Monthly Archives: October 2010

Cuenca Festival, Mon 1st Nov – Nov 3rd

Children celbrating

Festival time in Cuenca

In continuation…here’s a selection of events till Nov 3rd.  Last night I went to the Crafts fair in CIDAP at the bottom of the Escalinata where there are some beautiful quality crafts on display from artesan communities around Cuenca and also Peru and Colombia.


There is ‘Noche Cuencana’ every night in the main squares with music and fireworlks at 8pm on Mon and Tue.  There will be plenty going on in the Parque de la Madre, Barranco, Otorongo area until the 3rd.

Sunday Nov 1st

Events and Music

Family Painting – Puente Roto – 10am

Latin American Music concert with artists from various countries – Parque de la Madre – 3pm

Traditional dancing – Mall del Rio – 6pm

Night bike ride – El Barraco – 7pm

Fairs and Festivals

Guinea Pig Eating! (had to happen) – Don Bosco and Loja – all day

Local and International Food – 10 Aug Market – all day

Food, dogs and children’s games – Plaza San Francisco – all day

Festivals of Food and Dance – El Arenal – all day (dance 10am)

Extreme Sports – Parque de la Madre – till Nov 3


Toys Made of Recycled Materials – Mall del Rio- all day

Guitars by the Association of Guitar Makers of San Bartoome – Borrero 6-83 – 9am-7pm

Iconography of Art – Galeria de Arte Illescas (Av Solano)


‘Embanderamiento’, or putting up the flags – all over the city

Tuesday Nov 2nd

Events and Music

Festival of Chameleons – various artists and ballet – Parque Calderon – 7pm

Military Tattoo – Parque Calderon – 9am

Student Parade – San Blas to San Sebastian – 10am

Vallenato music night – Plaza de Toros Santa Ana – 8pm

Football match: Cholas vs Clowns – Parque Paraiso – 10am (also on Wed)

Festivals and Fairs

Gastronomic – Parque de Miraflores – all day

Clothes market – 27 Feb Market – all day to 3rd

Agroecological Fair – Parque de San Blas – all day

Arts and crafts and puppet show – Plaza Rotary – all day till Nov 3


Open Day at army barracks in Tarqui – near Via a Banos – 9am-5pm

Flower arranging competition – 9 Oct Market – 10am

Tasting of foods of Ecudaor – Parque de la Madre – 10am

Wednesday Nov 3rd

Events and Music

Military Parade – Solano – 9am

Latin american music concert – Parque Calderon and Glorieta – 2pm

National competition of wooden vehicles – Larga and Malo to Parque Paraiso – 3pm

Election of Chola Cuencana (beauty pagent) – Parque Miraflores – 3pm

Donkey race – Larga and Malo to Parque Paraiso – 4pm


Mass and floral offerings – Cathedral – 8am

Folk dancing and parade of children’s fashions – 27 Feb Market – 10am


Cuenca Festival

Everyone in Cuenca, including the toddlers in my son’s nursery, is hopping in anticipation of a few days off and a whole slew of free festive events to celebrate 190 years of Cuenca independence.

Here’s just a small selection of the huge range of bizarre, big, small, traditional and downright wacky events going on in the city.

Friday 29th Octoberr


Handicrafts exhibition –  CIDAP  – throughout the festival

Open House of Alternative Medicine – Remigio Crespo 2-33 – 9am

Art and Sculpture Outside –  Puente Rot0 – throughout the festival.

Festivals and Fairs

Festival of food and folclore – Plaza Santo Domingo – from 9am

Jewellery Fair – Borerro and Munoz


The Subregional Building for Vaccines

Hector’s BBQ Grill, near Mall del Rio

Music and Shows

1812 Overture with fireworks,  and cannons? – Parque Calderon – 8pm

Club night: ‘I love 80s and 90s’ – Quinta Balzay – from 8pm

Other events

Multicolored lights illuminating Barranco  – till Nov 5th

Saturday 30th October

Festivals and Fairs

Gastronomic – 12 Abril and Agusto Cueva

Of the ‘active neighbourhood’: dancing, workshops, games, clowns, shows from the schools – Parque Miraflores – 2pm-6pm

Traditional games – Plaza Chagurarchibamba

Music and Events

Marching bands.  All over the center of the city from 9am

Police display incl acrobatic gymnastics on horses – Estadio Alejandro Serrano Aguilar – 10am

