Advance reservation in Peru/Bolivia

Old Aug 21st, 2018, 01:33 PM
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Advance reservation in Peru/Bolivia

I am planning a 2-week family trip to Peru/Bolivia. One question I have is how difficult it is to make last minute change (or how important it is to make the plan in advance). I have a firm idea of the first part of itinerary:
  • Fly to Lime, and spend a full day;
  • Fly to Cuzco, and transfer directly to Ollantaytambo for a couple of days to minimize high altitude effect;
  • Train to Machu Picchu, overnight;
  • Train back to Cuzco for a couple more days
These are popular destinations and I will definitely make reservations in advance. However I am not sure how everyone in the family reacts to high altitude, and would like to have some flexibility. At this point I am considering 3 options (in the order of desirability):
  1. If we acclimate well, we would like to proceed to Lake Titicaca, La Paz, Sala de Uyuni tour, before flying back to Lima for flight home.
  2. Alternatively we can skip Lake Titicaca (the highest altitude) and fly to La Paz instead.
  3. Now if any of us is really miserable in Cuzco because of altitude, we would skip Bolivia altogether and use the extra time to visit Amazon jungle.
Can I book the travel (to either Bolivia or Peru jungle) once we get back to Cuzco from Machu Picchu? My target dates is June 2019.
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Old Aug 21st, 2018, 07:16 PM
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I have very little information to offer, but a few observations:

I trust you realize that La Paz is higher that Cuzco and is almost as high as Lake Titicaca? If you are having trouble with altitude, I doubt that La Paz would be your best option!

I would strongly urge you to consult a travel physician before finalizing your plans, as you might need special vaccinations for the jungle and might want medication or advice to help deal with altitude.

FWIW, my approach was to decide what I most wanted to do if I was able to manage altitude, and I planned accordingly. My travel physician had advised me that if I were to experience altitude sickness, my only option would be to get to a lower altitude as soon as I could possibly do so. (Note that difficulty dealing with altitude is not the same as altitude sickness – the former is a matter of acclimating, and so largely a matter of time, not safety.) My assumption was that I would deal with the possibility of altitude sickness – and with pursuing an alternative – only if necessary. Of course, with a family, you may want to have a more clearly articulated back-up plan. My ill-informed guess is that you could plan a trip to the Amazon jungle at the last minute; whether it would be the trip you would take if you knew you were going to go there is another question entirely.

Note that the June solstice is one of the most popular times of year to visit Machu Picchu; plan accordingly.

If you have’t already seen it, you might find some useful information in my trip report. It’s long, but searchable. Lima is in the middle; Cusco and Machu Picchu closer to the end.
Praise for Peru A report of my solo month in this amazing country



Hope that helps!
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Old Aug 21st, 2018, 10:39 PM
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With just two weeks, I would probably cut out Lake Titicaca in order to travel at a more relaxed pace which will enable you to both see more without rushing and acclimatise to the altitude more easily.

Everyone will be affected by the altitude to some extent, it is just a question of how much. Unfortunately, there is no way of telling until you get there. Sex and fitness seem to have little bearing but older people do tend to fare better. Some good info on altitude and how to cope here- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/altitude-sickness/

You could also consider seeing your doctor re your suitability to take Diamox which helps many people adjust.

You have exactly the right order for visiting the SV. Ollantaytambo and MP first will allow sufficient time to get used to being way above sea level.

Trips to Uyuni can always be organised at the last minute, indeed most are. However, you should do your research on the best operators as some are really bad. As this is a family trip, you would be able to arrange the tour on a private basis with your own jeep, driver and cook. What I have done in the past is to contact te operators in advance and booked the tour but resisted all attempts to pay any money up front. A three night tour of Uyuni and the altiplano is far preferable than anything shorter as with less time, you would miss some of the best sights.

NB on at least one night on a Salar tour will involve sleeping at over 4000m. Even though we had been at altitude for several months we were still affected. Most people are, but it is worth it!

An Amazon tour is less easily booked last minute, but may still be possible, but again, you may not achieve the best quality of tour or accomodation. Again a longer tour would be preferable as it can take some time to get into the best bits of the jungle.
Madidi NP in Bolivia was amazing but it would be necessary to book a few months in advance.

When planning out your itinerary, bear in mind that two nights staying anywhere will only give you one full day sightseeing. Fortunately, if you are travelling buy bus or taxi in this neck of the woods, there is a lot to see between places.

Here is a link to our blog of our recent travels in Bolivia and Peru:

https://accidentalnomads.com/category/bolivia/

https://accidentalnomads.com/category/peru/

There are various posts which may be of help.

It is rarely necessary to book accommodation in Peru or Bolivia in advance and we have winged it on many occasions. But travelling as a family you may want to book in advance. In South America I tend to use booking.com and reserve only rooms that are cancellable say 24/48 hours beforehand.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 04:32 AM
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I'd not try to book an Amazon tour on the fly. I was in Tambopata in early June and there are very few camps there. I wouldn't risk not being able to find accommodations there if it's somewhere you really want to see.

