Peru

Trip Summary:

Dates:    September 27th to October 12th

Year: 2014

Main Language of Country:   Spanish and Quechua

Captal City of Country: Lima

Transportation Used:   River Boat, Plane, Van/Bus

Currency: Peruvian Sol

Accommodation: Hostels, Tent, Rainforest/Jungle Lodges

Number of Photos Taken: 2592

Favorite Place: Salkantay Trek and Machu Picchu

Average Cost of a Full Meal: 7 – 9 Canadian Dollars

Average Cost of a Night per Person: $20 (with breakfast included)

New Things Tried: Surfing

Tap Water Drinkable: No

 

Introduction:

Peru is an extremely diverse country and offers visitors a lot of options in terms of places to travel and explore. The country is also very adventure based and there are endless amounts of hiking, mountaineering, mountain biking, kayaking, surfing and scuba diving. In a way, this makes it a difficult country to travel because there are so many different options that it can be somewhat overwhelming to plan a trip. This also means that Peru is best suited for a longer trip so that you have more time to take everything in.

My trip to Peru was only two weeks, which would be considered quite a short trip. Many of the other travellers in Peru were on the road for several months at a time. The reason that I only had two weeks, however, was because I had just accepted a job offer in Calgary. After accepting the job offer, I had two weeks until my official start date so I decided to use the time to do a short trip.

Because of this, everything was booked very last minute. In fact, on the day that I accepted the job offer I had only briefly considered that I could do a short trip during my two weeks. And about two days later, I had decided on Peru, done some research, and had booked my flights. I chose Peru because I found a decent flight to Lima for roughly 1,000 CAD and there wasn’t a large time difference to contend with.

Because my trip was so last-minute, I decided to keep it simple. I talked to a friend of mine who had recently returned from a trip to Peru and he mentioned the area around the city of Cusco being full of things to do so I planned to base my trip around Cusco with the hope of choosing only one area to focus my attention, rather than trying to see too much and ending up being spread too thin.

 

Lima: (September 27 – 29)

My first stop of the trip was Lima, as this is the port of entry for all international flights. My goal was to get over to Cusco, but I had to wait a few days in Lima before I could catch my flight.


TIP: I flew between Lima and Cusco with Star Peru. When I was researching the trip, I found that Star Peru had the best rates for flights within the country (a one-way flight cost about 90 USD to 150 USD), although there are a couple of other companies that would be worth comparing rates and departure times with.


 

I arrived in Lima at night time, and as I looked out the window as the plane touched down, I could see the lights of the city stretching out in all directions around me. The city is massive with a population of over 8 million people. It’s definitely not a place that I would choose to spend much time as it is known for being quite dangerous in different parts of the city and with the massive population it is quite crowded, busy, and overwhelming.
I only stayed in Lima for one full day and I was based in the touristy area of Miraflores. I stayed at the Pariwana hostel which was within walking distance of the coast, so, rather than check out the sights and attractions in Lima, I decided to spend some time surfing. I’ve never surfed before, but there was an area that was good for beginners and I was able to try it out and was able to stand up and ride a wave several times. Actually, the surfing part turned out to be more successful than I had expected, but it was the paddling that was much more tiring and difficult than I had expected. It didn’t take long for my arms to be completely exhausted and I spent quite a bit of time laying on my board with my arms hanging limp in the water below me.


TIP: If you want to try surfing in Lima, you can just head to the coast and there are tons of shops along the beach that will be happy to rent you a board and wetsuit for the day. It doesn’t cost much and if you’ve never surfed before, someone will usually give you a quick lesson as well.


 

I also met some people at the hostel and spent some time walking around Miraflores and checking out the area but my time in Lima was generally uneventful. The was also a haze over the city during the time of year that I was there, and you couldn’t see the sky or out past the coast very far, so I didn’t end up even taking any pictures.

If you end up in Lima, however, there is quite a bit to check out such as Miraflores, the city centre, the water fountain shows at Parque de la Reserva, Barranco, Gamarra, and Plaza Mayor.

