1 Month in Peru

It's been just over a month since my flight took off from New York to Lima and I have put a lot of ground behind me.  Below are some snapshots of what's been going on so far.

I arrived on a chilly Wednesday evening in Lima with an all too familiar feeling of not knowing whether to wear a jacket or t-shirt.  Below the equator and I am still basically in San Francisco. No,no, no, I’m starting off all positive; no negativity allowed.  Lima was an interesting city and I plan on making it back in a couple of weeks to see more of it.  The first stop on the trip and only spending two days there meant that I had to get the essentials out of the way: Peruvian phone, money, replacement tent that the airline lost, and my favorite essential food.

Lima is big, developed, has many different neighborhoods, and is on the ocean.  We stayed in an upscale neighborhood named Miraflores which was a bit inland and bordered a park with a familiar name: John F Kennedy Park.  After finishing the first time extended traveller checklist, Ryan and I headed to the central market for lunch.  For anyone reading that doesn't know Ryan, he is my best friend I grew  up with.  The central market was pretty quiet as we went in the late afternoon, but the seafood, fruit, and vegetable dealers were all still hard at work. We sat at a counter for what would be my first of many ceviches.  This was no average ceviche.  It was huge, served with seafood paella and fried fish for around S20.  Not only was the price right, but the fish was fresh and melted in my mouth with a zing from the curing lime and a crunch from the sweet onion.

Between the central market seafood, and the mom and pop restaurants bordering the park that had menu del dìas for S7, Peru was off to a good start.  Menu del Dìas are multi-course menus and are all around Peru. The ones in Lima that I frequented usually included ceviche or soup, a main course with chicken or beef, and a refresco.  No I certainly wasn't in San Francisco anymore.  One other place we visited along the way was a craft brewery tasting room called BarBarian.  The craft beer scene in Peru is rather large and trying them has been added to my very busy to-do list.  Lima was a two day success with a return trip planned.  Next up was my first bus ride experience to Paracas.

After a pleasant trip down the coast on a bus that could be compared to a Greyhound, we arrived at the beach front city of Paracas.  Paracas is a small town that borders Paracas national park, the ocean, and what I heard referred to as Peru’s Galapagos: Islas Ballestas.  We stayed in an Ocean front hostel called Kokopelli which was very social and a bit loud at night but very fun.  There were no real restaurants to name that stood out in Paracas, but again an ocean front fishing town meant one thing in abundance: ceviche.  I think I totaled four ceviches in two days of being in Paracas.

All in all the food was okay, but the real draw to Paracas was the National Park and the Islas. Imagine the Southwestern desert of the United States (Utah, Arizona, and Nevada) pressed against the ocean and you have Paracas. We had the option to take a guided tour or to rent a bicycle for a few dollars to ride 20km through the park.  I of course opted to earn my scenery and decided the bicycles were the way to go.  We rode all morning over desolate sand dunes and stopped for lunch at a local fishing village.  The seagulls were bigger than dogs and encircled the fisherman as they brought in their catches.  Our decision of the afternoon was whether to eat at one of the three tourist targeted restaurants, or eat down by the dock in a wooden shack with the fisherman. This was a no brainer and we joined the fisherman for a nice lunch of fish soup, rice, fish, and salad.  After lunch we peddled on to find a red sand beach and continued our journey up and down compacted dunes.

The following morning we took a boat ride to see the Islas Ballestas which resulted in good pictures and nice animal sightings. The fishing boats lined the water, birds and sea lions were abundant, and I saw my first wild penguins.  We decided to skip the Nazca lines after seeing a mountainside glif and hearing  reviews  from other travellers.  The islas were worth the 2+ hour excursion by boat and S40.

With the two main attractions completed we arranged a shuttle for the hour and a half ride inland to the desert.

Many people do Paracas as a day trip from the larger inland town of Ica.  Not being on a schedule we took our time and did it in reverse.  Huacachina is a desert oasis that borders the large town of Ica.  I didn't find that Ica had much to offer, other than a good menu with lentils, but Huacachina had plenty of activities for a day or two. Roaring dune buggies straight out of Mad Max flew down the streets and shot up the mountain high sand dunes that encircled the watering hole.  It was surreal to see people taking rides on these machines and sand boarders cruising down the dunes.  I would of course do both and will leave you with a piece of advice. Sit or lie on the sand boards as advised and don´t try to be like the locals who use actual snowboards.  

