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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chronicles of Planning a Trip to South America: Peru

  • UNESCO World Heritage Sites Cuzco City
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site Machu Picchu
  • Amazon Rainforest

Here's an excerpt of the suggested itinerary by Frommer's for a week in Peru.

Day 1: Arrive in Lima; Transfer to Cusco
All international flights arrive in Lima, Peru. With only a week in Peru, there’s little need to linger in Lima if you can avoid it; but there are no direct flight to Cusco but via Lima. Try to arrange it so that an overnight flight gets you there very early in the morning, with time enough to get a morning flight to Cusco (note that flights are occasionally delayed by weather in Cusco, though, so the earlier the flight, the better).

Take it easy in Cusco on your first day. Drink a lot of water (and perhaps some coca-leaf tea or acetazolamide twice a day two days before arriving to treat altitude sickness) and get a good night’s rest. The altitude (more than 3,400m/11,000 ft.) combined with an overnight international flight will prove very taxing. Have a light, relaxing lunch at Jack’s Café Bar, a popular gringo hangout. Limit yourself to taking a stroll around the delightful Plaza de Armas, popping into the tourist information office to pick up your boleto turístico (tourist ticket for the main sights in Cusco and the Sacred Valley) and choosing a spot for dinner. A choice of Cicciolina or A Mi Manera, or for views of the Plaza de Armas, La Retama.

Day 2: Colonial Cusco
Sticking to the area near the Plaza de Armas, visit the Cathedral and the Santa Catalina Convent in the morning. After lunch, see the superb Qoricancha (Temple of the Sun) to get an idea of the Incas’ incredible masonry and the clash of native and Spanish culture. Take a walk along the Calles Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc to see some more magnificent Inca stonework. In Plaza Nazarenas, check out the beautifully designed Museo de Arte Precolombino and some of the upscale alpaca goods shops on the square. Then stop at MAP Café , the chic restaurant in the museum’s courtyard, for a celebratory dinner. Have a pisco sour at one of the lively cafes or bars near the Plaza de Armas afterward.

Day 3: Sacred Valley: Pisac
Time you visit on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Sunday—those are market days in the Urubamba Valley (the Valle Sagrado de los Incas). Take a combi or taxi to Pisac and check out the popular and lively artisans’ market. Have lunch at Ulrike’s Café right on the main square.  After lunch either hike up to or grab a taxi to the Inca ruins looming above town. Pisac’s ruins will give you a taste of what you’re about to see in Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. Head a little farther along in the valley (again by taxi or combi) to a rustic country hotel near Urubamba or Yucay, where you’ll have dinner and spend the night.  The most popular place by tripadvisor is the Kuychi Rumi.

Day 4: Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo
Wake early and take a taxi to Ollantaytambo, where you’ll want to arrive as close to opening as possible to
explore the Fortress Ruins before the busloads arrive. Then take a walk around Ollanta’s Old Town and grab lunch. If you have the energy and can manage a few hours after lunch, go for a hike in the Valley, perhaps to Salineras de Maras, the ancient salt mines near Urubamba. If you don’t mind moving around, you could transfer to a hotel in Ollanta to enjoy it at night when there are few tourists (and be there for the train the next morning to Machu Picchu). Otherwise head back to your hotel near Urubamba.

Day 5: Machu Picchu
Catch an early morning train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the rough-edged town that sits below Machu Picchu. REMEMBER:  Tickets are not available at the entrance at Machu Picchu, buy them in Cuzco or Aquas Calientes.  Catch the bus up to the ruins and spend the day exploring them (hiking up to the Huayna Picchu peak for panoramic views if you’re in shape). Have lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge next to the ruins and stay until late in the afternoon, after the large tour groups have left. Spend the night either next to the ruins (if you’ve got very deep pockets) or back down in Aguas Calientes (which is actually more fun). Hit the bars along the railroad tracks to share stories with some of the backpackers who’ve survived the Inca Trail.
Here are more tips on how to arrange on your own to reach Machu Picchu by

