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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Guide to Caño Cristales - Colombia

This off the beaten track adventure in Colombia takes you to a river so unique that it has been named things like "Liquid Rainbow", "River of Five Colors", " The Most Beautiful River In the World".... you get the point. Caño Cristales, located in Colombia's Serranía de la Macarena mountain range, a designated National Park.

According to sources this National Park is the single most biodiverse spot on earth counting the number of species per acre. Endemic Plants and animals galore, and your guide should be a good source of knowledge along the way. The landscape stretches over 3 different ecosystems making for a bio rich zone.

The River

The Key To the Colors:

A common misconception of the colors found at Cano Cristales and the surrounding region is that the colors are formed from an algae. While this is partially correct, it is actually a plant, Macarenia clavigera, that creates the vibrant red and green colors.

The unique environment of the region makes it the only place in the world this plant can flourish. With the rocky Andes meeting the lush Amazon, this environment cannot be found anywhere else in the world. The rocky forest floor keeps the water gin clear due to the

Conditions and colors in the river are always changing. There are three key elements to the plants survival…
  • Aluminum and Iron from the river bottom
  • Oxygen from the running water (if the water is too low the colors will fade)
  • Sunlight  

Fast Facts
  • Color are vibrant from June - November
  • Can be reached from Bogota, Medellin or Villavicencio
  • Tour range from 3-4 days
  • English guides can be arranged

Types of Trips

There are 3 and 4 day options these vary by company. We recommend opting for the longer 4 day version, as it allows you to really explore all the region has to offer. It also gives you a chance to explore the river for 2 days, so in the case that the weather is off one of the days this gives you a bit of insurance that you will see the river under ideal conditions. Clouds and rain can alter the ability to see the vibrant colors that the river exudes on sunny days, where you will see an explosion of vibrant reds, purples, yellows, oranges and greens.

Getting There 

There are chartered flights everyday from Bogota, except for Tuesdays. This 1 hour journey is the best option for getting to La Macarena, the base for exploring the park. These flights often book out in the high season due to limited availability on these 3 passenger planes. It is a thrilling experience flying over the jungles, so plan ahead!

What to bring

Clothing and Equipment:

During the day the weather is hot and humid, so we recommend wearing comfortable clothing, shirts and shorts for walking; at night the temperature is about 16°C and there is a high proportion of mosquitoes and other insects, so it is important to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts for sleeping and use insect repellent.
  • Reusable bottle of water (1 liter) 
  • Comfortable clothing (quick drying material)
  • Trekking shoes/ sandals
  • Rain coat (Poncho)
  • Bring only the essentials things in your backpack
  • Personal care items
  • Personal medication 
  • Among your clothes be sure to wear shorts, shirts, long pants, socks and swimwear
  • Plastic bags for wet items
  • Insect repellent/ sun cream
  • Camera

FlashpackerConnect offers guided tours with the option of a bilingual guide. Offering exclusive 3 and 4 day options. They can be booked online - https://www.flashpackerconnect.com/cano-cristales-tour

Sunday, February 18, 2018

How to visit Machu Picchu & The Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Visiting both Machu Picchu and the Rainbow Mountains of Peru

Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu tours

Many travelers visiting Peru are wanting to explore the magical ruins of Machu Picchu as well as reaching the popular summit overlooking the Rainbow Mountain, taking travelers well beyond heights, they have likely only dreamed about. The Rainbow Mountain of Peru, at its summit (Elevation/Height: 16,520ft) nearly reaches the heights of Everest Basecamp, and far surpasses the highest mountains in continental USA.

Linking in a visit to both Machu Picchu and the Rainbow Mountain is very easy. However the two locations lie in opposite locations from the city of Cusco. Machu Picchu lies about 3.5 hours from Cusco, reached by a train journey along the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley.

The Rainbow Mountain is nestled in the Ausangate Mountain region, about 3 hours to the trailhead from Cusco to the south. Transport to this location is done via Bus or Private Van. There are generally two kinds of tours, budget (large group tours) and small group tours via private van, car or taxi. 

Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu tours
Photo Credit - @ Flashpackerconnect.com
That being considered the distance between the Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu is approximately 7 hours in total, for that reason you need to allow for a night in Cusco to split up the trips and coordinate tours. 

The best way to visit both sites, is to overnight in Cusco between the two treks/tours, visiting Machu Picchu first and embarking on your Rainbow hike following your visit to Machu Picchu. This is very important as you need to acclimate prior to hiking at such high elevations (2-3 days of acclimations in and around Cusco, or a visit to Machu Picchu first is recommended). 

If you are tight on time you can tackle both trips in 2 days, but it is nice to add in a rest day in Cusco in-between the two, as both are FULL day adventures, leaving you very tired if done back to back. 

TIP: If you have extra time embark on a multi day Rainbow Mountain hike, overnight camping offers you some amazing landscapes and gets you away from the day hiking crowds, many travelers including myself will tell you that the landscapes, wildlife, glacier views and lakes beyond the Rainbow Mountain rival that of the Rainbow Mountain itself. 

For more information and package trips including the Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu tour follow the link HERE.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tres Rainbows Hike in Peru (An alternative hike)

On our most recent trip to Peru, we had the pleasure of trekking to the newly discovered "Tres Rainbows" a great alternative trek to the well known Rainbow Mountain, which lies in the same region. This splattering of multiple painted hills lies near the town of Palccoyo.

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

This "hike" only 30min from the parking area, is a great option for those who dont want to hike the required 5-6 hours round trip to the Rainbow Mountain.

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

To compare the two is quite difficult.

Tres Rainbows Hike per the name offers up views of 3 rainbow colored mountains from one view point, and is well worth the travel time and effort to go and see. On a good day you will also get distant views of the Ausangate glacier in the distance. The best part about this option: little hiking required, family friendly, and there are no tourists going here currently!

Both hiking options require a 3 hour drive from Cusco, Peru. Departing early in the morning from Cusco you will arrive to the trail around 7am, and back to Cusco in the afternoon. Both can be done as a day trip.

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

The Rainbow Mountain Trek has about 500 + tourists per day. The experience is much different as you will physically exert yourself to get the views, BUT this trek offers up the crown jewel of all the painted hills you will ever see! There are also multi day options around this mountain that will get you to the top early in the morning before the day trek crowds, and offers the traveler a night under the stars and the ultimate emersion into high Andes culture and landscapes seen by few.

FlashpackerConnect offers both options so you can choose what suites you best.

More images of Tres Rainbows hike... (all images property of @flashpackerconnect)

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

Tres Rainbows hike, Palccoyo - Peru

Learn More Here

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hiking to the Rainbow Mountain of Peru - Things you should know

Rainbow Mountain Peru- One of the best kept secrets in the world is now *easily* reached in a day trip from Cusco. I use asterisks because this is what many people think when they hear it only takes a few hours by van to get to the trail head and only a few more hours for the hike. 

The trek to Rainbow mountain is not something to take lightly, and because of the many discount operators that now offering this trek, people are becoming injured, overwhelmed and stranded on the mountains because of these operators negligence. Thinking of hiking to Rainbow mountain? You must read this post before booking a tour!

    1. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: Remember the old saying? Well this is 100% true when it comes to the Rainbow mountain trek. Operators in Cusco are charging less than $50 to bring unsuspecting and unprepared guests to the Rainbow mountain, shoving them off the van and pointing in the direction they are supposed to trek- guideless. This is utterly unsafe as the elevation of the trail starts above 14,500 feet. When people are exposed to this high of elevation, a multitude of things could go wrong, and without the proper gear and an experienced guide you could be left in an extremely dangerous situation. This brings me to my next point..

      2. ALTITUDE SICKNESS IS REAL: Don’t under estimate the effects altitude can have on you, even those who are in the best shape and are very athletic. This trek requires you to spend at least 2 days acclimating in Cusco to allow your body to prepare for the elements. Choose an operator that takes only small groups so the guides can make sure you are safe and well taken care of. Also ensure this operator has all the proper safety equipment necessary for a hike like this. Oxygen is extremely important and you may find yourself needing this. Unfortunately many of the operators say they carry oxygen but they do not.. going back to #1- Choose a reputable tour operator!

