Top 5 things to do in Peru, South America

Top 5 things to do in Peru, South America

Whether you’ve got two weeks or two months up your sleeve, without a doubt Peru can occupy any which type of traveler. Moo and I decided to experience a taste of South America by spending 3 weeks in Peru and then 3 weeks in Ecuador and then I went on to explore 3 weeks in Colombia el solo. Even though the majority of our time in Peru was made up of trekking mountains and canyons and everything in between, we were still able to see a good amount of the country with our time.

We arrived on the arduous flight from Sydney to Santiago and then onto Lima later in the night. As Aussies we expect long haul flights regardless of the destination, but this one felt particularly prolonged. On arrival into Lima we stayed in an AirBnb apartment in between the Miraflores and Barranco districts. We didn’t really have too much of a plan for the next week or so, but knew we had to get to Cuzco by a certain date and time for our trek briefing at Loki Hostel.

The beautiful part about traveling in any country is the freedom to make ones mind up about where to go next in the blink of an eye. Most plans are made up after conversing with other travelers and hearing tales from their experiences and then others are planned just by the desire to go off the beaten track.

Read on for my top tips on where to go and what to do in Peru, leave a comment if you agree and feel free to share with any fellow wanderers who may be heading over that way soon.

Visit Huacachina

Adrendalin junkie or no, I’d say there’s something for everyone in Huacachina. The small oasis is situated 4km from Ica and 300km south from Lima. There really is only one way in and one way out but do try and stay out for sunset as the views over the sand dunes (surrounding the oasis) are next to impeccable. The core reason for visiting Huacachina is to plop yourself in a dune buggie and go for a joy ride. I’m no scaredy-cat generally speaking, but this experience was certainly hair rising. The buggie will zoom you up and over the dunes at warp speed, stopping occasionally for both a good photo opportunity and also to try sand boarding (quick visual: swap snow with sand.) We’d heard many a tail of people breaking ankles, wrists and more on these steep slopes so we only tried standing on a few slopes before the nerves and shakes got the better of us and we went down horizontally instead of vertically. My biggest tip; don’t stay longer than one night. We stayed for two and wished we’d moseyed on, to pass the time though, we did do a wine and pisco tour in Ica which was more odd than it sounds. Hey, at least I can say I’ve tried pisco straight from the source, but honestly… it was a pretty intense tasting for 10am.

img_2398

Visit the Nazca Lines

Unfortunately, Moo and I didn’t get the chance to visit Nazca but it’s still on my bucket list for next time. I ‘ve heard about/have seen so many incredible pictures and stories about the view from above that I feel it necessary to included the blog anyway so you won’t miss out too.

Trek Colca Canyon

One of the best two day hikes I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, ever. This hike was unfathomable. We opted to self guide ourselves once arriving at the canyon and I wouldn’t do it any other way. Certainly do your research, I’d scoured Alex in Wanderlands‘ blog for weeks before arriving in Peru and found her descriptions easy enough to follow. It’s fairly easily way marked but if you’re like me, you’ll need a little more help than what’s provided. You’ll start the hike with a pretty reasonable decent, forget the Mirador Cruz del Condor look out, here is where we spotted countless Condor’s gliding with ease above us. Once you reach the bottom you’ll find a checkpoint and cross the bridge, from here it’s up, up, up again with another gigantic descent into the depths of the canyon. We stayed in the oasis overnight at Oasis Paraiso Ecolodge and enjoyed the drop in altitude, if only for a few hours (they’ve also got a pool!) An early night, meant an even earlier rise the next day where we had a four hour straight switch backed incline before the sun rose up high over the canyon for all to see. The views along the way were breathtaking (re-check the feature image for proof!), and gave me a perfectly good reason to stop, take a break and another photograph.

Trek Machu Picchu

If you haven’t already read my blog about Trekking Machu Pichu, please do. You’ll find a nice little recount of our journey and some pretty good tips if you’re considering the Jungle Trek option over the traditional Inca Trail option. If you’re not inclined to trek, no problem! The Peruvians have made the historical site accessible for all. There are daily trains to Aguas Calientes and return bus departures to deliver you directly at the entrance gates. My only advice, go early! The whole experience was made better when the crowds were at a minimum.

Chill out in Mancora

Moo’s mother wanted to indulge us by treating us to a nice hotel after our trek, in particular to reign in Moo’s 30th birthday . We flew into Talara airport from Cuzco and had the hotel collect us from there. The ‘hotel’ that I’m referring to by the way is DCO. It is without a doubt, to this day, the best hotel I’ve EVER stayed at. Mancora is known well by backpackers for it’s late night bars, surf scene and general raucous behavior. All of which, we ignored. DCO is located 5km out of town, which was the perfect haven for us knowing we could escape the noise at any time. Before you ask, of course I surfed here. I hired a board and went out early one morning, unfortunately the swell was small so 1 footers would have to do.

img_2795

My final note: If you’ve got the spare coins to stay at DCO, it is a must.

