Vegan eating in Bolivia

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Vegan eating in Bolivia

Bolivian food is heavily meat and potato based. I was told that it would even be hard as a vegetarian. Especially since there is a lack of kitchens in hostels in Copacabana and La Paz for example. So I am really happy that I found delicious restaurants with vegan options. Some of them opened recently. In Copacabana I stayed in a vegetarian/vegan hostel called Hostal Joshua. In La Paz I was very lucky to have had a great Couchsurfing host who is very interested in a whole-food, plant-based diet. I taught him how to make peanut butter and hummus. In Cochabamba I stayed with a wonderful family. Aida, the mum, cooked delicious food and made something extra that is vegan for me. Same for my host in Sucre who made me Papás a la Guancaina, a traditional Bolivian dish, an almost vegan version (contained eggs) one evening. That was sweet.

A meal in a vegetarian/vegan restaurant is between 20 and 45 Bs. Food in Sucre is most expensive. In La Paz food is very cheap. The famous peanut soup (sopa de mani) is worth a try. Just ask to leave out the meat if you do not eat meat. It comes with pasta and french fries.

I bought most of my food in little stores on the road and at big vegetable and fruit markets. Some examples: 1 avocado (2-8 Bs.), 1 pound tomatoes (5 Bs.), 25 bananas (8 Bs.), 1 pound peanuts (10 Bs.), 1 pound quinoa (8 Bs.), 1 pound chia seeds (10 Bs.), 1 pound peanut butter (12 Bs.). I only found the peanut butter in La Paz. Often in corners of big markets are women with massive pots of cooked beans, vegetables, and rice — offering plates for 5-10 Bs. The most famous Bolivian street food is Salteñas. Baked empanadas with mostly meat. Only a few only have vegetables inside. Supermarkets (e.g. Hipermaxi in La Paz) do have tahini (25 Bs.) and hummus.

La Paz

Namas Té (vegetarian with many vegan options)

Paul, the owner, let me help to serve in his restaurant in exchange for the menu del dia which is always vegan (29 Bs.). Each meal starts with bread and a sauce. I had a lentil salad, vegetable fidelo soup, Sajta (a traditional Bolivian dish), and a juice. Everything was so delicious! Dishes from the menu are between 29 and 35 Bs. The oat cookie is a dream 🙂

Lupito Cocina Vegana

I had an amazing Calzone with vegetables and melted vegan cheese (20 Bs.). Still remember the taste of the cheese 🙂

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Cochabamba

Karott (100% vegan)

A new opened restaurant by such a sweet couple. All meals start with whole wheat bread and two delicious sauces. One spicy and the other with zucchini, cilantro, lime, and salt. The menu del dia changes daily (20 Bs.). I was lucky to be there when they served a typical Bolivian dish named Saice. Rice with vegan meat, peas, vegetables and tomatoes with onions that are sprinkled with vegan cheese. The soup that consisted of potatoes, green leaves, and nuts was delicious as well. The owner, Rodrigo, is very attentive and open-minded. His wife is behind the tasty dishes. Since the number of tables are limited and the restaurant is well-attended you share a table with somebody. I love that 🙂 It is possible to buy homemade peanut butter, tahini, and other delicacies.

Menta Restobar (vegetarian with vegan options)

Famous for their huge variety of burgers (29 Bs.). All available as a vegan option. So fresh, filling, and delicious! The falafels are crispy outside and warm, soft, and creamy inside. My couchsurfing host, an enthusiast meat eater, fell in love with the falafels. So did I. Drinks include healthy juices (10 Bs.). I loved the one called Remo: beet, apple, celery, and ginger. The restaurant has tasteful decoration and wifi. Check out their Facebook page for the menu del dia which comes with a salad, soup, and main course (21 Bs.). It is not always vegan.

Paprika Restaurant

Leo, the supervisor of Paprika, welcomed me very warm, advised me well, and we shared lunch together. They do not have a vegan meal per se but it is possible to leave out the cheese in some dishes. We had the Mediterranean quinoa that comes together with olives and dried tomatoes (43 Bs.). And we tried the Spring fetuccine that comes with lots of vegetables and mushrooms (56 Bs.). I could even visit the kitchen and see how they prepare the food. It was such an interesting and delicious afternoon.

Sucre

El Germen (vegetarian with vegan options)

Dishes are big and delicious. The staff is very nice. All meals start with bread accompanied by a spicy ají sauce. The menu del dia which changes daily consists of a vegetable soup, two main dishes to choose from (one vegan), juice, and a desert (24 Bs.). One of my juices was with sesame seeds. Que rico 🙂 From the menu I tried Falafel with rice, peanut sauce, and cooked vegetables (40 Bs.). Such crispy falafels and tasty peanut sauce. The curry with vegetables is another vegan option from the menu. I ate there three times during my stay in Sucre and hope to go back one day.

Koi Sushi Bar Sucre

A new opened sushi place by such a warm hearted couple. I could feel that they devote all their love and time in their restaurant. The restaurant is not vegan per se but they do have a few vegan options and are very flexible. As an appetizer they made me crunchy vegetables tempura. The vegetarian spring rolls are vegan as well (4 pieces for 20 Bs.). I had Uramaki with avocado, sweet potatoes, and champignons (8 pieces for 45 Bs.) and Hotmaki especial con crema de palta. Such a delight!

Bienmesabe

An Arepas place. Not vegan but you can mix as you want. I had an arepa with avocado, beans, tomatoes, and fried plaintain (18 Bs.). Super delicious!

