The Peru Chronicles: Machu Picchu – We Made It!

Even with all of the awesome places we visited and things we saw, Machu Picchu still felt like it was the main event and climax of our trip. For many people Machu Picchu is the entire reason for their trip to Peru in the first place. While many people think of the ruins as ancient, the truth is that they’re actually not as old as you may think – they were built around 1450, and then discovered and made known to the outside world by an American historian in 1911. It is an incredible sight to see – a green city built atop a mountain in the mist. It was likely not, as one of my neighbors tried to convince us, “that one place that I saw on the History Channel that was built by aliens.”

machu picchu peru

yes, we actually took this picture

Getting into Machu Picchu can be a little confusing and will take some time (I will give additional details in a different post). Our journey was fairly typical and went something like this: We left Cusco at 6am by taxi to ride 30 minutes to the town of Poroy. From there, we hopped on the PeruRail train that lasted about 3 hours as it took us into the town of Aguas Calientes. From Aguas Calientes, you will have a 20minute bus ride, or 90minute hike to get into Machu Picchu. You may not want to go into Machu Picchu the same day that you arrive in Aguas Calientes. We bought our entrance tickets to Machu Picchu and our PeruRail train tickets to Aguas Calientes well in advance online. We bought our bus tickets into Machu Picchu upon arrival in Aguas Calientes.

We arrived in Aguas Calientes right around lunchtime and used the afternoon to check into our hostel, rest a bit, and explore the very limited city of Aguas Calientes. Everywhere is walkable in Aguas Calientes and it is all situated along one main drag, Pachacutec. It’s all restaurants, hostels, massage places, and little convenience stores We had plenty of time to wander through the main market and town square, eat some food and play Jenga (I don’t know why, but nearly every restaurant had a Jenga set at every table!), and purchase our bus tickets to go into Machu Picchu the following morning.

[Note: Along with a Jenga set, nearly every restaurant has a “carta turistica” or tourist menu. This is usually a good deal where you will be able to select an appetizer, entree, and dessert for a total of around 15-20soles. Most restaurants will also have a happy hour special where for 15-20 soles, you can get 4 cervezas!]

perurail machu picchu peru

train ride to aguas calientes

got a little creative with the jenga blocks

we got a little creative with the jenga blocks


We retired early to our hostel – Hostal Pakarina – which was a perfect little spot for us. It is right on Pachacutec, just a few blocks up the street from the main plaza and the location where all of the buses depart to go up to Machu Picchu. We woke up around 5am to get ready and walked down to the bus pick-up point. The buses start running around 5:30am but there will probably be a long line starting even before then. However, there are several buses and they run every 10minutes or so, which helps the line move pretty steadily. [Note: there is a trail that you can hike to/from Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. It is advertised as a 60minute hike, but we hiked back down the mountain at a good clip and it took us about 90minutes, and it was fairly strenuous. I would guess that going up the mountain into Machu Picchu would take even longer and be even more strenuous. I would recommend taking the bus up and then hiking back if you want to hike; if you hike up, you may be too tired to fully enjoy the experience.] [Additional Note: The bus rides up into Machu Picchu are about 20minutes, and even by Peruvian standards are incredibly treacherous and full of hair-pin turns on a single lane dirt road. You may not want to look out the window!]

almost like it was our honeymoon or something

almost like it was our honeymoon at the hostel…

from the bus stop

from the bus stop


Because Machu Picchu is so unique, I find it difficult to describe. There is absolutely something mystic and awe-inspiring to be standing on top of a mountain in the mist looking at a bright green stone city that was built hundreds of years ago. I would recommend arriving early if possible – it’s incredible to see the mist with the sunrise, and it’s a little bit more tranquil early in the morning.

As you go into Machu Picchu, there are plenty of guides hanging out that you can pay to show you around and give tours of the ruins. We elected to stick to the map that we had and use that as a guide to walk and explore the ruins. When we first entered, we admired the absolutely incredible sights of the city and adjacent mountains in the mist. Several pictures later, we decided to head to the sun gate which is where you would enter if you were coming in from the multi-day Incan Trail hike. It’s another example where the Incans were incredibly resourceful and accurate enough to plan the sun gate so that at certain times of the year, the sun beams directly through it and onto the city. The ruins actually span an impressive distance, and getting to the sun gate was quite a hike even within the ruins. That along with just walking around and exploring the rest of the ruins is a lot of hiking and stairs!

machu picchu peru

machu picchu

machu picchu peru

among the clouds


As we made it to the sun gate, a guy in his 60’s offered up a pretty great quote: “Fuck Everest. This is where it’s at – This is impressive.”

sun gate machu picchu

sun gate

sun gate machu picchu

almost to the sun gate

sun gate machu picchu

from atop the sun gate; the zig zag is the dirt road that the buses go up and down on


Yes, there were plenty of llamas and alpacas roaming throughout the ruins.

We were in Machu Picchu before 7am, and after our hike to the sun gate and back and one loop through the ruins, it was a bit after noon and we were pretty exhausted. We elected not to hike up Huayna Picchu, the mountain right next to the ruins that towers above Machu Picchu. This looks like it would give an awesome view, but it is also a challenging hike – we were glad we decided not to do it. [Note: You need to pay an entrance fee to hike this mountain, and you should do that in advance, when you buy your Machu Picchu entrance tickets.]

