47 Chapters
Medium 9781628872460

7 THE SACRED VALLEY

Nicholas Gill FrommerMedia ePub

7

the sacred valley

The Urubamba Valley was sacred to the Incas, and it’s not hard to understand why. Better known as the Sacred Valley, it’s a serene and incomparably lovely stretch of small villages and ancient ruins spread across a broad plain, split by the Urubamba River and framed by magnificent Andes peaks and a massive sky. The Incas built several of the empire’s greatest estates, temples, and royal palaces between the sacred centers of Cusco and Machu Picchu, positioned like great bookends at the south and north ends of the valley. Many visitors use the valley as a base for visiting the region, as it’s about 300m (1,000 ft.) lower than Cusco, making it a better introduction for visitors prone to altitude-related health problems.

History    The entire valley is suffused by the great, if brief, presence of the Incas. From extraordinary temples to fortresses, no region in Peru is more marked by the continent-spanning civilization. Today, Quechua-speaking residents work fields with primitive tools and harvest salt using methods unchanged since the days of the Incas.

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Medium 9781628872842

9 THE PACIFIC COAST

Nicholas Gill FrommerMedia ePub

9

The Pacific Coast

by Nicholas Gill

O ff limits to most travelers for decades until just a few years ago, Colombia’s Pacific Coast is a natural para dise just waiting to be discovered. This is some of Colombia’s most spectacular landscape. It’s here that jagged hills covered in dense, tropical foliage meet the Pacific in dra matic fashion. El Chocó, as the northern half of the region is called, is one of the wettest places on earth, though that doesn’t stop adventurous tourists from camping out in a growing number of small eco-lodges perched on rocky bluffs or pristine black- or white-sand beaches. They take surf lessons, fish for big game, or go whale-watching. To the south, Colombia’s largest port, Buenaventura, once a dreadful place to spend the night, is even coming around with some good places to stay and eat. The vibe up and down the coast is less mestizo and gravitates more toward the Afro-Colombian and indige nous groups that call this region their home. Visiting isolated communities that still cling on to their traditions is just a hop on a canoe or makeshift motorcycle-powered rail cart away.

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11 SAN ANDRÉS & PROVIDENCIA

Nicholas Gill FrommerMedia ePub

11

San AndrÉs & Providencia

by Caroline Lascom

When Colombians dream of a tropical vacation, they need look no further than San Andrés and Providencia. This remote and breathtaking archipelago is a Caribbean fantasia of blinding white sands fringed with coconut palms, translucent waters cast in unfathomable shades of blue, spectacular coral formations, and a magical abundance of sea creatures. In 2005, UNESCO recognized the islands’ immense ecological richness when 25,000 miles were designated as the Seaflower Marine Protected Area. Home to the third-largest barrier reef in the world—spanning some 32km (20 miles)—it’s no overstatement to say that the snorkeling and diving here are out of this world.

But there’s more to the islands than just sun and surf. San Andrés and Providencia are known across Colombia for their incredible music—a heritage that speaks to the region’s fascinating colonial history. Pirates, puritans, and conquistadors have all staked their claim to these strategic islands, which are actually closer to Nicaragua (122km/93 miles) than to Colombia (775km/482 miles). Certainly, there is an eccentric, distinctly Colombian sensibility to the island’s ramshackle beauty, yet the islands beat to a very different drum. A third of the population is Raizal: the descendants of British Puritans and African slaves who were shipped to the islands to work on the cotton plantations in the 17th century. On the island’s “settlements,” you are more likely to hear reggae or gospel than salsa; locals speak English-Creole rather than Spanish, and white clapboard houses tumble down lush green hillsides.

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Medium 9781628871807

1 THE BEST OF ICELAND

Nicholas Gill FrommerMedia ePub

1

The Best of Iceland

Straddling the rift between the Eurasian and North American continental plates, Iceland’s one-of-a-kind geography leaves little to the imagination. By summer the country is moss-covered lava fields, steep rocky mountainsides dotted with freely roaming sheep, pockets of forest in an otherwise treeless expanse, and bright nights of song and dance in the crisp polar air. By winter, it is bright lights darting across the sky like restless ghosts, people bathing in hot springs with snow melting in the steam just above their heads, fairy lights glowing in all the windows. Iceland’s astonishing beauty often has an austere, primitive, or surreal cast that arouses reverence, wonderment, mystery, and awe. Lasting impressions could include a lone tuft of blue wildflowers against a bleak desert moonscape or a fantastical promenade of icebergs calved into a lake from a magisterial glacier. This is the essence of Iceland—endless variations of magnificent scenery and adventure.

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3 SUGGESTED COLOMBIA ITINERARIES

Nicholas Gill FrommerMedia ePub

3

Suggested Colombia Itineraries

by Nicholas Gill

Many first-time visitors to Colombia are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things to do in the country. Not only is there plenty to explore, it’s a big country. Even if you have several months to spend in Colombia, you won’t come close to seeing all of it. Destinations tend to be spread out and require some advanced planning to get to. Bus and driving routes between major cities can take entire days, and transportation to remote towns and villages might only be possible on certain days of the week. An extensive air network will help shave some time in transit and might be your only choice for reaching some isolated attractions. Keep in mind that as modern and sophisticated the country might appear in some places, it’s still Colombia. Once you leave the cities things move at a slower pace. Sometimes when the sun is out or rain is beating down on you, they don’t move at all. Planning too tight of an itinerary is never a good idea here. The itineraries that follow are meant to be suggestions of what is possible—with flexibility to shave off a day or take an extra stop when needed. Relax, and take some time to stop and smell the coffee!

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