Day 6: Back to Cusco
Now that you’ve acclimatized to the Andes and seen some of the greatest legacies of the Incas, head back by train to the old Inca capital, Cusco. In the afternoon, stroll around the hilly San Blas neighborhood, site of dozens of cool shops and art galleries. Do some shopping for handicrafts, souvenirs, and art. If Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo have intensified your interest in Inca architecture, catch a cab (or walk) up to the fantastic ruins, Sacsayhuamán, overlooking the city. If you have any energy left, get a taste ofCusco’s hopping nightlife at one of the pubs or nightclubs around the Plaza de Armas. Then make your way up bustling Calle Procuradores, Cusco’s gringo alley and restaurant row. If you’re dining on a budget, pick an informal restaurant along Calle Plateros, just off the Plaza de Armas, such as Chez Maggy; if you’re
looking for something more refined, try Greens.

Day 7: Back to Lima
Do some final shopping in Cusco before catching a flight to Lima. You’ll probably have an evening flight back home, so you may have enough time for a ceviche lunch in Lima and, if you’re ambitious, a short tour of colonial Lima Centro in the late afternoon.
NOTE:  Altitude in Cusco,:@11,000ft., Sacred Valley: @9,000ft., Machu Picchu: @ 8,000ft. At altitudes up to 9,000ft., people usually do not have bad altitude problems, but above it, they might. Gradual acclimatization is the best to prevent altitude sickness.

Some local tour operators:

Kuoda Travel
Pachamama Explorer
Peru for Less

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Talima Adventure Water Park, Mactan Cebu

Warning: the park is temporarily close due to non compliance of necessary permit to operate. (reopened: June 19, 2010)

The Talima Adventure Water Park, a water park at Talima, an island off Mactan, Cebu, opened last May 22, 2010.  It's a waterpark with life size inflatables much like the ones set up in Lago del Rey, Camarines Sur but at a smaller scale.  
Cebuano's really has the knack (including me) for trying new places.  So I pooled by friends and family one Sunday.  Aboard a rented outrigger boat, we left Queensland Wharf and got to Talima 30 minutes later.  Unfortunately, we (along with so many other boats) were denied entry since they were too full.  We ended up island hopping in the waters of Mactan.

After having been to many other places, it makes me appreciate the waters of Mactan.  I'm lucky to have access to white sandy beach 30 minutes from where I live.  The rest of the day was spent jet skiing!  Oh boy, it has been many years since the last one.  When we were younger, we would beg to rent it for just 30 minutes, and share the time among us siblings.  Jet skiing is an expensive sport, renting one costs about P3500/hour.  Thanks to my friend JJ and her brother, who lent us the unlimited use of the jet ski!  We went skiing circling the islands of Mactan together with the kids.  It excited them as well, fortunately, the sea was calm in the morning.  

Later in the afternoon, we went jet skiing again, near the shores of Mactan Island from Punta Engano to Imperial Water Park Resort.  The water was rough! I was sharing the jetski with my friend A.  We were soaked right from the start with big splashes while our seasoned friends were swiftly skiing with the waves.  As we went along, I was curious about a newly built  resort with a row of villas and a bridgeway hanging on an infinity pool.  It's the Crimson Resort and Spa Mactan, the resort component of Seascape Resort Town by Filinvest Development Corporation.  I ought to check this place out next! :)


How to get here:

Option 1:  Rent a private boat from any resort/outrigger boatman in the shores of Mactan, Island,  a medium sized boat with capacity of 15 pax costs about P2500-3000, while bigger ones with capacity of 30 pax costs P3000-4500; this can be used the whole day.

Option 2: Take a common boat by Islands Banca Cruises at the Hilton Wharf (after Hilton Hotel) for P50/pax one way.  Daily trip schedule (except Wednesdays) is as follows:  8:30 am, 10 am, and 12 noon.  The last returning boat from the park to the  Hilton wharf is at 4 pm.

Option 3:  Take a public outrigger boat for P16 to Sta. Rosa, Olango Wharf at the Hilton Port.  Upon reaching the Olango Wharf, you may need to ride a trike going to Talima Adventure Water Park.