So after about 5 hours of hiking and exploring within the ruins, we decided that we had probably seen all we would enjoy seeing. We also knew that we had a long hike down the mountain back to our hostel in Aguas Calientes – we had decided ahead of time that we would take the bus up the mountain in the morning into Machu Picchu, and then take the “easy” hike down the mountain back into town. It turns out that the advertised 40-60minute hike, was much more like a 90+minute hike, even while going at a good clip.

So we arrived back in Aguas Calientes to our hostel on wobbly legs with quivering calves. We were exhausted. We enjoyed some food and drinks and then passed out early so that we could catch our early train the following morning back to Ollantaytambo. And from Ollantaytambo an hour and a half bus ride back into Cusco. Did I mention that it can be a little tricky getting into and out of Machu Picchu…

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

machu picchu peru

macchu picchu urubamba river

But it was so worth it. After our visit to the Sacred Valley in Cusco, we wondered if Machu Picchu could really be that much more impressive than what we saw. This was really just us being that impressed by those ruins at the time. But after our trip to Machu Picchu, I think we can absolutely say that it was, without question, that much more impressive. The combination of the mountains, the city, the greens, the mist, and the overall aura was magnificent.

Machu Picchu, the landmark that brings so many tourists into Peru is a legitimate and worthwhile reason to take a trip to Peru. It’s not the only thing you should see or do while in Peru, but it is something that you have to do while in Peru. We loved it. Even now, looking back just a few short months ago, it’s hard to believe that we were exploring the city on top of the mountain among the mist. Truly incredible.


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The Peru Chronicles: Cusco

Cusco and Machu Picchu are two of the main destinations that attract so many tourists to Peru. Cusco is essentially the gateway to Machu Picchu, but they are, in fact, separate destinations. Cusco was a very important capital city for the Incans, and was built in the shape of a puma, incredibly enough. The Incans had three different sacred animals representing the three levels of life: the serpent, the puma, and the condor. These animals show up all over – from the layout of cities, to the design of buildings, to artwork. It’s really pretty incredible how much thought and attention to detail the Incans put into everything, and how they were ingenious enough to actually pull off such impressive design feats!

plaza de armas cusco peru

plaza de armas cusco peru

plaza de armas cusco peru

plaza de armas – if only the trash can weren’t there…


There is no shortage of hostels and hotels to choose from in Cusco. We ended up staying at VIP House The Garden, which was a lovely little hostel that had some great views overlooking the Plaza de Armas. The hostel states that they are only 3 blocks from the plaza – it’s actually more like 5, with the last couple being up a fairly steep hill. It’s absolutely walkable, but if you go in expecting just a couple short blocks, you may be disappointed. We were very happy and comfortable there – our own little private room with private bathroom, good views, and breakfast included. I’m sure that that there are some very nice and even luxury hotels in Cusco, but it just feels right to be in a hostel in as true travelers/backpackers to explore the city.

night view cusco peru

nighttime view from our hostel


Speaking of the Plaza de Armas, this is where most of the tourist activity is – restaurants, bars, historic sights, and tour booking and departure points (a good thing to consider when booking a hostel – make sure it is within easy walking distance). Again, when thinking about and looking into different tours/excursions, check with your hotel/hostel and pop into a few places that are on (or just off) the Plaza de Armas to compare and bargain for pricing before buying – the prices and what’s included (pick-up from hostel, food, etc.) are not fixed. There are so many different options of things to do and so many different companies to book through, that it can be a lot to take in.

Our first afternoon, we checked into the hostel and decided to make it a nice easy day to check out the Plaza de Armas and plan our next moves. We enjoyed a nice cafecito from a balcony restaurant overlooking the Plaza de Armas – beautiful views and perfect weather to be sitting outside enjoying an afternoon coffee. We also decided that this was the perfect time to redeem our online reservations/tickets that we had purchased in advance for the train to Machu Picchu, and also check out a few different tourist offices for pricing on different tours and things to do.

plaza de armas fountain cusco peru

great fountain in the plaza de armas

Our first full day, we decided to do one of the free walking tours of Cusco in the early afternoon. This gave us the morning to do some more walking around the Plaza, the Calle del Sol, and San Blas where we had a nice little lunch. The free walking tour ended up being really fun and interesting. Our guide, Elvis, was very knowledgeable and very entertaining. It was a great way to get to know the city and it’s history a little bit more while getting in a good walk and seeing things first-hand. It’s also a great way to see and learn many of the landmarks that are directly in town, as many of the bus tours will take you just beyond the city to several of the nearby ruins. On our way back through the Plaza de Armas after the tour, we came across an incredibly large street festival absolutely packed with spectators and people participating in traditional dancing with big marching band accompaniment. It was truly a spectacle and something that we both found riveting and amazing! [You can see a clip of it here around the 3:40 mark.] Bizarre Note: During this neat festival with all of these adults dressed up and dancing and playing instruments, there were also little 5-7ish year old kids running around in full gorilla suits…as a part of the festival! I have no idea what the significance of these little gorilla children were…

our walking tour group: us, a couple of russians, and a norwegian

our walking tour group: us, a couple of russians, and a norwegian

Side Note: Cusco is truly a tourist city, and one of the interesting things when going on some of the different tours is learning about and talking to some of the other tourists. For example, the two Russians had been living in the US for the past few years working in IT but had managed to take off for a couple of weeks to travel through Columbia and Peru. The Norwegian had been travelling the world for over nine months! Literally the entire world – from Asia to the US to South America, the list of places he had been was impressive and he still had a couple more months to go he said.

