Hey folks, this route is so heavenly and exotic, and still so undiscovered, you've got to get on it before the tourism machine gets here.
If you're going to Peru from Ecuador, 99% of travelers will go through Huaquillas, but why follow the crowd? There are at least three other side doors, and all of them are way more cool.
Go a bit east and over the border through Macará, a rice growing capital of Ecuador and also famous for Seco de Chivo, which is a delectable stewed piece of goat in a gravy over rice.
But way before you get there, you can stop first in Balsas, which has a grotto of medicinal waters surrounded by cinnamon and oak trees. Heal thyself, baby!
Then a little farther east down the road is the amazing Buenaventura Reserve where you'll get a guaranteed welcome of thousands of hummingbirds (see my article on Zaruma), as well as find yourself in a rare few square kilometers that is the nexus of different avian migratory routes, creating a habitat for many endangered species.
Past Balsas is Chaguarpamba, a place steeped in the history of the ancient Paltas people, and where you can often sit in on local storytelling about the old traditions.
Before you go up into the uplands, stop and venture into your private petrified forest of Puyango (see my article on Puyango). more...
Okay, yah yah, I know, this route is pretty short. You can get to "VdL" as they call it in just a few hours. However, there's so much in between that I'm recommending this route as one to get off the bus a lot, stay overnight even instead of going back to Bogota.
First, you want to stop in Chia (no, not to get Chia pets), an idyllic town on a beautiful lake with beautiful courtyards. City folk love to go to Chia for the weekends and chill. Then continue north to Zipaquira, one of my favorite towns in the whole country. The main attraction is the Salt Cathedral, a huge underground mine that has been converted into a church. But the town itself is a charmer too!
Leaving "Zip" on the way to Tunja, you should get off to visit the several important monuments at the site of the Boyaca Bridge more...
This is such a well-worn route it's hardly worth mentioning, but then again I'm surprised at the number of travelers who take it direct without considering all the lifetime experiences they pass up before they get to Cusco.
For hikers of any ability, the town of Chivay should be your first point of order, because from here you can head out to the unforgettable Colca Canyon, one of the deepest canyons in the world. You don't have to go down to appreciate its splendor. On the way there you'll skirt the Aguada Blanca National Reserve, inhabited by herds of vicuñas and alpacas. One of the best hikes is at the top of the steepest side of Colca Canyon where you come to Condor's Cross (El Mirador), where the biggest flying bird in the world can usually be seen soaring amongst the peaks. There are also some picturesque colonial town around the rim of the canyon, like Yanque, Coporaque, Achoma and Maca.
Continuing northeast, you come into the Caylloma province, that possesses some of the highest satin-sheen lakes in South America like Lago Condoroma. As you come toward Espinar, no doubt you will think you are immersed in scenes of Lord of the Rings with the vast plains and swamps and mystic mountains more...
If you're coming from the splendid beach at El Rodadero in Santa Marta or visiting the Quinto de San Pedro Alejandrino where Simón Bolívar spent his last days, go west young packer on this Caribbean coastal route that involves just a couple hours ride at a time.
While most bypass the big industrial port of Barranquilla, it is South America's second Carnival capital (first being Río de Janeiro) at a much better bargain. It also is a great spot for art deco fans, including the Metropolitan Cathedral and the famous Teatro Amira de la Rosa museum and library.
Before you get to Cartagena, stop for an unforgettable experience at the Volcan de Lodo Totumo, a real volcano only about 30 feet high, that bubbles up lukewarm medicinal mud you can bathe and receive massages in, and then get yourself washed off in the nearby water -- very therapeutic and fun!
Cartagena itself is to die for, what I call the New Orleans French Quarter on Steroids! Old, full of pirate history, sultry and exotic. Sit on top of the old town wall at night with a pitcher of coco-limon and enjoy the gentle ocean breezes, visit the old maritime antique stores more...
This is a splendid route that takes you from the capital (constitutional) of Bolivia through breathtaking highlands all the way to the gorgeous wine country of Tarija.
But before you leave Sucre going south, take a side trip east to what I think is Bolivia's best traditional market town, Tarabuco. On your way there, make sure to stop and walk with the dinosaurs at Cal Orcko, which contains over 5,000 tracks of 294 species of ancient beasts.
Going southward, your major "pitstop" worth spending at least a day in is Potosi, a town of intricately colored doorways and some of the best museums in South America thanks to its affluent history from mining. Climb the little hill of Tarapaya and find a natural thermal hot spring on the top waiting to give you a dip with a great view. Potosi is also a major crossroads for transporation going west to Uyuni.
Before you get to Tupiza, you might be tempted to just get off and do some hiking around the picturesque Laguna Kharachi Orcko, but if not wait to get into town where you'll find lots of outfitters to take you horseback riding or mountain biking through the area canyons and valleys. more...