Visiting the Douro Wine Valley in Northern Portugal

We inch up the serpentine bends, pulling the car precariously close to the side of the narrow road closer to the river, as an SUV returning from the mountain, hurtles down in haste.

Below us lies a latticework of vines growing in schist rock terraces, arranged at pleasing angles.

As if splitting the mountain interface, the mighty Douro river carves its way, flowing between Portugal and Spain.

The river has witnessed the efforts of man and vine for more than 2000 years; in 1991 the Alto Douro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the long tradition of Port production and the resultant development in infrastructure in the area.

Related read: A Guide to Porto Street Art

Douro wine region
Douro wine region

Visiting the Douro wine valley

The Douro wine valley is as spectacular as they say, but even in the heat of summer, there are very few tourists. There are a number of rural houses across the river, some with a noble edge, and they cast ethereal shadows in the flat green waters. The terrain is unique and I feel a growing curiosity about the history and people who live and work here. 

While the grapes for some incredibly good table wines, of which we have had the pleasure over three months of living in Portugal to sample, are grown here in the Douro, the region is most famous for excellent Ports or fortified wines.

In picturesque Oporto which lies at the basin of the Douro, you will see prominent signs advertising the names of Port wine cellars. Port is stored in these cool cellars, but in order to get there, trucks must traverse the precarious journey down. We are told that it isn’t uncommon during harvest season for more than one collision or for a truck to tragically take a tumble over the side.

In the old days, barrels of pressed grapes were transported by rabelo along the unpredictable Douro.

The Douro wine estates

At various estates or quintas, you may still find rudimentary chapels built in the old style – these were houses of worship where the stewards of those small vessels would come to pray for safe passage.

At Quinta do Crasto, we are taken up to admire the views of the valley from the pool area before our tasting commences and the eye is tricked into believing the pool flows into the Douro river. 

It is here that we are reminded what we have been told before, that as popular as Port is, it isn’t so with the Portuguese. Rather, it’s an English custom that seems to live on; naturally much of the port produced is for export. The Douro developed the first appellation system, a wine classification to distinguish the three regions in which the grapes are grown. This was developed 200 years before the French system!

Later on at Quinta do Nova, we both agree that this could be the very spot for a renewal of wedding vows, except we both know we have family who wouldn’t commit to scaling the hills to get here. Lunch is an elaborate affair paired with the estate’s wines, under the shaded pergola.

After a day of exploring, Douro wine tasting (the driver must opt for sensibility, the roads aren’t worth the risk), and taking in views we head back to the beautiful CS Vintage House Hotel for a nap and a shower before dinner at Rui Paula’s DOC, a sleek and modern restaurant with an excellent reputation, on the water’s edge.

And tomorrow? We’ll blissfully do it all again!

Douro wine and port
Douro wine and port

Types of Port in Douro

Broadly, Port may be characterised into two types, wood and bottled aged. Wood-aged Ports include Ruby, Tawny and White. Glass-aged include Vintage and Crusted Ports. 

Port can be successfully paired with cheese, chocolate and cakes too.


Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe, Namibia

It was the 30th day of my amazing African adventure and I couldn’t believe I had been driving around this continent for a month now! After visiting so many amazing places already, next up was visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.

On this day, we left the spectacular Etosha behind and travelled onward through the desert, to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe. As we departed Etosha we were fortunate enough to be greeted by a few more animals, waving us off on our journey. We saw a male lion, with two more far off in the distance (binoculars were necessary at this point!), some ostriches, zebras and giraffes.

Visiting Damaraland and Spitzkoppe was part of the Serengeti, Falls & Cape Town Overland: Sunsets & Safaris tour with G Adventures.

On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.
On route to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe in Namibia.

We even witnessed some springbok “spronking” (a comical four-legged jump).

A springbok “spronking”.
Photo found on Google as I didn’t manage to capture this hilarious moment, but this is a springbok “spronking”!

Starting the journey to Damaraland and Spitzkoppe

Our journey was a bumpy one, and with 70% of Namibian roads being dusty and uneven, we wouldn’t return to paved roads until we reached South Africa. We stopped off to see some enormous termite mounds, and although they weren’t of much interest to our Aussie travel friends because they can be seen in Australia too, I found them fascinating.