Huacachina check.  Next up was my first overnight bus ride to Arequipa.

A city of beauty to put it simply.  Arequipa had a very European feel with its Spanish architecture, churches, and cobblestone streets.  As a bonus to the manmade beauty, Mount Misty, an active volcano in a string of mountains stood tall behind the Plaza de Armas.  Most of the cities in Peru have a central plaza, or Plaza de Armas.  Arequipa´s was especially pleasing to the eye and we ended up spending about four days here.  It was prettier and cleaner than Lima, and the cars would yield every now and then to let you cross the street.  Our hostel was about a block off of the Plaza through a simple wooden door hidden amongst the many shops and restaurants.  Between Lima, Paracas, and Huacachina, Mercaderes Backpackers was my favorite hostel that we stayed at.  It was basic accomodations, as usual, but it had a rooftop lounge area and bar where people hung out, listened to music, and discussed their different backgrounds that brought them to that point in time.

As I praise the architecture and beauty of the city there was something else that kept me fascinated and idle for a full four days: the food.  The central market was spectacular with women making fresh ceviches, hand carved sandwiches, chicken, fruit juices and some new items to add to my favorites list. Two foods that are a must have in Arequipa, other than ceviche of course, are rocoto relleno (stuffed pepper) and pastel de papas (potato and cheese pie).  I have never been a big fan of stuffed peppers but holy cow. The slight spiceyness of the pepper mixed with sweet raisons, meat, and cheese had me calling my first counter chef mi amor.  I went to the market every day for lunch and got a stuffed pepper with ceviche, and mixed it up between pollo con arroz and the pastel de papas. I almost forgot to mention that this quantity of food was between S8.00-S12.00, or $2.50-$3.00. Yes, at this rate of consumption I would put on an astronmical amount of weight.  To stay balanced, in my terms, I would only have one such meal of this magnitude a day.  

Every morning, or every other morning, I would go to the market to pick up fresh fruit for breakfast and for snacks.  I was going to the market twice a day, but the habit of having fruit on hand and going to the markets around Peru has stuck (it was also unnessecary to go twice, but I loved it there).  The fruit in Peru is amazing and it makes eating healthy, saving money, and trying new fruits only found in Peru easy.  The staples were always there and were cheap: bananas (platano), oranges (naranja), and of course at least an avocado (palta) a day.  Since I developed this habit many new fruits are now a staple in my diet.  Chirimoyas are a white soft fleshed sweet fruit, Granadilla a passion fruit, and maracuya a sour passion fruit are on the menu at least a few days a week.   

In addition to exploring the city alone, we also did a free walking tour which was a great way to learn some history, learn about llamas and alpacas, and of course get a free lesson in how to make a Pisco Sour.  Outside of Arequipa there are several treks you can embark on. Most travellers I came across had Colca Canyon and Mount Misty on their list.  Colca Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the world, but I had to pass on the trek.  We had plans to get to Machu Picchu on my birthday and wanted to make sure we had time to acclimatize.  Alas, we said farewell to Arequipa on another overnight bus ride to the city of backpackers: Cuzco.

Pulling into Cuzco after a long night of switchbacks up to near 3,000m was a welcome event.  This post was written from Cuzco which will make it near a month speant near or around this region. I say near or around, because only about a week and a half of time was spent in Cuzco proper.  Cuzco is another beautiful city that maintains its Incan heritage combined with colonial Spanish Influence. It is not quite as scenic as Arequipa, but the many mountains, traditional dress, plazas, churches, cobblestone streets, restaurants, ruins, and of course access to amazing hikes make it a wonderful city I enjoyed spending an extended amount of time in.  Up in Cuszo the cuisine changed a bit from the coastal cities.  No longer was I eating ceviche; instead, on menus quinoa, beef, alpaca, chicken, cuy, and of course POTATOES became the norm.  If you haven´t seen the word cuy it is quechua (the indigenous language) for guinea pig.  I ate plenty of S5 menus that had potato, lentil, and quinoa soups with the traditional chicken mains.