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Condor Café (vegetarian)

I went there a few times for their delicious Cappuccino with soy milk. The menu del dia is vegetarian (25 Bs.). The only vegan option is a salad. But it is possible to get their Falafel sandwich which is served with salad, hummus and tabouli without the bread (contains eggs) and the yoghurt sauce (25 Bs.). The beautiful ambiente and board games invite to stay for a few hours. All profit goes toward community projects around Sucre.

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Peru – Ruins and pan flute music

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Peru – Ruins and pan flute music

In our two months in Peru we volunteered in a Hare Krishna temple, hiked to a beautiful glacial lake, sandboarded in Huacachina, ate at delicious vegan restaurants, joined a multi-day tour in the Amazon rainforest, met wonderful people, and visited Machu Picchu.

We entered Peru in La Tina and hitchhiked to Las Lomas where we slept one night in a hotel. The next morning we hitchhiked to Piura which has one of the biggest markets I have ever been.

Chiclayo

In Chiclayo we stayed in a house that was affected by the flooding in March 2017. So the house was literally falling apart and the walls and blankets were molded. I did not feel very comfortable. But our host was very nice and vegan as well. So we had some nice conversations.

Since there was not much to do in the city we treated ourselves to a massage (25 soles). We explored the huge Mercado Modelo. A market where you can find almost all you need for a good price. And we ate at a vegan restaurant named Loving Hut (10-13 soles per meal). We learnt very early that there were many more Indigenous cultures than just the Incas.

Trujillo

We had a great host in Trujillo who joined us for a walk and to the beautiful Plaza de Armas. Every Sunday people sell second-hand clothes close to the New Market La Union. I bought a pair of trousers for only 1 sol. The Mercado La Hermelinda offers a huge variety of food for a good price.

Our next stop was Nuevo Chimbote which has a nice main plaza. But there was not much to do either. After hitchhiking for two weeks till we arrived at the first place in Peru that was on our original To Visit list – Laguna 69 in Huaraz – we decided to take buses for the rest of Peru. Distances are huge and there is not much in between. A third of the population of Peru (>10 Mio.) lives in Lima. Most of the North of Peru near the coast is desert.

Laguna 69

Located in the National Park Huascarán which offers many different hikes which you can do on your own or with a tour. We stayed in Caraz to be closer to Laguna 69, a glacial lake. Most backpackers stay in Huaraz though. It makes sense to go with a tour (35-50 soles per person for all transport). To go by public transport is around 34-42 soles and involves a change of the bus in Yungay. Our host was a tour guide and we paid him 40 soles. He even made a stop at the beautiful Laguna de Llanganuco.

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The hike to Laguna 69 is a tough trek but absolutely stunning.

Good to know:

  • Laguna 69 is at 4,680 m. You start walking at 3’900 m. Give yourself time to acclimatise to the altitude.
  • Hike duration: 3h up, 2h down.
  • There are multiple bus stations in Huaraz. Most bus companies departure from the street Jiron Simón Bolívar.
  • Take warm clothes with you. It gets cold further up and in the late afternoon.
  • Pass: You can either buy a 1-day pass for 10 soles or a 21-day pass for 65 soles. It is not possible to buy anything in between.
  • If you camp in the national park you can get a ride back to Huaraz with one of the tour buses with empty seats. This costs the same as public transport.

Lima

The capital Lima is a very busy and huge city. Earplugs recommended 😉 During winter, from June to September, the sky is almost always cloudy. I usually do not like big cities. But Lima offers so many things to do and restaurants to eat that we stayed there for a week. My highlight in Lima was the Eureka Café Lúdico. It has hundreds board and card games. You can pick one and a staff member will come to your table and explain all the rules in English or Spanish. I was impressed. We played Cortex and Saboteur.

In the beautiful Reserve Park we spend a romantic evening watching the water fountain show. There are many other fountains in the park which are nice to visit before the show. The one called Labyrinth is interactive and the possibility to get wet is high. Open from Tuesday to Sunday. Water show at 19:15, 20:15, and 21:30. Entry is 4 soles.

I highly recommend to explore the alternative artistic neighbourhood Barranco.

Every Saturday from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm there is an organic market – the Bioferia – in the Parque Reducto No. 2 in Miraflores. In Lima are countless restaurants that offer vegan options. Check out TripAdvisor and use the different filters. At the Panadería El Pan De La Chola we had a great brunch. At Tarboush we had the best hummus and falafel since a long time.

We spend a whole afternoon in the art museum MALI. It is huge. Free entry every Thursday from 3pm and last Friday of each month from 5 to 10pm. General: 30 soles. The MATE Mario Testino Museum was very nice and interesting.

On a clear and sunny day it is nice to walk along the Malecon and to visit the Main Square. Much of the nightlife takes place in Calle Berlin. We visited all three Choco Museums in Lima. Because chocolate 😉

Sandboarding in Huacachina

We stayed in Ica. At around noon we went with a collective to the artificial oasis, Huacachina (2.50 soles, 10 Mins.). A very small place that is nice for a few hours. It is possible to swim in the lagoon.

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I recommend the 4pm tour as the temperature is cooler then, plus it includes to watch the sunset in the desert (30 soles which includes the entrance to the desert). The ride with the dune buggy was like a rollercoaster.

Cusco

A beautiful city with nice parks high in the Andes Mountains at 3416 m. It got very chilly in the evening. There is a great donation-based walking tour by Free Tours by Foot. The Plaza de Armas is beautiful. One evening we met Maxime from Amsterdam. A Camp Unknown friend we met two years ago at the same festival (Sziget) Drew and I met.