 

 

 

Trekking to Machu Picchu – The Jungle Trek Way.

Trekking to Machu Picchu – The Jungle Trek Way.

To be completely clear up front, the Jungle Trek and the iconic Inca Trail are two very different experiences. Both begin in Cuzco (essentially) and both wrap up at the infamous Machu Picchu site. I’ve spoken to friends who have done the traditional Inca Trail and they loved every second – but I guess it’s up to you on the experience you’re after. Moo and I vacationed in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia back in 2015 and while this content has the potential to be outdated, it should largely still be relevant.

Why did we chose to do the Jungle Trek instead of the traditional Inca Trail? A few reasons; Moo isn’t the biggest fan of camping, and while I’ve experienced it myself on the Kokoda Track back in 2014, I wasn’t overly convinced I was up for it again so soon. The Jungle Trek has you sleeping in simple yet comfortable 2-3 star accommodation (with free wifi I might add.)

The Jungle Trek took the same amount of time (4 days/3 nights) and we still had the opportunity to trek Wayna Picchu. I guess you could say it’s slightly easier to get the permits for this trek because they’re not in such hot demand like the traditional Inca Trail is – which requires you to book as far as 6 months if not more in advance.

Not to mention, the Jungle Trek included the following activities in it’s itinerary: mountain biking, white water rafting, trekking and zip lining to get to the finish line, so to speak. Which was far too temping to pass up.

We booked through Loki hostel as they came recommended through a friend who had recently visited. In short, this is what the itinerary entails:

Day 1. Transfer to Santa Maria (4,200m) for a 45km (2000m) downhill mountain bike ride, have lunch and check into a family owned lodge for the evening. Spend the afternoon white water rafting (optional) which was a pretty exhilarating way to end the day I gotta tell ya. Adding onto that, a deliciously cold beer at sunset to take it all in.

Day 2. Trek the Inca Trail! You’ll trek for about 16kms today, which winds up and around the Quellomayo mountain region. Today you’ll sample real chocolate (cacao), fresh coffee and learn about quinoa (I know you’re dying to know the history guys.) The views along the way were spectacular and as always the photos will never do it justice. We found ourselves in natural hot springs upon nightfall. Which was an odd experience I won’t lie, but certainly dispelled any aching muscles. Tonight you’ll stay in Santa Teresa.

Day 3. It was pretty safe to assume that everyone in our group wanted to go zip lining today (optional) rather than trek again. We spent a solid few hours flying through the air, usually around 150m high, which sounds reasonably low but was certainly butterfly inducing for my queasy stomach. Before the afternoon trek to Hidrolectrica station we ate lunch and hung around in hammocks waiting for an afternoon cool breeze. The afternoon trek was supposed to take around 3 hours, but in reality felt like at least 6 to get to the small town of Aguas Calientes, the gateway town to Machu Picchu.

Day 4. An early start is always my first memory recalling this day. We rose at 3:40am to get ourselves to the gates for 5am before the crowds arrived. To no avail, on arrival at 4:30am, there were at least 200 other eager trekkers waiting before us. Equally as nervous for what lay ahead. Once the gates open, the race was on as hundreds of us paced to reach to the set of stairs first. People actually ran! By the time we reached the steps I’d say we were around 40 people behind the front leaders. As the ascent began, slowly but surely we passed more and more. ‘Steep’ is an understatement. Relentless is getting a little closer. The 430 meter climb wraps up along the mountain face and ended up taking us 45-minutes to reach the top. The gates open at 6am and we were some of the first to enter. I think the word I’d use here was: enchanting. It may have had something to do with the morning fog, or my weary eyes, but either way it was a sight for sore eyes. Nothing can really prepare you for the real thing, you just have to see it.

There is also an option to hike the Machu Picchu mountain (free – but also takes up to 3 hours worth of continuous climbing) however no-one in our group was really that game to try it. Wayna Picchu on the other hand…

For those considering hiking the (optional) Wayna Picchu hike, all I can say is: Do it!! Or at the very least buy the ticket and assess how you’re feeling on the day. The officials limit how many people can hike at any given time ordering you to sign in and out as you enter and I believe they cap it at 200 people at both 7am and 10am time slots. There is a less intense path you can take if you’re not feeling 100% on the day.

