to knickknacks. There are also several acupuncture clinics. Businesses – including banks – brandish signs in Spanish and Chinese.

 

Come down for a few hours, to savor a different flavor in Peru. Have a quick lunch at a chifa and wander through the dozens of market stalls tucked off the streets. Before heading back to the run-of-the-mill Peruvian reality, pick up some authentic ingredients to whip up your own stir fry back at your hostel.

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Everyone’s Choosing Peru as THE Destination to Visit

In the past few months, Peru has become a hot destination choice for many international publications.

 

National Geographic has chosen Peru as one of the Best Pick destinations for 2012. Beyond Machu Picchu, hikes in some of the world’s deepest canyons and exotic birds, this publication also cites the regional foods as being a major reason to come to this Andean nation.

 

Peru's famous ceviche.

And Peru's infamous cuy.

 

Reuters recently did an article on what to do and see in Lima during 48 hours, as part of its “Postcard” series. The Amazon Basin – part of which lies in Peru – was declared a New Seven Natural Wonder of the World last year. In December 2011, the History Travel Channel focused on Peru as its country of the month. And V!VA Travel Guides is once more on the ground searching out the best to know here.

 

Crowds welcoming the 2012 Dakar to Lima.

 

Join V!VA Travel Guides on our exploration of Peru in the new series of blogs, “On the Road: Peru.” V!VA has already brought you the arrival to Lima of the 2012 Dakar road rally and filled you in on Viringos, the native hairless dog. Each week, you can learn more about the sights and flavors that await you in this diverse Andean nation.

 

What would you like to know about Peru? Let us know – and we’ll root it out on our Peruvian journeys.

 

On the Road : Peru — Viringos

A viringo, or Peruvian Hairless Dog. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In the ruins of northern Peru inhabits a strange-looking, ugly creature. Some travelers might mistake it for a large rat with long legs; others, a poor, mangy dog.

 

It is neither. These creatures of dark grey, leathery skin and a head tufted with sparse golden hair are the viringo, or hairless Peruvian dog. It was the mascot of the ruling classes of the Moche, Chimú and other nations that lived along these desert coasts. They have been found buried in elites’ tombs, like that of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada, near Chiclayo. Archaeologists believe they were considered to have special connections with the Underworld and other supernatural powers. Sometimes they were used for meat. They were frequently represented in pottery.

 

The Inca called the Peruvian hairless dog allqu. In Quechua, its name is kaclla, or “hot water bag.” The viringo is one of several breeds of hairless dogs found in the Americas, as well as other parts of the world. International kennel associations only recognize the viringo, Mexico’s xoloitzcuintle (escuintle) and the Chinese crested. Bolivia and Ecuador also have native hairless varieties; that of Guatemala is considered extinct.

 

Viringos not only are hairless, but also virtually toothless. Their thick skin allows them to have a high body temperature (39-42ºC / 102-108ºF) to stay warm in the chill nights. For generations, local humans have used this trait as a medicine. The dogs are placed on parts of a patient’s body that is suffering from arthritis, rheumatism or other malady. It is also said that placing a viringo on the chest helps alleviate asthma.

 

The dogs became very rare. But with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura’s policy of featuring these dogs in the ruins of the former dynasties that revered the viringo, this breed’s prestige has grown. A puppy fetches up to $2,000 in Europe. In 2001, Peru declared the viringo a national heritage treasure.

 

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

Chile’s Carretera Austral: Ten Adventures to Get Your Adrenaline Fix

Taking a rest.

South America’s summer officially begins tonight, but already travelers have been hitting Chile’s Carretera Austral (Ruta 7), which extends 1,247 kilometers (775 miles) from Puerto Montt to Villa O’Higgins. Bicyclists are battling the infamous Patagonian wind as gravel kicks up around their tires. Some backpackers stand by the roadsides, thumb outstretched, to explore the road that way. Very few travelers take the public buses or rent a car. This is a highway where dreams can be made reality.

If the adventure of biking or hitching the Carretera Austral isn’t enough for you, V!VA Travel Guides Chile presents you  with a cornucopia of high-adrenaline activities to keep you pumped going down the highway. This region has many legs of the national hiking trail network, the Sendero de Chile (www.senderodechile.cl). Local families provide homestay and guiding services for not only trekking, but also birdwatching, horseback riding, fly fishing, rock climbing and other sports.

So dig out the hiking boots and pack in the provisions because it’s time to hit the open road.