      3. WHAT TO PACK: I get asked this question a lot from fellow adventure seekers. My advise is pack only what you need, but be prepared for all types of weather and be smart. Mother nature can be very fickle in the mountains and you may experience all 4 seasons of weather in just one day. Here is my suggested packing list:
        • Day Pack with Rain Cover
        • Trekking shoes
        • WARM CLOTHES: Thermal base layer, Fleece, Down jacket, Stocking hat, gloves, scarf, Buff
        • Rain gear
        • Sun protection- Hat, sun glasses and sun cream
        • Lip Balm
        • Snacks- although your operator should be providing snacks if they are a good company..
        • Altitude medication such as Diamox 
        • Motion sickness tablets (for van ride)
        • Toilet paper
        • Camera 
        • Dry change of clothes, shoes and plastic bag to store wet items
        • Pillow and blanket for the van ride
      4. WEATHER: I’ve already touched on this a bit, however weather in the Andes can be crazy and unpredictable. Don’t get caught up on trying to choose the “best weather day” because that is simply impossible to do. Choose a day that works the best for your schedule and hope for the best. You will never outsmart the weather and you’ll stress yourself out worrying! The hike itself is spectacular to the Rainbow mountain, and if you book with a reputable operator they will let you wait out the rain, fog, or snow that may have moved in. They will not rush you once you reach the top and will allow you soak in the vistas and stay as long as you wish. Many budget operators will give you a time limit for the entire trek and some people don't even make it to the top because they run out of time. (Again, you really get what you pay for..) Weather varies from around 20 degrees Fahrenheit (when you arrive very early at the trailhead) to above 40 degrees in the heat of the day. The energy you will use while trekking will make it feel even warmer so it's great to have layers!

      • TEMPERATURE: 20 degrees F (morning) - 40 degrees F (afternoon)

      5. ELEVATION: 
      • Start: 14,600 feet (4450 meters)
      • Top of Rainbow Mountain: 16,520 feet (5035 meters) 
      • Total elevation gain: 2250 feet (685 meters)
      This hike is most certainly a challenging day of hiking. I highly recommend travelers are fit and up for an adventure. Remember it is important to spend at least 2-3 days in Cusco (located at 11,000 feet) to allow your body to properly acclimate. If you can save this trek towards the middle of your trip that would be best. The main reason this trek is hard is because of the elevation. The terrain itself is a gradual climb and you will find yourself walking in a beautiful valley for the majority of the trek. 

      Rainbow Mountain hiking Map (Photo provided by FlashpackerConnect

      6. SAFETY: 
      Safety should be your #1 priority when thinking about taking this trek. The 
      elevation itself can make travelers weak and weary, and while I don’t want to scare you- refer to #2- Altitude sickness is REAL. This is not a tour to save money on and book the cheapest option. A reputable company will create a save trek, while optimizing your experience on the trail. Some companies even specialize in getting you to the top of the mountain first. Don’t you want to get your photos with JUST the mountain in the background and not 198934203 other tourists? I know I would!
        7. CONSIDER A MULTI-DAY TREK: If you have a few extra days in the Cusco region, I highly recommend choosing a multi day trek to Rainbow mountain (which links the Ausangate trek) over the day trek. The experience of sleeping under the stars, getting away from all the tourists, and hiking in the backcountry of the Andes is something that can only be understood once you actually do it. It’s okay if you’ve never been camping before- that’s why you book a tour with a company that knows what they are doing and specializes in high quality experiences. Imagine yourself trekking amidst towering peaks, deep blue lagoons, and only the wildlife to keep you company. On a multi day trek you will experience the beauty of the Andes, while challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone. You may never be back to Peru- go ahead, take a chance and do something you’ve never done before.. I guarantee you won’t regret it! 

        Let the pictures do the talking.....

