3 weeks in Peru

It’s going to be a year soon since my Peruvian trip, so I might as well document it.

First of all, it was my first real “backpacking trip”. Everyone on the planet apparently discovers it in their early 20’s, I discover it in my early 30’s. Better late than never.

I am coming from a country where backpacking is either non-existent, or commonly accepted as some kind of hobo traveling, so we can agree this was a big break-through. And since in Peru most local people I met have never seen a Romanian in the flesh, and asked me if they can shake my hand,  I’d say in a way it was a ground breaking trip in more than one way.

I was going to meet a friend-of-a-friend who was on a 6-months adventure in South America, and since we hit it off when we met in Barcelona, I was happy to join in on her trip for 3 weeks.

I started planning and planning and looking at blogs like crazy, trying desperately to fit it all in. Tell you what, there is no way you can fit all Peru in 3 weeks and still fully enjoying it. That was my first (an worst) mistake.

Barcelona-Lima-Puno

After 30 hours of flights and dead hours in the airports, I finally got to Puno (lake Titicaca, nearly 4000m), so on top of the jet lag I got altitude headaches straight away :). Who cares, when you are in a hostel overlooking Titicaca, one of the coolest lakes I’ve ever seen. And, according to people coming from the Bolivian side of the lake, I haven’t seen anything… There are the very touristy floating islands, with the kings boat available for rent for a “modest” fee, and a restaurant where I had my very first ceviche (if you like raw fish and cilantro, go get it!), but it is still amazing people are willing to live on a floating island made of straws. Must be for the views, they are amazing.

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Puno-Cuzco by bus – since we were on a budget, we mostly traveled by night bus, specifically with Flores, they are cheaper and have good buses. Not bad for a mid-range company, I’d say good quality-price ratio.

Cuzco was another story. It was raining and cold all the time, but when the sun finally made an appearance… waw. It’s so beautiful (and kinda expensive as well, comes with the territory). We stayed at Pariwana hostel, not a party hostel (thank God, I realized afterwards I am not THAT young) and it was great! Great duvets, great shower, decent wifi, good laundry.

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From there we started planning THE trip: Machu Picchu, of course. Several ways to get there: by foot: Inca Trail, Salkantay trek, by train, by car and train… endless possibilities (none of them cheap, by the way). I was googling the “foot” options for weeks before I got there, and Inca trail sounded very appealing. And crazy expensive, and when you get to Cuzco you realize you can pay less than half. So I would not recommend paying for it online, just go there and book. The thing is, Inca Trail is limited, so if you go in March, no problem, but August can be a different story, you need to book well in advance and they know it. No big deal, though, you can book the Salkantay trek, it has no people limits set on it by day, it is tougher, I think, but it looks amazing, and given the chance again, I wouldn’t miss it.

Cuzco-Machu Picchu

All that google served for nothing, we had the chance to “hitch-hike” on a motorbike with a couple of Spanish guys my friend met in Bolivia. They were nice enough to take us for the ride, and, even though I was nearly pissing my pants with fear, I jumped on the opportunity. Turns out, it is so cool!! So we packed the essentials on those babies, and off we went.

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Sacred Valley is one beautiful valley, and the bike just adds to its beauty. We went: Cuzco-Pisac-Urubamba-Ollataytambo , this route is amazing, filled with mountains landscape, ruins, and (at least in March), almost tourist-free.

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And while up there can be freezing (if I remeber correctly, highest point was over 4000m), the last part, approaching Aguascalientes it was hot hot hot. Machu Picchu can be high, but the climate is tropical.

By the way: you cannot get to Machu Picchu or Aguascalientes by car or motorbike, no matter what they tell you. You can get close enough, and can do the last part on a train or a 30 minutes hike along the train trail (we did this and it’s really easy and beautiful trek). 

Ollantaytambo-Aguascalientes – Machu Picchu

We spent the night in Aguascalientes, did not actually go to the hot water springs, but it would have been nice, I guess, bought our entry ticket to Machu Pichhu from the tourist office, with the entry on the Machu Pichhu mountain (the famous mountain was all booked (Huayna Pichhu). I really REALLY wanted to see sunrise from Machu Picchu, so I forced everyone to get up and trek 1,5 hours up the stairs from Aguascalientes to Machu Picchu. Not a popular choice. And even less popular when we got there and all Machu Picchu was covered in clouds (you could not see 10 meters ahead, so sunrise was, well, out of the question.  They forgot to mention in those million blogs I read that rainy season is not that great for sun-spotting, especially first thing in the morning.