Green Point (100% vegan)
What a delight! Definitely one of the best vegan restaurants we visited so far. Once we ordered the set menu del dia for lunch that comes with a juice, salad bar, soup, choice from one of two main courses, and dessert (15 soles). The second time we ordered from the menu (main courses range from 12-30 soles). Their ceviche (oyster mushrooms) was by far the best I ever ate.

Volunteering in a Hare Krishna temple in Cusco

In Cusco we volunteered for a week in a Hare Krishna temple. It was an interesting experience. Women and men sleep in separate rooms. Not much physical contact allowed. Eating in the kitchen is not allowed. You can only enter the kitchen with a clean mouth. The food is vegetarian and they do not eat eggs because it is the egg of the menstruation and they do not want to risk that the egg might be fertilised. It was really nice that they made us extra meals that are vegan and taught us how to make vegan cheese. Unfortunately we got proteins only once during that week. When I asked them why they eat dairy products they said it is because Krishna loves milk and that is how it is written in the Bhagavad Gita. I like that they aim a detachment from the material world.

In the morning the women clean and make breakfast and the men make bread. When I asked if I could help with the bread one of the female devotee explained to me that it is very hot in the bakery and women are more sensitive than men. The Bhagavad Gita is known for being sexist. But one has to consider the time it was written. Happily many do not take the Bhagavad Gita word for word and know that it is important to adapt to the current society. After the men came back we had a ceremony. At noon or sometimes at 2pm we ate “breakfast”. “Lunch” was at 6pm and sometimes 8pm. There are only two meals per day but we could snack as much as we wanted. After breakfast most people went out and sold the bread on the street. They not have a license but there is a law that moving while selling is okay but we had to watch out for police in orange vests that can confiscate our baskets of bread. I started to paint a wall mandala in the last few days. Their logo with a tree in the middle located in the dining room.

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The temple was beautiful. The devotees spent a lot of time decorating it each morning. Having never stayed in a temple, I pictured a calm, quiet area with people meditating.  In this temple, it was not like that. In the early morning people were listening to music and in the evening people had mantra (chanting) parties. Many people stayed awake until 1 or 2 am.

Volunteering in Taray in the Sacred Valley

A beautiful place in the nature. Syama our host has the dream of building a retreat centre. There is already a yoga studio, a huge garden, a sweat lodge, a place for meditation, meetings, and group workshops. There is still a lot of work ahead and he has no money. Many of the bathrooms do not work, no hot shower, and the beds are like a taco. I cleaned a lot and started to paint a signboard for the retreat centre. Drew helped in the garden, did some woodwork, and made a website for him.

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We exchanged four hours of work in the mornings for a room with two beds and food was bought and shared by volunteers. Syama is a devotee of Krishna and is therefore vegetarian (no eggs, as well). Unfortunately, we never saw him buy food. He only offered to gather money from volunteers and then buy food for everyone. It was nice of him to offer to go to get the food but we wish he would have contributed to the food as agreed on. However, we were able to join him one evening for a three hour sauna ritual. That was a very nice and hot experience. I am very grateful for the time we spend at Sonqo Wasi.

Way to Machu Picchu without train

We took a bus from Pisac to Urubamba (3 soles) and then a collectivo to Ollantaytambo (2 soles, 30 Mins.). At Plaza Ollantaytambo the last collectivo directly to hidroelectrica leaves at 10:30 am (25-30 soles, 4h). The only way to get from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes is by foot along the rails (2-2.5 h). A stunning hike. We had a fun time with Tom, an American guy we volunteered with in Taray, who joined us to Machu Picchu. There are actually collectivos that go directly from Hydroelectrica back to Cusco for 30 soles.

Aguas Calientes (2090 m)

We stayed at Casa Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes (26 soles for a dorm). It had a kitchen to use but they were very loud in the evening. Not a great deal if you want to get up at 4 am the next day. There is also camping for 15 soles each. We bought our ticket to Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes in the tourist office (150 soles, open until 8pm). The control at the bottom of Machu Picchu opens at 5 am. The hike up takes around 1.5h. Luckily we did not have to wait that long. We were excited to visit the Govinda Restaurant in Aguas Calientes. It has nice vegan options. Aguas Calientes is a touristic but very beautiful little town to walk around.

Machu Picchu (2430 m)

Definitely one of my highlights in Peru. The hike up is tough but extremely rewarding. The morning fog makes the whole experience very mystic. The section of the mountain where Machu Picchu was built provided various challenges. One issue was the seismic activity which made mortar nearly useless. Instead, the Inca cut blocks of stone to fit together perfectly without mortar.

Another issue was heavy rain throughout the year. To prevent landslides and flooding the Inca built terraces that were layered with stone chips, sand, dirt and top soil, to absorb water slowly. A very smart drainage system. Multiple canals and reserves provided water throughout the city. To see all of that with my own eyes was very impressive.

On our way back to Cusco we stayed a few days in Ollantaytambo. A very small, beautiful and peaceful town. There are cobblestones, streams, a small market, nice ruins, and a few cosy restaurants. In Urubamba we stopped at Cerveceria Willkamayu. The brewery turned out to be in the house of a family. They were extremely nice. We were told it is normally closed on a Sunday but they warmly welcomed us into their beautiful garden and even made me a coffee. In Europe or the USA it would be very hard to just open a little brewery in your house. There is a lot of paperwork involved.

