Win A Trip To South America With Richard Bangs

Travel to South America with Richard BangsSouth America is a land of diverse cultures, stunning scenery and breathtaking adventure. Travelers can climb to the highest peaks of the Andes, experience unique wildlife, explore the biodiversity of the Amazon and indulge in a variety of wonderful cuisines. The continent truly does have something to offer nearly every kind of traveler and now television personality Richard Bangs wants to take you there on an adventure of your own choosing.

Bangs, who hosts the PBS travel show “Adventures with Purpose,” has teamed up with LAN to bring us the Only In South America sweepstakes. The contest, which runs through January 18, will allow one lucky winner to select one of four destinations as their dream trip to South America. Those destinations include Machu Picchu in Peru, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Iguazu Falls along the border of Brazil and Argentina or the remote Easter Island off the coast of Chile. While on their excursion, the winner will be joined for dinner and a private tour with Bangs, who will share in their adventure. The prize includes airfare, ground transportation, guides and accommodations for two.

To enter the contest, simply click here and fill out the online form. You’ll provide basic contact information, answer a few demographic questions and select the destination that you prefer. With any luck, your name will be drawn in January and you’ll be whisked off on an unforgettable adventure to South America.

And if you’re having any trouble deciding which of the four trips you would prefer, the site provides excellent videos, like the one below, to help you choose. They’re all very well done, however, and viewing them may actually end up making the decision even more difficult.

[Photo Credit: Martin St-Amant via WikiMedia]


What You Need To Know To Successfully Hike The Inca Trail


machu picchu


For those looking to hike the Inca Trail in Peru, there is a lot of conflicting information when you search the web. To help you prepare and do it right, here is a guide on how to successfully hike the Inca Trail.

Why Hike To Machu Picchu

If you’re just looking to see Machu Picchu, you don’t necessarily have to hike, as there are also bus and train options. That being said, I personally recommend hiking to it if you are physically able to do so. By hiking the Inca Trail, you’re immersing yourself in the world of the Incas that much more by traversing the same path they did hundreds of years ago. You’ll visit numerous other ruins along the way, making the information your guides give you more visual. And, the sense of pride you’ll feel once you reach Machu Picchu on foot will be well worth any of the harder sections of the trek.

Getting In

Fly into Cuzco, Peru. This is where tour companies leave from, and where you’ll have your orientation the night before the trek.When To Book

While I’m usually a bit of a slacker when it comes to booking in advance, believing tour companies just advise you to book in advance to lock you in, this is not one of those times. When I did my trek in June, I booked in November. A friend of mine who wanted to join me attempted to book the same trip in February, but it was already filled up. As soon as you know your dates, make a reservation.

The reason for this is regulations allow only 500 permits to be given per day. This covers about 200 tourists and 300 guides/porters. They’re issued on a first-come, first-serve basis until all permits have been sold out. If you’re trying to go in June through August, book six months in advance. For those looking to go April through May or September through October, four to five months in advance should be good. Even during the low season it’s still best to try to get your permit three to four months in advance as to not risk missing out.


dead woman's pass


Who To Go With

Hikers are not permitted to do the trek on their own and must go with a licensed tour company. Important things to consider when booking include how knowledgeable their tour guides are, if they’re bilingual (if you don’t speak Spanish), how they treat their porters, their stance on environment issues, how well they feed the hikers and group size. While price may be a concern, make sure to really consider why a company is so much cheaper than others. If it’s because they don’t give their porters proper gear or skimp on food, opt for the more expensive company.

I went with Llama Path, and would highly recommend them. The guides had both gone for special schooling to allow them to work in Peru’s tourism industry, and there wasn’t a question they couldn’t answer on Inca history. While informative, they were friendly with the hikers as well as the porters. The porters were treated well, having special uniforms, eating adequate meals and being made to feel like part of the group, despite the fact they didn’t hike with us during the day. As for food for the hikers, expect to eat a lot. Because you’ll be trekking almost non-stop, you’ll be constantly hungry. Each day we received a snack bag, as well as three buffet-style meals and a before-dinner tea time with hot drinks and snacks. And in the morning, you’ll be woken up with a cup of hot tea and a hot towel brought to your tent.

Another reason this company really stands out is how on the last day they made us wake up at 3:00 a.m. to get to the Sun Gate before any other group. While that may sound torturous, being the only group at Machu Picchu and having the awe-inspiring site all to ourselves was an unreal experience.