There are five types of termites:

  • The “workers”, who build the mounds. They are sexually immature, blind, wingless and the smallest of the three.
  • The “alates”, who are winged and have no purpose in the group. They simply hatch and fly.
  • The “soldiers”, who protect the mound, have sharp jaws and defend their colony.
  • The “queen”, who has the longest lifespan of any insect in the world, with some queens reportedly living up to 30 to 50 years. They are the only ones who lay the eggs and so the future of the mound depends on them. If the queen does die though, her daughter can take over.
  • The “king”, who mates with the queen for life and fertilizes the eggs.

All termite mounds in Africa lean to the west because of the sun and the wind, there are 3,100 species of termites and millions live in each mound. Aardvarks and other animals attack termites for food and the local people will also eat the alate and soldier termites, as they are full of protein and are delicious when fried, according to our CEO and guide Wellington. As well as a food source, the locals use the soil from the mounds to build houses.

Termite mounds in Namibia.
It’s amazing to think that such tiny creatures can create this massive mound!

We also saw the national plant of Namibia, Welwitschia mirabilis. Endemic to the Namib Desert, it can live up to 2,000 years and grows sideways.

The Welwitschia mirabilis - the national plant in Namibia
The Welwitschia mirabilis – the national plant in Namibia

The final stop before reaching Damaraland

Our final stop before reaching Damaraland was a national monument: Namibia’s Petrified Forest.

Here we were taught about a phenomenon that began around 280 million years ago, when the end of the Ice Age caused an enormous flood. Trees were uprooted and ended up in Namibia, where they were buried underground and changed form due to the penetration of minerals caused by pressure. They had become petrified, meaning they were now trees made of stone. As a result of erosion, the trees reached the earth’s surface and were discovered by two farmers in the 1940s.

The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia
The Petrified Forest National Heritage Site in Namibia

Learning about the Damara culture in Damaraland

Once we arrived into Damaraland, we took a tour of the Living Museum to learn about the lost culture of the Damara people. Though they no longer live in the traditional manner, the tour aims to keep the culture alive for future generations. We watched singing and dancing and the men demonstrated their fire starting ability, which we were told was a skill they needed originally, in order to impress a woman into becoming their wife. We also entered the women’s workshop, where they were creating jewelry and knickknacks out of materials such as ostrich egg shells, seeds and porcupine spikes.

We learnt about the traditional medicines and the Damara peoples’ resourcefulness in their creation of tools. For example, they would use springbok horns to make weaponry for hunting that could also be used for pipe smoking.

Their clothing was made from goat leather and we observed a game they played for hours and would take very seriously (which I’d seen played in Zanzibar), called Bao. This would be used to teach their children how to count in the Khoekhoe language. 

The Damara people in Namibia
Our friendly guide, Sharon
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia
The Damara people in Namibia

A tour of Twyfelfontein

The following day began with a tour of Namibia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Twyfelfontein. Afrikaans for “doubtful fountain”, there is a spring here which seldom receives rainfall (hence the name), but it is best known for its multitude of prehistoric rock engravings.

These were made during the early Stone Age and depict hunting maps, footprints, waterholes and animals, including giraffes, elephants, ostriches and rhinos. Some of the artists must have been nomads because there were even animals such as penguins and seals, which would’ve been found elsewhere.

The engravings were made using quartz stones and were discovered in 1921, but it was never clear exactly when they were made, with historians predicting anywhere between two to six thousand years ago. Thought to have been the work of Bushmen or Nama artists, there are more than 2,500 rock carvings and paintings in the area.

Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Rock engravings in Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein - Namibia's first World Heritage Site
Twyfelfontein – Namibia’s first World Heritage Site

From Damaraland to Spitzkoppe

It was now time to leave Damaraland and travel south towards Spitzkoppe. En route we made a few pit stops and the first of which was at a village populated by Herero people.

We were encouraged to explore their markets, as tourists buying their handmade wares was their main source of income. I bought a beautiful bag and we gave the children water. Our CEOs told us that it was important not to give them food or sweets, as we don’t want to encourage a begging culture, we cannot give them the same tomorrow, and they may not be able to brush their teeth after eating sweets.