Puerto Maldonado (193 m)

Puerto Maldonado is located in the Amazon rainforest and therefore very hot and humid. Mosquito repellent recommended. We watched a beautiful sunset at 5:30 am from the rooftop of our host’s house. The sun is red. For sunset and sunrise.

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La Semilla Cafe-Restauant-Pasteleria

Such a great restaurant. Beautiful rooftop terrace with comfortable sofas to relax for a few hours. The staff was very friendly and helpful. They made a vegan pizza for us and substituted avocado for cheese. We had a cappuccino with coconut milk. The smoothie with banana, avocado, chocolate and lucuma was so delicious and filling!

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Amazon tour

There are many different agencies close to the Plaza the Armas that offer tours. The tour we booked started at 8:30 am and finishing at 5 pm on the third day (450 soles per person). We had a great time with activities. We went kayaking, zip lining, to the canopy walk, and visited the Monkey Island where we fed the monkeys bananas.

One day we visited Lake Sandoval in the Tambopata National Reserve where we saw an otter family, giant birds, turtles, and countless butterlflies.

In the night we went caiman spotting. At 4:30 am we went with a boat to the parrot and parakeet clay lick. The sunrise and the red macow were impressive.

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The jungle walk was very interesting since our guide knew a lot about different medicinal plants and animals.

On our last day we visited a native family that consisted of only two men. But we had fun shooting with bow and arrows anyway. Drew hit the tree at his first try.

The accommodation was very clean and comfortable. We had a bungalow with a private bathroom and hot water. Since it was an eco-lodge the electricity was running only a few hours during the day and there was no Wi-Fi. That was nice. I loved to fall asleep with the sound of the jungle. Our lodge had a black spider monkey. Unfortunately I think he had to be in a small cage most of the time. He was very trustful and hugged everybody.

We booked our tour with Paradise Amazon eco lodge & adventure because they promised to serve well-balanced vegetarian food with no lactose – but legumes, avocado, and rice. We were served rice and a few vegetables. No replacement. That left us hungry. Example: While people got Ceviche, we got a plate with ten little pieces of tomato. Luckily we brought bananas and peanuts. When we told the manager there was no sorry, no empathy, and she refused any responsibility for the empty promises. It seems if they have too many bad reviews on TripAdvisor they just change the name. I would not recommend this lodge to vegetarians, vegans, or anyone who does not “eat like a normal person.” – The manager.

Arequipa (2335 m)

The white buildings built from volcanic rocks in the historical centre make this city to one of the prettiest in Peru and the all year round spring like climate makes Arequipa to a very nice destination. We had a very relaxed time and enjoyed delicious food. Free Tours by Foot offers a very nice walking tour.

From a Couchsurfer we bought second-hand a tent for 110 soles and a sleeping bag for 30 soles for Patagonia. Another sleeping bag we bought for 35 soles in the supermarket Metro. The San Camilo market is huge and the place we bought fresh fruits and vegetables. Right in front of the market sells a lady vegetable Empanadas for 1 sol.

 

El Buda Profano (100% vegan)

A sushi place that attracts people from all over. Even omnivores. Why? Because they serve one of the best sushi I ever ate. I will never forget the taste of the Selva Uramaki: Cucumber, shiitake and avocado topped with mango. I also really liked the Verde Futomaki: artichoke, cucumber, avocado, and spinach. The ramen and the ceviche were delicious (10 soles each). The presentation is beautiful, the ingredients fresh, the service fast, and the sushi creative. We ate there twice. Once we were invited by Alan, the manager. A great Canadian guy who has plans of moving to a location to accommodate more tables and also expanding to other cities. I highly recommend to check them out and delight your senses. A mixed sushi tray with 30 pieces is 35 soles.

Las Gringas

We had a very delicious and filling gluten free vegan pizza (30 soles). The crust is made of tapioca, cornmeal and rice. The topping consists of avocado cheese, sesame seeds, beetroot leaves, cashew parmesan, and olive oil. They serve free filtered water and all the ingredients are fresh, organic, and local. In the same house is a great rooftop with comfortable seats to relax.

Crepisimo

Crepisimo is not really specialized in vegan food since the crepes are made up of eggs. But Michel, the owner, invited Drew and me for lunch to hear more about our trip and vegan food. He made sure to change the dishes into a vegan version. That was really nice and the quinoa salad was extremely delicious. Michel is from Neuchâtel in Switzerland and has lived together with his wife in Peru for over 20 years. It was such a pleasure to meet both of them.

Mandala (vegetarian with vegan options)

We only tried the Lomo Saltado. A typical Peruvian dish that came with fried potatoes, rice, onions, tomatoes and seitan instead of meat (14 soles). It had a lot of oil but the seitan was great!

Food

Eating in Peru was a truly wonderful and delicious experience! There are several vegan/vegetarian restaurants and huge markets with fresh vegetables and fruits. Peru has over 3,000 different types of potatoes, black corn, delicious olives, and a love for bread. Exotic fruits I loved to eat in Peru: lucmo, cherimoya, and guava.

We bought most of our food in little stores down the road or at big food markets (e.g. Mercado Modelo). Some examples to have an idea: 1 avocado called palta (1-2 soles), tomatoes (2-3 soles per kg), 6 bananas (1 sol), potatoes (1.50-2.50 soles per kg), carrots (2-3 soles per kg), 1 garlic (0.50 soles), peanuts (10-12 soles per kg), quinoa (4-8 soles per kg), lentils (6 soles per kg), olives (16 soles per kg), chia seeds (10 soles per kg).