My first few days in Cuzco were filled with meeting travelers, doing walking tours, going to San Pedro Market (the local produce areas on the neighboring streets were cheaper) and of course getting ready for my true passion: trekking.  There are ruins and activities to see in the city like Sacsayhuaman, the giant 150 ton stones arranged on the hilltop, but our first adventure out of Cuzco was to Salinas del Maras (the Maras Salt Flats).  We took a local bus to Urubumbu and hitched a collectivo (shared van) from there.  Maras salt flats were not like any I had ever scene and were carved straight into the side of the mountain.  We ventured up the back side in the beating sun away from the tour groups and walked along narrow ledges between the flats.

There are countless tours being offered and pushed on you around Cuzco, but there was one we wanted to do before heading off on our trek to Machu Picchu: Rainbow Mountain.  Our day to Rainbow Mountain began at 3:30 AM and included a 4+ hour van ride.  After breakfast at a local lodge consisting of the usual bread with jam and butter (I of course had my avocado, orange, and banana), we began our walk to the Rainbow Mountain lookout.  I should have done more research, but it was a good thing we adjusted to altitude in Cuzco for a few days before heading on this walk. Rainbow Mountain is near 5200m and I definitely felt it.  As I slowly huffed and puffed up the 2 hour walk in my full trekking outfit and down jacket, locals ran passed me in traditional outfits complete with sandals made from tires.  They pulled horses giving rides to those who couldn´t complete the walk and would sprint to the bottom to repeat as soon as they dropped off their cargo.  It was a real confidence booster.

Rainbow mountain was a great day trip, but I was ready to start the Saltkantay: a 4 day/3 night trek to none other than Machu Picchu.  An alternative to the Inca Trail, the Saltkantay Trek was supposed to be less traveled, and you did not need a permit as is the case with the Inca Trail.  Believe it or not, Saltkantay was my first big multi-day camping adventure.  Prepared to the best of my ability with a 25kg pack my friend Ryan, two other friends we met along the way, and I set off in a collectivo (shared van) to the trail head in the city of Soraypampa.

Day 1: After the usual argument with the driver who tried to charge us more than we agreed to, day one began with a hike up to Humantay lake.  Around an hour and a half uphill, the lake sat at the base of the peaks and was beautiful, with a cool chill blowing over the blue water.  We thought this was going to be our campsite for the evening, but a ranger told us that 2 months prior they closed the lake for camping and we would have to find a new site.  With all of our gear which we could have left at the bottom we weren't too happy, but descended down to a campsite near the beginning of the next morning's ascent to Abre Saltkantay.  The stars were beautiful on our first night without the city lights and the mountain peaks in the background.  The only sounds were from the many horses and donkeys, and the wind blowing over the tent.

Day 2: With a bit of a late morning start in hiking terms, we had a large breakfast and began the ascent straight up.  During the trek we had glamping style breakfasts which consisted of oats, dried apricots or raisins, peanut butter, cinnamon, and a side of Cocoa tea.  We would need the energy and actually skipped lunch every day except one.   Of course the rain set in when we started, but we continued our walk up.  After a few breaks and conversations with locals, Quechua lessons, and a lot of sweat we reached the cloudy and cold Saltkantay pass.  We stayed at the top to let everyone regroup and began our descent quickly after a picture.  The pass as can be assumed was very cold, the rain started in harder, and we had another three to four hours of hiking before we would reach our campsite.  The descent down was over mixed rocky terrain and small streams.  We walked through small dilapidated towns that had houses with straw roofs and make shift stone walls as we made our way to where we thought we would be camping. When we arrived a local man let us know in Spanish, luckily he spoke Spanish, that there was no water.  We made the decision to continue on to where most of the big tour groups would be camping, Chilluay, but had to finish at night.  It's always an adventure!  Chilluay wasn't my favorite campsite, but carrying a pack and walking 15+km up and down a mountain helped me fall asleep quickly to the sound of the toured groups clapping and eating their prepared meals.

Day 3: What we were told was going to be an easy day ended up being very challenging, but had a great payoff.  We set off after our usual breakfast, and had planned to stop at hot springs which we read overlooked the river in the canyon. When we arrived at the town closest to the hot springs we found out that they had been destroyed in a landslide the previous rainy season.  As we continued our descent down into a more jungle terrain of green trees and waterfalls, it began to intermittently rain and the temperature outside increased.  The trail consistently ascended and descended in altitude until we stopped for lunch at a campsite that sat on a grenadilla farm.  This was our only lunch day and we made avocado and tuna sandwiches with sweet grenadillas pulled right from the farm.  As we ate, dogs encircled us and patiently waited for any scraps that we threw their way.

