I am FINALLY getting around to writing a little bit about my fantastic trip to Peru. In case you missed it; I spent nearly two weeks touring Peru. I always loved learning about the Incas in school, and so seeing Machu Picchu was a major travel goal of mine. Since I’d never traveled to South America at all before, though, I wanted to make sure I spent a good amount of time there. So a group tour that provided transportation and information around multiple destinations within Lima seemed like the best choice.
Here are a few things anyone looking to travel to Peru should know before they go there:
- Peru is ENORMOUS and you need quite a lot of time to travel around there.
- Their seasons are opposite ours, so while it was 90 degrees or more back home, it was “winter” and between 40 and 75 the whole time I traveled through Peru. That said, the temperatures varied dramatically in different locations. Like, in Arequipa it was 75 and sunny, but in Colca Canyon it was 40 degrees with a windchill that dipped into the 30s. Research each location on your itinerary and pack accordingly! It’s worth the time, believe me.
- Altitude sickness is real and you need to do your research and take precautions to prevent it while you’re there. I am allergic to altitude sickness medication, so I made sure to take it really easy, stay SUPER hydrated, take my vitamins every day, consume coca tea and candies as needed, and fuel myself with up to 70% carbohydrates each day. Even with that I woke up with blue lips and a horrible headache in Colca Canyon and Puno, and experienced general brain fog throughout that time. It took me a 5-ish days to feel 100% once we got to high altitudes, and some of my friends on the tour experienced much harsher symptoms.
- You should get vaccinations, but it can be really tricky to find a travel doctor on short notice before a trip. I nearly died of stress trying to get my typhoid, Hep A, and Yellow Fever vaccines- and trying to get them somewhere where they were covered by insurance- 10 days before my departure. Book an appointment with a travel doctor as soon as you book your trip!
- Voltage is DOUBLE what we use in the US. So even though their outlets look the same as ours, they can seriously damage your batteries if you’re not careful. I bought a $35 electrical converter on Amazon and it game me all the peace of mine.
- It’s not hard to be gluten free in Peru! I had no trouble finding rice and quinoa based dinners at every place we went. That said, my friends who were veggies/vegan struggled because Peruvians consider pork to NOT be meat. I did find it tricky to find snacks that worked for me, though, so I packed myself a ton of Luna bars and packets of oatmeal and nuts, and that really helped.
- You can’t throw toilet paper into the toilet. I guess thier sewer system is archaic. It literally stinks but YOU MAKE IT WORK!
- Machu Picchu is not the only amazing thing Peru has to offer! Do your research, read up, and get excited for all the amazing towns, cities, archeological sites, and natural wonders this amazing country has to offer.
Okay, so, a little about my trip; we went to several destinations. Our tour started in Lima, then we flew to Arequipa and road tripped around that southern part of the country. Our itinerary went like this: Lima, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno & Lake Titicaca, Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes. We stayed in six different locations, so packing light and not worrying too much about how you look is a MUST. I spent a ton of time in leggings and tunic tops, and it was fabulous. I only brought three pairs of shoes: chucks, Brooks Cascadia trail sneakers, and a pair of comfy flats for nights out. Cooler temps+ tons of historical cobblestone= no use for fancy shoes.
Here’s a little recap of my trip:
Days 1-3: LIMA
Lima was huge, and had a lot of cool places to see. I LOVED the cat park (called Kennedy Park) and the Barranco District. We even found a gluten free cafe there called Twins GF Cafe that had the most amazing selection of gluten free breads, sandwiches, and goodies. The waterfront and the insane cliffs that drop into the Pacific were also completely amazing.
HOWEVER, Lima is scrappy along the edges, and is incredibly humid this time of year. Flying from sunshine in Boston to cold haze was hard on me and my friend’s souls, to say the least. We enjoyed our time in Lima… but we were so ready to get on to our next stop.
Day 4: Arequipa
Arequipa. Is. So. Pretty.
Known as the “White City,” Arequipa is built of beautiful white marble and had a more historical feel to it than Lima. This was also where we got our first glimpses of snow-capped mountains (and volcanos)!
We took a walking tour of the marketplace and got to see how traditional Peruvian dress is made. Textiles are a really important part of Peru’s history and culture, and it was really cool to see all the examples of this throughout the country.
Day 5: Traveling to Colca Canyon
This day took us to the top of one of those amazing snow capped mountains, where we felt our first sickening dose of altitude sickness. As the below picture was being taken, I could barely formulate a coherent thought. I had a dull headache and my oxygen-deprived muscles felt as if I’d just run a marathon, although I’d done nothing but sit on a bus all day. I’d venture to say it was ALL WORTH IT for the experience…but this day stung.