A meal in a local restaurant (almuerzo) is between 6 and 8 soles. If you do not eat meat they are almost everywhere happy to replace the meat with an egg or sometimes beans. A meal in a vegetarian/vegan restaurant is between 15 and 30 soles. Food in Lima is most expensive. In Huaraz and Caraz, food is very cheap.

Peruvian street food is amazing. Cooked potatoes (over 3,000 different potatoes), chochos, corn, tamales with raisins, vegetable empanadas. Many market offer cooked beans (1-2 soles), cooked vegetables (1 sol), with a spicy sauce (0.50 soles).

The tap water at most places is not recommended to drink. Although Peruvians may do so. Their stomachs are used to it. It is best to boil the tap water.

Accommodation

  • Couchsurfing is popular in Peru. In Huaraz and Cusco many host are working in tourism and are using CS as a way to advertise their business. In Cusco we stayed in an Airbnb advertised by a CS host (24 soles for a private double).
  • Hostels are available for 13 soles per night in a dorm (e.g. Huaraz). In Lima for 35 soles per night in a dorm. The only hostels we stayed was in Ollantaytambo (Ollantaytampu Hostel – Main Square, 20 soles each) and in Aguas Calientes (26 soles each).
  • Volunteering is a nice option to spend a few weeks at one place.
  • Camping is possible at some places (e.g. Aguas Calientes, National Park Huascarán).

Transport

Buses we took:

  • Overnight bus from Caraz to Lima: 40 soles (10h, Rodriguez).
  • Overnight bus from Ica to Cusco: 90 soles (17h, Palomino).
  • Overnight bus from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado: 35 soles (10h, Movil Tours).
  • Overnight bus from Puerto Maldonado to Arequipa: 45 soles (15h, Wayra).
  • Overnight bus from Arequipa to Puno: 35 soles (6h, Cruz del Sur).

If you suffer from motion sickness I recommend to take something (e.g. ginger) since the section from Ica to Cusco was quite curvy. I did not take anything, and therefore the toilet was my best friend.

Good bus companies: Movil Tours and Cruz del Sur (own TV, blanket, headphones, food at 11pm, a place for your water bottle, the bathroom has soap and water and it actually flushes). Much cheaper when you book 1-2 weeks ahead. Most bus stations charge between 2-5 soles for using the bus station.

Long-distance buses typically cost about 3 to 6 soles per hour. Local buses inside a city are usually 1 to 2.50 soles. The local buses usually stop whenever you like. If you want to get off the bus just call “baja”. So the bus driver knows that he should stop. When people are getting on the bus the guy in charge of the money repeatedly says in an urgent tone “sube, sube, sube” (get on).

We hitchhiked only in the north of Peru. We learnt early that we have to ask if it is free since some people do not know the idea of hitchhiking.

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Safety

Like anywhere else it is important to be careful and use plain common sense. Ask which the neighbourhoods you should avoid are. Petty theft and slashing (of bags) happen sometimes. Especially in bigger cities (e.g. Lima) and busses.

Health

Altitude sickness is not felt until you surpass 2500m. It is basically your body telling you it is not getting enough oxygen. Most common symptoms are a headache, nausea and tiredness. In very small number of cases, you could also suffer from significant shortness of breath, confusion, drowsiness, coma and even death. That is why it is very important to give yourself enough time to acclimatise at least a few days. Rest, drink plenty of water and suck coca leaves that many believe helps alleviate altitude’s affect on the body. Available on the market for 1 sol. Once I ate a coca tortilla. After my mouth was numb for a while. Alcohol goes to your head more quickly at higher altitude. So take care with those Pisco Sours.

Climate

The climate in Peru is very diverse. The coast is arid with high temperatures. In the Andes it can get very cold with rainy summers (December to February) and dry winters (June to August). Temperatures tend to drop slightly in the winter. Peru has four seasons. The eastern lowlands present an Equatorial climate with hot and humid weather and rain distributed all year long. I do not recommend visiting the Amazon forest in the rainy season since it is often flooded.

Language

Spanish is the official language although Quechua, Aymara, and other aboriginal languages have co-official status. English is taught in schools. But most people have only a very basic knowledge of English or none at all.

Currency

Official currency: Peruanischer Sol (PEN).

Visa

No entrance or exit fees. The Visa is for 180 days (free).

Ecuador – A country for nature and peanut butter lovers

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Ecuador – A country for nature and peanut butter lovers

Ecuador is divided into four different regions: The Amazon (el oriente), the Andes mountains (la sierra), the Pacific coast, and the Galapagos Islands. Two out of our three months in Ecuador we spent volunteering in three different places. I loved my time in Ecuador. The stunning mountains, the people I met, the things I learnt while volunteering, the fertile soil, and the possibility to buy peanut butter in many little local stores.

Volunteering in agriculture in Pimampiro

We worked at Santiago’s farm for almost two weeks. He was a kind host with lots of interesting ideas for the future. We worked from Monday to Friday from 8am to 12:30pm. I performed work such as picking weeds, picking fruits and vegetables, painting walls, and helping his mum in the kitchen. It was nice to work in the morning and have the evening off to relax. I enjoyed the time Santiago spent with us outside of work. He took us on a hike, to a zip line, and to the local river. Santiago had issues with people not showing up so he accepted everyone and within a couple of days, there were 16 volunteers and organization fell apart. The food quality went down and we rarely had proteins, fats, or vitamins in the meals. We slept in a cabin with mud walls that was built by previous volunteers. Unfortunately there were holes in the mud wall and the roof. So we got wet at night from the rain. I believe this project has great potential. I loved the other volunteers I met. It is a projects that attracts lovely people.