The following day we got up early to go to on a bus tour of the Valle Sagrado, “Sacred Valley” which is just outside the city of Cusco. This was a long day of touring that started around 8:30am and didn’t end until around 7:30pm with several stops along the way. [Important Note: In order to go to the ruins, you need to purchase a boleto turistico “tourist ticket,” which will allow you entry to each stop. There is a one day ticket that will get you into five places for about 70 soles which coincides with the Sacred Valley bus tour. You can purchase this at your first stop in Pisac or before you go on the tour. This is what we purchased because we knew we were just doing the Sacred Valley tour one day. They have a full tourist pass that will get you into about fifteen sites and is good for ten days – if you are sticking around for a longer period and are planning on those extra visits and destinations, this is your better bet.] We started in Pisac, which was really just a quick stop with some neat shopping trinkets to bargain for. Then we went a little further into Pisac to see a neat little jewelry shop where silver was coming in from nearby mines and being fashioned into neat jewelry of (allegedly) very high quality silver! Pisac also has some incredible ruins that we were able to visit, with absolutely amazing views up in the mountains.

sacred valley cusco

sacred valley cusco peru

These Incan ruins are really impressive. And the Incans themselves were so impressive and so ingenious in so many ways – they actually used the terraces at this site as an agricultural testing ground for the best growing methods for the many varieties of corn and potatoes they harvested. They played with the different layers of clay, sand, dirt, and fertilizer to find which combination of layering was most effective and most water efficient – truly brilliant by them! The ruins – and many of the historic buildings in Cusco – are still at least in part, in tact because the Incans were able figure out how to create structures that could withstand earthquakes. Again, a sign of how advanced they were in many different respects.

We moved on from Pisac to Urubamba for a lunch buffet. The lunch buffet was the only stop we made there. Then, it was onto Ollantaytambo to see more ruins and do some serious stair climbing – over 200! Ollantaytambo is the official start of the Incan Trail for those who decide to hike it. It is also one of two departure/arrival points for the PeruRail train that goes into Aguas Calientes to arrive at Machu Picchu (the other station is located in Poroy). [Note: If we had realized this ahead of time, we might have taken the tour to this point and just stayed in Ollantaytambo for the night and taken the PeruRail train from there up into Aguas Calientes. But we didn’t know that using the Sacred Valley tour to get to Ollantaytambo and then heading directly into Machu Picchu was an option.]

ollantaytambo ruins peru

em loves the ruins at ollantaytambo

Ollantaytambo is another place to appreciate how the Incans were able to construct and plan their architecture with such precision and detail that it’s truly amazing. They constructed Ollantaytambo in the shape of a llama, and at certain times of the year, the sunlight would beam through the mountains directly onto the eye of the llama. Also, as you look across to the mountain next door, you can see that the Incans were somehow able to carve a face into the mountain along with some grain storage units. Truly incredible.

After all of the walking through Ollantaytambo, we were exhausted but the tour was not through. (By the way, it wasn’t just us; our tour guide was also exhausted at this point – he was breathing pretty heavy and took a little catnap on our way to our last stop.) Our last stop was Chincheros, and as we arrived the sun had already set and it was quite dark. In Chincheros, we saw more terrezas for farming an a historic church. Even cooler than that was the celebration that was still going on here to celebrate the birth of the Virgin Mary – the same reason for the celebration the previous day in Cusco. There were posters and signs that were 15 feet and higher along with a packed plaza full of dancing and drinking.


Afterwards, we stopped by a textile shop. We saw some really neat demonstrations showing the entire process of how clothing is made – from combing out alpaca/lamb wool, spinning it into thread, dying it various colors from natural roots and berries, and then weaving it on a loom. It was definitely a neat process worth seeing how the entire process can be done by hand, and also how they are able to use and infuse color with natural resources (one in particular was a cactus worm that was used for red coloring; add some lime to it and you end up with a bright red!).

By the time we arrived back in Cusco it was 7:30pm, and we were tired! We also knew that we had an early start the following morning because that was when we were up at the crack to dawn to take the thirty minute taxi ride to Poroy to catch the PeruRail train into Aguas Calientes on our way to Machu Picchu.



it's not uncommon for a lamb to be plopped into your lap and then a little old lady to ask for a couple of soles to get a picture with it...

it’s not uncommon for a lamb to be plopped into your lap and then a little old lady to ask for a couple of soles to get a picture with it…

no climbing the ruins, em

no climbing the ruins, em

foamy beer with the cathedral in the background

foamy beer with the cathedral in the background


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The Peru Chronicles: Puno

We left Arequipa in the morning by bus, and arrived to Puno early on in the afternoon. We were especially lucky to watch a great movie along the way, The Brass Teapot. Right up Em’s alley. Like the trip to Arequipa, the route was a bit treacherous for the faint of heart – I recommend the views on the bus ride if you can stomach them!  The other interesting (perhaps nerve-wracking) part of our bus ride was going through a few small towns entering Puno, where the streets were not paved and some minor flooding led to our bus slowly sliding and plowing through muddy “streets” full of standing water.

lake titicaca from amantani

lake titicaca from our lunch spot on taquile island


The city of Puno is a little rough around the edges. However, you’re not going to Puno for the city, you’re going to see Lake Titicaca which is considered the highest altitude navigable lake in the world! And it is perhaps even more well-known for having the islas flotantes, floating islands, and their inhabitants. Puno itself is also at a very high altitude – much higher than Cusco or even Machu Picchu!  This was actually the only place where we really noticed the altitude – neither of us were sick, but we both had mild headaches the first day and night that we arrived. The gradual bus ride in likely helped a little bit for us to adjust, but we still slightly felt some of the effects of the altitude.