Talima Adventure Water Park Fees:

Don't be deceived by the P100 entrance fees.  On top of the entrance fee, you need to pay the following:

P250 unlimited use of inflatables including life vest
P100 unlimited use of zip n splash
P300 30 mins atv rental

Warning: Timing of the tide is crucial since the inflatables are a few meters from the shore, thus it will be closed during  low tide.  Zip n splash is likewise not allowed during low tide.

Bringing of food is not allowed.  There are a few restaurants and food kiosks like Cheaverz inside the park.  The prices are similar to that in the city (or so they say), but lechon is sold at a hefty price of P600/kilogram.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Conquer Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Travel Factor is a saving grace when i'm itching to go someplace but has a few buddies to go with and when I'm too lazy to plan.  This time, I'm off to Kota Kinabalu (KK) with two other friends with Travel Factor to go river rafting and island hopping for a package price of P11,000 excluding meals and airfare.  But felt ripped off after counting how much the tour actually cost, we'll that's the price you pay for convenience.

Backpacking KK

It was my first international flight on budget carrier Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia.  For someone who is no frills, I don't mind it at all, in fact, it doesn't spell much difference in terms of service.  Travel Factor is likewise a budget tour organizer so we were checked-in Summer Lodge - a backpacking hostel along Jalan Gaya.  Our room was a corner room on the 5th floor sans any elevator.  It was quite noisy when the band at the bar outside was playing.  The split type aircondition was cool but temperature controller is not provided.  Blanket is only provided upon request so on the first night, we woke up laughing that our roommate used his bedsheets to protect himself from the cold.  Although a private room and bath is preferred, their common toilet and bath was bearable.  At least for me, but not for my first timer friend who's used to traveling in luxury.  The Rainforest Lodge on the lower level looks much cleaner though.

Padas River Rafting

We were picked up from our lodge by Borneo Ultimate or Busat at around 8am.  On board a tourist bus, we were joined by three other group from mainland Malaysia, Hong Kong and locals from KK.

From KK city center, the bus ride to Beaufort town was about 2 hours where we took an old train to Pangi for an hour.  The train ride was a little rough with a scenic view of the river.  The river is brown due to soil errosion, which prompted me to change clothing, to something I don't mind disposing thereafter.

Light refreshments (watermelon and water) were provided upon our arrival while they prepare the raft and equipments at the starting point. A safety briefing was given by our guide Amin prior to our rafting adventure.   Helmet and life vest is provided, the raft is slightly worn out with no foot hold, there was no dry bag, good thing I brought one.  The Padas River rafting covers about 17km in distance (approx.  2hrs30mins) until we reach the ending point at Halogilat Station. The river was low and the current was fast so it took us less than two hours to complete it.  The waves are high at some point, which tipped us all off.  It's my first time to fall off the raft after 3 different river rafting adventures. The first was in Cagayan de Oro in 2002 and the second was in Davao in 2007.  Those experiences has somehow kept me calm inspite of being in the dark under the raft and thrown into the current.  Presence of mind is essential under these circumstances.  Packed lunch didn't look appetizing but it was a generous serving of chicken, lamb, noodles and fried rice.  It was served after rafting at around 2pm. Our journey back to the city center, was an hour train ride to Beaufort Town and  2 hour drive.  Whew, twas a long ride, longer than the time spent rafting.

  • Rafting fee: 200RM pp
  • Price Includes: Transportation(train ticket and vehicle hire), rafting equipment, refreshments, lunch, river guide and certificate (oh!  we didn't have one).

Island Hopping Taman Tunku Abdul Rahman:  Manukan Island, Sapi Island, Mamutik Island

The next day, we were off island hopping.  Jesselton Point is the jump off point for island hopping in KK.  Among the three, Manukan Island has the longest stretch of shore.  The waters looked inviting but I was so unprepared to get stung.  It must be the time of the year, no wonder the lifeguard has several bottles of vinegar on hand to treat sea stings.  However, it was very deceiving, it doesn't itch until the next day.  Sapi and Mamutik Island were better for snorkeling with lots of corals even in shallow waters.  The lunch buffet included in the package at Sapi Island was delicious with generous selection of seafood.   For someone coming from the Philippines, nothing compares with our beaches but in terms of facilities, KK is better equipped.  Each island has a common shower room and toilet for use with a good water supply, a good docking area and picnic tables.