Rock Bands   – Coleseum – 4pm

Cinema: ‘Prometo Deportado’ – Teatro Sucre – 8pm

10km Night Run – From Parque el Paraiso – 7pm


WiFi in the bus station

Sunday 31st Octoberr


Display of wooden cars, painted cars and classic cars – Mercado 3 Nov – 10am

Art in the Park – Parque de la Madre – 3pm

Festivals and Fairs

Festival of BBQ meat – Parque Maria Auxiladora – 9am

Dog Show – Parque Paraiso -10-12am

Music and Events

Classic bike competition – Mall del Rio

Traditional Dance Display – Av 3 Nov – 3pm

Tripi Tripi: Electronic Club Night – Quinta Balzay – from 8pm

Festival of Pyrotechnics and ‘Acts’ – around Otorongo Bridge- from 9pm

Noche Cuencana: music, fireworks etc – Various Plazas in Center 8pm

.. More to come including

Festival of Guinea Pigs, Queen of Cuenca, Extreme Sportsog Show…

Machu Picchu for Girls: What is there for women travellers in Cusco and around?

Lou in a questionable alpaca hat

Lou from Into LA in a questionable alpaca hat


Alpaca sweaters
The fashion police would not approve of the plethora of sweaters with tassles and pictures of llamas, but it is possible to get a beautiful real alpaca sweater that doesn’t make you look like a cartoon tourist.  Baby alpaca is just about the softest most wonderful wool and if you pay a bit more, you can get the genuine article in a range of modern, stylish designs.

Of all types and styles.  There are mass produced colorful textiles, antique weavings using natural dyes and some fabulous, complex modern takes. Good places to find out about the various pieces of clothing, the significance of the patterns and the skills involved, is the Inca Museum or the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco.

Silverware is the specialty of Cusco and Peru in general. Cusco is a great place to find some fine, hand crafted unique pieces.  Ilaria has some exquisite original pieces often inspired by Inca designs.  For more contemporary, chunky designs Jewely Esma in San Blas is a good choice.  Chimu has funky pieces inspired by Chimu cluture and Spondilus uses gemstones in a stylish, sophisticated way.

Other Clothes
The cool San Blas district has a growing selection of shops selling individually made creations.  There are some cool funky Inca inspired T shirts or shops like Hilo whose hip, alternative creations are tailor made to fit perfectly.

Body and Soul

When you hear of the Cusco School of Art, this isn’t the myriad paintings of Andean children and Cusco scenes on sale around the main square.  It refers to the local Andean take on the Spanish style of the 16th Century.  It’s characterized by religious icons, gold and oddities like guinea pig at the last supper.  There are plenty of examples on view but if you prefer your art more modern, local artist Elena Mendoza Altamirano’s labour of love is the Fractal Dragon Gallery.  Housed in a beautifully restored colonial mansion, the gallery displays the best of local up and coming Cusco artists.

Don’t get put off by the touts offering massages.  This isn’t the whole story as there are plenty of affordable and professional spa opportunities in Cusco and around.  A local characteristic is the combination of spa treatments with Andean rituals of purification and the use of local herbs in therapies.    The uninspiring location of Yin Yang in the shopping center on Av Sol is deceiving:  they are massage pros and are happy to come to the hotel. Inka Spa gets great reviews for its massages and ritual treatments starting at $25.  If all you really want is a bath, then head to Siluet for no-nonsense Jacuzzi and sauna.

The Sacred Valley has an increasingly wide range of places for retreats, shamanic rituals and yoga.  San Blas also has some excellent yoga centers with internationally qualified teachers. “Yoga Inbound” in the Casa de Cultura on Carmen Alto do excellent Ashtanga Vinyasa classes as well as teacher training.  Yoga Spirit Peru offers daily classes as well as biweekly free classes near the ruins of Sacsayuaman.  Do yoga outdoors high above the city and next to a huge Inca fortress.

Steph from Into LA in The Tea Rooms

Steph from Into LA in The Tea Rooms

Stuff to Drink
Because of its position as one of the premier tourist destinations in South America there is a huge range of local and international places to eat and drink.   For a taste of sophistication, Baco is THE place for a quiet glass of wine, Jack’s Café is famous, always busy and the coffee lovers favorite, for a boisterous, beery night, Paddy’s is the old Irish standard. If you prefer tea and cake, check out the cool couches at The Tea Rooms.