We got to our hostel, Posada Don Giorgio in the early afternoon, and decided to do a quick tour of the downtown area. The hostel was located very conveniently to the Plaza de Armas (main square) and also the main walking street (Calle Lima) of bars, restaurants, and shops. The hostel was nice enough on the inside, but we are pretty sure that they did not turn on the heat in the rooms, and there was no hot water. This was the only place on our trip where we had these issues, and we were both okay – we’re survivors! [Note: This is one of those things I mentioned about being flexible and managing expectations – high maintenance travelers be forewarned!] This was the slow season of tourism for them, so they also only accepted cash (and that’s my guess with the heating as well – they were likely trying to save money during the slow season).

posada don giorgio puno

the courtyard at the hostel


Puno was actually quite chilly at the time of year we were there (beginning of September). This was one of the reasons (or excuses!) for us to get some hats and sweaters. Who can resist some super warm and super soft alpaca gear while in Peru!? I will mention again that everything in Peru (and much of South America) is negotiable. So whether you go into the little shops or talk with the people who come up to you on the street, you can absolutely haggle with prices. [Note: Remember to think in soles (Peruvian currency), and also know that using English will probably reduce some of your bargaining leverage because they assume you have money at that point. This is also true for hostels, food, and excursions – not just excellent alpaca gear.] Once we had our warm gear and some food inside of us, we booked a day trip for the floating islas for the following day. [Note: There are island trips where you can stay overnight on one of the islands with a “host family,” but with our timeline and especially the cold weather, we elected to just do the single day trip, which turned out really well.]

lake titicaca

bundled on lake titicaca – we blend right in with the locals in our alpaca gear!


We were up early for our trip to the islands, which was an all day affair. Our first stop was the floating islands of Uros. This is actually a group of around 80 islands with about 2,000 people total. They are literally floating islands, and you can see the movement as you approach and feel it as you are on them. It was really fascinating to take the tour, get out and walk on the islands made completely of reeds and anchored in place with twine and rope. The people showed us how they constructed the islands with the reeds, used the reeds to make their houses and canoes/boats, and even used the reeds as a food source – they truly use them for every aspect of survival! [Fun fact: Most of the houses do have a solar panel attached which helps provide power!] Each island lasts for about 20 years and then a new island needs be constructed to replace the old. The population on the islands stays steady around 2,000 because all of the children go off to high school on the mainland of Puno, and only about 20% of them end up returning to the islands to live permanently, which is actually a good thing because it saves them from over-population.

floating islands of uros

demonstrations on the floating islands of Uros


We hopped in one of the reed boats which were hand rowed (I helped for a portion!) and visited another of the islands of Uros. After that, we headed out to the isla Taquile, which was about a 2.5 to 3 hour boat ride from Uros. Just as we were arriving, it started to rain which made the cold that much colder….and also made us very glad we had thrown our ponchos in our bags! We did a quick, but steep, hike up to nice little house where a family was waiting to host our group for lunch. This lunch was quite delicious – partially because the nice, warm food hit the spot in contrast to the cold, wet conditions outside, and it also happened to be quite tasty. We had quinoa soup with bread and grilled trucha (trout). The soup was piping hot and the trucha was grilled perfectly! It was interesting that the people on Taquile generally do not eat meat or trout – the trout is mostly for visitors, and meat is generally only for celebrations or special occasions. The people there live nearly completely off the land, and they tend to live for a very long time (well into their 90s and even 100+). They farm, work, walk, raise a very little bit of livestock, and live nearly isolated from others with the purest of resources and little pollution/contamination. It is truly amazing! If the world were ever to lose power or technology, I know exactly who would be the most equipped to survive – and it’s not us in the US. It’s definitely the people already living that way on these islas.

lake titicaca from taquile island


The weather cleared up just as we were finishing our lunch with the host family, which was perfect for walking around and touring the island a bit more. Again, Puno was the one place where the altitude did get to us a little – I will say that I was very winded from hiking around a bit after our lunch. Granted the paths were steep, but the altitude played a big role. But the hike was worth it; it was incredible to see the lake sparkling under the sunlight, and the “Isla de Sol” off in the distance – technically a part of Bolivia. So we can say that we were able to see Bolivia while were were visiting – bonus!



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The Peru Chronicles: Arequipa

We arrived in Arequipa around 11am, fresh off the longest bus ride of our trip (~11 hours). We decided to use this long bus ride as our “hotel” for the night. We didn’t want to waste a full day of riding a bus, so the overnight bus ride was a good option, and we still got a pretty good night’s rest. [Note: I’ve mentioned how nice the buses are, which is absolutely true. But I also need to mention how terrifying they can be if you pay too much attention. The route was essentially cut right into the mountains with winding, hairpin turns on narrow roads during which the buses and semis have no qualms passing each other right in the middle of these turns on the narrow one lane roads. It’s best to not think about it, though if you are brave enough to look, the views are spectacular!]