Quito

Quito surprised me with its beautiful old buildings. Especially the old town, the church San Francisco (full of gold), and La Ronda. A cobblestone street with lots of bars and restaurants that gets crowded at night and weekends. All of it we visited on a free walking tour. Pictures below are from the Govinda’s restaurant.

Latacunga

Latacunga is not really a nice city and most people stay there only one night. We stayed with such a great Ecuadorian couple that we went back a month later for a few days. Like us, Andrea and Diego want to build their own tiny house in the future, grow their own food, like Jazz, love to cook, eat bananas with peanut butter, and live as sustainable as possible. They made us realize that a Ninja blender/food processor would be very useful. Unfortunately hard to clean. We made our own peanut butter. The curry peanut butter was my favourite. It has been a while since we connected so well with somebody.

Hiking the Quilotoa Loop

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The Quilotoa Loop is a self-guided hike for several days through the Andes Mountains, rivers, valleys, and canyons, a volcano with a beautiful crater lake located in Quilotoa, spectacular views, Quechua communities, alpacas, and cosy hostels.

 

In the morning we took a bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa (2.50 USD each, 2.5h). In Quilotoa we stayed in the Alpaca Hostel. Normally the hostels on the loop include dinner and breakfast. But this hostel let us use the kitchen and paying less (8 USD each for a private double). The next morning we got up very early to see the sunset on our way down to the Crater Lake. It took us around 40 minutes. On the bottom we laid down on a jetty and enjoyed the silence, peace, and the warmth of the first rays of the sun. We were the only people there. The path up was more challenging and took us 50 minutes. Before you leave a hostel make sure to get a map. We trusted Maps.me. Something we would bitterly regret later. On our way to Chugchilán we ended up at a river. I knew we had to cross. It was starting to get dark and on the other side of the river we saw a sign, “Chugchilán 1.74 km”. There was not a bridge (anymore) and on the other side was a steep hill with sand. My heart started to beat very strong, I felt foggy-brained, and very weak. I was close to tears. We somehow managed to cross the river. I climbed on a rock that was in the river and jumped from there on the other side. After, my boyfriend threw our backpacks to me. Luckily there were some roots I could hold myself when I climbed up the sand hill. Some of the roots broke. My mouth has never been that dry. It took us around 45 minutes to climb up. Later we found out that this route is considered as very dangerous and not the official way anymore. So instead of 5h it took is 8h from Quilotoa to Chugchilán. In Chugchilán we stayed at the Cloud Forest Hostel (15 USD each for a private double) which is run by a lovely and very helpful family. When we arrived I saw a huge Saint Bernard dog. He looked like Balu (the dog I had seen in photos from the hostel in Isinlivi where we were going to volunteer). It turned out that he was. So on our 4.5h hike from Chugchilán to Isinlivi he followed us, thanks to a bag full of bread the hostel gave us.

Useful information to hike the Quilotoa Loop:

  • The crater rim climbs to 3’915 meters above sea level at its highest point. So if possible stay 2-3 days in Quito or Latacunga before the hike to adjust to the altitude.
  • Leave your luggage you don’t need at a hostel in Latacunga. Most hostels offer this service.
  • If you want to stay at Llullu Llama in Insinlivi it is necessary to pre-book by email as this is it only has limited space available. For the other hostels you will be fine simply turning up each day.
  • It is possible to camp right next to the Crater Lake in Quilotoa and other places on the way. If so make sure to have a very warm sleeping bag.
  • Start hiking early in the morning. It often gets cloudy in the early afternoon.
  • Take enough money. There are no ATMs.
  • Bring snacks and water with you before leaving Latacunga. Food is more expensive in the mountains.
  • Bring all your warm clothes with you as the weather changes rapidly and can get very cold. Especially in Quilotoa.
  • Consider it as part of the adventure to get lost. It is normal. In case of doubt, ask a local.
  • The area is considered as very safe. Dogs are the main hazard.
  • WIFI is hard to come by. Although a couple of hostels in Chugchilán do have access.

Our route: Latacunga > Quilotoa > Chugchilán > Isinlivi > Latacunga

Other options:

  • If you want to have the Crater Lake in Quilotoa at the end take a morning bus to Sigchos (2.5h) and start trekking from there to Isinlivi (3-4 hours).
  • If you want to see the Crater Lake, but you have only one day, catch a bus from Latacunga to Quilotoa. It takes around 4-5h to walk around the Crater Lake. It can be exhausting since the path is along the hilly crater rim.
  • It is also possible to take a bus to Chugchilán, spend the night and then do the 5-7 hour hike from there to the Crater Lake.

Volunteering in Isinlivi

Isinlivi is a tiny indigenous village on the Quilotoa Loop deep in the Andes Mountains at 2,800m. We volunteered there for a month in the beautiful eco-friendly mountain lodge Llullu Llama. Our main task was to make sure the guests are happy, well-informed about the area and feel at home. This included check-in/check-out of guest, serving dinner/snacks, breakfast, serving drinks from the bar, helping with administration on excel, and playing appropriate music.

For our work we got free accommodation and food. Even though we worked every day we felt very relaxed after. The cozy living room, amazing view, the possibility to use the spa, and the comfortable bed definitely played a role. We experimented in the kitchen a lot. A wonderful break from travelling.