 

1 – Parque Nacional Horniporén

Parque Nacional Horniporén, near the start of the Carretera Austral, protects important transition zones of flora, fauna and geology. Over 13 kilometers (8 miles) of hiking trails wind through this fascinating landscape. The nearby village of Río Puelo is the starting point for an even more challenging trek: four nights, five days across the Paso Río Puelo border to El Bolsón, Argentina.

Kayaking on the Futaleufú River.

2 – Futaleufú

Rafters and kayakers, get your gear ready to shoot through the rapids of the Futa, one of the world’s three most challenging rivers. The toughest stretches are the “Infierno” (22 kilometers / 14 miles, Class III-IV) and the “Terminator” (7 kilometers / 4.2 miles, Class V). The Espolón River is renowned for its fly fishing. Dry land adventures are horseback riding and hiking near town and in Reserva Natural Futaleufú.

Further down the highway you can get another whitewater  fix on the Río Baker’s Class III rapids at Puerto Bertrand.

 

3 – Palena

Reserva Nacional Lago Palena offers horseback riding, fly fishing and a half-dozen hiking trails ranging from four kilometers (2.4 miles) to 13 kilometers (8 miles) in distance. It is also the staging ground for a 65-kilometer (39-mile) stretch of the Sendero de Chile, from Palena to Lago Verde (near La Junta).

 

A waterfall in Queulat National Park.

4 – Puyuhuapi

The delights around Puyuhuapi, a small German settlement on a fiord, never ceases to amaze travelers. After hiking to the hanging glaciers and waterfalls in Parque Nacional Queulat, soak your tired muscles in one of two hot springs near the village.

 

5 – Coyhaique

While you’re restocking on money and other necessary supplies in the Northern Patagonia’s major city, take some time out to explore the three national reserves near town: Monumento Nacional Dos Lagunas, Reserva Nacional Río Simpson and Reserva Nacional Coyhaique. On the coast is Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, most known for its boat tours to the glaciers. But it also has several hiking trails, ice climbing (for the experienced and equipped) and camping.

Coyahique is also home to Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia, a school that trains the region’s guides. During the summer, it also teaches travelers camping, rock climbing and other skills to survive Patagonian rigors.

 

Cerro Castillo.

6 – Cerro Castillo

With geological features much like Torres del Paine, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has a distinct advantage: It is virtually unvisited. The challenging 45-kilometer (28 mile) Valle de la Lima-Villa Cerro Castillo trek, which takes three to four days, wraps around the base of the mountain, with stunning views of icy lagoons and glaciers. If time is short, you can visit the park on horseback from the village.

 

7 – Bahía Exploradores

The boat tour of Río Tranquilo’s marble caves provides a respite from Chile’s Northern Patagonia’s trekking opportunities. But it’s now time for the next challenge: Hiking out the 59-kilometer (37-mile) road towards Bahía Exploradores, and ice trekking Glaciar Exploradores.

Capilla de Marmól, near Río Capilla.

8 – Cochrane

Besides being the last place along the highway where you can pick up on money and basic supplies, Cochrane has the Reserva Nacional Tamango. Also near town is Laguna Esmeralda with swimming, kayaking and great trout fishing. If you’re ready to roll up the ol’ sleeves and help restore natural habitats for huemul and puma, then volunteer at Valle Chacabuco nature reserve.

 

Caleta Tortel.

9 – Caleta Tortel

The entire village of Caleta Tortel is a hiking experience, with over seven kilometers (4.2 miles) of cypress-wood boardwalks. This is also where the southern sector of Parque Nacional San Rafael and Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins are accessed.  Both have hikes to glaciers. Caleta Tortel is also a prime kayaking destination.

 

10 – Villa O’Higgins

Villa O’Higgins is the last town on Chile’s Carretera Austral. From here, you’ll have to backtrack north to Cochrane or Lago General Carrera to cross over into Argentina. Or you can boat across Lago O’Higgins and hike to El Chaltén, Argentina—what has been called one of the world’s most beautiful border crossings (Paso Dos Lagunas). Before you leave this end-of-the-road town, though, take some time to hike or horseback ride one of the seven trails in the area, including two in the northern sector of Parque Nacional Bernardo O’Higgins.

The highway’s end.

 

Traversing the Carretera Austral once the snows swirl in late autumn provides other ways to get the old adrenaline pumping. The road becomes impassable and many of towns remain isolated for weeks at a time. The best place to use as a base is Coyhaique. You can snowshoe and cross country ski in the three national reserves near that city or in Cerro Castillo just to the south. Coyhaique also has a downhill ski center, Centro de Ski el Fraile.

The Carretera Austral can be accessed by several border crossings from Argentina, or by boats arriving at Chaitén, Puerto Chacabuco (near Coyhaique) and other villages.