 

Cusco: (September 29 – October 1)


Cusco is a really cool city in the Andes mountains and it sits at an elevation of 3400 metres (11,150 feet) so it’s quite a ways up there. As soon as I arrived in Cusco (and every time that I returned back there throughout the trip), I had a continuous headache from the altitude.


TIP: It may not be completely necessary, but before travelling to Cusco (and many other high elevation places in Peru) it might be worth looking into altitude medication. I visited a travel clinic in Calgary before leaving Canada and got altitude medication, malaria medication (which I’ll get to later on), as well as a few shots. You start the altitude medication a few days before reaching elevation and then a few days after remaining at elevation. I’m not an expert but I believe the medication makes your blood slightly more acidic so that you can more easily dissolve oxygen which prevents altitude sickness.


 

Cusco served as my home base for most of my trip in Peru and I spent quite a bit of time in the city. I found that tourism in Peru is largely based around guided trips and tours. I generally try to avoid tours as much as possible, but in Peru it’s different as these tours let you access areas and do things that would be very difficult, if not impossible, to do by yourself. Because of this, I went on two different multi-day tours which I will get into below. One was the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and the second was a trip to the Manu National Park of the Amazon Jungle. I arranged both of these trips in Cusco after I had arrived.


TIP: I stayed at the Kokopelli Hostel in Cusco. There are quite a few hostels and many of them are quite similar and are all located within the same area near the main centre of Cusco so don’t worry too much about picking a hostel. I can say, however, that Kokopelli was a great hostel to stay at and I would leave some of my bags locked up at the hostel when I went on the multi-day tours.


 

Anyways, besides tours to the areas around Cusco, there is quite a lot to do and see within the city itself. Make sure that you give yourself a few slow days in the city to let your body get used to the elevation as you’ll likely notice that you get tired very easily and quickly as you’re walking around.

A few of my favorite things to check out within Cusco were:

 

  • Plaza de Armas:

The main square in Cusco is called Plaza de Armas and it is lined with lots of restaurants, shops, and tour companies. There are several churches and museums nearby to the square that are worth checking out like Catedral del Cuzco, Catedral de le Virgen de la Asuncion and Covento de Santo Domingo. The Plaza de Armas itself doesn’t offer much to explore but it is the central location that you’ll probably use to orient yourself around and you’ll likely find yourself returning to and passing through the square many times.

Main Square in Cusco

 

  • Restaurants and Dining:

Peru is known for having great food and Cusco definitely exhibits this. There was one restaurant in particular that I really enjoyed called Green Point and I found myself eating there quite a few times. Food is reasonably priced and you can be assured that you will have the option of trying something new during your stay in Peru.

 

  • Sacsaywaman:

Saksaywaman

There is an Inca site on top of the hill above Cusco called Sacsaywaman (it sounds like “sexy woman” when you say it). You can see sections of old walls made out of stone and if you go during the evening you can catch the sun setting over the city as well.

When you look uphill from anywhere in Cusco, you will notice a large statue of Jesus Christ that lights up at night, and the Sacsaywaman site is just to the left of the statue. There is a trail all of the way up to the site from Cusco, or there is also a road to the top if you would rather catch a taxi.

 

  • Twelve-Angled Stone:

A few minute walk from the main square, Plaza de Armas, along a street named Hatun Rumiyoc is an Incan wall that is famous for the one stone in the wall that was carved with 12 different corners. It’s easy to miss when you’re walking by, but the stone acts as a demonstration of the skills and abilities of the Inca builders. The stone was carved with 12 intricate corners and fits into the wall like a piece in a complicated jigsaw puzzle. When you see a wall built by the Incas, it’s immediately apparent that their stonework and masonry skills were very impressive as all of the walls were carved so perfectly that there is no space at all between the seams in the stonework.

 

  • San Blas:

San Blas is an area within Cusco that is not far from the main square of Plaza de Armas. It is known for being the artistic neighbourhood of Cusco, and it’s a nice area to wander around and explore.