Our consolation prize was seeing tons of wild alpaca and llamas, though.
Day 6: Colca Canyon
Colca Canyon gave me the opportunity to check yet another AMAZING bird of my (low-key) bird-watching life list: the Condor!!! Condors are a big deal in the Andes, and seeing one in real life was amazing. Of course I didn’t get a great picture, but I did enjoy all the views and vistas as we drove through the canyon.
Day 7: Puno & Lake Titicaca
We arrived in Puno just before dinner after our day in Colca Canyon, and boy did the altitude hit me like a ton of bricks. I was STRUGGLING, friends. I had a headache that wouldn’t let me think a full thought. I woke up after a restless night’s sleep with blue lips and wobbly balance; I considered asking for some oxygen from the hotel (all hotels in Peru have oxygen tanks JUST IN CASE) but after a ton of coca tea, water, and carbs I got myself out the door for our boat tour of Lake Titicaca. We took a Tuk Tuk down to the waterfront, and I was only a little terrified.
Lake Titicaca has an insane amount of history attached to it. It is said to be the birthplace of the Inca Empire, and there are still tribes of people living amazingly simple lives on the islands on the lake. The Uros people actually built their own floating islands out of reeds to escape Inca invaders hundreds of years ago, and have been living on this incredible floating islands ever since.
We got to do a little bit of hiking on Taquile island, and I must have snapped 1000000 pictures.
I was definitely more out of breath than I had ever, ever been in my life as we trekked up to the top of that island, but it was worth it.
Day 8: Travel to Cuzco!
We spent most of day 7 on a bus, which kind of sucked, but we stopped at a few vistas and an archeological site and I even got a chance to bottle feed some baby alpacas at our lunch spot!
Day 9: Cuzco!!
Guys. I loved Cuzco. I loved the historical square that was so, so close to our hotel.
I loved the enormous marketplaces with literally EVERYTHING you could ever want or need.
I loved all the Incan ruins scattered throughout the city.I loved the food- OH, MY GOSH the gluten free/ vegan options… If you’re every in Cuzco, go to Green Point. Also, just go to Cuzco.
Day 10: Travel and Ollantaytambo
We spent ANOTHER almost whole day on a bus going from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, but had a chance to see some really great archeological sites along the way. I loved climbing to the top of Pisac, an Incan village.
Day 11: Inca Trail Trek
The few, the proud, the brave of us had signed up for a 10-mile hike along the famous Inca Trail.
And guys, It was incredible.
I have always loved ancient civilizations, and the Inca are particularly fascinating. They had no written language, no money, but had this amazing system of trade roads that ran all the way through the Andes mountains. They ran and walked and trekked over some of the most rugged terrain around, and I loved experiencing Peru from the point of view of the Inca, even if it was just for a day.
The weather wavered between rainy and cold, rainy and hot, hot and sunny, cold and cloudy, and LEGIT EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. I added/removed layers all throughout the day.
One of my favorite parts was getting to see Winaywayna, also known as “little Machu Picchu.” It’s an archeological site built into the side of a mountain that is only reachable by foot, and we got to explore it!
We were rewarded with our first glimpses of Machu Picchu at the end, though our full tour of the site wasn’t until the following day!
Day 12: Machu Picchu Tour!
We did our formal tour of Machu Picchu this day and I, being me, broke away from my tour group to do some solo exploring on my own.
I loved being able to go in and out of structures and houses and think about how the Inca people lived long ago. This place was kept secret from the Spanish Conquistadores for generations, which shows how precious it was to the Andean people.
There’s a ton to explore in Machu Picchu, BUT… the bus line to ride 15 minutes from Aguas Calientes, the nearest town up the mountain to the archeological site is almost 2 hours long MINIMUM. You need to book tickets months in advance, but there are no specific time slots, so the busses are first come first serve…which means people start lining up at 2am. And there are no bathrooms or food options once you get through the entry gates at the archeological site, so your exploration time is limited to how long you can hold your bladder, basically. I recommend to anyone out there considering a Machu Picchu trip to sneak in a granola bar, make sure to use the bathroom before you go in, and limit your water intake while you’re inside. This might be TMI, but it’s information I wish I’d had going in.
Day 13: Cuzco and Traveling Home
We all headed back to Cuzco for our final day in Peru. I spent the morning jogging around the city in the rain, trying to take it all in before I headed to the airport.
I had a great time experiencing Peru! And I hope you all enjoy my (lengthy) recap.
See you all for my next running post!