Still at it in Peru- the jungle, mountain top lakes, Lima, and the North

Puerto Maldonado
We pulled into the city gateway of the Peruvian jungle on an overnight bus like all of the rest: long, hot, and filled with twisted mountain roads that made even the strongest stomachs quiver.  When we got off the bus in Puerto Maldonado it was before 7am and it was already warm with the sun glowing preparing for the day ahead.  The bus terminal and streets were filled with more motorcycles and mototaxis than I had ever seen without a car in sight.  This wasn't exactly what I expected for the Amazon jungle, but it was a gateway.  We stayed at Tambopata hostel which was cheap, offered free all day coffee (the recipe for successful adventures), and had nice rooms with mosquito netted beds.  The city was a stark difference from the cool mountain towns I was used to and I started sweating by 830 AM.

After getting settled, we set off to figure out how we could get into the jungle to see some wildlife. Grilling travel agency after travel agency we found the one that was going to take us on a 3 day 2 night tour with accommodations at Paradise eco-lodge for a reasonable price.  With our itinerary for the next few days planned we proceeded to the more important business, jungle food!  Puerto Maldonado isn't much different in terms of traditional food offerings (pollo, lomo saltado, and potatoes), but there are a couple items they are known for including seafood dishes, plantains, and one of particular interest to me called a Juanes.  After a fish lunch at the overrated Lonely Planet spot El Califa we headed back to the hostel to nap.  Along the way I had one thing on my mind: getting my hands on the banana leaf wrapped grilled fish called a Juanes.  Obviously I asked everyone who would know where to get a good one: shopkeepers, taxi drivers hocking me for a ride, and street food vendors.  Only one woman could tell me and I made a date with the restaurant Cocona later that evening.  After a central market pollo appetizer we headed to the restaurant and I had my first juicy Juanes.  It was everything I hoped and was served with mashed plantains soaked in the fish juice contained in the leaf.  With a full belly and happy heart I headed to bed to begin the jungle adventure in the morning.

Although I generally dislike guided adventures we decided to use one since none of us had machetes or were ready to confront the snakes and spiders of our nightmares.  We joined a fun group of French, French Canadian, and Spanish travellers and took a boat about 45 minutes up the Madre de Dios river into the Tambopata Reserve.  The accommodations were great, and our first activity of zip lining and canopy bridge walking met expectations.  I never get too excited about zip lining.  Later that evening we went kayaking up the river to a monkey island where rescued monkeys roamed free and waited for visitors to provide meals.  I was very against this activity until I was informed that the monkeys were rescued pets.  We got some cool pictures, the expected mosquito bites, and headed back as the sun began to set.  

Our last activity on day one was a night boat ride to go Caiman spotting.  On the way down to the boat there was a giant full harvest moon.  It sat low in the sky and was pumpkin orange.  No picture could do justice, but I was mesmerized as the sky and river lit up orange.  The moon was cooler than the boat ride, but we did see Caiman and a capybara.  It took me a while to remember the name capybara because I was so distracted by the fact that there was a rodent the size of a deer walking around in front of me.  After a long day, I passed out to the sounds of the jungle.

Day 2 started early for me.  I was up before everyone and had the local rooster and howler monkeys to keep me company until everyone joined the party.  Day two was the main attraction of the trip and we headed to Lake Sandoval.  After a boat ride, 2 hour hike where creatures of the jungle were highlighted by our awesome tour guide Cristian, we arrived at our canoes.  We canoed up a narrow shallow channel to the lake which opened up into spectacular views of the jungle.  On the lake the heat was more than present, but so were Caiman, turtles, countless bird species, monkeys, and the highlight for me river otters. We had a touch of rain on the lake, but other than that everything went smoothly including a 30 minute swim and yours truly as the rower of the canoe with 8 people.  Our hike back was nice, but the sand flies came out in force and I couldn't wait to get back to the netted lodges and rooms.

Before dinner, we had one more activity: a night jungle walk.  Yes, for anyone scared of critters I highly suggest skipping this.  Spiders were present to put it lightly including massive tarantulas.  We all walked in a straight line with flashlights in hand and Cristian at the helm.  He would call out things as he spotted them and we were privileged with: giant moths, toads, spiders, scorpions, jungle cats, and monkeys in a span of about an hour.  This was a great warm up to get the appetite going for dinner.

Our final day started early for everyone, not only me.  We set off at 430 AM to go see one of the main attractions of the region, a clay lick where parrots and macaws congregate.  The two hour boat ride brought us to an experience of sounds before the sites could be had.  The birds swarmed and screeched, but the local regulations made us keep a distance.  The views were decent through binoculars but that was about it.  After watching and listening to the birds for a couple hours, we headed back down river and saw a mother sloth and baby on the shoreline.  

After breakfast at the lodge, we headed to meet a native family. They played instruments, painted our faces, and taught us some games.  It was fine but nothing spectacular.  To my enjoyment the rest of the afternoon was rained out and we relaxed in the lodges listening to the sounds of the rainforest.  Back in town we of course had another Juanes for dinner at Embrujo del Selva or the jungle witch.  It was another great meal followed up with ice cream to soothe the 90+ degree evenings.

