Wednesday, March 20, 2019

How to Visit Peru in 10 Days

Los Adventureros! What an adventure Peru is! From delicious food to stunning ancient ruins, Peru has something interesting up its sleeve at every turn. There is so much to see and do so 10 days will only give you a taste, but what a taste it will be.

We traveled in March 2016. Since then we have heard that some changes have been made to how your tour Machu Picchu. Find current info on official websites.

Advice here is evergreen and can be used no matter what the changes are.

Brush up on some history. 

Peruvian and Incan history is vast. To put your trip into context, do some research ahead of time. I read Turn Right at Machu Picchu which is part travelogue, part history lesson and it was the perfect read for the trip. I highly recommend.

Prepare for the Weather

We traveled in March 2016, in the middle of the rainy season. We brought rain jackets and waterproof shoes just in case and it turned out to be a mild season. We still needed our rain gear, especially on Machu Picchu. At one point there was a literal downpour and a woman had nothing and she was soaked. But the sun poked out later in the day and we all get a little burned, so layers are always your friend with traveling.

 The rainy season of 2017 was horrible, creating mudslides that claimed many lives. Be prepared but most people try and avoid rainy season.

Prepare for high elevation and wear sunscreen

The elevation changes in Peru are no joke. Cusco which is 11,152 feet above sea level! Many travelers not used to high elevation get altitude sickness and drink coca tea which is supposed to help with the symptoms. We live in a higher elevation (definitely not that high) so I didn't get sick but we still noticed a difference. The air is thinner so take breaks, drink more water and don't overdo it.

While it should be obvious, it might not be. The higher you are the closer you are to the sun. WEAR SUNSCREEN. It doesn't take much time at that altitude to get burned, even if is partly cloudy.

Fun fact: Machu Picchu is actually lower than the city of Cusco. Elevation of Machu Picchu is 7,972'.

Take friends who speak Spanish.And make sure that they are friends that you like. :)

In all seriousness, Peru was easy to navigate and we would have done just fine without speaking Spanish (Jacob speaks Portuguese which is not the same but has some similarities), however, it was amazing traveling with friends who spoke the language. We have never traveled internationally where someone in our group knows the language so that was a treat. I was the annoying one saying giddily, "what does that sign say!" only to learn happily that the sign indicated that the building was earthquake proof. :)

And travel with another couple can be tricky to navigate. We were so fortunate that after we traveled together we still want to be friends. My advice: find a couple with similar travel styles and budget. Where there is imbalance, it could get wonky. This is especially important if you are traveling a lot throughout a country and switching locations.


Peru has a lot going on and quite a bit of diversity of landscape. There was much on our list that we didn't get to make it to, but here is what we did with our limited amount of time.

Travel Day:
Arrive in Lima, Peru at 11:35 p.m.
Spend what was possibly the worst night ever in the airport for a 6:50 a.m. flight. What doesn't kill you, etc.

Day 1: Ollantaytambo
Fly to Cusco then bus to Ollantaytambo, our homebase for the Sacred Valley
Visit Plaza de Armas, Fortress of Ollantaytambo
Early to bed. Stayed at B&B Chayan Wasi. Loved! The breakfast was delicious and they were really helpful with booking things.

Day 2: Tour Sacred Valley
Hire a guide/driver to see Moray
Drink chicha morada in a hut
Salineras salt terraces
Town of Chincero

Day 3: Chocolate cooking class and Aguas Calientes 
Chocolate cooking class at the ChocoMuseo
Train to Aguas Calientes, the jumping point for Machu Picchu
Soaked in thermal springs/body broth in Aguas Calientes
Stayed at Inn New Day Machu Picchu

Day 4: MACHU PICCHU (!!!!!!!!!!!)
Early bus to Machu Picchu (get a stamp at the entrance for your passport!)
Explore ruins of Machu Picchu
Hike Huayana Picchu (reservation req) for extra stunning views
Train ride back to Olly and taxi to Cusco

Day 5: Cusco
Sacsayhuamán complex and natural slides
Cristo Blanco
Explore San Blas neighborhood
Cathedral at Plaza de Armas for Easter candle lighting
Stayed in Airbnb (lovely!)

Day 6: Cusco
Plaza de Armas by day
Twelve Angled Stone
Market hopping, highlight: San Pedro Market
Sun Temple or Qorikancha
Cultural show

Day 7: Travel Day
Cusco in the a.m.
Flight to Lima, Bus to Paracas (3.5 hours)
Dinner on the beach
Stayed in Airbnb. Would pick something else.