If you’re the backpacker type, you may want to look into doing a group tour with GAdventures. While I didn’t personally participate in their Inca Trail experience, their group was directly ahead of mine the entire time. I spoke with the hikers in their group – all of whom seemed to be in the young 20s to early 30s hostel crowd. They all seemed to be having a great time, loved their guides and were being well fed.

Physical Preparations

The hike is moderate, and if you’re in decent physical condition you should be able to do it. That being said, the trek reaches heights of 13,600 feet, and everyone is affected by altitude differently. Make sure to arrive into Cuzco a few days earlier to acclimate, get plenty of rest and avoid alcohol on the days leading up to the trek.

Additionally, the trail is about 30 miles total with some very challenging sections, particularly day two. First thing in the morning you trek two hours straight uphill, followed by two hours straight down, break for lunch, then continue hiking. If you’re not in shape – or even if you are – it can be quite difficult. While you don’t need to be a marathon runner, I’d suggest hitting the gym to get your endurance up beforehand.


inca trail


Packing Tips

While your company will most likely give you a packing list the night before your trek, you’ll probably want to know what you need beforehand so you’re not scrambling around.

  • To enter the Inca Trail, you’ll need your passport, which they’ll stamp for you at the entrance.
  • Bring cash with you, not only to tip your porters and guides, but to purchase snacks at some of the small villages you pass along the way.
  • Make sure to bring some waterproof clothing, shoes, a poncho and a rain jacket, as the weather can be unpredictable and you do not want to be hiking for hours in wet clothing.
  • A four-season or below 10-degree sleeping bag will keep you much warmer during chilly nights than a regular one will.
  • You’ll want to dress in layers, as your body temperature will be changing from hot to cold frequently. Additionally, warm clothing and accessories at night are a must.
  • Pack some plastic bags to ensure your clothing stays dry.
  • Don’t forget your insect repellent.
  • You’ll be reaching high altitudes and spending hours in the sun, so sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat can help protect your skin.
  • Bring medications and basic toiletries only. You probably won’t be showering unless you opt to use the cold non-complimentary showers on the third day.
  • Pack your camera, and make sure to bring spare batteries. You won’t have electricity for four days, and you’ll be taking hundreds of photos.
  • Bring toilet paper and antiseptic hand gel, as you’ll be using the “Inca toilet,” also known as the bushes, quite a bit. When there is a real toilet, it will be of the squat variety.
  • Once you’re done hiking, you’re going to want sandals to rest your feet in.
  • At night you’re going to need a flashlight. Better yet, a headlamp allows you to successfully complete the hike at dawn on the final day.
  • Your tour company will supply boiled water for you to drink, but make sure to bring a water bottle to put it in.
  • While I tried to be tough and not bring the recommended walking sticks, I will admit I wish I had them. Luckily, one girl shared hers with me and the hike was much more enjoyable.
  • If you’ll be going swimming in the hot pools in the town of Aguas Calientes bring a swimsuit. Towels can be rented there.
  • While you’ll be fed a lot as long as you go with a reputable company, I would still recommend bringing extra snacks. With all the hiking you’ll be doing, constant hunger is inevitable.

I would recommend not renting gear through your tour company, as rental shops like Speedy Gonzalez at 393 Procuradores in Cuzco are cheaper.


inca trail


What To Expect On The Trail

Machu Picchu isn’t the only Inca site you’ll see when doing the Inca Trail. You’ll pass sites like Q’entimarka (shown above), Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca and Winaywayna, some of which are surprisingly developed and each of which had specific purposes for the Incas. Expect tough yet scenic sections of trekking as well as alternating climates mixed with stops at ruins and historical discussions. For example, along the way our group learned how the Incas survived longer than other cultures. This was mainly due to their ability to predict natural disasters by finding strange seashells not common in Peru. Additionally, we talked about how at first the Incas believed the Spaniards were the gods they had been waiting for and were friendly toward them until they started killing off their people. We also discussed the Incas informal language system, which incorporated colored strings, knots and sounds made by shells.

Inca Trail Alternatives

If you didn’t book the Inca Trail early enough to reserve a spot but still want to hike to Machu Pichu, some worthwhile alternatives are the Salkantay Trek, Lares Trek and Ancascocha Trek. These hikes will take you past Inca ruins and beautiful scenery, while also allowing you the sense of accomplishment when you reach Machu Picchu on the final day. Wait until you arrive in Cuzco to book these alternative treks, as you can save more than 50%.