 

  • Coca Tea and Pisco Sours:

Although coca tea and pisco sours aren’t unique to Cusco, they are both common drinks throughout Peru so I thought I’d mention them briefly. Coca tea is simple made by taking hot water and adding a handful of dried coca leaves directly to the water. You can also add sugar and something like mint tea for extra flavour. It’s claimed that coca tea (or chewing coca leaves in your mouth) will help avoid altitude sickness, although I’m not sure if this is true or not.

Another famous drink in Peru is the Pisco Sour. It’s a cocktail made with pisco and mixed with lemon or lime juices and whipped egg whites. If you’ve never tried one before, you’ll have to make sure that you try a few while in Peru.

 

 

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: (October 1 – 5)

Hiking the Salkantay Trail
The most famous trek to Machu Picchu is called the Inca Trail. But, because there are limits on how many people are allowed on the trail each day, you have to book many months in advance. Obviously this wasn’t an option for me as the trip was a last minute decision altogether, so instead I decided to do the Salkantay trek which is less famous but is well known for it’s great scenery and also ends with a visit to the site of Machu Picchu.


TIP: I booked through a company called Salkantay Trail Peru that was a brief walk from the Plaza de Armas. I had packed my own sleeping bag for the trip which was very helpful as the nights were cold and the bags provided on the tour were heavily used and had lost a lot of their warmth. If you have a sleeping pad, I would recommend bringing your own as well if you can afford the room as the pads provided on the tour were generally very thin and cold. Many of the tour companies seemed to be very similar and you don’t need to be too fussy when picking, but you can check out a couple around Cusco, or book directly through your hostel.


 

The trek started from Cusco with a 3:00AM departure. We drove a few hours out to a small town where we had breakfast and then began the hike from there. The first day we hiked for about 10 to 12 hours. I can’t remember the exact length that we hiked each day, but it was usually around 14 to 22 km’s per day.

The first day we gained quite a bit of elevation and ended at a camp just below the Salkantay pass where you could see glimpses of the Salkantay mountain up the valley that we would walk through the next day. This was our only sighting of Salkantay as the next day there were low clouds that blocked the mountain from our view. The valley was really cool though and was surrounded by glacier topped peaks that reminded you that you were in the famous Andes mountains.

Salkantay Mountain

One bonus about doing a trek like this as part of a tour is that there are mules that carry the extra bags ahead. So you don’t end up having to carry anything except for a light daypack. These trips also cover all of you meals so you don’t have to carry any food or even do any cooking which is convenient and give you lots of time to enjoy the hike and get to know the other people in your group.

Getting to know the other people in your group is the other bonus of doing a hike like this. Every time I’ve done a multi-day tour I’ve been able to meet great people. There is something about doing a trip like this that makes it really easy to meet and and get to know the people in a group and after a few days, the group starts to feel like a small family. Everyone helps each other out and when the weather turns bad, or someone starts to get cold or feel sick, it’s much easier to deal with because everyone works together.

I was very lucky when I did the Salkantay trek as the group that I was a part of was fantastic and varied. We all became great friends by the end of the trip and we had people from Sweden, Germany, Spain, Israel, Australia, and the UK.

The second day of the trip was likely the most difficult as it was the day that was climbed over the Salkantay pass which was at an elevation of 4650 meters (or 15,200 feet). You could feel the high elevation and lack of oxygen taking its toll on your endurance as you climbed up towards the pass. We were hoping for great views of the Salkantay mountain, as we were directly below it, but unfortunately a heavy fog and cloud was blowing up the valley and blocking our view of the mountain.

After cresting the summit we then descended down the other side of the valley and stayed the night in a jungle area which was much warmer. The change of scenery happened quickly and we went from high alpine terrain of rocks and peaks, which in a matter of hours changed to thick rainforest and a sort of jungle terrain. Peru is known for its diverse terrain and scenery and this was just one example of this.

The next two days were then spent walking along rivers and through small villages in this jungle terrain. Along the way we did some ziplining and hot springs. The second-to-last day we walked along the railroad track that winds along the bottom of the valley below Machu Picchu. At times, you could see Machu Picchu and tiny colourful specs of people up on the ridge above you. This was a slower day and the walking was all flat so we had lots of time for pictures and visiting.