Baños

A small magical town high in the Andes. Known for the healing powers of its hot springs and adventurous activities like bungee jumping, rafting, and zip lines.

We decided for the famous Ruta de Las Cascadas (Route of the Waterfalls). A 21 km long mostly downhill bike ride. We rented a bicycle in Baños (5 USD each, lock included). Along the way we stopped at the Manto de La Novia waterfall where we took a cable car ride to see the waterfall up close (1 USD). A fun and a bit of a thrill ride.

Most I liked the impressive Pailón del Diablo waterfall. Entrance is 1.50 USD. After a short hike and some crawling on all fours we could even stand behind the waterfall. Make sure you have either a rain jacket or umbrella with you if you do not want to get wet. The bus ride back was 2 USD each (bicycle included).

Guayaquil

Like many other big cities in South America, Guayaquil has some dangerous places and is not so beautiful. But thanks to a family we stayed with we had a relaxed time. They made us feel at home, drove us around, and the parents joined us to Isla Santay. On the island are an eco-village and some crocodiles. Nevertheless the Parque de las Iguanas was more interesting. The iguanas are very trusting and therefore great to watch. I enjoyed walking along the Malecón. A nice boardwalk along the river. I liked Las Peñas. A lovely neighbourhood with many art galleries. And the Museum of Anthropology and Contemporary Art is worth to check out (free).

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One day we met with a friend of mine from Switzerland, Stephanie. She is working for two years in Guayaquil with cocoa beans. One of the aims is to standardise the fermentation process. Thanks to her we could visit a cocoa farm, the middleman, and the company who exports the cocoa beans. The middleman is mainly a place where the farmers bring their cocoa beans. Those beans ferment there for a week and after get sold to the company. Cutting out the middleman would give the farmer a better price and the consumer a lower one. But often the farmers need the money right now and do not have time another week. It made me think about my mom who buys some of her food directly from a farm instead of from a grocery store. I am much more aware now how important it is to support a farmer directly.

Montañita

Montañita is a surfer’s paradise with laid back beach parties all night long. There are only a few hostels that are immune against the music. Whereas in the mountains the rainy season just finished on the coast it just started (June). Anyway this did not keep us away from going to Puerto Lopez for whale watching (25 USD each). A good time is between June and September. We even saw the blue-footed boobies. A very rare bird species. Unfortunately the sea was very wild that day and I got pretty seasick.

Cuenca

A beautiful city to walk around with colonial buildings and along the river Tomebamba, art galleries (e.g. Art Gallery Miguel Illescas), a free symphony each Friday evening, a huge local market at Feria Libre, and the breathtaking Cajas National Park (especially the Laguna Toreadora) just 30 minutes away by bus. The bus stop is on the left side of the Feria Libre outside the bus station.

Cuenca attracts many expats to retire. We stayed with Stan and his wife Sharyl that we met at the hostel we volunteered. Stan is a wonderful person. He is 83 years old and still goes hiking twice a week. Sharyl is very skilled in creating a very comfortable home. Both of them seemed very interested in our plant-based diet. So we made them a coconut peanut butter curry, guacamole, avocado hummus, bread, Corviche, and Salprieta. The last two are both Ecuadorian dishes. Stan even made us a delicious plant-based banana cake without added sugar. One of the best I ever ate! And he taught me how to make coconut oil. Since he was raving about our cooking in front of his friends we ended up at their places and cooked for all of them as well. I am so grateful that we met, for our long conversations, and his eagerness to learn new things. It was such a great stay. During our stay Stan joined Couchsurfing. In an email he wrote me that now their meals are full of interesting conversation and lots of laughter. Sharyl is very happy even with all the young people coming and going. In the past she has been hesitant to entertain anyone, perhaps due to her depression. She is a changed person, lost weight and seems already to be enjoying better health.

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Vilcabamba

Vilcabamba lies in the Sacred Valley of Longevity. One of those places in the world where people supposedly live to extreme old age. That myth has been debunked. Though through the perfect climate, air, water and growing conditions apparently people are healthier into old age. Vilcabamba attracts a large expat population, including highly spiritual people that speak with plants, trees, water, air, and animals. We volunteered in Tumianuma for three weeks on a biodynamic farm.

Volunteering in Tumianuma on a biodynamic farm

The farm of Walter and Susan lies in a sacred valley 30 minutes walking distance from the closest town, Tumianuma. We helped weeding, ploughing, planting, picking coffee, collecting wood, feeding chickens/cat/fish/dogs, collecting eggs, preparing meals, water the vegetables and flowers, and dig an irrigation system. It was nice to see the seeds we planted starting to grow out of the ground.

We worked from Monday to Friday from 8:30 am till 11:30 am and on the weekends we watched over the farm while Walter and Susan went back to Vilcabamba. Since we were in charge of the food we could make a list of food we would like. In the afternoons and evenings we read a lot, went for walks, took a bath in the river, or observed the thousands of fireflies and the Milky Way in a clear night´s sky. It was a great experience. Walter cares about the people who helps him on the farm and he took time to teach us various methods of farming such as biodynamics, permaculture, traditional Ecuadorian techniques, and vertical gardening systems. He also gave me an old phone since my one broke which I really appreciate. Unfortunately most apps do not work anymore even though the phone is only a few years old. One more reason why I would like to buy a Fairphone when I go back home. My dad just bought one. He told me the camera is not the best but the rest works proper.

Loja

Loja is just another big city. One day was enough to visit the Parque Recreacional Jipiro, the Puerta de la Ciudad, and the Plaza Parque Central. So we left one day earlier than planned to go Peru.