I'm a contrarian though on the acclimatization. I took Diamox for 2 days before I arrived in Peru and the first 2 days I was there, went directly to Cuzco and stayed there for 3 days before going to Ollantaytambo for 1 night and then AC. I wasn't bothered at all. Everyone is affected differently, but I really think the Diamox helps. The highest I had been previously was Pike's Peak in CO and the volcanoes in Rwanda and wasn't affected there at all unmedicated but I'm not sure if Peru would have been the same. I didn't give myself a chance to find out.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 08:23 AM
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Everyone does react differently to the altitude. We spent a day in Cusco before heading to Ollantaytambo, no problem. Back to Cusco, no problem. When we started the trek, took a half a Diamox each day. Crossing a 15,200 ft. pass on the Salkantay Trail during the day on foot, no problem, but sleeping at 12,500 feet, PROBLEM! (not altitude sickness, per se, no dizziness or nausea, just couldn't breathe well, and needed oxygen for 10 minutes before I fell back to sleep comfortably).
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 05:50 PM
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I did use Diamox, did not have altitude sickness, but was definitely badly affected by the altitude -- I found it very difficult to move at anything other than a snail's pace and climbing even a gentle slope was exhausting. And that was AFTER I acclimated! I'm glad for those who didn't have any difficulty, am glad I didn't actually experience altitude sickness, and think it wise to recognize that people react differently and plan accordingly. JMO.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 09:47 PM
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Thanks for the feedback and advice from everyone. I am certainly not taking high altitude lightly, hence trying to have a plan B. On the other hand, I do not want to give up traveling to high altitude destinations without even knowing how our bodies react.

To kjs: I like your strategy to ask ourselves what we most wanted, and plan around it. In this case, we know we want to see Machu Picchu and Cusco. My original thought was to take advantage of once-in-a-life-acclimation and push for Bolivia. Thanks for the link to your trip report. I just read the opening posts on likes and dislikes. I see the point that even not dangerously sick, it is difficult to enjoy amazing sights if one is uncomfortable.

To amyb: I got your point that Amazon jungle deserves more respect than plan B. It also requires a different set of research and preparations such as yellow fever shots. I am scratching the idea for this trip.

I will spend more time on kjs’ trip report and crellston’s blogs, in particular the “other” pre-Colombian sites in Peru.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 10:04 PM
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I'm glad you found some value in my suggestion!

Please feel free to add questions to my trip report -- I'll be happy to answer as well as I can.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2018, 11:19 PM
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I would add that I have gone to altitude with and without using Diamox.

My first time in Cusco (although not at altitude),was without using Diamox I flew in from Lima was ok during the day but felt terrible at night severe headache, breathlessness, nausea = no sleep that night. The hotel I was in had oxygen so 15 mins on that helped a lot. My wife was unaffected??

I was little breathless the next day but OK.

Since then I have been at altitude many times, sometimes for months at a time and have always taken care to plan my route to ascend gradually (which is not always possible on shorter trips) and have been fine.

On one of our recent trips we had to go to Huaraz which is at 3600m. This was my first time using Diamox. I could not believe the difference is made. Yes I was a little breathless for the first few days when walking uphill, but none of the usual sypmtoms and within a few days we were hiking in the mountains up at around 4200-4800m well above most altitudes reached on the Bolivian altiplano.

That said, I did "chat" with a lady on Tripadvisor who did all the right things and still got quite ill in Bolivia and had to cancel her trip to Uyuni.

Most people will experience discomfort to some degree at altitude but most deal with it ok.

Good luck with your planning
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Old Aug 23rd, 2018, 04:07 PM
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A recommended travel agency in La Paz (you need 2 nights, and 3 days to include both the Uyuni Salt Flats and the colored lakes such as Laguna Colorada). You can see just the salt flats with 1 night in Uyuni. However you need to factor in the travel time to and from Uyuni. You can fly, from La Paz, but any and all travel in Bolivia is subject to disruption and delay.

https://www.kanootours.com/3-day-sal...plus#itinerary
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Old Aug 26th, 2018, 09:19 PM
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Thanks again for the wealth of info. Even though I had some reasonably firm idea of our priority to begin with, I kept questioning my plan B in case of difficulty with high altitude. For a family trip, if just one of us is severely discomforted, it would be hard for the rest of us to enjoy. A trip to Amazon basin is logistically demanding. It would be difficult to organize a quality tour at last minute. Arequipa is an option, but Colca Canyon (at least the highest point of it) is even higher than Lake Titicaca.

@kjs, that is an epic trip report. I am still on page 4 and enjoy the amount of detail and keen observation. Northern Peru is not widely known internationally, but it seems a rewarding, and less crowded destination. There are flights to both Trujillo and Chiclayo from Lima, and the two are not that far apart. I imagine an efficient itinerary could be organized at last minute. That is a solid plan B idea.

@crellston, good point that with a family of four, a private Uyuni tour may be economically viable. I will start touching base with tour operators.

@mlgb, thanks and I would aim for 3 day 2 night Uyuni tour.
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