        8. HORSES: Horses are available to hire at the trail head for around $25 per horse. They are able to be ridden about 70% of the time and a horseman will be leading you the whole time. This will allow you to jump on and off the horse at your leisure and enjoy the trek at your own pace. There are a few sections of the trail that the horseman will ask you to walk to give the horses a break. The most notable section is at the end where you must hike the final stretch to the vantage point of the Rainbow mountain. This section is just over 1/4 miles in length and takes about 25 minutes. It is steep but definitely worth it! Take your time and you will feel very accomplished at the end! The horseman have a 90kg weigh limit for horses.

        9. BOOKING ONLINE VS IN PERSON: Booking prior to when you arrive in Cusco guarantees you will be able to book with the operator of your choice. The quality of the tours sold on the streets in Cusco are not at the level of my recommended minimum requirements (general quality, proper payment of staff, sudden extra costs, unwanted surprises, safety on the trail...). In order to guarantee availability with a reputable company and get one of the best guides it is necessary to book well in advance. Needless to say that left-over guides, cooks, and drivers… are not usually the best. 

        10. LARGE GROUP VS SMALL GROUP: Consider your options when booking your tour. What size group appeals to you? Large group where you have little interaction with the guide and you get more independence? Or small group where your guide is with you every step of the way explaining the culture of the Andean people, the flora and fauna of the mountains, and reason the land is sacred. In addition to that, having a guide nearby in case of an unexpected emergency is extremely important. I've said it before, but please don't underestimate the impact elevation can have on your body. 

        11. BEST TIME TO TREK IN PERU: The best time to trek in Peru is between May through October as it is the driest time of the year. That being said March and November can be excellent times to go as well. There are fewer tourists during this time and weather (while a bit more unpredictable than usual) still tends to be nice. 

        12. TREKKING DURING THE RAINY SEASON: December through February is not an optimal time to be trekking in the Andes as it is the wet season. It is impossible predict if there will be rain, wind or snow, and trips do still depart in these types of weather. The great thing is there are still many sunny days during this time. Find a company that leaves as early as possible to avoid afternoon storms. Of course no one can guarantee what the weather will be like and there is always a possibility that your trip would get canceled or that you are trekking in rain, wind or snow. A reputable company will refund any deposits made or change your tour to a different date if they cancel the tour due to weather. If your tour departs and you find yourself hiking in snow or rain, look on the bright side, and face the adventure with a great attitude!

        13. TIPPING: Tipping is common in Peru and is highly recommended if you feel your guide and crew went above and beyond to make your trip special. A generous tip is 10-15% of your total trip cost. Bring small bills (in either US Dollars or Soles) and distribute among the staff how you see best fit. You will most likely have a lead guide, ( + plus an assistant guide if your group size is more than 5) a chef and his assistant and a driver. It is not necessary to tip the horseman as the full amount you pay for the horse goes directly to them. 

        14. FOOD: Going back to quality, food is extremely important while on the trail. This is what fuels you for the hike ahead of you and recharges you at the end of the trek. Finding an operator that prepares fresh, hearty meals can make or break your experience. You will want to be sure they can cater to your dietary needs if you are vegetarian or vegan, or have any special restrictions such as gluten or lactose free. 

        15: HAVE FUN!: This goes without saying, but this is a trek you will remember for the rest of your lift. The landscape is stunning, and the vistas once at the Rainbow mountain are magical. Have an open mind for adventure when you take the trek and don't forget to take photos!  

        Looking for a reputable operator? We booked a tour with FlashpackerConnect and couldn't have been happier. The service is impeccable, the guides are top notch, and they will get you to the top of the Rainbow Mountain first whether you book a 1 day trek or multi day trek. You can expect a group size of less than 8 people with 2 guides to allow the group to split up into faster and leisurely walkers. Don't waste this once in a lifetime experience! 

        All pictures copyright @theendlessadventures

        Monday, April 11, 2016

        Tuesday, February 2, 2016

        A Mountain Retreat

        Green Lake Hut

        Brandon and I have done our fair share of hiking- multi-day backpacking trips where we carry all supplies necessary to get us through the trek. We discovered that skimping on food when in the backcountry is the worst thing we could do. We've also learned that while beer is heavy, it is the perfect reward to a long day. I've always loved sleeping in a tent, and having the freedom to go where ever we want, that feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day, after we struggled through the cold or wet, or high elevation... and then we learned how the Kiwis do backcountry.