Wellington also referred to the saying:

‘give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’.

This phrase stayed with me and is something that it seems G Adventures feel strongly about because they support so many worthwhile enterprises which do exactly this.

Shopping in markets in Namibia
I bought my bag from this lady’s stall. Her dress was exquisite!
Shopping in markets in Namibia
Giving the children water from our tap at the back of the lando

We passed Brandberg Mountain, which at 2,573 metres, is Namibia’s tallest mountain. We also stopped to meet some Himba people, who are indigenous and have an estimated population of around 50,000 living in northern Namibia.

Wellington told us some information about this fascinating group, whose ancestors can be traced back to the early 16th century. They carry out arranged marriages from the age of 10 and their perception of wealth is reflected in the number of cows that they own.

They wear special contraptions around their ankles to protect them from snake bites and they make their own natural hair extensions, sun cream and mosquito repellents. Women are not allowed to use water for washing, as traditionally there were many great droughts and only the men were permitted to use this scarce commodity.

Therefore, the women used (and still use) smouldering charcoal which they would mix with herbs and wash in the smoke produced. Similarly, the men engage in polygamy but the women are forbidden from doing so.

Brandberg Mountain on the way to Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Brandberg Mountain
A Himba lady and her two sons
A Himba lady and her two sons

Arriving in Spitzkoppe

As we arrived into Spitzkoppe we noticed its many granite peaks in what seemed like every direction, as they stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. It was beautiful to walk around this almost-700-million-year-old area, and we spent the rest of the day climbing and exploring the breathtaking landscapes in the Namib Desert.

Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Just before the sun set, we clambered up one of the peaks and watched from above, listening to the bird song and gazing at the natural beauty around us.

Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Sunset in Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia
Touring Spitzkoppe in Namibia

Click here to view my 360° virtual tour of sunset on one of Spitzkoppe’s peaks!

In the evening, we enjoyed each other’s company around the campfire, singing and stargazing at the incredible night’s sky.

Stars in Spitzkoppe
Stars in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe
Nighttime in Spitzkoppe

Next up, we ventured to Swakopmund, where we would be exploring the Namib Desert by board instead of foot.

Thinking about exploring Namibia? Check out the Namibia tours offered by G Adventures – many include visiting both Damaraland and Spitzkoppe.


A Guide to Visiting Portsmouth

Portsmouth, the Great Waterfront City, is packed with attractions, things to do, and summer events. As the UK’s only island city, there’s plenty of coastline to explore and history to learn about.

Visiting museums are among the top things to do in Portsmouth, while there are also a few great FREE attractions and endless shopping opportunities.

If you’re planning in visiting Portsmouth in the next few months, start planning with this Portsmouth guide.

Things to do in Portsmouth, UK
Things to do in Portsmouth, UK

Free things to do in Portsmouth

There are many great free places to visit things to do in Portsmouth. Here’s where to start.

Southsea Common

Southsea Common is a great place for a family picnic, flying a kite or having a game of football, recently voted the best picnic spot in the South East region in Warburtons Britain’s Best Picnic Site Awards.

Aspex

Portsmouth’s leading contemporary art gallery invites you to explore the innovative, contemporary and visual art on display. With exhibitions, workshops and events throughout the year from international and local Portsmouth artists.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Cycle Ride around Langstone Harbour

One of the must things to do in Portsmouth is to visit the harbour. This 15 mile ride takes in mud flats, salt marshes and reclaimed land as it loops around the harbour. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Related Read: Best UK Cycle Routes

Seafront Cycle Ride

This is a 4.5 mile ride from Portsmouth Historic Dockyard along the seafront to Eastney. This route makes a great day out, you can stop at one of the bars and restaurants along the way or one of the many attractions along the seafront. Pick up your route map from the Visitor Information Centre.

Hilsea Lines

An eighty-hectare site surrounding the fortifications of Hilsea Lines ancient monument, including woodland, meadows and fresh brackish lakes. It is remarkable that it contains the only area of woodland on Portsea Island. The site is of particular interest to botanists and offers easy to use self-guided trails.

Millennium Trail

This Portsmouth walking trail is indicated by a chain motif set into the promenade. Historically it refers to the chains, which use to be tightened across the harbour entrance at times of potential attack. A printed handout is for sale at the Visitor Information Centres, which provides full details of the route and the history associated with the Millennium Promenade.