We continued on similar terrain after lunch and stopped for a coffee break around 3:00pm before what the map showed was a 1000m ascent over 10km. Exhausted and wet we discussed whether to hike up to Llacatapa which overlooked Machu Picchu or to camp at the base of the mountain in the coffee farm region.  I pushed to make the ascent as the view was supposed to be incredible, and it would make our next day to Aguascalientes easier.  We came to agreement and started the hike up as the sun slightly began to lower in the sky. When we arrived in the coffee region which married up with a section of the Inca Trail, a young woman came out to talk to us and I paused on broken stone steps. She had manual coffee production equipment and explained the coffee making process to us while giving us beans to chew and espresso to try.  As I sipped my espresso, sweat dripped down my forehead and I swatted away mosquitos while the sun continued to lower in the sky.  Of course, I bought a bag of coffee and with one coffee, two espressos, and several chewed beans in my system I couldn't have been more excited to climb to the mirrador Llacatapa.

The climb went fast as I had enough caffeine in me to make the hours fly by, but as the sun completely set and darkness fell a hard rain soaked our sweat soaked clothes and the trail began to muddy. At around 7:30pm we made it to the mirrador and decided to walk passed to Llacatapa lodge to camp.  The man and woman who ran the lodge agreed to let us camp in an open walled patipn of the lodge to escape the rain.  We dropped our bags and set up tents on red concrete floors and enormous moths swooped in and out of the lodge as Ryan and I began to make dinner.  We hung our wet clothes, ate, and immediately passed out after thousands of meters of elevation change and near 25km walking.

Day 4: Finally the rain stopped as we woke up to stunning mountain vistas in the morning. Clouds crawled over the mountains and we stared in awe as we knew we had time to enjoy the sight with a short day ahead to Aguascalientes.  While we cooked breakfast we talked to the owner of the lodge and told him about the coffee we had bought the day before and were drinking.  He laughed and went to the kitchen to get his own blend.  His family owned a coffee farm and he poured us out espressos that he had made from beans roasted the day before.  The strong scent and taste were addicting.  As we packed up our gear and I filtered water I caught a glimpse of the woman of the house cleaning a giant bucket of trout.  I considered staying for lunch, but was ready to hike again after the multiple batches of espresso.

We set off down the mountain with our slightly damp belongings, but were happy that the rain was holding off.  The trail however was very muddy.  We crossed over a suspension bridge at the bottom of the mountain and passed Hydroelectrica where the train tracks to Aguascalientes/Machu Picchu began.  The walk along the train tracks was near two hours and was a change from the consistently changing elevation we faced in the days prior.  We camped near the base of Machu Picchu along the river.  Ryan and I had afternoon passes for the following day and our friends had morning passes which opened at 6:00am. 

Day 5: I awoke on our last day of the trek, which also happened to be my birthday, with the sun shining.  Finally I could dry out our gear and Ryan and I made our way into Aguascalientes to find a hostel for that evening.  At about 10:30 AM we set off for Machu Picchu and climbed the supposed hour long stairway to the top.  Without our packs we flew up the stone staircase in under 45 minutes and entered Machu Picchu as soon as our ticket allowed.

Machu Picchu was everything I thought it would be as an Incan ruins site. The endless terraces, stone walls, and Andean mountains were beautiful.  The thousands of people were a bit disappointing, but it is a popular place to go!  We spent all afternoon walking and relaxing on the terraces, and about 45 minutes before closing we made a dart for the Sun Gate, about 30 minutes up the mountain, to get a final view of the emptying attraction.  As the sun began to set, we walked back from the Sun Gate and the ruins sat empty as we took the long way to the exit.  The workers were thrilled when we finally left, but we had a full 6 hours at Machu Picchu and experienced it quiet without the tourists (other than us).  What a different place without all the noise.

After climbing the stairs down in the dark, we made a habit of hiking in the dark on this trek, we celebrated my birthday in Aguascalientes with Alpaca steaks and Pisco Sours at a restaurant called Mapacha before heading to bed.

Saltkantay and Machu Picchu were all that I hoped and we completed it on our own without guides and with great company.