Lovers of all things food you can do no worse than head to the main market in San Pedro.  There you’ll find all the herbs, spices, fruit and other produce that make up the hugely varied range of Peruvian cuisine. Did you know that there are over 2, 000 kinds of potato or that the tomato came from Peru?

It used to be that taking a salsa class in Cusco was an excuse for young men to chat up cute foreign girls. No longer the case, genuine and legitimate salsa schools are popping up all over the place. The non- profit Fair Salsa has a troupe of salsa professionals whose one to one instruction will help you swing those hips on the dance floor

Denise Van Outen, Fearne Cotton Machu Picchu Challenge: What did they really do?

More well known for their glamorous lifestyles, UK celebrities  Denise Van Outen,  Fearne Cotton, Alexandra Burke, Amanda Byram, Gabriella Cilm were all over the UK press when they did a trek to Machu Picchu to raise awareness for Breast Cancer Care.  They were joined on the trek by six ladies diagnosed with the disease, and a film crew.  Follow in their footsteps

The media said that they did the famous Inca Trail, but what did they actually do?

Here is what they most probably did plus some insights into the experience and what they might have seen on the way.

First of all they didn’t do the classic Inca Trail but rather a Lares Trek.

What is a Lares Trek?

Lares is a mountainous area outside the city of Cusco,  not too far from Machu Picchu.  There are various hikes you can do here – called Lares Treks because they start or finish in the town  of Lares.

Is it cheating not to do the Inca Trail?

Not at all.  Take a look:

Day 1: Hot springs and waterfalls

A car will have taken them from Cusco, through the Sacred Valley and up into the Andean Altiplano at heights of 3700m.  It’s a tough start on the steep zig-zag path that heads up to the pass at 420mm.  The rewards though are views of beautiful blue lakes and waterfalls as they head down to the town of Lares.   Just outside of town is the fabulous Lares Hot Springs.  The springs are operated by the community and consist of various pools.  There is one large pool you can swim in,  then three smaller pools that go from fairly chilly to ‘oh my,  I can only manage a minute’ hot.  It is a great place to camp the night but the celebs carried on that day to the small community of Cuncani . It’s clear from this Mirror article the celebs enjoyed the hot springs.

Local grandparesnt outside their home

Local grandparents

People in these villages grow potatoes and other root villages and keep llamas or alpacas to earn a living.  It is a very basic lifestyle.  Women  still weave their clothes in a traditional way.  People live in stone-built houses with thatched roves and cook on basic wood fires, and have no doubt never heard of the visiting celebs.

In the kitchen you are bound to find plenty of guinea pigs squealing .  These animals have special significance and are eaten on festival and celebration days, not a pleasant idea for the vegetarians in the group.

Young girls selling weaving Lares

Local girls sell weavings to make money for their families

Some villages in the Lares valleys have benefitted from tourism with organizations supporting local schools, and tourists buying small weavings as souvenirs, or bottles of cola,  but life is generally  hard and people are poor.  Trekkers are likely to see women and children looking after their alpacas, or men carrying goods by mule to the nearest towns for sale.

Definitely no phones, internet or other trappings of modern day living!

Day 2 : Snowy peaks and mountain communities

The ladies will probably have got up stiff after a night in a tent at altitudes.  No hot showers up here!  Some typical effects of altitude are difficulty sleeping, strange dreams and flatulence.

Camp site on Lares trek

Camp site in the mountains, Lares

A cook will have handed them a cup of hot coca tea to wake them up.  The coca leaves are enthusiastically chewed or made into tea in this area to help with the effects of altitude.  Breakfast will be hearty to prepare for the day ahead and served in a dining tent.

It’s likely that the large group of foreigners attracted the attention of plenty of local children who follow along asking for sweets.  It’s now the practice in the area that guides will advise people what to do about this and might suggest visitors give out bread or school supplies instead.

This day will have seen them pass some spectacular scenery.  The Lares area has some white giants brooding over it in the form of the snow capped peaks of Chicon and Pumahuanja and huge open valleys populated with azure lakes.

Finishing in the community of Huacahuasi  (pronounced wakawasi), the group might have set up camp in the stone shelter of a llama coral.  These corrals are a feature of the landscape here.  It is often the job of the children to bring the animals into the corrals at dusk to keep them safe from predators such as pumas.