Train Tracks

At one point, we came across a section of river that had a bunch of gigantic smooth boulders piled up. The river flowed through the middle of the boulders and there was a small waterfall in the middle. The picture probably explains it better than I could, but it was a really cool spot and you’ll have to keep an eye out for it during the last stretch of the road on your last day.

Waterfall in the Rocks

This day had us ending at the town of Aguas Calientes. We stayed at a hostel in town and it was nice to have a warm bed and shower after several days on the trail. The town itself is fun to explore and there is a river that cuts through the centre of the town with several bridges that span across it. The town is built on a hillside so the streets are steep and windy. At night there are strings of colourful lights across the streets and walkways that give the town a cool feel. It has become a touristy type of town (I guess that can be expected since it’s at the base of one of the seven wonders of the world) with gift shops and restaurants everywhere that you look.

Machu Picchu:

Machu Picchu's Permanent Resident

The last day, of course, was the highlight as it was the day that we visited Machu Picchu. We were up very early and walked to the base of Machu Picchu using headlamps. They then open the gates at the bottom (sometime around 5:00AM or 6:00AM, I can’t exactly remember when). You can then walk to the top or wait for the busses to start running. I decided to hike up and it took just under an hour to make it to the top.


TIP: Some people recommend taking an extra shirt in your bag if you’re hiking up the trail to the gate, rather than taking the bus. I didn’t heed the advice, but I wish I had as it is very humid and warm, even in the early morning and you end up getting quite sweaty by the time that you reach the top. So even though I ignored the advice, I thought I’d pass it on to you.


 

There is then a second gate at the top where everyone in our group met up until they opened the top gate. Our guide gave us a quick tour of the site and then we were off to explore it on our own.
After four days of hiking, it felt like Machu Picchu was finally our reward for all of the miles that we had logged on the trail. In hindsight, I definitely think that doing some sort of a hike, like the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek, is a great way to end up at Machu Picchu as it makes it feel like there is a buildup to visiting the site before you get there, so when you finally get there you are super excited and feel like you’ve earned it. It’s also nice doing the trip with a group because when you get to the site you can enjoy it with people that you have come to know over several days of hiking and it makes it much more enjoyable.


TIP: If you’d rather get to Machu Picchu yourself and avoid a tour or trekking, you can arrange train tickets and entrance tickets yourself from Cusco. You can train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, arrange accommodation, and then getting to Machu Picchu itself is easy once you’re in Aguas Calientes.


 

On the day that we were there, there was some rain a fog in the morning so we got poured on a few times and the visibility was quite bad. By the late morning, however, the fog had lifted and it became warm and sunny. The site is huge, but a few things around the site that you can explore are:

 

  • Huayna Picchu:

When you look at pictures of Machu Picchu, the one that comes up most often is a picture of the site from up high where you can see the city below and at the far end of it are two other small peaks. The larger peak on the left is called Huayna Picchu. When you visit Machu Picchu you are able to climb to the top of Huayna Picchu but you need a special ticket to do so. I believe that you get these tickets ahead of time, but I’m not entirely sure. I didn’t climb Huayna Picchu myself, but two people from our group did and mentioned that the climb up and the views from the top were fantastic.

 

  • Main Site:

The main site of Machu Picchu was a lot larger and more expansive than I had anticipated. In pictures, it looks fairly simple and small, but once you get in amongst the restored buildings and walls you can explore for many hours. The whole city is built in a sort of maze-like fashion with small narrow staircases, terraces, multiple levels, and lots of rooms and hallways. You could, and should, wander around the main site for a long time as there are tons of little surprises and different perspectives.

 

  • Inca Bridge:

The Inca bridge is only about a 20 minute walk from Machu Picchu. From the top of Machu Picchu, there is a trail around the side of the ridge that was built by the Incas. The cliffs along this trail eventually become very steep and the Incas built a very narrow and sketchy bridge across part of it and you can walk up to the bridge. There is now a chain across the trail to deny visitors access to the bridge itself, but you can still get quite close to it.