In Arequipa, we stayed at La Casa de Sillar. “Sillar” is a type of white rock that many of the buildings in Arequipa were built with by the Spanish. Many of these buildings are considered historic and boast incredible architecture. With many of them constructed with this white “sillar,” it is apparent why Arequipa is also known as “La Ciudad Blanca” or The White City.

la casa de sillar

la casa de sillar courtyard area

After taking a cab to La Casa de Sillar and cleaning up a bit from our overnight bus ride, we ventured out for lunch. The hostel recommended a place called La Mundial (enjoy the tunes!). This place was an easy walk from the hostel, and was very local – we were probably the only non-Peruvians in the place. We ordered an appetizer of choclo con queso (corn with cheese) and an entree of rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) to split for our lunch. These are two distinct Arequipenan foods – and both were quite tasty. The corn will really throw off a lot of norteamericanos who are not expecting it; the size of each kernel is probably 4-5 times what a normal corn sized kernel would be on an ear here in the US. Each kernel is it’s own bite that you can eat with a fork – very different, but still very good, and still tastes like corn. The rocoto relleno was also very tasty – stuffed with a mixture of meat, sauce, and some quinoa(?).

We then headed to the Plaza de Armas. Almost every city in South America will have its own Plaza de Armas – essentially the town square, and generally a hub of activity. We enjoyed some of the gorgeous architecture and decided to sit up on a balcony and relax with a nice cafecito (coffee), before enjoying the sights as we slowly wandered our way back to the hostel. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon in Arequipa.

arequipa plaza de armas

view of the plaza de armas for our cafe


After regrouping at our hostel from the afternoon’s (lazy) activities, we decided to head out for dinner. We had looked around at some reviews, and there was no shortage of fabulous looking restaurants, but we decided to head to one called ZigZag. The atmosphere here was very cool – again, with the sillar and the historic quality of the building, it really felt like dining in a castle. There, we also happened to have one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. [Most of you know that  I love my food, and there were a handful of dishes throughout our Peru travels that would make it on my top meals of all time list.] “La Trilogia” was the main course that we ordered after our appetizer of anitpasto and some bread with excellent spreads. We picked our 3 meats – The Trilogy – to be beef, lamb, and alpaca. And those came with four different dipping sauces and a side order of quinoa that was so good and so rich that it nearly resembled a risotto. The meats were all cooked perfectly, the dipping sauces were spot on, and the quinoa incredible. And they gave us paper bibs to boot! Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves and our food immensely.

zigzag arequipa

bring on the meats!


The following day in Arequipa we woke up, ate our breakfast at the hostel, and then headed to a huge mercado. The market was full of fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and any other kind of handicraft or knick knack you could imagine. Check out the ol’ pineapple toss!


In the afternoon we decided to take a bus tour. Many cities have these, and there are many versions within each city as well. [Note: One thing to remember is that nearly everything is negotiable in Peru. Your hostel may offer you one price and another person in the hostel a different price, and you can walk into the Plaza de Armas to a tourist company where they will give an entirely different price. Depending on how much time you have, try to check a few places, and don’t be afraid to haggle.] Our bus tour drove by a few of the historic places just off the Plaza de Armas, including the Santa Catalina Monastery, one of the oldest in South America. However, the majority of the bus tour was spent just beyond the city. [Note: If you want to see some of these historic places in and around downtown, I would recommend one of the free walking tours that occurs twice daily. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to go on one.]

mirador arequipa

Our first stop (just above) was at the famous mirador of Yanahuara, with beautiful arches that look out over the city of Arequipa. You can also see some of the large volcanoes in the background that are very impressive in Arequipa. [Note: One of the big draws for tourists in Arequipa is the trekking through the Colca Canyon, near some of these huge volcanoes. While there are single day trips (starting at 3am and lasting until 8pm), most people elect to do the trekking in 2 or more days. We didn’t have that kind of time, so we decided to tour the city and surrounding sights instead, which was still very worth the trip.] After the trip to the arches, we went to the next vista and enjoyed seeing the volcanoes.



impressive peaks (from a different vista than the one we stopped at)


After a tasty lunch break, we continued on to the mansion of the fundador of Arequipa. The historic mansion had fallen into ruin for a long period of time, but was purchased by a team of architects and restored to be an historic museum and destination. The mansion and rooms were interesting to learn about and see some of the old tools that would have been used, and the grounds were very impressive and beautiful as well.

mansion del fundador arequipa

mansion del fundador in arequipa

mansion del fundador arequipa

the grounds at the mansion


After the mansion of the fundador, we took a little bit a random stop at a ranch. There were some horses around as an option to ride, but no one from our group decided to exercise that option. This led to most of us milling around without doing much of anything for a good 30-45 minutes. The one spectacle was a pet hawk that we saw. Two ladies had trained a huge hawk to stand on the shoulders of people for impressive photo ops for just a few soles. I was not worried about the price, but I was absolutely worried about the bird so I elected not to partake. But here’s an interesting shot of one of the people in our group who did decide to be adventurous and make friends with the hawk:


After we returned, we decided to wander down a couple of neat walking streets, and ended up eating at a little spot on la calle San Francisco. It was a neat place, and we ate on the rooftop terrace (even though it was a little chilly in the evening). The food was good, but couldn’t compare to the previous night’s at ZigZag.  The following morning we were up early and on the bus toward our next stop – Puno!


chickens in the market

the next time you think you are having a bad day, just be thankful you aren’t a chicken in the market…