Tourist fees for non-Malaysian:

  • Chartered boat: RM200 / scheduled trips: RM17 per person for each island
  • Terminal fee: RM6
  • Conservation fee 10 RM for foreign adults and 6 RM to 18 and below
  • Diving fee: RM50
3 island package price including lunch is about 180RM

Food Tripping

One thing I enjoyed most about KK was the experience to eat where the locals go and to chat with them as well.  It was a welcome challenge to converse in the common language we know, that is, to speak Mandarin Chinese and Fookien.

Along Gaya Street (Jalan Gaya) within the vicinity of Summer Lodge where we stayed, we tried out the laksa, and tea tarik in Fong IP Cafe.  We had a lenghty chat in Mandarin (nosebleed!) with the owner, he seemed amused with our company, it earned us a free strawberry pudding.  We were prepared to say it was good even before we could taste it since he was looking on, but true enough, it tastes good.

From our room window, we could see the Five Star Hainanese Chicken and BBQ Pork,  many locals come to eat, it's always safe to assume that good food is served when there are a lot of locals in a restaurant.  We gave it a try and it speaks for itself.

Next door is Kedai Kopi Yee Fung.  It's only open for breakfast and lunch. We had brunch with chicken claypot, beef noodles and ice lemon juice with Hamkit (whatever that means, it tasted like dried plum) were something different.  Our last meal before we head to the airport.

The KK Esplanade is also a cool place to hangout with several bars along the strip.  Although the bars doesn't appeal much for someone (me) who doesn't drink, our travel mates found the place very cozy with frequent toast of a good local beer.  I'm happy I wasn't obliged to sit down and watch them drink through the night.  We separated from the group and hanged out for dessert at the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu.  We were surprised to know that desserts are selling at 50% off before 9 in the evening (just before the dessert shop closes).  That's 4 ringgit for a piece of cake.  We stayed in the hotel lounge until late in the evening, I had not a cup but two huge pots of fresh camomile tea.  That was really good, I've never drunk that much tea!  I ought to be thankful for a 5-star restroom at the Hyatt - a rare find in KK. :D

KK has good infrustructure yet it remained simple and laid back.  My trip didn't appeal to my peers.  Frankly, I've been to nicer places but each place can't always be better than the other.  Through the years, I've learned that travelling is not only to see the place but more importantly to explore and experience it and that's exactly what we did.  Woah, I'm surprised with such maturity... I'm turning into a seasoned traveller and not just an ordinary tourist.  :)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trekking in Mt Pinatubo, Capas Tarlac

The day after the exciting 15th hot air balloon, in Clark, Pampanga, we drove ourselves from Fontana, Clark, Pampanga to Capas, Tarlac and get off in Pinatubo Spa Town to register.


Here's a roadmap to Mt. Pinatubo Registration Station:


Simply register at Capas Tarlac town center.  We registered at the Pinatubo Spa Town. You may book in advance through the president of the 4x4 Association, Wendell Mercado at or +639196084313.

Pay the applicable fees before the start of the tour:
  • P3750 for 4-wheel drive with capacity of 4 to 5
  • P500 tourist guide fee per vehicle
  • P50/head conservation fee
  • P500 skyway toll fee per vehicle
  • = roughly P1000/head for group of 5
Bring your own lunch pack, only a few snacks and drinks are for sale by the crater.

    It's an hour rough ride on the 4x4 through lahar stricken town.

    Picture stop half-way.
    If you are up to the challenge, you may opt for a longer path: a choice of an hour, two or three hour trek.
    or opt for the shortest route like I did.
    Picturesque view of the crater.

    P350 per head optional rowing.  
    Make sure you pay at the registration station before the start of the trek, they don't accept payment up here.

    Be back in town before sundown, after the bumpy ride and long walk, experience the Vulcanic Ash Spa, Mud Pool and a massage at Pinatubo Spa Town for P500 for each service.