Farlington Marshes Wildlife Trail

Flower-rich grazing marsh and a saline lagoon, supports a wide variety of wildlife, including internationally important populations of migratory wildfowl and waders such as the black-tailed godwit. Enjoy the circular walk, mostly on the sea wall, which is approximately 4km.

St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral

Explore the splendour of this city centre cathedral which was built in five phases from 1882. The cathedral was extensively damaged during World War II and subsequently rebuilt. 

St Thomas’ Anglican Cathedral

For centuries the Cathedral has watched, listened and helped the people of Portsmouth navigate the passage of time. It has witnessed wars and peace, famous marriages, been bombed and rebuilt. Everyone from all religious backgrounds is able to come along and enjoy this beautiful cathedral.

Victoria Park

A haven of green tucked away in the city centre adjacent to the Guildhall. It covers 15 acres of grassed area, well-planted flower borders and trees. In the centre of the park is an area containing an aviary with peacocks, parrots and other exotic birds, as well as rabbits and guinea pigs that children can feed. Take some time to relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings of this city getaway.

Canoe Lake

A popular park dating from 1886, filled with some of the mature evergreen oaks planted in 1910, as well as an impressive display of floral bedding. The main Portsmouth attraction is the man-made boating lake. There is a large and very popular children’s play area with equipment for all ages and a sand pit.

Adjacent to the lake are the remaining walls of Lumps Fort which is now a peaceful and restful setting for Southsea Rose Gardens. Canoe Lake is known as a swan’s nursery as it is one of the Mute Swans chosen sites in the Solent. At times up to 60 juveniles can congregate here for comfort and security during the winter.

Portsmouth City Museum

Visit the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Between May and September you can also take an exciting walk through their butterfly house, see how many species you can spot as they fly around your head.

Museums in Portsmouth

Portsmouth has a wealth of places to visit, but is especially well known for its museums.

When making a list of things to do in Portsmouth for your trip, make sure to include a few museums on the list.

City Museum

See the exciting exhibition that allows you to explore the life and works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of world renowned character Sherlock Holmes. Learn about life in Portsmouth and at the seaside, both past and present through their exhibitions and reconstructions.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Home to HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860, The Mary Rose Museum and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard offers a full day out. Add to these attractions Action Stations and Harbour Tours which bring the naval history bang up to date.

Book your tickets online before you get there to make sure that you get in.

Royal Marines Museum

Based in a former Officer’s Mess, this stately museum celebrates the famous fighting spirit and history of the Royal Marines. 

D-Day Museum

The D-Day Museum is Portsmouth’s moving tribute to the efforts and sacrifices of the Allies of WWII.  Its centerpiece is the magnificent Overlord Embroidery, 272 feet of panels illustrating stirring scenes of Operation Overlord.  

Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum

This small house, where Dickens parents set up home after their marriage was where the great author was born in 1812. 

Natural History Museum, Cumberland House

Explore the British wildlife and its many habitats. The museum tells the tale of the wild riverbank, marshes, woods and urban areas of the city, and includes a fresh water aquarium. Exotic butterflies fly in the summer in the butterfly house overlooking the museum garden.

Southsea Castle

Built by Henry VIII, Southsea Castle is where he watched his favourite warship, the Mary Rose, capsize and sink in 1545.

Eastney Beam Engine House

Housed in their original high Victorian engine house of 1887 this pair of James Watt beam engines will be in full steam. You can also enjoy a variety of pumping engines, many of which are still in running order. Open the last full weekend of each month 1pm– 5pm (except December).

Shopping in Portsmouth

Portsmouth is retail therapy heaven! 

With three distinct areas to go shopping in Portsmouth, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Southsea

There’s a wealth of distinctive stores in Southsea, selling everything from curios to retro clothing. Palmerston Road is home to two department stores and high-street favourites whilst Marmion Road has chocolatiers, designer jewellery, boutiques and inspirational furnishings. 

Albert Road is considered one of the city’s hidden gems and Portsmouth’s answer to Brighton’s Lanes. Discover vintage delights, edgy clothing, antiques and collectables. With a distinctly bohemian feel, the street is buzzing day and night with quirky cafés and bars.