         N Zed is known for its rugged mountains, its adrenalin filled sports, and its hiking trails, or tramps as they are called here. The country attracts people from all over the world looking to indulge themselves in a few great walks, some stunning scenery, and a track or two of intense mountain biking. Because of this and because the Kiwis are so proud of their land they have developed and maintained the best trail system I have ever seen.

        School House Hut 

        Liverpool Hut

        Trails are set up in a way so that one can hike from cabin to cabin throughout the backcountry for days on end and always have shelter to stay in for the night. Many equipped with a small wood burning stove that doubles as a way to cook. They all contain bunks with plastic (yet comfortable) mattresses, an outside bivy, and some sort of water source, weather it is rain water caught off the roof, or a river near. (The rivers here in New Zealand are the clearest I've ever seen. Water doesn't have to be sanitized, and it is so plentiful, one liter is all we ever carry at a time. When it's gone we fill it from a nearby falls and continue on our way.)

        So far we've been lucky enough to have most of these mountain retreats to ourselves. Here's a peak into our "Hut Life"

        Mt Brown Hut

        Tuesday, January 12, 2016

        Our Love Hate Relationship

        I feel free! My first thoughts when Brandon and I hit the open roads of this small yet adventure packed country. We had a full two months to explore the area, in our BRAND NEW (ly used) 1993 Mazda Bango camper van.

        New Zealand has been on our radar since before we started traveling. We always imagined ourselves buying a camper van, and using that to work our way around the country. Upon arriving we didn't know where to begin. We had never purchased a car in the States, let alone a different country. So the search began.

        We named her "The Juicebox."

        The very first van we looked at we purchased after one quick test drive around Queenstown. We were off without a care in the world. Best to not waste time looking right? We knew we got a deal. A perfect set up with a beautifully organized kitchen containing everything we need to cook, small compartments for our clothes, a large compartment for our backpacks and boots just beneath the bed, and a long shelf behind the front seats for easy access to important things like our camera, thermos, and books. It has hooks to hang our hats on, a table that can be set up for dinner or playing cards, and curtains on all windows for evening privacy. We bought christmas lights and some decorations, and transformed it into our new home. We were loaded, and ready for the road ahead of us- tramping, snorkeling, sightseeing, rafting, simply adventuring, that's what we do best.

        Our first few days on the road we were hooked. While it didn't drive fast, we weren't in a hurry, in fact it was nice to slow down... wayyyyy down. We keep her at a constant 60 km per hour and we've detoured a few mountain passes, just in case we wouldn't make it up. But she was ours, our first car purchase, our first home purchase.

        We headed to the southern part of NZ to start our first trek. Enjoying the drive and making numerous stops along the way; it was our first taste of what life would be like for the next two months. We camped near the trailhead and a trout filled river and meandered on the riverbed until dark, throwing a few flies, and gazing at the dynamic mountains.

        Episode 1:
        After 4 days on the trail we were ready for a hot shower and some home cooked burgers. We unload our backpacks and threw out trash, hung up wet clothes, and tried to make space for a fellow hiker that needed a lift. With everything loaded, all three of us hop into the van. Click. Click. Battery dead. Did we leave the lights on? Maybe a door open? Meanwhile our hitchhiker is asking, how long we've had the van, and if we took it into the shop before we purchased it. Not helping I think to myself; the questions continue.