[Images via Jessie on a Journey]

The Travels Of Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost ArkOne of the greatest characters in movie history makes his way to Blu-Ray Disc today when “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” is released for the first time. The new box set lets us join the legendary globetrotting archaeologist as he goes in search of fortune and glory in a number of far-flung locations spread out across the planet.

Watching the Indy movies as a boy, I was mesmerized by all the exotic locations he found himself in and vowed that one day I would follow in his fictional footsteps. I too wanted to stroll through bustling marketplaces, visit ancient ruins and explore remote landscapes. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the same places that are depicted in the films. Luckily, I didn’t have to battle supernatural forces, secret cults or Nazis to do so.

Just exactly where has Indy’s adventures taken him? Here is a list of the key locations that he visited in the course of the four films.

Peru
Our first introduction to Henry Jones, Jr. came at the beginning of 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which opened with the adventurer leading an expedition deep into the Peruvian jungle in search of a lost golden idol. He returned to Peru in 2008 with the release of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which gave us a glimpse not only of ancient Inca ruins but also the famous giant geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines.

You can replicate Indy’s adventures in Peru by visiting Inca ruins yourself. Places like Machu Picchu, Sacsahuaman or Ollantaytambo may no longer be hidden in the dense jungle, but they are still impressive archaeological sites nonetheless. Flights above the Nazca Lines are a popular option too, as those strange glyphs depicting monkeys, humming birds and other animals that can only be seen from the air continue to bewilder even in the 21st century. Of course, the Amazon Rainforest is an amazing destination in its own right and Peru offers some unique ways to experience that remote and iconic place too.Ama Dablam in NepalNepal
Indy’s stay in the Himalayan country of Nepal was a brief one. He only stopped by long enough to pick up his erstwhile partner Marion Ravenwood while searching for the Lost Ark. But your visit shouldn’t be as short, as the country has some of the best hiking in the world and Kathmandu is one of the most unusual and colorful cities you’ll ever see. Make the hike to Everest Base Camp, trek the Annapurna Circuit or visit the famous Chitwan National Park, which is home to wild tigers, elephants and rhinos. Adventure is around every corner in Nepal.

Egypt
Our intrepid hero made his way to Egypt in search of the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant but there is still plenty of history for us to discover there as well. The Great Pyramids at Giza, the Sphynx and the Temple of Hatshepsut can still inspire awe, while a visit to the legendary Valley of the Kings and Queens is akin to stepping 5000 years into the past. Watch the Egyptian countryside drift by on a classic Nile cruise and drop by Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo to check out the more than 120,000 items that are on display there. That’s more artifacts than even Indy himself could hope to collect.

China
In his second big screen adventure, 1984’s “Temple of Doom,” our good Dr. Jones began his escapades in Shanghai, China, where he had a somewhat less than successful encounter with Chinese mobsters. Your visit to that ultra-modern and bustling city doesn’t have to be quite so chaotic, however. Start with a visit to the Shanghai Museum, which is one of the best in the entire country, before heading over to Dongtai Road to search for hidden treasures of your own in the quaint antique shops. Discover a slice of serenity while escaping the busy city life in Yu Yuan Garden, then stroll the Bund, Shanghai’s famous waterfront district along the Huangpu River.

India
Leaving China behind, Indy found his next adventure in a remote region of India where he managed to not only recover the legendary lost Sankara stones, but also free a group of children enslaved to an evil Thugee cult. Rich in history and culture, India is a country that has something for nearly every kind of traveler. The northern region is bounded by the high Himalaya, making it a great destination for trekkers and backpackers, while the southern coastlines feature breathtaking beaches along the Indian Ocean. While there, you can learn the secrets of yoga from a master, visit ancient Hindu temples, explore national parks inhabited by tigers and elephants and so much more. Don’t forget to drop by the famous Taj Mahal either. It may seem like a tourist cliche, but some places are considered classics for good reason.