City Centre

To find high-street style, head to the City Centre. Commercial Road and Cascades Shopping Centre are home to some of the biggest brand names in the UK.  From Thursday to Saturday you’ll also find a traditional street market dating back centuries. When you need some time out to review your purchases, head to nearby Victoria Park for a snack and a rest.

Gunwharf Quays

You’ll find top designer outlets, stylish restaurants and chic bars on the waterfront at Gunwharf Quays. Meander through the pedestrian avenues and discover massive savings on designer labels and high street favourites. When your feet need a break you can relax with a cocktail overlooking the harbour or take in the views with a trip up the Spinnaker Tower.


The Complete Guide to Visiting Machu Picchu in Peru

Any trip to Peru isn’t complete without visiting Machu Picchu. It attracts archaeologists, photographers and adventurers, as well as travellers who are eager to tick it off their bucket list. 

The altitude of Machu Picchu is 2 430 m (7,972 feet) – making it pretty impressive (acute mountain altitude sickness can occur).

If you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu in Peru – here’s everything that you’ll need to know.

Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu
Hiking the Inca Jungle Trail To Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu in Peru

Visiting Machu Picchu isn’t cheap (though you can do Machu Picchu on a budget). As of 2021,

With the train ticket to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also formerly known as Aguas Calientes at US$98 return and a night’s accommodation it easily adds up to over US$200. Visitors to Machu Picchu typically leave from Cusco.

From there, a visitor has the following options to reach Machu Picchu:

On foot

Hiking the Inca Trail is an alternative to get in and a great way to arrive as you first see the city through the Sun Gate (instead of arriving from beneath on the bus). Both the four-day and two-day hikes are controlled by the government. Travelers should be fit enough to walk for days and sleep in tents.

A hiker can also follow the train tracks all the way to Machu Picchu. There is only one track leading out of the Machu Picchu train station in Cusco, so it’s quite simple. It takes about four days, and you only have to pay the entrance fee. Recent regulations require reservations and the hiring of a professional tour guide to accompany you on the hike.

You can also take the less popular Inca Jungle Trail.

Walking Along the Railroad Tracks

While this route is technically illegal, the law is not enforced except at the Inca Trail checkpoint of Kilometer 82. If you wish to get to Machu Picchu by this route, leave from Ollantaytambo early in the morning, at about 5 – 5:30 AM. You will likely have to make arrangements beforehand for a taxi to bring you to Km. 82, as there are not many taxis in service at this time. Once you get to Kilometer 82, begin walking on the tracks away from Ollantaytambo.

The trip is approximately 30 kilometers, but because the ground is flat it goes fairly quickly. You can count on getting into Aguas Calientes sometime after lunch and before dinner. It is then recommended to get a hostel and see the ruins the following day. This method of travel, it should be stressed, is technically illegal, but for a budget traveller looking for an adventure, this is the best choice.

Train to Machu Picchu

The most common way is to take the PeruRail train to Machu Picchu in the morning, explore the ruins for a few hours and return to Cusco in the afternoon, though it can be a bit rushed. The train terminates at Puente Ruinas station, where buses take tourists up the mountain to Machu Picchu. The Machu Picchu station is located at Aguas Calientes; this is not the station used by tourists on a day trip.

You can book Vistadome Train round-trip ticket here.

Note: PeruRail’s Backpacker train is segregationist in the literal sense. Tourists ride in a posh car, and Peruvians ride in another car farther back, often standing room only.

Bus to Machu Picchu

From Machu Picchu pueblo Aguas Calientes a traveler can take one of the frequent buses to the ruins (US$12 each way). The bus operates from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and the ride takes about 35 – 40 minutes.

It is also possible to walk the distance, about 2 hours (8 km). This route is mainly stairs, and follows the bus route up. It is a strenuous and long hike but is very rewarding, recommended to start around 4 a.m. to make it to the top before sunrise.

You can also travel the “back way” independently from Cusco by taking a bus to Santa Maria, colectivo to Santa Teresa, and proceeding to the hydroelectric train station by foot or van and on to Aguas Calientes by foot or train. Note that hiking the tracks is technically prohibited. Do your research before choosing this route.