There are many other towns along the Carretera Austral that provide many other delights. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Three Towns in Chile Anyone Will Love

When travelers plan their trips to Chile, usually Santiago, Valparaiso and the wine country are at the top of their lists. But other parts of the country offer towns that anyone will love, places full of history, culinary delights and cultural diversity. Three cities that are often overlooked are Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir. V!VA Travel Guides Chile can help you explore the many facets of these places.

 

In the extreme north of Chile, just mere kilometers from the Peruvian border, is Arica. Among this city’s many distinctions are the world’s shortest railroad (from Arica to Tacna, Peru) and the oldest mummies (over 10,000 years old). It is a city steeped in history. This once-important Spanish colonial port was a major battleground during the War of the Pacific. It also was wiped out twice by tsunamis in the 19th century. Several structures by Gustave Eiffel decorate downtown.

Arica offers nature lovers bird watching at the Lluta River Mouth wetlands and boat tours along the coast to the Humboldt penguin colony at Caleta de Camarones. Adrenaline junkies can hit some of the world’s most challenging surf or go kitesurfing. And of course, the miles of beaches and Isla del Alacrán offer a bit of something for everyone.

Eiffel's cathedral in Arica.

On the cultural front, the city has several museums, like the Museo del Mar and El Morro hill with the Museo Histórico y de Armas. On any given day, you can see Aymara or African-descendent dance troupes dancing down the 21 de Mayo pedestrian street. This is also a favorite venue for the medieval-esque tuna music groups. Culinary delights include empanadas de jaiba-queso (crab and cheese pies) and sopa marinera (seafood soup).

Two river valley oases hug Arica. To the north is Valle de Lluta, with many small Andean villages with colonial churches and the Eco-Truly yoga spa. Valle de Azapa, which is famous for its olives, begins south of the city. Along the road are dozens of geoglyphs, or designs etched into the hillsides, tombs and a pre-Columbian pukará fortress. The Museo de San Miguel has ancient mummies and fine textiles.

Arica is also a good jumping off point for trips to the Pre-Cordillera de Belén, where a dozen Aymara villages and ancient ruins nestle into the folds of the Andean foothills, Putre and Parque Nacional Lauca near the Bolivian border.

Riding the surf in Arica.

South of Santiago is Valdivia, in the heart of Chile’s famed Lake District. This city at the confluence of three rivers also has a fascinating history. In the dawn of the 17th century, the Mapuche indigenous forced the Spanish to abandon the port which was later occupied by Dutch pirates. In their efforts to reconquer their Pearl of the Pacific, the Spaniards built the America’s second largest fortress system, covering over 18 kilometers (11 miles). During the 19th century, thousands of Germans immigrated here. In 1960, the largest earthquake in modern history destroyed the city.

The Mapuche festival in Valdivia.

Today, Valdivia is a culturally and ethnically vibrant city. It has a full slate of museums covering everything from natural history to art, as well as a half-dozen performance art centers. The city’s ethnic diversity is celebrated with several festivals: Bierfest (January 29-February 1), Fiesta de las Tradiciones (September 17-21) and Expoarte y Cultura Mapuche (November 28-30).

 Visitors to Valdivia can join the national rowing team sculling the rivers. You can also spend a day boating towards the sea to visit the Spanish fortresses at Isla Mancera, Corral and Niebla, or upstream to Punucapa and the Cuello Negro brewery. Kunstmann, famous throughout Chile for its beer, also is headquartered near Valdivia.

A Spanish fortress.

At the end of a day of exploring Valdivia and its region, try some of its famous seafood or a crudo, a dish of its German origin. Of course, accompany any repast with one of the local beers (Café las Gringas serves all of Chile’s microbrews) and end it with some delectable chocolate.

Valdivia is a good point to launch any hiking expedition into the Lake District’s many national parks, like Villarrica, near Pucón, with a volcano to climb, or Puyehue, with an active volcano. Hot springs, fishing and other nature diversions spot the countryside around the Seven Lakes. The entire region is perfumed by the Mapuche and German cultures.

Black-neck Swans.

At the far end of Chile, on the eastern shore of the Magellan Strait, is our last destination: Porvenir. This town on the island of Tierra del Fuego also has a deep history and culture. It was where Selk’nam wandered and fished, Croats and Chilotes came looking for gold at the end of the rainbow and Chilean cinema was born.

Follow the rainbow to Porvenir.

