Peru Travel Tricks and Tips: Part 2 (Puno, Ica & Lima)

Peru Travel Tricks and Tips: Part 2 (Puno, Ica & Lima)

If you’re thinking about Peru travel, start here with Part 1 to learn general tips or a suggested itinerary for things to do near Cusco.  Here’s a continuation of our itinerary, through Puno, Ica and Lima. Day 8. Lake Titicaca and Puno. Ideally, we wanted to do a 2-day Lake Titicaca tour which included a homestay on Amanti Island which was a better deal (two-day tour, three meals and accommodation for 75 sol… we paid 40 sol just for the day tour/ transportation and had to purchase lunch separately) but it wouldn’t get us back in time to make the bus to Ica. Instead, we booked the one-day, two-island tour through our Qoni Wasi hostel. We first went to Uros, the small man-made floating bamboo islands. When we first pulled up to an island smaller than my house, we weren’t sure how we would spend an hour there… it only had three huts and maybe five people living there. But the time passed quickly, as we learned how about how they built the island, how they find food and how the educational system works. What a fascinating way to live… and I guess family squabbles are pretty easy to resolve… they cut the island in two and anchor their half somewhere else! The next stop on our boat tour was the natural island of Taquile, to see a completely different lifestyle and, fortunately for us, completely different weather (sunny skies!).  Here, the island was large to support brick and concrete buildings, farms, animals and all things needed for a fairly modern life.  Although life looked a lot more “typical” on Taquile, they still had unique governance and dress that made it interesting to visit.  Unmarried men wore plain white hats whereas married men wore flashy rainbow colored ones… before they could get married, they had to knit this hat themselves.  Having a “pre-marriage challenge” like this one, probably gives you some idea of what a peaceful people they are… they also have a town council where they manage village decision-making safety and such without a police force. After our tour of the islands, we headed back to Puno, where the skies had turned stormy again.  As one of the poorest cities we visited so far, there wasn’t too much we wanted to do in the city itself but we did check out the Plaza del Armas and the shops and restaurants around the adjoining Jiron Lima street (the main pedestrian path in town).  Puno’s proximity to the highlands and Alpacas make this one of the best places in the country to find cheap, homemade textiles.  I rarely buy anything when I travel but I couldn’t resist thick knitted gloves (10 sol), wooly leg warmers (10 sol) and a warm, knitted poncho with llamas marching around the perimeter (30 sol). We also had an incredible three course meal (including beverages) for 18 sol at Lago de Flores restaurant- taquitos with homemade guacamole, Jimmy tried alpaca and indulgent chocolate cake for dessert.  It seemed to have won the locals over too because we basically shared the restaurant with a dozen Puno security officers who were happily stuffing their faces. Day 9.  Epic Bus Ride from Puno to Ica.  Our 9th day involved an epic bus journey from Puno to Ica, which you could potentially avoid with a flight.  It was easier to find nice, direct, comfortable night buses to Arequipa (we were pleased with Peru Bus) but options to Ica were more limited.  After arriving at the Arequipa terminal, bleary-eyed at 4 AM, Jimmy picked out Flores bus (the option the locals use) to get to Ica.  In general, we had been advised to splurge on reputable buses since some buses can get held up by thieves who want to hold the bus hostage steal things.  In order to board the Flores bus, we had to get fingerprinted and videotaped and we squeezed into seats as far away from the smelly toilet as possible.  The bus made stops along the way and random townspeople would board and walk down the aisle selling pears, meat pies, popcorn, jello, fruit popsicles and small sandwiches.  They’d join us for a stop or two, until the driver dropped them off in the middle of nowhere.  In addition to the excitement of seeing who was going to hop on the bus, the scenery also helped entertain us for the 12-hour ride.  Most of the route followed the coast, so we loved to peer out the window at abandoned beaches and wild, untamed coast.  We also knew Ica was famous for its desert but we didn’t expect our whole route to be sandy hills and dusty roads. Day...