An experience of visiting Machu Picchu by train

Many will take the challenging Inca Trail to reach this New 7 Wonder of the World, but Lisa Rollinson discovered that even those who take the easier route will still be overwhelmed by this legendary site…  

“I had dreamed of visiting the ancient ruins since I could remember. I had heard tales, seen pictures and read books, but finally it was my time to visit this man-made wonder. 

We arrived in Aguas Calientes by train in the early afternoon. This little town is Machu Picchu’s jumping on or off point, for people who have completed their Inca Trail trek or those who are sightseeing by train. A river runs though the village and there are restaurants and souvenir shops lining the main street. You could immediately sense the excitement amongst people who were returning from the sacred ruins, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy the moment myself! 

We joined the queue of locals and visitors who were waiting to board the buses, that 25 minutes later would have us disembarking at one of the most fascinating places on our planet. 

The road snaked its way through the mountains and, as the bus rounded a corner, I had my first glimpse of the ancient Inca ruins. I realised I was holding my breath, taken aback by the size of the site.  

The most astonishing thing is the mountain-side location of the ruins. The amount of work that must have gone into clearing the land is inspiring, but the gradient they are built on is simply unfathomable. 

Our guide explained how the stones used in the construction were both local and brought in from elsewhere. It took around 90 years for the Incas to build the sanctuary and some even say that parts were never finished.  

We had plenty of time to wander at our leisure, take it all in and imagine what it must have been like when the Spanish invaded the region. It was during this time that the Incas were thought to have burned Machu Picchu and hidden themselves deeper in the mountains. 

Machu Picchu was a small community, a place of refuge, built in the most improbable landscape. ‘Incredible’ just doesn’t describe it. Even when you see it for yourself it’s hard to comprehend the scale of Machu Picchu. It will keep you wondering why the Incas decided to build on a mountainside, in the middle of nowhere. There is simply nothing that compares in our modern world!”

Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru
Hiking to Machu Picchu in Peru

Highlights and things to see at the Machu Picchu, Peru

Take the time to walk around the site; there are many places to see and explore when visiting Machu Picchu. Although it is not necessary, taking a guided tour does provide a deeper insight into the ancient city, its uses, and information on the geography of it.

Also, be sure to wake up early to miss the thousands of people that visit the site each day, or stay till closing time. The first buses start running at 5:40AM, which will give you an hour or two in the pleasant light of dawn but before the full force of the sun begins hammering the mountainside. (If you plan to stay past 10AM, sunblock is requisite.)

Temple of the Sun

Near the summit of the main city, the stonework on the temple is incredible. Look closely and you will see that there are a variety of stone walls throughout the city. Most are rough stones held together with mud, the common stone walls found throughout the world. But many buildings or parts of buildings are done with the more distinctive and impressive closely-fit stonework. The temple is the absolute pinnacle of this technology. Observe it from the side, descending the stone staircase in the main plaza.

Intihuatana – Temple of the Three Windows – Main Temple – Condor

The tour guides will try to tell you that this was a temple, but look closely: between the wings of the condor is a chamber with grooves cut in the stone to secure manacles, a walkway behind where a torturer may walk to whip the prisoner’s backs, and a scary looking pit to let the blood of prisoners drain. Clearly the condor was a symbol of cruel justice, but a santized version is told for the benefit of middle-aged tourists and their children.

The following sights involve some legwork:

Sun Gate

Walk back up the Inca trail away from the site and up the hill to the Sun Gate (or Inti Punku); from here you can see back down each valley offering excellent views. It’s a gentle walk (probably 45 mins tops round trip) and well worth it. If you stay in Aguas Callientes, it is possible to get here early enough to catch the sunrise from here. 

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Walk up Waynapicchu (in Spanish Huayna Picchu); this is the “second” hill seen in the many photos. Its a steep but short walk offering very impressive views over the site. Well worth the effort!

Waynapicchu also has ruins atop its peak. As of November 2006, visitors are no longer accepted after 1 p.m. to start the trail, and all visitors must be out by 4:00p.m.

