02.04.2022-27.04.2022. Lima, Paracas, Huacachina, Nazca, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Puno, Titicaca, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu
It’s been exactly one month since we left Peru. Peru was everything great, kind of perfect combination of the best stuff we have experienced so far. It’s definitely on the very top of our list of the best places we have experienced. At first, we were a little disappointed that we could not drive to Peru from the north of Chile, since we got used to the freedom car traveling offers. We waited for a couple of days to see if the rumors of border opening would be true but they weren’t. We were not gonna miss Peru and seeing Machu Picchu so we decided to fly over. We read about a company called Peru Hop which, on one of the routes they’re offering, allows you to see many great places between Lima and Cusco. The good thing about the Peru Hop is that you have a flexibility of deciding how long you want to stay in a place. The ticket for this route costs about 200 US$ per person and you get to meet a lot of fellow travelers who are on the same mission of discovering Peru. First stop: Lima! Originally, we thought we’d spent only one day in Lima – thinking that it’s another big city that we probably won’t like that much. We were so wrong! After only a couple of hours spent in Lima we decided we wanted to stay at least another day and see more of it. It’s a beautiful city on the coast, with amazing food, great parks, vibrant neighborhoods, great street art and really really welcoming people; basically every single person we met was so super kind and nice.
Lima gave us also some of the best food ever! One of the highlights was eating “combinado” at the “Al Poke Pez,” a tiny place owned by a Netflix-famous chef that hosts guests in his kitchen. In Peru, I was forced to eat a lot of cilantro and I must say that after eating it for a month in almost everything I ordered, I could swallow it without cursing my life 🙂
Travel gives you these new perspectives; not only do you open your mind to new people and sights but also to new textures, taste, and ways of eating local food. And let me tell you, food in Peru was one of the best things one can experience, like seriously, it’s so so good. I learned that, besides ceviche, cuy (guinea pig) and alpaca meat, Peruvians are also crazy about eating soup. I tried only “crema de quinoa” (and didn’t like it really much) because most other soups are cooked with meat. No cuy for any of us though. Besides the best ceviche one could have, I really liked chaufa (fried rice; veggie and vegan options available) and I plan on making it very often once we’re back home. The only thing I didn’t really like was Inca Kola – that drink is incredibly sweet and has bubblegum flawor; I have no idea why Peruvians love it so much (but I heard they really like sweet stuff). And then fruits and veggies… so many kinds that I’ve never tried nor seen before in my life. Peruvian markets are probably the best spot to discover and try fruit, veggies, and some local food, plus they’re like live theater; one can observe local way of life, see and buy amazing crafts, spices and many other produce, listen to live music and simply enjoy a very good and cheap meal (we ate very tasty food for 1€50). Well, pictures will tell you more about Peruvian food:
Did you suddenly get hungry? Yeah, me too but I gotta stop thinking about Peruvian food ‘cos there is so much more to say. After Lima we went to Paracas, a small coastal village some 4 hours south of Lima. Some of the Paracas highlights were: 1. great food again 2. buggy rides through the National Reserve and 3. a visit to Islas Ballestas. OK, all I will say about the point 1 is that I had the best ceviche in a small restaurant which is actually a room of a family home and can receive max 6 people at the same time. 2. Buggy rides? OMG, that was an adventure! Jorge and I try to support small business and local people whenever we can, so instead of booking the buggy ride trip with one of the famous tour operators, we booked ours with a cute couple selling tours. They were so kind to us that we couldn’t resist. At the end we did not regret leaving our money with them because they’re young and honest people trying to make a living but the buggy they rented to us was like the worst one in the entire Reserve. We just laughed when we pushed the gas to the bottom and the rest of the buggy crew still left us far behind in their dust. On the way back our buggy had a flat tire and we had to leave it in the middle of the desert but we still laughed about it and had an amazing adventure and we still went back to the same couple and booked another tour with them to Islas Ballestas.
3. Islas Ballestas are also known as “Poor man’s Galapagos”. One cannot walk on the island since it is a preserved area for many birds, seals and other animals that live there. The clear, perfectly blue waters, rock formations and wildlife are beautiful to see from the boat and it’s definitely a “must do” when in Paracas.
After Paracas we hopped on the bus again, this time to explore Huacachina, the only natural desert oasis in South America. Huacachina is a tiny village surrounded by the sand dunes and it provides sooo much fun. We booked our adventure buggy ride through the dunes as soon as we arrived and what an adventure that was. You know that feeling when you’re on the roller-coaster going up and then you know that, inevitably, you will go down in a great speed? That’s exactly what riding on those sand buggies in Huacachina is, a really unforgettable feeling and experience. Once we got to the top of one of many dunes, we went down sandboarding, laying down, and that was another great thrill. And then… the sunset over the dunes… that was definitely “I love my life” moment.
The next day we joined the Per Hop crew (and a crazy guide Chris) to an early Pisco tour (I mean, why are these booze tours always happening in the morning ???) Sure enough, it was the funniest wine/booze tour we’ve ever had and we met some really nice people on this tour. By noon I was dancing macarena on the bus with the tour guide and later on we ended up in a bar having more pisco with our new, tipsy, pisco tour friends. Still tipsy, we decided to climb the dunes for another unforgettable and romantic sunset to say goodbye to this little oasis of fun. And then the next day… Off to the next stop, Arequipa! But first… a 13 hour long bus ride with a stop at Nazca lines. It’s so incredible to see with your own eyes the stuff you once watched on National Geographic. The lines were created thousands of years ago and to this day no one is sure what exactly their purpose was, but the fact they stand untouched (except for that part where they built the road right in the middle of one of these) is incredible on its own. More we discovered about Peru, more impressed we were with its majestic and mystic history and culture.