Misty Steps at Machu Picchu

 

  • Machu Picchu Mountain:

Machu Picchu mountain is the peak directly behind the city. You don’t see it in the typical pictures of Machu Picchu as it is behind where the picture is taken from. The ridge that Machu Picchu is built on continues upwards and ends in a peak above the city. There is a path all of the way to the top and it takes about an hour and a half to climb. Besides a great view from up above, the climb up is also really cool so I would recommend doing this if you have time.

 

  • Sun Gate:

I never had time to climb up to the Sun Gate myself, but it is where people who do the Inca Trail enter into the city from. It’s not very far to get up to the sun gate and I would guess that it would only take about 45 minutes, so it’s yet another option if you have some time.

 

  • Take a Picture from The Guard House:

Of course, at some point you have to take the famous picture that you always see of Machu Picchu. If you’re like me and you get confused when you enter the site and don’t realize when the picture is taken from I’ll give you some tips. You enter the site from the east side and walk out onto a big section of terraces. Huayna Picchu and the bottom section of the site are to your right. And if you look up to your left you’ll see a lone building on top of all of the terraces. This building is called the guardhouse and you can see it from most places within the site. It’s standing at the guardhouse that you’ll see the familiar layout of Machu Picchu spread out below you. It’s a weird feeling standing there, because most likely you have seen the picture many times before so it feels like you’re standing in a dream and you get a bit of deja vu.

 

After our guides gave us a quick introduction to Machu Picchu in the morning, they said their goodbyes and left us on our own to explore. So, after we were done at Machu Picchu we made our way back down to Aguas Calientes on the bus and from there we took a train to Ollantaytambo where a vehicle was waiting for us to take us back to Cusco. This marked the end of our Salkantay adventure, but during the days that followed the trip everyone from our group met up several times for lunch which was pretty awesome.

 

Manu National Park and the Amazon Jungle: (October 7 – 10)

River Boat

After arriving back from the Salkantay trek, I spent a couple of days in Cusco resting and exploring the city some more. I had wanted to check out the Amazon jungle while I was in Peru, so I spent some time in the city tracking down a tour that would work with my timeline and interests. I came across a company called Bonanza Tours Peru and they were offering a 4 day / 3 night tour to the “Cultural Zone” of Manu National Park in the Amazon Jungle.
They seemed to be a small family run company with a very authentic tours so I decided to book with them. I’ll get straight to the punchline by telling you that the tour ended up being fantastic and the food and guides were really great.


TIP: Before heading to Peru I made a quick stop in at a travel clinic in Calgary and got my yellow fever vaccination as well as malaria medication. You don’t have to do this but I decided not to risk it so if you feel the same it might be something to look into if you’re thinking about possibly doing a trip to the Amazon.


 

On the first day of the trip, we left from Cusco very early and drove for about 6 hours on a rough gravel road with a few stops along the way for meals and walking around some of the smaller towns along the way.

We ended up in an area known as the cloud forest where the moist humid air from the lower elevations of the jungle get pushed upwards by the rising elevation of the mountainous area around Cusco. As this air gets pushed upwards by the landscape and starts to cool, it forms low clouds that drift and swirl around the lush forest. Hence being called the cloud forest. It was strange driving from the higher elevation and descending through the cloud forest because the change in landscape and scenery was so sudden and unexpected.

On the first day, we made a few stops in the cloud forest where we walked and looked for birds and other animals. Fortunately this isn’t very hard to do as there were tons of colourful birds around and the forest sounded like it was alive with wildlife. At one point, we were even lucky enough to spot a group of woolly monkeys on the opposite side of the valley making their way through the tops of the trees.

We stayed that night at a lodge at the bottom of the cloud forest. After we had eaten supper we went for another walk near the lodge with head lamps and saw different colourful tree frogs and spiders.