You can see the fog rising bit by bit, while we were freezing up there, cranky as hell. Me too, by the way, although it was my idea to begin with 🙂

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You can only get a few hours to go up to the Machu Pichhu mountain, so after a tour where we learned very few (the Incas could not write, so all we have is guesses – it was worth it nonetheless), up we go, another 2 painful hours on more stairs, just so we can see THIS on top:

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Needless to say our mood was not at it’s best. Luckily, we got down just in time to see it when most tourists were gone, and most clouds were high enough. What a beauty.

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And there it was, the tree I’ve been trying to see all morning through the fog

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Machu Picchu -Cuzco-Arequipa

Colca Canyon appeared in most of the top 10 sites to visit in Peru, so off we go, not wasting any minute :). I have to admit, while it was an adrenaline rush for me, trying to fit all in, my travel companion, which had nothing but time, was all tired of this “go, go, go” kind of trip. So, one piece of advice: you might as well travel with people who have the same rhythm. Important. Very important. 

Up on the Flores night bus to Arequipa.

The city is pretty, weather is way better than rainy Cuzco, sun is almost always up. Highly recommendable: museo Juanita, about the natural children mummies found on the volcano, at altitudes above 6000, where they were dragged and sacrificed to the Gods.

Next day: Arequipa – Cabanaconde (by local bus, far from glamorous, but very down-to Earth experience)

Cabanaconde, a village deep into the Colca Canyon, is a must-see (and a must stay at Pachamama, or at least have a pizza and a Pisco Sour at the restaurant). (when you get off the bus you get harassed by the “canyon police” to pay the over inflated 20 Euros fee).

We went by foot to Mirador Cruz del Condor straight when we arrive, ad it turned out we did good: there are no tourists, they all come in the morning to see the mighty Condor, but at dawn you can have all the view to yourself. Well worth the visit. And if you’re luck, the condor will check you out briefly.

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In the morning we come back by the overcrowded bus. Full of picturesque dressed locals, so we don’t mind. And we get to see plenty of condors (while fighting for a good spot).

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If you have time, take a hike from Cabanaconde to Sangalle (at the bottom of the canyon), have a dip in the pool, and go back up. You can hike or rent one of the many donkeys…

Cabanaconde-Arequipa-Huacachina

Huacachina is an oasis just beside some huge dunes, so if you have never seen a desert (like me) this will be a treat. 

Not much to do besides booking a trip to the dunes by boogie, and have a go down the dune on a “sand-board”.

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Check, and check. Off we go to the Ballestas Island (you can book a trip in any Huacachina hostels). They are named the Galapagos of the poor, and while I have seen lots of cool animals, It’s still a 30 minutes boat trip (you are not allowed to get off the boat).

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Lima

Have to admit that, given the circumstances, I did not even give it a chance. So I won’t have an opinion, as I am afraid it is all very subjective.

Lima-Mancora

I was said Oh, Mancora, go to Mancora, best beaches in South America, so… after a 24 hour bus ride, there we are. I appreciated the great weather, but you are warned at all times that “you will be robbed, don’t do this, don’t do that, I will just stay here 5 more minutes for you to see the sunset, but you need to go inside the hostel soon”, bla bla bla. After a while it gets kind of boring. And not a palm tree in sight, my biggest disappointment of them all.

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That’s all folks. 3 weeks were gone. And while we did and see lots of things, I am still left with the feeling it was not enough.

2 things I really regret not seeing: Amazon jungle and Chachapoyas. I would replace Mancora with any of those any time. But I guess in the end it’s a matter of personal taste.

Conclusion? It’s a great country. Would I come back? While I absolutely loved it, I think the world is too big to afford going back to the same place twice.

But I have just discovered a Peruvian restaurant in Barcelona, with great reviews, so I will go have a taste of that delicious food again. Yummy.

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