Our final day in Puerto Maldonado we made our own adventure and rented bicycles for the day.  We rode jungle back roads to a native community named Infierno.  If you find yourself in Puerto Maldonado skip the community but do the bike ride.  This was a prime example of the journey being the payoff.  After a round trip of 50km we had barrel roasted chicken from a place we saw on the side of the road cooking on our way out.  It was everything I could hope for in chicken cooked in a barrel smoker.

Ready for another bus and escape from the heat we set off for Puno and Lake Titicaca.

Lake Titicaca

Heat, heat, and more heat.  The bus ride to Puno, the main Peruvian port to lake Titicaca, was the hottest and most uncomfortable bus ride yet.  We pulled into Puno around 730 am and read that there were 8am ferries to take passengers to the lake’s famous floating islands (Ursos) and bigger islands Amanantí and Tequile.  We negotiated with the captains at the port and bought our multi stop tickets for a round trip to all three islands returning the next day.  The night would be spent in a homestay on Amantaní, the only and required means for staying on the island.  

On our never waste a minute schedule, we had a cup of coffee, bought some snacks, and boarded our 15 passenger white diesel powered ferry.  At a snail's pace, we cruised to the Ursos to meet a floating community.  It was cool to see the island but it felt very touristy as they pushed their homemade goods on us.  The stop was only 45 minutes, but on a floating patch of weeds with several families living four plus people in 10x10 straw shacks 10 minutes would have done.  From there we continued on several more hours to Amananti.

Landing and disembarking in Amantaní felt like hitting the rewind button in time.  With limited power, the island of 400 or so families still dress in traditional clothing and live as farmers.  There aren't any Hiltons or Mariotts on the island and it is required that you stay with a host family if you spend the night (or several).  As we stepped off the ferry we met our host mother who happened to be the ferry captain’s wife.  She walked us up a stone pathway and traversed a dirt path to their multi-building Adobe home.  Being at over 10000 feet again I was out of breath in 12 seconds. The home was small with a courtyard in the middle and was simple but very charming.  As part of the homestay our wood stove cooked lunch, dinner, and following morning’s breakfast were included for S45 or $14.

I scarfed down the Andean soup (potatoes,quinoa, wheat broth, and some other magic), cheese, and tomato our host mother made us for lunch and hiked to the two island peaks Pachamama and Pachatata. On the way I passed locals herding sheep and visitors gasping for air.  Both peaks had ruins at the top, but Pachatata was the higher peak and had more people.  Naturally once I saw the number of people I promptly left and went to Pachamama to relax and watch the amazing sunset over the water and the Bolivian border. It was amazing seeing the fully terraced island with seemingly every inch accounted for. After a few star shots, I made it back to another soup and spaghetti (not as authentic) dinner.  With all my electronics dead there was nothing to do besides call it an early night.

The next morning's wake up call was to donkeys hee hawing rather than the rooster cawing and dog barking I have grown accustomed to.  For breakfast we had pancakes with jelly and nescafe before bidding ciao to our host family.  The ride to Tequile was choppy as the little boat swayed in the wind and over the waves.  Tequile had a different feel than Amananti, and we hiked a great path circumventing the island before a trout lunch.  Being that Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world I figured everyone would want to go for a swim in the glacial waters.  I was wrong and the only willing participant to jump in.  

On the four hour ride back to shore I sat on the roof of the boat to avoid the diesel fumes, and got ready for our next adventure: a 23 hour bus ride back to Lima.

After 27 hours, I won't get into the details of being on a bus for 27 hours, it was 5pm and we were back in Peru’s capital.  We had a quick bite before heading to our separate hostels in the Barranco neighborhood.  I stayed at Passion Backpackers the first night, but moved over to Cozy Wasi after Passion overbooked. Barranco reminded me of a more upbeat, South American San Francisco. The old artist neighborhood on the sea had magnificent mansions converted into bars, restaurants, and shops. Street art was everywhere, and small cafes and sandwich shops lined the streets.

We had planned to stay two nights in Lima and ended up staying three.  The first night we kept it casual with deli sandwiches at Juanitos (great ambiance but not good sandwiches), pisco sours, and followed it up with a live band salsa bar Sargento Pimientos.  The energy inside was addicting and I kept asking myself how the seemingly perfectly choreographed dancing patrons would make it to work the next day as the clock struck 2:00AM. Day two included fresh fish tacos at Burrito bar, a beer at barranco beer company, a walk to the beach, and dinner at one of the original Barranco hole in the wall restaurants, Cafe Tostada.  A converted garage, we met some friends for dinner and had the one dish the restaurant was serving and was known for: conenjo (rabbit). Thumbs up for Cafe Tostada and their fried rabbit that four shared. We decided to wake up early and check out the local fishing port terminal pesquero de chorillos, but were disappointed at the turn out.   After a long morning waiting for fisherman to pull in fish on their wooden row boats with hand casted nets, we headed back for a nap before our next meal: ceviche at Ronald's.  We didn't get to see the fish pulled in that morning, but Ronalds had their own source.  You  guessed it, I give Ronald’s another thumbs up.  I had the trio of ceviche, rice with seafood, and essentially calamari.  Every bite of the trio necessitated a follow up bite to ensure the flavor was that good.  Before I knew it the three were gone, but I was full and happy.