Back in Cuzco
We spent the next week relaxing in Cuzco waiting for a friend to come to town. During this time I really got to explore the city and stayed at my favorite hostel this far: Colonial Backpackers House. The hostel had more South American backpackers rather than gringos and I took the opportunity to practice Spanish and learn about different sites and destinations in their home countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Chile.  Exploring the city also meant exploring the food, and I had some making up to do after Saltkantay.  After many menus with potato and quinoa soup and pollo con arroz, our friend from New York was set to arrive.  We came up with an idea to have a barbeque (asado) at the hostel and headed to the local market.  We picked up potatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, seasoning, Peruvian cheese, charcoal, and the main ingredient: 3kg of Lomo Alpaca.

The asado proved to be one of my favorite meals of the trip that was shared with friends.  We charred the alpaca and vegetables on the grilled and finished the potatoes with cheese and oregano.  We ate like kings and had several Cusquena beers to ensure proper digestion and a good night's rest for the Inca Jungle Trek we would begin in the morning.  The Inca jungle trek was a mixture of biking down hill, rafting the Urubambu river, and another visit to Machu Picchu.  I passed on the second Machu Picchu visit, but completed the trip and all the activites.

Choquequirao was our final trek from Cuzco as a home base.  A less excavated and less touristy ruins site due to the challenging hike to get there sounded right up our alley.  At a low altitude the heat and sand flies both were in abundance and challenging.  The first day hiking was a steep down hill on one side of a canyon from Capulliyoc to the river bed, and a 1000m ascent to end at Santa Rosa campsite. The views were stunning, but I found the hike to be more challenging than Saltkantay.

The second day was another 1000m up switchbacks filled with heat.  We arrived at Choqurquirao ruins by 12:00 pm and had lunch on one of the terraces with an eclectic group of travellers from Peru, the US, and Italy we met along the way. We explored the magnificent and quiet ruins all afternoon walking from one side of the mountain to the other.  The sites were pristine and the lack of people made me feel more like Indiana Jones than an average traveller.  At one point we sat with our feet dangling over the ledge of and two Andean Condors flew overhead.  Andean Condors are the largest flying birds in the world, and a Peruvian guide next to us jumped with excitement as he said this was a rare occasion and good omen.  After our tradition of watching the sun go down, we decided to bypass camping in the ruins and hiked back to Miramapta at night to camp with another set of friends we met along the way. 

We had an easy third day and only hiked across the river and about 13km to a campsite where we would relax in the afternoon to escape the blistering sun. There was no escaping the sand flies unfortunately.  I set up camp early and a pig was my only neighbor at the top of the campsite.  Had I known what was going to happen later that afternoon I would have had a longer conversation with the pig.  As I wrote and relaxed on the mountain side overlooking the river, I heard Ryan shout my name.  I went to where he was and the owners of the campsite had slaughtered the pig and were cleaning it!  As I have repeated, it is always an adventure.  After seeing that I enjoyed a nice pasta and vegetable dinner sin meat and played card games with some friendly locals who were also doing the trek.

The final day of the trek was all uphill, but we started hiking by 6:30AM.  The cool air was pleasant and the views were great, but hiking straight up is always difficult no matter how often I do it.  The end of the hike was the hardest with what seemed like never ending switchbacks. We hopped in a familiar van for our final van ride back from a Cuzco adventure.  The van rides were always long and my least favorite part. I would rate the adventure level of Choquequirao higher than Machu Picchu (not only because of the pig), and I very much enjoyed it.

With one month complete in Peru there is still more adventure to come before heading out of this great country.  Next up are the Amazon Rain Forest and the Huayhaush Circuit in the north before the beginning of rainy season.


  1. Wonderful travel log and photos...wore me out just reading about all your trekking etc...cant wait to read the next installment! Stay safe , have fun! Love, Aunt Shelli

  2. Mee-shell,

    Me hace bien feliz leyendo tus viajes, y que escapaste (bueno, por el momento..) tu vida normal.

    Espero que te diviertes, y que puedes encontrar tu propio adventura en sur america.


    -Guillermo y olivia y shake (woof)

    1. ¡Gracias Guillermo, Olivia, y Shake! Se espero que vayan bien

  3. Great chatting with you on the Laguna 69 trek. Good luck on your travels and keep sharing your adventures!


    1. Thanks Antonio! Great chatting and look forward to the next run-in on a trek. Hope you enjoy Lake Titicaca and all it has to offer

  4. Wow. Machu picchu looks amazing! Always wanted to go and still haven't made it there yet :( looks like you almost had the place to yourself at the end of the day in some of the photos and a lot bigger than I thought - incredible!


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