Only 400 visitors are allowed to enter this trail each day. Buses begin leaving for Machu Picchu at 5:30. A line forms early at the checkpoint to the trail. At 7:00 A.M. 400 ticket numbers are issued and the first of batch of 200 hikers is slowly released. The second group of 200 can start any time between 10:00 and 11:00 A.M.. On busy tourist days, the limit will be reached by 7 or 8 A.M..

It is recommended that you go straight here first thing. You will be required to sign in; remember your number (or the time you signed in) so that you can find yourself in the book to sign out again. The climb is steep and at times exposed, and takes about 1 hour each way. Some portions are slippery and steel cables (a via ferrata) provide some support. Decent footwear is important. There is an extremely narrow passage near the summit (a cave).

The view of the city is fantastic as it rises out of the clouds. You can even see all the way to the sun gate. 

At the top is a mini Machu Pichu, with houses, terraces, and some HUGE drop offs where you can get some amazing photos. 

This really is the last epic moment of the Inca Trail and the bit that fewest people get to see. So get past the crowds and hurry towards the mountain, sign the book, pass through the gate and get up to the top.

Take some time to lie on your back and take in the fact that you are on the very top of the Incas world. 

Two cautionary notes: The hike is somewhat strenuous and not advised for visitors who are elderly, pregnant or have heart/lung conditions. Also, the steep stairs and cliffs you must walk along at the summit can be terrifying for those who are afraid of heights.

Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)
Waynapicchu (Huayna Picchu)

Moon Temple and Great Cave

If you have some time at hand, or long for a sparkle of solitude, you can also walk to the Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and the Great Cave (Gran Caverne). It’s a long walk and adventurous hike involving several ladders. Some may find that the sites aren’t really rewarding, but unexpected wildlife can be seen (wild spectacled bears have been reported).

This hike is also quite interesting because partway through you leave behind the mountain terrain and enter a more conventional forest. The caves can be reached either by hiking down the trail from the peak of Waynapicchu (which includes some semi-harrowing but fun near-vertical descents) or by the split from the main Waynapicchu trail (look for the sign that says Gran Carvern).

Remember that it is much easier to descend from Waynapicchu than to ascend from these temples. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks for this long hike. The hike from the summit to the caves and back to the checkpoint takes about two more hours.

Food at Machu Picchu

It’s officially not allowed to bring food into the archeological site. But if you’re planning to stay the whole day, bring some snacks or sandwiches and plenty of water (just be sure not to litter). Your ticket will tell you that you cannot bring food or water bottles into the site, although many people do take them anyway.

Buying them at the site is expensive, and plastic bottles are not offered (glass only). Purchase food and plenty of water and bring it with you. The concession stand near the entrance of the site is pitiful in its offerings and gets very busy at lunchtime. Once in the site, it’s not possible to buy food or drinks. There is a cafeteria near the site, where the locals who work there eat. Ask one of them and if you’re lucky, you’ll be rewarded with a cheap, filling, and unique alternative to the expensive tourist snack-stand.

  • Tinkuy Buffet Restaurant, Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, +51 84 21 1039/38. 11:30AM-3:00PM. Casual lunch buffet with nice picture windows. Expensive: About $33 for buffet lunch, approximately four times that of area restaurants.
  • Tampu Restaurant Bar (Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge guests only). 5:30AM-9:00AM, Noon-3:00PM, 6:30PM-9:30PM. Expensive, but it’s at the ruins site.

Better food choices can be found by taking one of the regular buses to Aguas Calientes (the small town on the train stop to Cuzco) where there are numerous restaurants. These restaurants are not up to the standards of those in Cuzco or Lima, but are generally satisfactory. They tend to be moderately high priced. Some guidebooks report an unusually high incidence of food poisoning in the area, possibly attributable to the fairly common power outages (with loss of refrigeration). Cooked pizza and bottled beer or soft drinks are safe bets, salads and Pisco sours (made with raw egg whites) are best avoided here. 

Accommodation at Machu Picchu

Rather than returning from the ruins the same day, a traveller can stay overnight near the ruins. There are many hotels at nearby Aguas Calientes, but only one hotel at Machu Picchu itself.

Machu Picchu is not a regular town, but a protected sanctuary where new construction is not allowed. That is why all of the places to sleep, with a single exception, are in nearby Aguas Calientes. This lively town offers a wide assortment of lodging options with choices that range from no-frills hostels for backpackers, to very sophisticated hotels. It is recommended to do a thorough hotel research before committing.