Day 8: Ballestas Islands
Boat tour of Ballestas Islands (penguins!!!) and the Candelabra
Sandboarding near Huacachina

Day 9: Paracas/Travel to Lima
Morning at the pool
Bus to Lima
Stay in Airbnb. Would recommend.

Day 10: Lima
Plaza de Armas
Presidential Palace for changing of the guards
Catacombs at Convento de San Francisco
Mira Flores
Parque del Amor
Coast peeping
Dinner on the pier

Travel can be slow between areas so there are a couple of days lost to travel. The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu were definite highlights, we loved sandboarding and 1 day was plenty for Lima.

We landed on this itinerary this way: the main goal was Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. So it was hard to find something else to do in 3 days. Many of the other things we were interested in would have cut down the time in the Sacred Valley so that is how we landed on Paracas. If we had more time, we likely would have visited the Amazon via Puerto Maldonado, Arequipa, Colca Canyon and/or Puno for Lake Titicaca. There's a lot going on!

As always, be kind and be respectful.

Do research ahead of time on cultures and how to be respectful. Time to speak the language as best you can when you can. Smile. Be patient that things are different than at home. Different is why you came. Embrace it and enjoy this beautiful slice of the world.

Hope this helps!

Friday, March 8, 2019

Lima, Peru

Our trip ended where it began: in Lima, the capital of Peru. We had only one day in Lima so we hit it hard. First up, the Presidential Palace.

The changing of the guard is a spectacle and one of my favorite's that we have seen around the world. The crowds aren't overwhelming and the marching band won us over with those high kicks! In polyester!

Changing of the guard did generate a small crowd but nothing like, say, Buckingham Palace so the experience was actually enjoyable. And, lo and behold, we are even able to see it. :)

 Lima's Plaza de Armas is beautiful and busy, but not overwhelmingly so on either account. After we wandered through the streets en route to Mira Flores neighborhood.
Convento de San Francisco

Parque del Amor

Late afternoon we had wandered our way to the lovely Parque del Amor, or Park of Love. This delightful green space has incredible views, thoughtful architecture and plenty of grass to sit on.

Plus, it is a popular place to watch the also popular sport of hangliding. It was beautiful to watch the parachutes slowly glide over the horizon.

 Can you believe that highway at the edge of the ocean?! Stunning, yet also prone to flooding.

We trekked down to dinner at the edge of the pier. If you do anything in Peru, get some ceviche, which is raw fish that has been cured in citrus juices. YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED. Unless you hate delicious things. In that case, you're own your own.

Get in me belly.

And that, my friends, is a wrap. We wandered back to our Airbnb, picked up our luggage, changed into comfy clothes and flew out late that evening. 

Lima was a fun city to explore, not super notable overall and thought 24 hours was enough to see what we wanted.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Paracas, Peru: Peruvian penguins and sandboarding

We then traded the high altitude of Cusco for sea level at the coastal town of Paracas, about 3.5 hours south of Lima.

The first day was a pure and simple travel day, with a flight from Cusco to Lima was of course delayed (thanks again, Star Peru!) and we barely made it to our bus- they were calling our names over the intercom and we rushed in. We had booked our bus ahead of time and they were comfortable with personalized TVs. I don't think I could get my subtitles to work, but hey, a movie is a movie. 

Paracas is a great jumping off point for a couple of different activities. Nazca lines are nearby, sandboarding in Huacachina is even closer, and a tour of Islas Ballestas to SEE PENGUINS. THERE ARE PENGUINS. Let that sink in a little bit.
Paracas is like the poor man's Galapagos Islands. And because we couldn't swing the cost or the time of a Galapagos trip, we found ourselves here.  

A tour of Islas Ballestas and Paracas National Park are offered by a guided boat tour. It was delightful to get out on the water and see penguins and sea lions. Less delightful was the smelling of the sea lions, yet it is unavoidable and comes with the territory since we are invading their privacy. 

Colony of sea lions. Hearing hundreds of them bark at once was pretty incredible.

The boat ride was also a two-fer: we also got to see the cactus-shaped carving: the Candelabra. It is one of the Nazca lines put in by aliens? A Masonic symbol placed on the hillside by a general? We'll never know.

Sandboarding near Huacachina

In the afternoon we had one of the most pure fun activities of the trip: sandboarding in the sandboarding capitol of the world, Huacachina. It was the most fun you'll ever have getting sand places you wouldn't imagine. :) kidding, only kind of.