In short, Wayna Picchu is an exhausting 40-minute or so vertical climb to reach the top. Once there you are rewarded with a unique view of Machu Picchu, in the opposite direction to most commercial pictures of it (example: like the feature image.)

I will say as a word of warning for those maybe taking the bus up a little later, or perhaps catching the day train from Cuzco: by the time we descended back down (that is after 1.5 million photographs) the grounds were riddled with tourists. It was honestly unbearable. It dissuaded us to stay any longer than what we’d already spent and opted to take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes.

The train system is extremely efficient at getting you there and more importantly getting you OUT of there. The train back to Cuzco took around 4 hours in total and a word of warning, it was a least 20 degrees colder upon returning to such altitude.

Above all, seeing Machu Picchu with ones own eyes is a must for any travel addict or history buff.  As I said, All I can say is: Do it!!

Top 5 things to do in Cuzco, Peru

Top 5 things to do in Cuzco, Peru

So, by now you’re starting to realise that I’m heavily back tracking here, making up for a LOT of lost time. Time spent finding a new career and new friends and a new me really! You can imagine these take precedence over blog writing… that is, until now! Now I’m really settled in. Settled into a 9-5pm job, settled into work clothing which isn’t made from Lycra and settled into the idea that looks – well – they really aren’t everything.  I mentioned earlier that I took a two month sabbatical from being a personal trainer back in 2015 and now it’s time to share what’s happened! But we’ll discover that later… Firstly, let me talk you through my top tips when one might find oneself in Cuzco, although I will admit I cheated a little this time round. Because I simply can’t talk about my experience in Cuzco, without mentioning our travels beforehand. Let’s get on with it:

Visit Arequipa / Colca Canyon

I know, I know! Not technically in Cuzco… actually not in Cuzco at all. It’s it’s own city 488kms south of Cuzco. Also known as La Ciudad Blanca (The white city.) My charming boyfriend and I (who will forever be known as Moo on this blog) started our Peruvian adventure in Lima and slowly traveled south to see as much as possible before experiencing the Inca Trail, July 2015. Arriving into Arequipa I immediately loved the place. Our pre-planning had failed us and we didn’t have much time to explore. It was ultimately a toss of the coin to trek the Colca Canyon or stay put in La Ciudad Blanca for 2 days. The canyon won and boy oh boy was it a stand out! Twice the size of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. We opt to self guide ourselves into the canyon, stay the night and self guide our way out. At 3,500m altitude we’re hopeful our research paid off, thankfully it did. It was the most incredible short-hike I’ve ever completed and is certainly up there with one of the best. Not to be missed.

Give Jack’s Cafe a go

Not one to normally suggest you opt for American style comfort food in an unforgettable non-American location around the world, however this one certainly shook off any remnants of jet-lag or altitude sickness I had lying around. If there’s something Jack’s cafe does do – it’s a hearty meal and I for one devoured mine. Also! Irish owned, Jack’s cafe boasts to be open every day of the year, can’t beat it.

Venture up into the old quarter of San Blas

Testing my fitness on arrival into Cuzco and my subsiding altitude sickness, this little (ha!) set of stairs up into the old quarter is well worth the dawdle. Here you’ll find cobblestone streets lined with artisan shops, restaurants and cafes all happily doing their own thing without demanding your attention (that was a subtle hint to tell you it’s much quieter up there, but you got that!) The views from above are breathtaking and the high-rise mountains that surround are simply stunning. I adore the mountains, they keep secrets I’ll never understand.

Cacao in all it’s glory

Touristy? Yes! Delicious? Double Yes! Whether you’re a chocolate chef in the making, a life long admirer or an addict looking for your next fix (ahem, me!) there’s something here for you at the Museo de la Coco. The perfect way to soak up the Plaza de Armas on a chilly afternoon.

Trek to Machu Picchu

Of course!! Cuzco is the gateway to Machu Picchu and boy does it hum like a beating drum. Whether you’re catching a train from Cuzco or trekking or taking the jungle trek option like us (involving mountain biking, white water rafting, zip lining and trekking to Machu Picchu) believe me it’s worth it. If you’ve read ‘Turn right at Machu Picchu’ by Mark Adams or seen ANY picture of the infamous Incan site – you will not be disappointed. My advice, which ever way you get there, go early! There’s nothing better than peace, quiet and a world heritage view. Oh and you absolutely MUST trek Wayna Picchu (view pictured in header). It was bloody hard work, I won’t lie to you – but it was breathtaking in return.

There is much more to say about Peru and the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu, alas I must keep it brief. Stay tuned, for there is always more to come.

Adios y Hasta Luego (Bye and See you later)