The only hotel in Machu Picchu is the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. Guests of this hotel can visit the ruins with the same schedule of travellers who spend a night in Aguas Calientes, but can enjoy the magnificent isolation of the sanctuary. The hotel also allows guests to cut out all transfer times from the citadel to their accommodation, allowing for a longer, more relaxing time at Machu Picchu.

How much does visiting Machu Picchu cost?

There are three types of tickets for visiting Machu Picchu. All include admission to the famous Inca archaeological site. However, they also offer access to huge mountains as well as interesting museums to learn more about the Inca City.

  • Machu Picchu Solo (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu): $45 USD (152 Soles) for adults and $21 USD (70 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)
  • Machu Picchu + Mountain (includes access to Inca city of Machu Picchu and Machhu Picchu Mountain): $62 USD (200 Soles) for adults and $35 USD (118 Soles) for children (<18 years)

NB! Note that tickets are not sold at Machu Picchu itself, you need to get your ticket before arrival. Book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu Lost Citadel here.

When is the best time to visit Machu Picchu?

The dry winter months of June and July are peak season in Machu Picchu and prices rise accordingly (and Inca Trail reservations are scarce for last-minute planners).

Tourists flock to the sun-soaked coastal regions during the summer months of December and January.

The best bargains can be found during the fringe months of April and May or September and October.

Great Ideas for Visiting Walloon Brabant Safely

Although Belgium is not so big, it still offers all kinds of different activities.

One small region is particularly worth a visit: Walloon Brabant!

Whatever the season, there is always a good reason to get some fresh air and go to discover less known places.

 

Here are some ideas that will delight young and old… and can be done safely!

Get away in nature

The unmissable Villers-la-Ville Abbey

Set in the heart of nature, Villers-la-Ville Abbey is an incredible and extremely peaceful place! Travel back to the time of the monks and explore the ruins to discover the secrets of their daily life with the interactive tablet. Walk around the five gardens and admire their wonderful compositions in very different styles. Guaranteed tranquillity!

 

The huge Solvay Regional Estate

Take a trip to the wonderful Solvay Regional Estate in La Hulpe. It will captivate you with its enchanting appeal and panoramic views to take your breath away. Walk to your heart’s content around the woodland and estate… Admire the château that stands at the top of the hill and take in the beautiful French-style gardens.

 

Admire the art

The magical Folon Foundation

In the grounds of the stunning Solvay Regional Estate is a little gem that is well worth a visit. The Folon Foundation opens its doors so you can admire the impressive work of a Belgian artist of multiple and varied talents, all with a touch of magic.

 

Louvain-la-Neuve: quite an art

Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium’s youngest town, takes you on a journey… Enter the doors of the excellent Hergé Museum and meet Tintin and Snowy as well as many other characters created by this Belgian artist. Wander through the streets of the town and admire all the graffiti in many styles, with bright colours and countless stories. Louvain-la-Neuve will show you art in all its forms.

 

Enjoy local specialities

Walloon Brabant has no shortage of producers to get your mouth watering. The chocolate makers offer sweet treats with proven success. The numerous breweries will awaken your taste buds with their craft beers! Including the famous Gheuzerie in Rebecq which is unique in Wallonia. But the specialities of Walloon Brabant also include sweet and savoury tarts, vineyards and many other farming products that must be tried!

 

Feel the excitement

Do you love excitement, climbing and challenges? Then the Adventure Park in Wavre is for you! This park, in the middle of a wood, promises an exciting day of adventures! Fasten your harness and move from tree to tree as you follow different trails at height! Whiz along one of the zip lines, cross the suspended bridges and, if you are feeling brave enough, try the freefall or even a bungee jump for maximum adrenaline!

 

Practice your swing

Ideal for fans of golf, Walloon Brabant is the Belgian province with the most courses. So if you love a round of golf, head to one of the 10 courses for an enjoyable game in the heart of nature!

For something slightly different, have a go at disc golf in Louvain-la-Neuve… An unusual activity that promises a fun time!

 

Walloon Brabant certainly has some surprises in store for you!