Day 3:  High passes and lakes

This is the hardest day of the trek as it is a long day with a pass of 4200m.  Just to give an idea,  that’s more than three times  higher than Ben Nevis.

There are fewer communities here and no road transport but fabulous views of the snow capped peaks to the north covered in glaciers.


Glaciated peak, Lares

Glaciated Peak, Lares

Sleep is on the edge of a lake formed by glaciers – so definitely no swimming!   At this height, the sun is very strong.  As soon as the sun goes down, though, you’ll be putting on your alpaca hats and socks.  If your cold toes can stand it, it is worth sitting outside the tent for the fabulous views of the stars away from pollution and city lights.

Day 4; Machu Picchu at last!

Let’s give the ladies the benefit of the doubt and say they did arrive in Machu Picchu on the Inca trail; then the day went like this:

After an early start they walk downhill to where a car is there to take them down the bumpy road back to civilization. Then take a train to the practically named Km 104.

Here it is totally different terrain. It is an amazing experience to start the day in high Andean mountains with glaciated lakes, and then trek through lush cloud forests leading to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Macchu Picchu

The final part is up 50 stone steps made by the Incas just to give that final challenge.

At the top, though, is the Sun Gate and the amazing, iconic view of Machu Picchu – a truly unforgettable moment for anyone!

After a much deserved rest and a tour of magical Machu Picchu, they could finally sleep in a hotel bed with hot showers, eat indoors in a local restaurant, and take the train back to the city of Cusco.

Are you up to the challenge?

Why the Lares Trek and not the usual Inca Trail?

  • The Inca Trail is a great hike but is very popular and some people want to be with less trekkers.
  • Because of the popularity the authorities have limited the number of tourists who can start the trek each day to around 200.   You need to apply for a permit to do the Inca Trail quite far in advance
  • On the Lares Treks you can hire horses and mules to help carry your bags – or you!  On the Inca Trail the porters carry everything on their backs.
  • The main reason many people chose a trek in the Lares area is for the chance to mix with local people and see a traditional way of life that hasn’t changed much for centuries.
  • There are less Inca runis on the Lares treks but the scenery is open and spectacular.

This sounds great but I’m not sure about all that hiking and tents

Have no fear!  It is possible to get to Machu Picchu in a more relaxed style – just hop on a train!

Coming up….what else is there around Machu Picchu for the girls?  Some top tips from the ladies at Into Latin America

Thank you to Al Toth for photos of Lares

Machu Picchu for Beginners


Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

What is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is a large complex of ruins.  It is the remains of an important city built by the Incas around 1400.  It’s also called the ’The lost City of the Incas’ and is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Where is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is located in the Andean mountains of Peru ,South America.  The nearest substantial city with an airport is called Cusco or Cuzco.  To get to Cusco you need to fly, or take a 22 hour bus,  from Lima, the capital of Peru.

Can I stay at Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is perched in a stunning location on top of a mountain.  There is just one hotel near the site, or sanctuary. At the bottom of a hill is a town full of hotels called Aguas Calientes.  You can stay in a hotel or hostel in Aguas and then walk, or take a bus up to the site of Machu Picchu.

How can I get to Machu Picchu?

Train route diagram

Train to Machu Picchu

Apart from the very short road between Aguas and Machu Picchu, there are no roads to the site.  You have to take a train or walk.

Most people take the train.  Trains travel from Cusco (or Poroy just outside), through the Sacred Valley,  to Aguas Calientes.  You can get on the train in Poroy, or in Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.

What is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail is a section of Inca pathways that lead to Machu Picchu.  To walk the Inca Trail takes around 3 days and passes many Inca sites along the way.

Many travel agencies now offer ‘Alternative Inca Trails’.  These are treks of 2 days or more that finish around Aguas Calientes.  None of the Alternative Treks finish at Machu Picchu and you will usually have to take a train at some point.  Examples of alternatives are Salkantay, Lares and the Inca Jungle Trail.

What else is there to visit near Machu Picchu?

Cusco is a beautiful historic city that was once an Inca capital.  Between Cusco and Machu Picchu is the Sacred Valley of the Incas, also full of historic sites.  The Amazon jungle is also easy to visit from Cusco.  There is a lot of biking and hiking and arts and crafts in the area.