Food

A typical meal includes a soup and a plate of rice with meat. It is possible to get a meal in a local restaurant (almuerzo: soup, a filling main course, and a fresh fruit juice) for around 3 USD. If you do not eat meat they are almost everywhere happy to replace the meat with an egg or sometimes beans. I was very happy when I found a Govinda’s restaurant in Quito and Cuenca (3 USD). Unfortunately the one in Cuenca was not that convincing. But there was another restaurant in Cuenca (Good Affinity, vegan, 3 USD) I really liked.

 

One of my favourite Ecuadorian street food is Cevichochos (1 USD): Chochos, corn, fried plantains, and tomato sauce. In Baños at the Pailón del Diablo waterfall we had a delicious empanada filled with avocado, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, and potatoes (1 USD each).

In the Andes, the food consists of rice, pork and root vegetables. On the coast it is common to get seafood with coconut milk and rice. In the province of Manabí are many dishes that include peanuts. E.g. Sal prieta: A condiment for dishes based on fish, plantain or rice. It contains toasted corn, toasted peanuts, coriander, dried oregano, salt and black pepper. Or Corviche (green plantain, peanut butter, and fish). We learnt how to make them and just left out the fish.

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Other typical Ecuadorian food:

  • Ají is a spicy sauce that contains tomatoes, cilantro, ají pepper, onions, and water.
  • Patacones are the fried green plantains

We bought almost all our food in little stores down the road or at big food markets. Some examples to have an idea: 1 banana (0.05 USD), 1 pound lentils (0.80 USD), 1 avocado (0.50 USD), 1 pound quinoa (0.90 USD), 6 tomatoes (1 USD), 1 carrot (0.10 USD), 1 pound peanuts (1.90 USD), 1 pound peanut butter (2 USD), 3 mangos (1 USD), 1 pound chickpeas (1.50 USD).

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A common theme amongst coffee producing regions in Latin America is that the good stuff is for export. So, Ecuadorians are more likely to serve you weak, instant coffee.

The tap water at most places is not recommended to drink. Although Ecuadorians may do so. Their stomachs are used to it. It is best to boil the tap water. On the beach the water contains chlorine.

Accommodation

  • Couchsurfing is popular in Ecuador.
  • hostels are available for 6 USD per night in a dorm. The only hostels we stayed in was on the Quilotoa loop which are between 15 and 19 each, including dinner and breakfast.
  • volunteering is a nice option to spend a few weeks at one place.
  • Camping is possible at many places (e.g. Quilotoa loop, Cajas National Park)

Transport

  • Ecuador has a very good and comfortable bus system. Long-distance buses typically cost about 1-2 USD per hour. On the coast it is 2.50 USD per hour. Local buses inside a city are usually from 0.25 to 0.35 USD. Buses usually stop whenever you like.
  • If you are travelling by car all 50 km is a toll for 1 USD.
  • We hitchhiked often. It was much easier than in Colombia. Sometimes we waited less than two minutes. Sometimes more than an hour. That is usually the time we took a bus. Only a few people asked for money. Either we waited for another car or we agreed on a price. Often hitchhiking is faster than travelling by bus. Mainly because buses stop very often.img_0478

Things to know

  • Most public toilets are free but do not have toilet paper.
  • Many parks do have WIFI.
  • Child labour is unfortunately very common.
  • Most dogs are only outside, very territorial, and are not used to endearment. Be careful!
  • Most roads are in a very good condition. Much better than Colombia and Peru.
  • Ecuador is run by a democratic government. The people have had much control over the presidents in the past, voting them in and then kicking them out.

Safety

Like anywhere else it is important to be careful and use plain common sense. Ask which the neighbourhoods you should avoid are. Petty theft and slashing is very common. Especially in bigger cities (e.g. Quito) and busses. At night time the streets of big cities can be dangerous. It gets dark around 6:30 pm, so from then onwards it is recommended to take a taxi if going out. Smaller cities are safer. I loved to be able to hike in the mountains without being afraid of getting attacked.

Health

Medical care is free for tourists in public hospitals. Also for travellers with no travel insurance. Malaria is present everywhere except the Galapagos and Quito. The Yellow fever vaccination is required if you have previously been in a country where it is present.

 

Climate

Many people picture Ecuador as being a really warm tropical country. Well it is not. Only on the coast and in the jungle it is warm but in the heights of the Andes it can get very cold. Since Ecuador is at the equator there are no seasons like in Europe. The temperature varies only a few degrees at each place over the year. But Ecuador has a very diverse range of climates. There is a distinction between a rainy (summer: October to May) and a dry (winter: June to September) season.

  • The best time to visit Ecuador for beaches is surprisingly the rainy season. The rain only falls in short tropical bursts in the afternoon. The dry season can be too cool as well as cloudy and often overcast.
  • It rains year round in the Amazon, but December to May is particularly soggy, with roads more likely to be blocked.

Language

Spanish is the official language although Quechua is widely spoken across the country. Some other indigenous languages remain in use. English is taught in schools. But most people have only a very basic knowledge of English or none at all.

Currency

Official currency since 2000: US dollar (USD). Ecuadorian coins have the same value as their US equivalent.

Visa

Citizens of the United States, Canada and most European countries do not require a visa unless they want to stay for more than 90 days in one calendar year (90 days adding every entry in one year). It is possible to extend your stay in Ecuador between 90 and 180 days. This Visa is between 250 and 450 USD. We both did not have to show a return or onward ticket on the border.