Although the indigenous peoples of this land are long gone, you can learn about their culture at the Museo Provincial Fernando Cordero Rusque. Porvenir’s modern history began with a gold rush in the late 19th century. By following the Circuito Histórico Cultural into the mountains near Porvenir, you will find men still panning the chill streams for gold nuggets. This historic circuit also wends to the old sheep ranch Estancia Caleta Josefina and Onaisín.

The shores of Porvenir’s bay is a great place to learn about the town’s history and to birdwatch. Another refuge for avifauna is Monumento Nacional de los Cisnes. Out in the hinterlands of the island are Lago Blanco, a trout angler’s Paradise, and the Cordillera de Darwin, the ultimate adventure for trekkers.

Porvenir is accesible by ferry from Punta Arenas, or by private vehicle the Argentine cities Ushuaia and Río Gallegos. To visit sites in the countryside around Porvenir, rent a car in any of the major cities, hire a driver in Porvenir, go on tour or bicycle out. As in other parts of Chile, seafood is superb here. Porvenir is the best place to try centolla, or king crab.

 

Arica, Valdivia and Porvenir are all easy to get to from the neighboring countries. If you’re needing a break from Peru or Argentina, head over the border for the multi-faceted pleasures these three towns guarantee. Pack along V!VA’s other guidebooks to help you navigate into the lesser-known corners of all these countries.

In the Footsteps of Che Guevara

Wherever you go in Latin America, you see the face of ErnestoChe” Guevara on t-shirts and murals. Since the fall of the military dictatorships and civil wars throughout the continent, hostels and cafés tout this alluring 20th century revolutionary.

 

Interest in the mythical Che Guevara rose with the release of The Motorcycle Diaries, a movie that chronicled his journey from his homeland Argentina to Venezuela with childhood friend Alberto Granado. It’s a tale many travelers can relate to: Leaving for the open road to see what is there, and discovering how journeying transforms one within.

 

Che Guevara’s trip, though, was much more than a ride an old Norton bike engraved on DVDs. It was a real live journey, from birth to death. V!VA’s Travel Guides for Argentina and Bolivia can lead you in the footsteps of Che Guevara.

 

Che Guevara was born quite by accident in Rosario, Argentina. His parents, Ernesto Guevara Lynch and Celia de la Serna, were en route to Buenos Aires by river from their yerba mate homestead in Misiones Province. By the time the boat reached Rosario’s port, Celia was in labor.

The old homestead.

In Caraguatay, near Montecarlo in Misiones Province, the family’s homestead is now Parque Provincial Che Guevara. Rosario, which has embraced Che as its native son, has several sites related to his life. The casa natal, where his parents lived several months after his birth, stands at Urquiza and Entre Ríos. A few blocks away is Plaza de la Cooperación with a mural to him (Tucumán and Mitre). Plaza y Monumento al Che Guevara (Buenos Aires and Bulevar 27 de Febrero) has an imposing statue of the revolutionary.

 

The Guevara-de la Serna family spent most of Che’s childhood in Altagracia, near Córdoba. One of their homes is now Museo del Che Guevara. The galpón (warehouse) where Ernesto Guevara and Alberto Granado spent the night during their epic Motorcycle Diaries journey is now Museo La Pastera, in San Martín de los Andes (Sarmiento and R. Roca, Tel: 02972-411-994, E-mail: info@lapasteramuseoche.org.ar, URL: www.lapastera.org.ar). For more information about the roads Che traveled in his homeland, visit www.loscaminosdelche.gov.ar.

 

Che Guevara began his life in Argentina, but ended it in neighboring Bolivia on October 9, 1967. In the eastern part of that country is the 800-kilometer (500-mile) Ruta del Che, which traces the steps of the last revolutionary army he led. In villages along the route are museums composed of displays with information culled from the revolutionaries’ diaries, as well as from Bolivian military documents and newspaper articles of the era. In Lagunillas is the Museo de Ñancahuazú and in Vallegrande, the Museo Municipal del Che Guevara.

 

Many of the sites associated with his last days are in La Higuera, where a large bust truncates the only road through town. Locals will offer to take you down to Quebrada del Churo, where Che was captured. In the village is the old two-room schoolhouse where he was executed. It is now a modest museum. The story ends in Vallegrande. At the laundry shed of the public hospital, the revolutionary’s body was displayed to the international press. Today, the building is covered with the messages from the thousands of pilgrims who have come over the decades. Near the airport is a memorial near the mass grave where Che and other guerrillas were secretly buried for over three decades.

 

Tour operators in Santa Cruz offer three-day excursions on the route, usually visiting Samaipata, Vallegrande and La Higuera. The Ruta del Che may also be trekked. Community-run lodging and local guides are available along the entire route.