The Lost City of Petra in JordanJordan
In “The Last Crusade,” which was released in 1989, Indiana Jones and his father went in search of the Holy Grail, ultimately discovering it inside the famous archaeological site of Petra, located in Jordan. You won’t find a single trace of the Holy Grail anywhere near Petra (believe me, I looked!) but the city remains an amazing destination. History buffs will find it more than lives up to the hype, as do the amazing Roman ruins of Jerash in the northern part of the country. Jordan’s capital Amman is a vibrant, energetic city that has much to offer in terms of culture and nightlife while the Wadi Rum desert and Dana Nature Reserve are the perfect escapes for those looking to shed the trappings of modern culture instead. Complete your visit with a relaxing float in the Dead Sea, located not far from some of the most important religious sites to both Islam and Christianity.

Other Destinations
These are just a sampling of some of the exotic locations that Indiana Jones visited throughout the course of the films. He also traveled to Arches National Park in Utah, as well as Berlin and Venice in “Last Crusade” and dropped by a nuclear testing facility in the Nevada desert in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” In between his thrilling adventures, Indy also managed to find time to teach archaeology at Marshall College, located in Bedford, Connecticut. The college may be fictional, but you can still stroll its hallowed grounds as Yale University served as the backdrop.

While “Crystal Skull” wasn’t as well received by critics and fans as the previous films in the series, rumors persist of a potential fifth Indiana Jones movie. If so, it’ll be interesting to see where Indy ends up next and what new destinations he’ll add to his passport in the process.

Peruvian Government Announces Plans For New Airport Near Machu Picchu

machu picchuAccording to press reports, Peru’s President, Ollanta Humala, has announced that his government has committed some $460 million towards the creation of a new airport near Cusco to boost tourism in Machu Picchu. Humala said that the current airport in Cusco is inadequate and expressed hope that a new facility would bring more tourism dollars to the country.

In recent years, Peru has moved to limit the number of tourists who can visit the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu to 2,500 per day, so the new initiative to attract more visitors is sure to draw criticism from those worried about preserving the site.

I asked Mark Adams, the author of Turn Right at Machu Picchu, what he made of the plans for a new airport in the town of Chinchero, and he said that the move appeared to be a change of direction for the Peruvian government.

“A new airport – especially one built near Chinchero, which is a bit closer to Machu Picchu than Cusco is – is a move in the opposite direction, and will only encourage more people to come,” he wrote. “One of the reasons that Machu Picchu is as well preserved as it is, is that it’s hard to get there – you need to fly through Lima and take a long train ride. The inconvenience acts as a filter. If this new airport leads to the construction of a new road to Machu Picchu (you can’t drive there directly right now), the numbers of people who visit could explode. And that would be a disaster.”

[Photo by Szeke on Flickr]

Kayaker Attempting Amazon River Speed Record

The Amazon RiverThis past Saturday, Texas native West Hansen set off on what is sure to be an epic adventure in South America. The avid paddler from Austin launched his attempt to set a new speed record for kayaking the length of the Amazon River, a waterway that runs more than 4400 miles (7081 kilometers) in length. The entire expedition is expected to last several months.

Hansen began his journey on Mount Mismi, a snow-capped peak located in a remote section of the Peruvian Andes. The 18,363-foot (5597-meter) mountain has been identified as the most distant source of the Amazon with the Rio Apurimac, one of the prime tributaries for the river, beginning on its slopes. As it rushes down the mountain, the water picks up speed and power, creating dangerous Class V and VI+ rapids. West will need to successfully navigate those treacherous waters in the early days of the expedition.

Reading the early updates on Hansen’s Amazon Express website, it seems that low water flow at the headwaters have made it tough going over the first few days. At times there hasn’t been enough water to even paddle, forcing him to portage around certain sections. Carrying gear and a kayak through lush rainforests isn’t easy either, which only serves to cause further delays.

The relative calm won’t last long, however, and the volume of water will most definitely pick up. Before he reaches the slower, more tranquil waters of the Amazon itself, West will have to run the dreaded Acobamba Abyss, a 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of river that is amongst the most difficult whitewater on the planet. The section flows through a towering slot canyon that once paddlers enter, there is no escape or turning back. He’ll have to successfully navigate Class V+ rapids on a river of no return, relying on his skills as a paddler to successfully make it out the other side.

That will simply be the start of what promises to be quite an adventure for Hansen and his support crew. He doesn’t offer up a definitive estimate of how long it will take to complete the journey, which will pass through both Peru and Brazil on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Regular updates should provide plenty of insights into his progress, however, and it should be fun see what he discovers along the way.