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The Peru Chronicles: Ica / Huacachina

So about 4 hours after we left Lima, we arrived in Ica. The bus stop where we arrived was a bit rough around the edges, but we got a taxi and made our way to Huacachina which is one of the main reasons travelers head to Ica. [Note: The buses in South America are really nice, assuming you take a trusted line. They have seats that recline, blankets and pillows, TV’s, and small meals/snacks. I’d recommend TEPSA or Cruz del Sur as bus lines for non-Peruvian travelers.] Huacachina is just about 10-15 minutes outside of Ica, and is really one of the neatest places you could imagine.


restaurant on the oasis with jokes

Huacachina is a little oasis in the middle of a desert full of mountain-sized sand dunes. It is really something to see, and something totally different for most people. The oasis is the size a small pond – you could walk the entire perimeter in about 20 minutes. And Huacachina the ‘town’ exists as an outgrowth from this little oasis – a half circle of restaurants and hostels around the oasis, with just a couple more blocks stemming from that half circle. It really is tiny, and it does exist largely because of tourism.

oasis at huacachina peru


We arrived around 8PM, so it was already dark out, but still plenty of time to relax and enjoy a few Cusquenas. We stayed at the Desert Nights hostel which is a neat little backpacker’s hostel. This was the only place where we stayed in true backpacker form – in a community dorm with a few sets of bunk beds and communal bathrooms, thus a very economical choice. It was a good little place with an attached bar/restaurant, and a very helpful and friendly staff. Through the hostel with the help of the staff, you could book a few different options as far as excursions and nearby places to visit and things to do. We decided to do two different activities while there and booked both through the hostel.

Our first activity was to tour a couple of distilleries / wineries in the area. We ended up on the tour with a very nice Columbian lady (who happens to know James Rodriguez for all you soccer crazies out there!) that we befriended and chatted with quite a bit. The tour lasted a few hours and took us to through two different wineries; both of the wineries were also also pisco distilleries. Pisco is a liquor that is very common throughout Peru. It is similar to what you might get with a vodka or a tequila – a clear liquor that is in the 40-50% alcohol range…turns out, it’s actually just distilled wine. It comes in many varieties; some infused with lemon or other flavors, some more sweet or more dry, and some as liqueurs (our Columbian friend bought us a coffee flavored pisco liqueur as an anniversary gift!).


tasting the vino and the pisco

pisco distillery tour

we’re the three best friends that anyone could have…

Our second activity in Huacachina is a must do! We went sand-dune boarding and dune buggy riding through the mountainous sound dunes. Again we booked this through the hostel, and this was a ~2 hour adventure racing up and down the dunes in a cage-like dune buggy. At various points, our driver would stop and we would hop out of the buggy to zoom down the dunes on our wooden sand boards. It is an absolutely unique and quite exhilarating experience. We stayed out just long enough to see the sunset on the dunes – incredible!

sand dune boarding

sand dune boarding in huacachina

with our dune buggy driver

After our dune buggy ride, we ate dinner and took a cab back to the bus station to get on our way to the next stop – Arequipa. This was the longest bus ride of our trip – right around 12 hours. We decided to time it so that our bus left Ica around 10pm and arrived in Arequipa around 10am the following morning. Again, the buses are very nice with their amenities, although 12 hours still felt like a long time and we were ready to be off the bus by the time we arrived.

There are a couple of other sights that people may stop in Ica to see. The first is to visit the Islas Ballestas or ‘The Poor Man’s Galapagos’ which is about an hour east of Ica in Paracas and are a part of the national reserve there. We elected not to go on this excursion, even though we originally had it tentatively scheduled in our original plans. The main attraction there is a little boat ride around the islands, and neither of us are very sea-worthy. We decided that it wasn’t worth us spending an extra night and most of a day to get over to Paracas to tour around by boat (and possibly get sick) and then head back to Ica. (This is where we picked up the 1 day that I mentioned on our original itinerary.) One day and a half was enough to do the two excursions that we did in Ica (Huacachina), and we didn’t regret skipping the island boat tour in Paracas.

The other thing that people may elect to do is to visit the lineas of Nazca. Nazca is actually located a couple of hours south of Ica, and is a potential stop on your way out of town (possibly as you head to Arequipa). These are ancient lines created in various shapes (e.g. monkey, spider) that were etched into the ground thousands of years ago. They are interesting partly due to the scale in which they were done – you need to be fairly high above ground to see the actual shapes (there are various viewing towers and several airplane tours you can book to see them).  I had seen these during my previous travels, and while they are neat, we didn’t think that they warranted their own stop with all of the other things we had planned.

lineas de nazca


So our one night in Ica was enough for us, and we were on the bus to sleep our way to our next stop of Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city…








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The Peru Chronicles: First (and last) Stop – LIMA

Our flights were round trip from Fort Lauderdale to Lima. Thus, our time in South America officially started and ended in Lima. Lima is the capital of Peru and a huge city with a population around 9 million (potentially more populated than NYC, depending on city proper vs metro area as defined and measured). So while Lima is indeed very South American, it is not the small-town South American countryside that probably pops into many minds when thinking of Peru or South America. [Note: For some great deals for flights, I always like to check Kayak – they have an option called “Explore” and I highly recommend playing around with that. SkyScanner may also be a helpful site. Do be aware that these don’t catch all airlines, including some discount airlines like Southwest.]