        It only took about 20 minutes before our first Juicebox angel showed up at the trailhead to save us. Failing to be equipped with jumper cables, our angel pulls some out of his back seat, hooks up the batteries, and gets the van to turn over. Two more times our battery died after leaving it for more than a day, and both times we were rescued. Time for a new battery

        Episode 2:
        Christmas Eve we arrive to the city of Dunedin. Splurging on a Bed and Breakfast for a relaxing Christmas in (and of course wifi, and a tv) we pull into the local hardware store to buy a new battery. This has to solve the problems. We chat with one of the salesmen, and he recommends bringing it to an auto mechanic before we simply purchase the battery. It may just be something different he tells us. Instead we make a quick purchase of jumper cables, and head back to the van in hopes of finding a shop. The car turns on and immediately a harsh buzzing sound screams from the engine. Panic sets in and we evacuate. Brandon turns the van off and yet the sound continues. I run across the street to an auto shop, Brandon keeping watch to ensure there's no explosion, fire extinguisher in hand. Auto shop closed.

        Next door I see someone closing up an oil change shop. He listens to my story, and exclaims "Shops'll all be closed now, don't open back up until the 4th of January for holiday." (That's 10 days!) Desperate for help, I frantically explain that I can't wait that long, my van is my home, and I'm stranded in a hardware store in the middle of the city! Another worker comes over and offers to drive me to a shop. I hop in the mini cooper and he speeds to as many repair shops as he can find. All closed. We drive back to the van, and he takes a quick glance at it. The sound now thankfully has stopped and the man uses some device and determines it's not the battery after all, but the starter. Nothing he can do unfortunately but at least we have some idea of what's going on. We say thank you for his help and he disappears. Both of us in shock by the generosity of the Kiwis on Christmas Eve of all days.

        Not more than 15 minutes later he shows back up and announces his friend Scott is on his way with a tow truck to fix the car. He called around, found a used starter, and it will be fixed tonight-- Juicebox angel #2.

        Episode 3:
        With a new starter and a battery that is now fully charged we head to the market to load up on Champaign, cheese, and Christmas goodies. It is time to celebrate. The dead battery mystery has been solved, and the Juicebox is running. Full of groceries, and on a high from our luck, we get back in the van and turn the key. The engine starts up. Brandon reaches for the gear stick to reverse out of our spot, and nothing happens, we're now stuck in park. 7pm on Christmas Eve.

        We call Grant (another worker from the auto mechanic shop) and ask him what we should do. "I'm on my way," he replies. Within 30 minutes Grant rips apart our gear box and begins an evaluation. He checks fuses, wires, and too many other things that I can't even begin to describe. He finally determines we have an electrical problem, yet again, a problem, and shows us how to manually get in and out of park. Wondering what the bill for this will be as we've taken over an hour of his time, he stays to chat for a bit and finally says Merry Christmas and walks away- Juicebox angel #3.

        Episode 4/5:
        Ever run out of gas? We have, twice. The first time I'd like to think it wasn't our fault as we had just enough gas to make it to the closest station. After touring around an area called the Catlins for the few days following Christmas, it was time to fuel up and head to our next location. We arrive at the small town station just before we run out of gas, grab an ice cream cone, and see the dreaded sign.. Closed for the holiday. Of course it is. We get back in the car and hope to make it the additional 10 miles to the closest town with gas. Slowly our car comes to a halt as we run out of gas just under three miles from our destination. Still enjoying my enormous ice cream cone, I chuck it in the grass, get out of the car and throw out our thumbs. Sure enough two cars stop almost simultaneously. The first, a group of Chinese tourists, who don't have room in their car but nearly step out in the middle of the road to stop traffic for us. The second car, and our fourth juicebox angel had one liter of gas with him. He pours it in our tank, our van barely turns over and he follows us to the station just to be sure the liter would be sufficient.

        Despite the many unfortunate events we've had with the Juicebox, the pros by far outweigh the cons. My day always starts with a strong french press delivered in bed as Brandon wakes up just before me and prepares it. I set up the van for the day by taking down the planks that the mattresses lay on, and putting together the table. We make eggs and hash browns, or pancakes, or nutella and banana toast for breakfast, and we take off for the day to find the next adventure. The best part is we are never at the mercy of a bus schedule anymore; we stop and go as we please and we've trekked nearly 200 kilometers since we've arrived. And last night we pulled off the road just as the sun was setting, and watched as the tiny penguins waddled their way onto shore. Such surprises around every corner.

        As for "The Juicebox" to be determined if she will make it through these next few weeks. Fingers crossed.