Peru Travel Tips And Tricks Part 1: Cusco Area

Peru Travel Tips And Tricks Part 1: Cusco Area

Between having a dissertation to finish in the next month and a half, jobs to apply for and a million other things to do and only one hand to type with, I won’t be able to write as much about my trip to Peru as I would like to. Peru is a colorful, spirited and incredibly diverse country. In two weeks, we visited desert, beach, cloud forest and islands on the highest-altitude lake in the world.   If we had more time, we could visit the jungle, more beaches up north and/ or the Colca canyon, famous for its Condors. Peru is also an incredible bargain when it comes to tours, food and accommodation (especially outside of Cusco… anything related to Machu Picchu will be more expensive). Peruvians are quieter and more reserved than I expected from people of South America, but still warm and friendly. Huffington Post recently published an article where Peru placed 9 on their list of 15 top countries to visit in 2015, claiming the country will reach levels of culinary excellence akin to Thailand or France (I’m not sure what the French would say about that). Peru is still developing so especially in cities like Puno, most restaurants appear a bit dingy, potentially unclean, causal mom-and-pop operations and it took my brother and I a little while to warm up to the chicken and rice- based diet (especially since he got sick early on). But toward the end, we began to appreciate the fresh seafood, zesty dishes with an incredible flavor without being drowned in spice. It’s not the healthiest food but quite satisfying, especially when paired with an energizing, citrusy Pisco Sour or, my brother’s new addiction, the radioactive yellow Inca Cola. At the very least, I thought I’d share the two-week itinerary for the trip my brother and I just completed and non-trivial Peru travel tips and tricks we learned along the way. First, if you are planning your own trip to Peru, wait to book most of your tours until you arrive in the country. If you plan to trek the Inca Trail, securing a permit will need to be done months in advance (unless you go in the rainy season like we did, but I don’t know if I’d recommend that). You’re better off waiting for everything else (for example, tours of Lake Titicaca, bus transfers from Cusco to Puno, desert fun in Huachachina/ Paracas) since there’s a million tourist companies everywhere and prices will be three times cheaper booked in person, instead of online. Furthermore, tour companies have basically synched what they offer so you could pay a little more for a faster boat or a smaller group but basically all the tours follow the exact same schedule and take you to the same places. In almost every country I travel these days, I usually just withdraw money from the ATM (I have a Charles Schwab Checking Account with no foreign transaction fees) but Peruvian ATMs charges 12-14 sols for each withdrawal (~3 sol= $1 USD) so you might be better off bringing cash to exchange. Peru also has incredibly varied weather that can change quickly so when they tell you to dress in layers, they aren’t kidding. We went in mid/late January so it was hot, sunny and dry in Lima, Paracas and Ica, and the strong sun made sun protection important. In Cusco and Puno, it was the rainy season and weather could change from blue skies and hot (because of the high altitude, the sun is also very strong here, even if it feels cooler) to cold and rainy in the blink of an eye. In general, it’s not worth trying to look pretty in these cities- everyone is in hiking boots, wearing practical layers and a backpack with rain gear and sun protection. Day 1: Cusco. Everyone recommends that visitors to Machu Picchu spend a day or two tin Cusco to acclimate to the high altitude (3300 m above sea level) and explore the “center/naval” of the ancient Incan empire. We took altitude pills prior to arrival so we had no major problems with nausea and lightheadedness but we did notice getting winded really easily. Mint tea, coca leaves and rude water are local remedies that can help if you don’t have pills (I read somewhere that smelling lime or your armpits also helps haha. It’s a rather small, incredibly historic city with gorgeous nature and fresh air easily accessible beyond city limits. We arrived around 11 AM, walked around the main plazas (Plaza de Armas) and cathedral in the city center and headed up the hill to the Sacsayhuaman ruins,...

What I learned from being carried off the Inca Trail on a stretcher

What I learned from being carried off the Inca Trail on a stretcher

The Machu Picchu has been on my bucket list for years and I was convinced the Inca Trail was the only way to get there. Often, anticipating arrival is the best part of seeing these World Wonders and I wanted to approach these famous ruins the same way the Incas did… I wanted to be weary from walking through the cloud forest for days and I wanted to work for the view… not just descend from an air-conditioned train like the rest of the tourists. The first couple days were perfect. Our trek departed from Cusco on January 21st, just a few days before they closed the trail for the month of February which is the height of the rainy season. We had read blogs about hikers who had to navigate trails that had become rivers and who were soaked to the bone for the four-day journey. So we bought waterproof pants and shoes, placed all of our belongings in multiple layers of plastic bags and mentally prepared ourselves for grey, damp days. Fortunately, months of preparatory sun dances had paid off and we barely had to deal with any of that. The first day, the sun illuminated our path, warmed our shoulders and lifted our spirits, seemingly a good omen for a successful journey. Our group was great- a total of eight people, all between the ages of 23-28. Three Irish gals kept everyone giggling with their silly slang, jokes about hooking up with the chef and “wasting” their camera batteries on pictures of donkeys and puppies. There was a Parisian man who kept my brother company and made sure we “enjoyed ze life on ze trail” by tempting everyone with post-trek beers and eventually, a bottle of rum. Two girls from the Netherlands originally rallied the group with brave words about being the first to summit and quickly changed their opinions to “everyone who makes it is a winner”. Our guide, Juan Carlos, stopped us fairly regularly to explain the medicinal powers of “mentcha” (good for the altitude and good for digestion!), hallucinogenic properties of moon flowers and mushrooms (“one bit and you’ll be flying to Machu Picchu in no time”) and the ruins we encountered along the way (Machu Picchu may be the grand finale but there’s plenty of Incan remnants throughout). In general, day one of the Ina trail has earned the reputation of an informative walk in the woods and we found there was nothing challenging about it. On the other hand, day 2 was infamous: 6-7 hours of trekking which included climbing 1000 meters to the summit (4215 meters above sea level) and descending down the coldest part of the trail for a couple hours. Day 2 was when you left civilization and no longer encountered little villages with people selling quinoa energy bars, ponchos and Inca Cola. After day 2, there was no turning back. But, on the positive side, after day 2, it was all downhill (literally, for the most part)- day 3 was a long day of gentle slopes and cultural knowledge then day 4 would be an early wake-up and a two-hour walk to the Sun Gate. The altitude and misty weather made Day 2 challenging but the congenial encouragement shared amongst the group helped everyone conquer the mountain hours earlier than expected. Just as the camping tents became visible and the smell of lunch filled the air, I squinted to check where site 10 might be, thinking, “I am so tired of tip toeing down these slippery rocks”. As soon as my eyes left my feet, I felt myself catapulted through the air about to face plant in the small stream right next to the path. I caught myself in a push-up but then my hand slipped on another rock and all of a sudden, my ear was resting on the bank of the small stream. The Irish gals shouted from behind, “Katie, why are you lying down? We’re just a few meters from camp!”. I dusted myself off and joined them for the final stretch, nervous to investigate the arm hanging limply and uselessly by my side. When I peeled off my glove, I saw that my displaced wrist made my arm look like a lightening bolt and trying to lift my forearm closer to my face was nearly impossible. One of the girls from Holland was a doctor and when she finished her hike, she confirmed what I knew but tried to deny, “this bone is definitely broken. I don’t like this shape. She needs someone to fix the bone as soon as possible”. I murmured, “can’t we wrap it and...