The city is divided into many many barrios, or neighborhoods. A few of the most popular barrios to visit in Lima are the Centro Historico, Miraflores, and Barranco. [Note: The airport itself is in “Callao,” which is actually a dangerous area of the city, so be sure to get a trusted taxi.]  We were very lucky that Marita and Ruy – our fantastic hosts – had a very cool departamento (apartment) right in the heart of Barranco. Just across the street were several restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. And just a block away was a lovely parque with some greenery, benches, a neat church, and a biblioteca (library) for Em.

the library is the pink building in the background

the library is the pink building in the background


So our first night, Marita had a taxi ready to pick us up and get us to her departamento. It was a Saturday night and it also happened to be the night that she was celebrating her cumpleanos with an asado with several of her friends. The apartment was perfect for this as it had a rooftop terrace with a parilla (grill), and we celebrated with a symphony of meats – pork, pork belly, chicken, steak, sausage, morcilla (blood sausage), and duck. In Peru, and South America in general, the nights start much later and last much longer. So when we arrived from the airport close to 11pm, we were the first people to arrive and they had not started any of the food. People began showing up shortly after us, the chelas (beers) began to flow, and the food got started…and the festivities lasted until 6 in the morning. Truth be told, we only made it until 3:30 – but I was actually very proud of Honey, especially after a long travel day.

Marita, the birthday girl!

Marita, the birthday girl!

Everyone that we met and hung out with was incredibly nice. And most were pretty darn good with their English – a very good thing because Em speaks very little Spanish, and I was a little rusty at that point. They were all interested to hear about our trip, give little tips and things to do and see along the way, and give recommendations of foods to try. We couldn’t have asked for a better group. Interestingly enough, there were a handful of them who were musicians, and so after the eating had slowed, the music started up. Overall, a very fun night with lots of fun people and great food!

you can see most of the crew here - situated around us!

you can see most of the crew here – situated around us!


Because we went to bed early (3:30am), we were up early as well – around 8:30am. We got a little hand-drawn map from Ruy and wandered out to explore a bit. We found out that on a Sunday morning, nothing is open before 11am. Actually, there was one Starbucks that was open, but we both refused to stop there. So we wandered just a block further from the square where the library was (pictured above), crossed over a neat little picturesque walking bridge, and after just a couple of minutes, we came to the most incredible vista that literally took Em’s breath away and nearly knocked her over. We had arrived at the Pacific Ocean atop a sort of cliff, and just several hundred yards out was San Lorenzo – an island mountain rising out of the mist. It was one of the prettiest views you could imagine and was a great example of the many more to come…

Because Peru is in South America, their seasons are exactly opposite of ours. So when we arrived in late August, it was still winter there. It does get chilly in Peru, but not too bad. We were comfortable in a sweater or pullover for the most part throughout the trip, though as we went furthest south to Puno it was quite chilly! [Note: We knew this ahead of time and tried to pack in things that were easy to layer and it ended up working out well!]  The one thing about the winter in Lima is that it is nearly always gray and a bit misty – for almost an entire 6 months! They call this the “panza de burro” or belly of the donkey (underside of the donkey belly is gray). It’s an interesting phenomenon in that when you go just a couple of hours outside of Lima, you will get sunshine and blue skies…but nothing while actually in Lima. It must have something to do with the latitude, altitude, and proximity to the Pacific. I’ve never been, but I imagine it’s similar to what people say about Seattle. Either way, it makes me grateful to have so much sun so much of the time at home in Florida!

us at the vista

us at the vista

san lorenzo lima peru

no, not a Bob Ross painting – an actual picture of San Lorenzo that we took


We did a little more walking and ended up at the Bodequita Verde – a very quaint little cafe. We enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee, and juice. But most of all, we enjoyed the atmosphere of the little cafe and our first breakfast in Peru. Em was also convinced that we ran into a blogger while there – some girl with a guy right behind taking glamour photos while she was posing ever so naturally at the cafe and also getting the low down on the history of the place. #celebsighting

When we got back to the apartment around 1pm, there were signs of life. Marita was up, and cut up some papaya for us to eat – she says that it’s good after a night of drinking. This was also our first foray into the fruit while there – of which we had a lot! We ended up trying all kinds of fruits that I had never had – star fruit, cactus fruit (prickly pear?), and the best – cherimoya! So many fruits, and very delicious. There are so many small markets, shops, and vendors that it’s really difficult to go very far at all without running into some fresh fruit.

Then we took a drive through several parts of the city. The original plan was to stop in the Centro Historico, but there was some type of festival/event going on that just didn’t allow for any kind of parking. That actually turned out fine because we got a driving tour that covered more of the city. [Note: The rules of the road in Lima and most of South America are absolutely insane. There is no way I would ever attempt to drive through that chaos…when riding as a passenger, your best bet is to just trust in your driver and hope it all works out!]  During our little driving tour we also checked out La Punta – which is just about as close as you can get to the incredible San Lorenzo isla. But take note, La Punta is basically in Callao, which is a rough part of the city…so pay attention. Regardless, we felt really lucky to watch the sunset over the Pacific at La Punta, when just about 24 hours earlier, we woke up to the sunrise over the Atlantic at our place. On our way back, we had a coffee at Cafe Bisetti, and did a very abbreviated bar crawl of just a couple stops to down our first pisco sours of the trip.