We booked our tour at an agency in Paracas and scheduled for the last tour of the day. We arrived a little late and got our own dune-buggy to ourselves which was awesome! Part of the fun is driving so fast through the dunes- it was such a thrill. Those seat belts aren't just for show!

Each dune-buggy comes with all of the gear you need to sled down the dunes. If you want to snowboard, you need to request ahead of time (none of us board so we stuck with sledding).

In between the boarding, the dune buggy would pick us up and take us to the next hill. We enjoyed a stunning sunset and would definitely recommend the last tour of the day.

Our taxi ride to Haucachina was interesting to say the least. The woman at the agency that we booked our dune buggy tour with suggested her friend to be our taxi driver. No problem except that we later learned that he was not a registered taxi driver. Which became a big problem for him. We embarked on our journey (about an hour or so) and about halfway there we got pulled over. As the officer was walking up to our car, our driver said to us in Spanish, "Tell them that we are friends and that we met on the beach and I'm just taking you for free..." So.....not an official taxi driver. After being delayed for a long time, our driver was given a hefty fine and we were on our way. Only to get pulled over again. Oi. We eventually made it (a bit late) but, for the sake of your driver, make sure it is official.

That evening we tried to stargaze because different hemisphere = different stars. Not that we know anything about astronomy. In the morning, we lounged in our Airbnb's pool before catching a bus back to Lima.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Peru: Two Days in Cusco

After our spiritual experience at Machu Picchu we took the train to Olly and then a taxi to our apartment in Cusco to spend the next two days in Cusco. It was Easter that weekend and we had heard that Cusco is a riotous place for Easter with parades and a lot of fanfare. The excitement typically happens the week beforehand while actual Easter weekend was more subdued and spiritual.

Our pace in Cusco enabled a lot of meandering, shopping and eating. And, of course, Incan ruins.

We relaxed/recovered in the morning before taking a taxi to the ruins of Sacsayhuamán or affectionately called Sexy Woman for those who can't nail the accent (never could).

Sacsayhuamán is considered the most important Inca monument after Machu Picchu. It was thought to be a religious complex during Inca times. However, it is only a fraction of the size of what it was before the Spanish hauled off some of the blocks as building materials. Created in 1440, the massive stones are jigsawed together. The stones are so large and the placing together so intricate that some people believe the only answer is: aliens. I didn't get the extraterrestrial vibe but who knows?

We spent time exploring the complex (which is huge- it is hard to describe) before heading on to a little adventure.

After you have wandered among the ancient stones and debated about the role of intergalactic beings, you will hear shrieks of joy from adults and children on the upper edge of the complex. Hidden on the other side of a hill is a natural rock slide. Run smooth from all of the sliding, you can definitely pick up speed!
Not just for kids.

It was delightfully unexpected to pretend to be a kid again in Cusco. Do we thank the aliens? We'll never know...
Plaza de Armas from above
We saved our soles and walked instead of a taxi back to Cusco proper. En route we stopped by Cristo Blanco, the smaller version of Christ the Redeemer, which happened to have an incredible view of the orange-roofed Cusco. Worth it for the view.

The viewpoint is conveniently located above the popular and delightful San Blas neighborhood filled with winding streets and cute shops to explore. It is the kind of neighborhood made for meandering. A market outside of the San Blas temple had beautiful artwork and jewelry.  

We continued our wandering until the lighting of the Easter candle at Catedral at the head of the Plaza de Armas. Inside of the catedral is a pretty awesome version of the Last Supper. One that has the apostles dining on Peruvian delights such as guinea pig and chicha. Because of the Easter festivities it was hard to angle to get a photo. However, we did gawk a bit at the stunning Catedral. 

Day 2 in Cusco

Plaza de Armas is just as gorgeous during the day as it is at night.

Incan awesome-ness in one 12-angled stone
We swung by another famous Cuscoan site that we easily missed yesterday. If you do not know what you're looking for and there isn't a crowd (there usually is), you might miss the famous Twelve Angled Stone in between San Blas Temple and the Plaza de Armas. 

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through markets (Cusco is perfect for wandering). We ventured into the indoor San Pedro Market for smoothies and other trinkets and found an outdoor food market for all sorts of Peruvian snacks (we skipped the cuy). 

We spent the late afternoon at the beautiful Sun Temple or Qorikancha. It was built to honor the Sun and used to be covered in gold (Qorikancha means "Court of Gold"). The gold is long gone (pried off by the Spanish Conquistadors) so all that is left is stunning stone work.

We finished off the day with dinner at a darling restaurant and a cultural show (on the Boleto Turistico) that went on far too long....

Cusco, dear friend, we enjoyed you very much!