To see what else there is to do and see in Peru, take a look at Into Latin America

Peruvian Drinks for Visitors

Chicha Morada

Chicha Morada


This name covers a multitude of sins.  There’s the innocent chicha morada – a favorite of Peruvian children made with the distinctive purple maize and pineapple skins.

Then there’s the kind drunk in fields, festivals and villages all over Peru.  This mildly alcoholic drink was traditionally fermented by being chewed in the mouth and then spat out into the mixture.  Now the maize is generally just fermented over days in large urns.

If you visit a rural family you are likely to be offered some chicha, probably out of a shared jerry can.  Beware, it can be tough on the stomach if you are not used to it.  Look out for bamboo poles outside houses holding blue or red plastic bags – these indicate that chicha is on sale.  (white bags  mean bread for sale).

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Pisco Sour

Pisco is a spirit made of distilled grapes.  It is produced along the south coast of Peru and it is worth visiting a vineyard to see the production process if you are in the Ica area.  The battle over the origin preferred home of the pisco cocktail, Pisco Sour, is hotly debated between Peru and Chile.

The drink is best prepared fresh and consist of lemon, sugar, egg white – and of course the pisco.  The classic place to try out the sour is the Gran Hotel Bolivar in Lima.

It’s so cool – even heavy metal bands drink it.

Coca Tea

Why drink coca tea?  It’s true that it’s a slightly bitter,  acquired taste but its benefits are indisputable at altitude. Added to which, you can’t drink it at home so…

Inka Cola

Where else could the name of the majestic and powerful Incas be given to the name of bottles of bright yellow, bubble gum flavor pop.   This drink used to out-sell Coca Cola – until the giant bought into the company to the tune of 49%!


Go to any good-sized market in Peru and head for the juice selection.  There you will find rows of brisk- looking women ready to take you to fresh fruit juice heaven for less than a dollar.

Tell them your troubles and they are sure to have a bizarre concoction to fix it.  Ingredients might include cactus leaves, beer, oats, herbs and maca (found in Viagra).


5 Foods to try in Peru because they’re odd

1.        Guinea pig. Guinea Pig

It has to be done; on any trip to the Andes you will be expected to eat come home having sampled some guinea pig.  The sight of the little creature, ready-roasted and lying on your plate with its feet in the air, however, might not be too appetizing.  Just remember that guinea pigs, or cuy, are not just another source of meat for local people.  The symbolism of eating cuy goes back centuries and, to this day, you will often find the creatures running around rural kitchens, waiting for a special occasion or festival for them to be eaten.

Different areas cook their cuy in different ways, so if you don’t like the taste in Cusco,  you’ll be told that the recipe is Huaraz is sure to be more to your taste.  My recommendation is to have it roasted (al horno). If you don’t like the cuy, the potatoes are always good.

Click here to read an account of eating cuy (in Ecuador).

2.       Alpaca steak

It’s a steak, its made of alpaca and its very good.  Well worth trying.

3.       PachamancaPachamanca oven

To try one of these you will have to get out of town and up in to the mountains.  A pachamanca is a feast of meats, potatoes and other tubers cooked in a makeshift oven made of soil and stones.  The name itself means pan of the earth in Quechua, and is an ingenious way of preparing a feast high in the mountains.

First,  stones are heated, then seasoned meat and vegetables are wrapped in leaves and placed inside the stones.  The whole ‘oven’ is then sealed up completely with leaves, soil, grasses and whatever is available.  After an hour or so, you essentially have to smash up the oven to get at the food inside.  If your timing is right, you have a delicious smoked meal.  These meals are an integral part of village life intended to share with other members of the community.

4.       Freeze dried potatoes

Another ingenious food from the mountains is freeze dried potatoes.  You can often find these grey crumbly potatoes in your soups and their ‘invention’ is vital for starving off hunger in periods between potato harvests.  Chuňo, as they are known,  are made by simply leaving the potatoes out in the biggest freezer of all: the Andean night.  Later,  the moisture is squeezed out or dries out in the sun.  Way before we had freezers, the people of the Andes knew that a frozen potato lasts longer!

More about potatoes

5.  Anticucho



Beef hearts barbequed on a skewer – a firm favorite of Peruvians everywhere.  If you see a crowd of people gathering around a grill on their way home from work – it’s the anticucho they are after.  If you can stomach it, there’s no better way of becoming a local than chomping down an anticucho on the street.

NB Images from:  Pachamanca –, Anticucho