Hola! It’s been a while! For the past 2 weeks, we were on vacation in Peru and Canada, so there was a lack of activity here on the blog. I had intended to schedule a few more posts while I was gone, but those plans didn’t exactly come to fruition. Anyway, I figured I’d do a little recap of our Peru trip.
My family didn’t really go on vacations when I was young. It was a combination of finances and preferences: my parents didn’t take vacations when they were growing up, except to visit family, so they never got into the habit. Now that we “kids” are a bit older, though, and have the inclination to travel, the parents are perfectly happy to tag along, as long as we do the majority of organizing.
Peru has been on my bucket list for a while! Firstly, I’m obsessed with llamas and alpacas – they’re so cute! Secondly, I’d recently read The Lost City of Z, so I wanted to see some of these ancient ruins, i.e. Machu Picchu.
After doing some research, my cousin and I found that it was hard to get around on your own in Peru, in terms of driving, language, and logistics. In other trips to well-known touristy places like Europe, we’ve done it on our own, but for this trip, we decided to book a guided tour. We booked a group tour through Adventure Life, which is a well-respected company that uses local guides. Since there were 5 of us, it ended up being a private tour (costing $800/person). I think it was worth it in terms of peace of mind, not having to worry about and plan the itinerary, and the guide’s explanations of the history and background of the places we visited.
Anyway, enough of the boring logistics stuff, and on to the pretty pictures!
After arriving in Cuzco and resting for a day (altitude sickness is real, my friends), we drove to the Sacred Valley. Along the way, we stopped at Awana Kancha farm, where we learned about llamas, alpacas, and vicunas. Did you know that they’re all related to the camel? We saw one animal spitting on a tourist, who promptly screamed and ran away.
The main attraction in Sacred Valley was the Ollantaytambo Ruins, which was a under-construction temple before it was abandoned. The Incas didn’t have wheel technology, so in order to transport the stone from a quarry on a nearby mountain, they had to roll everything on logs and create an elaborate system of ramps. Amazing!
The next day, we took the train to Machu Picchu. It was a very pretty train ride to the town of Aguas Calientes (“hot water”, named after some nearby hot springs), which is the closest town to Machu Picchu. From there, we took a bus ride up some harrowing mountain roads to Machu Picchu.
It started raining while we were there, but it was so beautiful in the rain. We got to see fog rising off the mountain, and rainbows. Plus a lot of other people were scared off by the rain, so it was less crowded.
The next day, we again headed up to Machu Picchu to do some hiking on Machu Picchu Mountain. At that altitude (8000′ = 2500 m), you definitely get short of breath. I’m not a very good hiker, so I was definitely huffing and puffing the whole time. That day was nice and sunny, so I’m very grateful to have seen Machu Picchu under two different weather conditions.
The town of Aguas Calientes wasn’t very pleasant, though. Most of the shops and restaurants were geared towards tourists and not good quality. We had some absolutely horrible food at one of the tourist trap restaurants. My Lonely Planet guide referred to it as a “wild west”.
The next day, we did a walking tour of Cusco. We visited a few places, the most memorable of which was Corichancha. This was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, and the residence of the emperor. When the Spanish came, they tore parts of it down and built a Catholic church on top of it. The Inca walls survived subsequent earthquakes better than the the newer walls, due to their superior construction techniques. I was amazed at the Inca stonework – so smooth and straight, without modern tools. How did they do it?
We also visited San Pedro market, which was crazy, in a good way. It was a real market, not one of those touristy markets selling random trinkets. There were veggies, meats, spices, flowers, and prepared foods. The meat was just plopped on the table, without refrigeration. The clientele was maybe 25% tourists and 75% locals. I think the locals were mix of city folk and people come down from the country to do their weekly shopping.
We also really enjoyed walking around the neighborhood of San Blas in Cusco, which was filled with little hipster shops. Think incense, organic, vintage-y type stuff. I randomly found a second-hand Coach purse for 30 USD, but resisted the temptation.
Finally, on our last day, we visited Lima on our own. This is the value of a tour guide really made a difference… First of all, the taxis don’t have meters, so you have to bargain the price before you get in. And I don’t know any Spanish beyond maybe Dora the Explorer 😉 Secondly, not knowing where to go and trying to tour around on our own wasn’t that fun (maybe we should’ve done more planning). For example, we visited the Bridge of Sighs, but couldn’t really understand the importance or history of it. Thirdly, we had a really hard time changing money. We had a 100 sol bill (30 USD), and all the shops refused to change with us even if we made a purchase.
I did pick up a couple of souvenirs 🙂 I tried to avoid useless trinkets and pick up things that were unique and useful. (Unique is probably a tough call now, though, as I feel like most products can be found anywhere in the world). Alpaca was the most popular tourist product, but it was hard to tell if the products were genuine or 100% alpaca.
- Alpaca scarf (50 USD): I got this from a fair-trade store, and it came with a tag with the maker’s name and town. I love the bright color scheme and the handwoven imperfections. It’s super heavy and dense feeling, different from my other scarves, so it’ll be a good addition to my collection of office sweaters/scarves.
- Alpaca gloves (5-15 USD each): Again related to cold temperatures in the office, I picked up 2 pairs of fingerless gloves for winter typing 😛 I also got a third pair of regular gloves, because the quality was amazing. After my knitting escapades, I feel like I can appreciate well-knit items.
- Coca chocolate: I bought this interesting dark chocolate with coca in it. Coca is the plant from which cocaine is made, but it only contains cocaine in trace amounts. Coca leaves are commonly used a stimulant Peru, and either chewed directly or made into tea.
- Alpaca toy: A gift for my little cousin, who cat-sat my cat while I was gone.
Overall, we had a great time! Here are some overall observations:
- Despite Peru not being a wealthy country, the environment was generally fairly clean. There was toilet paper in every bathroom I went to, which seems like a small thing, but counts for a lot to me 🙂 In other third-world countries I’ve visited, and there would be tons of trash on the side of the road, but I didn’t see that much in Peru, at least in the areas we visited. People were generally quite helpful and friendly.
- Our tour guide was a local man, and he definitely had pride in native Quechua culture and an anti-conquistador sentiment. This lent a certain flavor to his explanations. It was interesting hearing from him and understanding the typical feeling of residents, including his opinion on recent Venezuelan refugees.
- Domestic planes were quite consistently late. All of the Cuzco-Lima flights (~1 h duration) were themselves delayed by 1 h.
Have you ever been to or want to visit Peru? How do you handle language barriers while traveling?