sunset lima peru

sunset at la punta


The following day we were scheduled to hop on the bus to our first destination – Ica, which is much closer to that small town South American town type of image that you may have in your head. However, before taking off, we had another breakfast of fruit, lots of walking around the neighborhood of Barranco to see the architecture, enjoy some antique shops, and see the Pacific – all absolutely beautiful – and then a stop for lunch. This lunch may have been one of the biggest I’ve ever had, and one of the tastiest lunches I’ve ever had as well. The restaurant was Isolina, and it served family style meals – we had a ceviche and a piece of roasted meat in a delightful sauce – wayyyyy too much for lunch, yet so good! The first – and best! – ceviche we had of the trip.

ceviche lima peru


When we returned to Lima on the back end of our trip, we were seasoned pros. We enjoyed our final afternoon with an impressive late lunch featuring some delightful stuffed mushrooms at Arlotia – just across the street from our hosts. A small and unassuming place from the outside, but incredible food that is a Spanish/French/Basque/Peruvian fusion. We then had a very good meal later that evening at Sibaris, which is a trendy little tapas restaurant featuring great food and a menu that shifts from week to week with what’s in season. I may say this in every post, and every other sentence within every post, but this meal was absolutely phenomenal with all of the flavors and combinations of meats, sauces, potatoes, rice, and beans! (Did I mention that we ate a lot and really enjoyed all of the food while traveling?!)  They also had an impressive cocktail menu to choose from, that probably only a hipster mixologist could truly appreciate. We ended our time in Lima with a trip to a very cool mansion that had been converted into several different bars all segmented off and decorated very distinctly. Ayahuasca is on all kinds of “best bar” and “trendy bar” lists to visit while in Lima, and I would have to agree. This one mansion is like visiting five different bars at once because of the different ambiance in each section as you move throughout the rooms, and the cocktail list is incredibly extensive with all kinds of options with lots of fresh fruits incorporated into many of their drinks. Truly a unique and cool place to enjoy our last drinks in South America.

ayahuasca lima

us enjoying drinks in ayahuasca


There you have it – our start and finish – in South America. We absolutely had a fantastic time in Lima and really loved our hosts showing us around. But again, don’t be fooled – Lima is a big city. Of course it does still have a South American feel, but it’s not that small-town, indigenous type of feel that may come to mind. There are really nice and upscale parts of the city, and there are more run-down and dangerous parts of the city – just like any big city anywhere in the world. The “in-between” stops on our trip are much more reminiscent of the small-town South American towns as you will see.



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The Peru Chronicles: Our Route and Itinerary

Now you know a little bit about the “How and Why” of our choice to head to Peru. Beautiful place, plenty to do, great people and food, and very cost effective. That whole “plenty to do” part actually made our trip a little bit tricky as we were planning.  Perhaps “plenty to do” really means that there’s just way too much to see and do in one trip (even with two weeks!). But that’s not a terrible problem to have… The main concern was trying to find a good balance between seeing as much as possible while not exhausting ourselves with too much travel and not enough time spent in any one place.  In the end, I think that we achieved that goal. We put together a fairly aggressive itinerary to keep ourselves on the move and see a lot, but we never got to the point where we were overly exhausted or running on fumes.

trip through peru


The map above shows our travel route. As you can see, it’s actually quite convenient as we were able to do a loop starting and ending in Lima – where we flew into and out of from Fort Lauderdale. The cities were also nicely situated; most of the bus rides between cities were between 4-6 hours, which wasn’t bad at all. The longest was from Ica to Arequipa (~11 hours) and we actually decided to take the bus through the night and sleep through most of that leg. [Note: The buses are actually quite nice – the seats recline nearly all the way, they provide little pillows and blankets, they have little meals/snacks included, and they show movies. It’s really nicer than almost any normal airline that you will find.]

We planned for about two days in each city, and we gave ourselves about a one day buffer so that we would have a little wiggle room if we wanted to slightly extend a stay, or – more realistically in South America – if we somehow lost a day due to travel complications. [Note: When traveling in South America, sometimes things do happen – there are strikes, routes get cancelled, roads close, etc. You should probably try to have at least some time built in as a buffer, and also go in with the mindset that you need to be flexible and things may shift slightly.] We felt very fortunate in that we did not face any significant travel complications – no missed or cancelled buses or flights (just some slight delays). [#WinningInSouthAmerica]  Below is the itinerary of what we actually did; our initial itinerary going into the trip had one extra stop scheduled that we decided not to do when we got down there – again, be flexible and open to some slight shifting here and there based on your energy level to travel, what you hear from others is worth/not worth seeing, and any unforeseeable hurdles along the way.

peru itinerary

peru itinerary

Could we have squeezed in another place or two? Possibly. Could we have done the same trip in a shorter amount of time? Maybe we could have seen the same places in 11-12 days versus 14, though it would have felt rushed. Could we have spent more time in certain places? Absolutely – we could have stayed another day or more in a couple of different cities. However in the end, we felt like we really got a nice feel for most of the places we visited, and that we got the highlights in those places. Obviously there were restaurants, tours, and sights that we had to miss out on, but I don’t think we regretted anything that we did. We didn’t feel like we wasted any of our days, and we didn’t feel like we went to any places that weren’t worth the trip.  So the traveling was about right for us with the above route and above itinerary.



Probably wouldn’t recommend traveling via carriage…





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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Advice, Budget/$$, Food, Projects/Activities, Uncategorized


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