I heard a lot of negativity about Lima, but I very much enjoyed it.  It is a big city with great food.  Going in with that mindset helped me enjoy the time I was there and targeted my activities.  Our final night I had a burger at a stand up sidewalk restaurant called Oxacaburger which had 10 side condiments to add to your burger at the window eg; pesto, fried onions, bbq, hot sauce, ketchup garlic sauce, mayo etc.  I stood on the street continually adding condiments to my burger watching the dead stop traffic.  The drivers stared in returned amusement as I scarfed down the burger.  I may have thought about getting another, but decided to hold off until I was climbing mountains again.  Our final night we went to Barrio in the San Isidro neighborhood with some local friends and saw a reggae group Laguna Pai play.  

The alarm went off to start our fourth morning signalling the next bus to Huaraz for our grand adventure: the Cordillero Huayhuash trek.  Before boarding the luxurious, cheap, 1030 AM bus on Linea, Ryan and I had one final Lima food splurge.  Right near Linea’s station we hit street food heaven.  I am not big into sweets,but we had a dish called Boudin which is a thick custardy bread pudding that we have not stopped talking about for S1.  We followed up the Boudin with a neighboring woman’s packed cart who was selling a potato, egg, shredded meat, cheese, and two kind of salsa combo for S2. I promise we aren't too fat, but the food was amazing.

Another visit to Lima concluded with more great eats and nothing except positive reviews.

Huarez and Laguna 69

“A mountain town with more than a little grit.” Huaraz is a traditional mountain Peruvian city that is medium sized, but is located next to some of the grandest mountain ranges in the world.  The food was all good and the menu del dìas dropped to S5.  Happy to be back eating our cheap menus instead of the more expensive, but great food in Lima we were ready to start planning our future treks and acclimitization.  We stayed at Tambo hostel, another great hostel that reminded me of Colonial in Cuzco for S10 a night.  The environment was social and filled with rock and ice climbers, trekkers, and the traditional travellers. Two days after being at altitude in Huaraz we were adjusted and ready to go see the nature surrounding Huaraz.

As usual the alarm went off at 4am for our guided tour to Laguna 69.  I made a breakfast of eggs, tomato, onion, cheese, and avocado for the day ahead, and packed supplies to make lunch at the lake.  We decided to do a guided tour to Laguna 69 because the price and logistics came out cheaper than going on our own.  The Sprinter bus ride out was more than a little bumpy as we drove up mountain roads, but I did nod in and out of sleep on the ride.  We arrived at the trailhead and were told that the hike would take up to 3-4 hours to reach Laguna 69.  The hike began flat through a dry but green canyon surrounded by waterfalls and flowing rivers.  Off to a good start I was cruising unaffected by the altitude and anxious to see the turquoise blue waters I had seen pictures of.  

As the trail began to ascend up I came eye level with the waterfalls, and the trail flattened out into a pompa, or flat area.  Regardless of the protection there are always cows in all of the Peruvian parks.  With cows comes a lot fill in the rest.  Besides that unnatural addition the giant granite rock faces, flowing water, and steep canyon walls were beautiful.  The trail reached one final climb and the blue waters peaked around the corner at me.  After two hours I was at the lake and had plenty of time to take it all in before the insanity of endless tour groups showing up ensued.  I found a spot to sit, made a tuna salad and fruit lunch and snapped pictures.

After a couple hours the number of people taking selfies at the top took its toll on me and I headed down.  The climb down was fast, and it began to rain about halfway through. Back on the bus Ryan and I convinced our guide to stop at Sierra Andina’s tap room which was about 30 minutes from the trailhead.  The tap room was an old shipping container that had taps and bottles of Sierra Andina beer, and was being manned by two guys living in tents out back.  The views of course were great and the entire set up brought a smile to my face as I enjoyed my favorite Peruvian artisanal brew.

With the confidence of finishing a day hike in a breeze I was ready for the real challenge: taking on the Cordillera Huayhuash circuit without a guide or the help of pack animals.


  1. Everything looks and sounds amazing! It sound so like you're really enjoying yourself. I'm looking forward to when I can do this myself. Looking forward to your next post and I can't wait to hear all about them in person. Safe travels. - J. Parant

    1. Thanks Josh! Hope I'm there and included when you start your adventure. Look forward to catching up soon and hope all is well in Nashville!


  2. Spectacular travelogue. Unbelievable experiences. Really enjoying this. Keep it up.

    1. Thanks Ron! Will try to keep the adventure going

  3. Eat whatever you want - you've definitely earned it....and burned off all of it already!

    What kind of camera are you using? Combo of phone + what??

    Looking forward to the next update.


    -Gmo, Olivia, Shake

    1. Hi friends,

      Well into the process of putting it back on!

      I am using my iPhone as guessed and a Fuji X100.

      Next update coming soon!


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