Tree Frog

The second day, we continued driving to the town of Atalaya where we got on a river boat and headed down the river for 3 or 4 hours. On the way along the river, we were extremely lucky and were able to see both a sloth and an ant-eater. We had then reached the lodge deep within the jungle where we were going to spend the next couple of days. We went on a night walk in the evening where we saw walking trees, cat-eye snakes, tarantulas, scorpion spiders, fireflies, a bunch of gigantic trees, tree frogs, massive crickets, caiman, and all sorts of other strange and freaky things.

Sloth

Anteater

Tarantula

Young Cayman

Scorpion Spider

Unfortunately, the next day I got really sick. I’m not sure if it was from the malaria medication or the food, but I ended up spending the next day either in bed or in a hammock. Besides the part about being sick, the worst part of it all was that the only thing to drink in the jungle was warm water. I wasn’t able to hold any food or water down so I was feeling thirsty and slightly dehydrated, so I would have given just about anything for a cold Gatorade at that time.

Because I was so sick and weak, I had to end up skipping the jungle walk that day. I also had to stay at the lodge that night while everyone else went on to a tree fort that was about an hour and a half away where they were going to sleep and watch for tapirs during the night. This was obviously very disappointing and was very reminiscent of my time climbing Mount Toubkal in Morocco. I guess the good news is that the group didn’t end up seeing anything during both the jungle walk or the night in the tree fort so I ended up not missing anything. Instead I was able to get a good sleep and woke up the next morning feeling quite a bit better, which was a huge relief.

The other good news was that while I was sick and feeling sorry for myself at the camp, there was a group of squirrel monkeys that came through the treetops on the edge of the camp, which was incredible. They made all sorts of noise travelling through and all of the females had young babies hanging onto them as they jumped from branch to branch. It was almost worth being sick just to be able to see that and it felt like I was in the middle of a Planet Earth episode or something!

After our last night at the camp in the jungle we made our journey all of the way back to Cusco. It took 4 or 5 hours on the boat to get back upriver, and then another 8 hours driving back to Cusco. It was generally uneventful, but we did get an early start that morning and saw an awesome sunrise as we were loading up the boats. And then on the way up the river we were able to see some red howler monkeys, more birds, and a giant snake crossing the river. I wasn’t a huge fan of the latter as I have a fairly healthy fear of snakes and my fear grows exponentially as the size of the snake gets bigger.

Sunset in the Amazon

All in all, the trip was fantastic and I would definitely recommend looking into Bonanza Tours Peru. I was, however, happy to leave the heat, humidity, and bugs in the jungle. But at the same time, it is a pretty cool feeling to put yourself out of your comfort zone into situations and areas that you aren’t totally familiar with and the Amazon Jungle is definitely a good place to do this. There’s something really cool about being surrounded by the the animals and noises that you’ll find in the jungle and it has a strange quality that is both peaceful and calming, while at the same time being crazy and overwhelming.

 

Conclusion:

My trip to Peru was definitely brief and I don’t think that it’s even fair to say that I was able to scratch the surface of what the country has to offer. I did, however, find that the country is incredibly beautiful and is very diverse. It’s very telling that at one point you can be surrounded by high mountain peaks and glaciers and going over high elevation passes, and then in a matter of hours of walking or driving, you can be in thick humid jungle surrounded by thick green vegetation.

Peru is a country that is absolutely wild and very different than many of the other places that I’ve been in the world. I learned a lot travelling through the country and it definitely challenged and pushed my limits in a lot of different ways. And to me, that is one of the purposes of travel.

As always, I feel like there is a lot that I left undiscovered in Peru, and some of the areas that I had considered travelling that you might consider travelling to were the northern coastal areas of Peru, Arequipa, and of course if you have enough time, some of the neighbouring countries such as Colombia and Bolivia.


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This site is my place to share everything that I know about photography and travel. I'm not an expert, I'm just a guy who loves this stuff and I want to share everything that I learn, as I learn it, with complete honesty and transparency. So, whether you're looking to improve your photography or you want to learn more about travelling to a new place, I want to help you on your journey. Check out my about page to find out more and get in contact with me. I'd love to hear from you!