Arequipa was a great surprise, in the best way possible. Besides it being a good stop to acclimatize to the altitudes that were waiting for us, it is a beautiful city, sometimes referred to as “the white city” – reference to the white stone the city is built with. Visiting the Arequipa markets and trying new fruit and smoothies, watching the life happening and strolling the busy streets was a great experience. Meeting the friends from Huacachina (@Robin, we can’t wait to have more beers and conversations with you!) was another highlight but then going to the Colca Canyon was definitely one of the most amazing experiences ever. Some 4 hours drive up towards volcanoes surrounding Arequipa gives breathtaking views, selfies with llamas, alpacas and vicuñas and an experience of breathing (the lack of) air on nearly 5000m. All that happens before actually getting to see the valley, the canyon and the majestic condors flying over it. We definitely want to go back there and hike for at least 2 weeks through these crazy beautiful mountains.
Puno, the high altitude city (3800m) placed on the Peruvian side of lake Titicaca was our next stop. We were a tiny bit worried about staying for a couple of days on such a high altitude but we did receive loads of local tips on how to deal with altitude (basically, chew coca leaves and drink plenty of water and don’t go running like Jorge did) so we knew it would be OK. Puno is nice but nothing too impressive; Titicaca lake, however, what used to be just another National Geographic documentary I saw, was absolutely beautiful. We went to see the floating islands of Uros and took the traditional floating boat to go around islands. To say that it is a very interesting place, it’s an understatement. People that live there float their entire lives (some of islands are anchored, otherwise they would end u in Bolivia overnight LOL), their clothes are very colorful, the architecture incredible.
Nowadays they live off tourism so visiting Uros is a bit of a tourist trap since you end up wanting to buy many things there, but nevertheless, it is a great experience. The floating boat is pushed by a small boat with engine, operated by 8-10 years old kids which all “work” – whether singing for tourist or pushing boats. Our little boat’s engine stopped working at some point and we had to rely on those kids to know what the hell they’re actually dong before we end up floating to Bolivia ourselves but luckily they did figure it out quickly and pushed us to the place we needed to be.
In Peru, everything was an adventure. Whenever things didn’t work, they somehow ended up working just fine and we were quite relaxed and felt very safe. Titicaca was our last stop before heading to Cusco and Machu Picchu. There were some issues on the road, due to protests and road blockages but we were very lucky and never had a problem getting to places. We had to adjust our travel dates but other than that there were zero complications. So… Cusco! OMG!
Cusco lies on 3400m altitude but by the time we got there we already acclimatized pretty well, being on higher altitudes than that many times. Cusco is everything good you read about and more. A guy from Lima told us that one “feels a special vibe” there and he was really right. I don’t know if it’s just the excitement of being there and reading about its history (you know, it was the center of the Inca empire), or the mere expectation of going to Machu Picchu from there or the vibrant colors and the laid-back vibe and smiling tourists and locals… whatever it is, it’s amazing and we felt great strolling the streets, barrios, going to view points and eating great food. We met Robin in Cusco again, got pretty pissed with him (you know, he’s German and can stand his beer well) in the “highest Irish pub in the world.” And then the time has come… Machu Picchu! To climb to Machu Picchu, one has to get to a small town called Aguas Calientes. To get there, you take (a very expensive) train that takes you through the beautiful Sacred Valley, it’s worth the money for the train ticket! Loads of Facebookians said this town is not really nice and not worth staying in but we totally disagree. It’s surrounded by mountains, has 15 soles (less than 5 euros) 3-course menus, termal waters, friendly people, cheap and nice hotels and if we knew it we knew all that we would have stayed another night.
The day after our arrival to Aguas Calientes, we woke up at 4 am to start our climb to Machu Picchu. We walked through the dark and foggy valley but by the time we got to the first of 1600 stairs that would take us to the MP, the weather cleared out and the daylight followed. We walked with Stephan from Germany and Raj from Australia, two cool guys we met in the hotel. I knew that going up 1600 stairs would be tough and it was (for me, Jorge went up like a wind – regularly jogging obviously DOES make a difference!) but it was really really worth it. We met our guide at the entrance to MP around 7am. Up there, it was at first super cloudy and we couldn’t see a thing of MP. Our guide said we would wait for the weather to clear out and luckily it really did. While clouds added another level of mystery to this already mysterious site, once they moved, they revealed what is, indeed, one of the most beautiful world wonders.
MP was a cherry on the delicious Peru cake. We left Peru with so many great experiences and fun moments behind us and flew back to Chile to get our car. It was one of the most beautiful flights I’ve had, window seat all the way on this one, please!!!
We got to San Pedro de Atacama, our little car was working perfectly fine and our noses started bleeding again from the dry desert air. The weather has changed a lot in a month, it was freezing at night over there. Peru was quite intense and packed so we decided to take it easy in San Pedro this time, watch sunset, cook food and read books waiting for borders to open. On May 1st, the first day the northern borders between Chile and Argentina opened we hit the 2400km long way that led us back to Brazil where we said goodbye to Sr. Cabron Porsupuesto. We are now putting into action our new adventure called Central America!