PERU: EATIN’ GUINEA PIG AND GASPING FOR BREATH
And now, for some personal news: I have been found “not innocent but not enough evidence to convict” on the charge that I impersonated Pee Wee Herman for profit in 1996.
Let’s try that again…and now, some personal news:
Yep, it’s happening, the world is, unfortunately, receiving yet another mini Mallory. But why do I start off my Peruvian post with said announcement?
Welp, it goes like this: Step 1: Book insanely epic (I hate the word, but the trip was legitimately epic) trip to Peru in January. Step 2: Find out Caitlin is pregnant later in January. Step 3: Caitlin pukes her guts out for 2 months and is unable to make said trip to Peru. Step 4: Go to Peru with friend whilst wife pukes her guts out. And, scene.
So yeah, I booked a trip to Peru for Caitlin and I and ended up going to Peru with J-Heffa Deni$on. Caitlin will probably never forgive me, at least until we go to Peru together, but she was so sick and miserable that it would have been awful for her.
This post will be a bit different because for the first time in my life, I booked a complete tour. See, what I didn’t realize until I started researching Machu Picchu is that it is a LOT of logistics to get there! Trains and buses and planes and cars and all sorts of stuff have to happen to get into and out of Machu Picchu, so we decided to outsource all the headache and hassle and just book an entire tour. From the second we arrived in Lima, we were taken care of.
So would I recommend doing Peru this way? YES, I WOULD RECOMMEND THIS TIMES 1,000! Book the bloody tour mate! I’m not making any money or anything, but Lamanita Travel was dope. They did a great job with everything, absolutely nothing went wrong, and they took the hassle out of the trip. All we had to do was show up and the rest was covered, and it ruled. Plus, it was only $1500 for a week in Peru including 3 different cities with all entrance fees and hotels and trains and buses and cars covered. The only additional cost was the flights from Lima to Cusco and from Juliaca to Lima, as well as lunches and dinners. That was it. So do it!
I’ll just lay it all out here before getting into the day to day stuff. When we go places like Europe, it’s pretty easy to just do whatever and wing it and not worry about doing anything in advance. But Machu Picchu is remote and takes time and effort to get there and to get in and is kind of a hassle in general. Plus, we had no idea what else we should see in Peru, so it made sense for us to have someone else do everything for us. No reservations for trains, cars, buses, hotels, entrance to parks, etc. was needed, it was all done. I’ve never had a trip like that before and it was amazing to not have to plan a single thing.
Was it all good? No, there was lots I could have done without. Lamanita is kind of a middleman, where they just put you into tours each day, and we didn’t have a lot of say over much of anything. I certainly didn’t like having to wake up at 5 and 6am each day to make the tour group, but we didn’t have a choice. Some of the stops on the tours seemed meh (more on that to come), but overall, it was amazing to not have to think or plan. If I could redo things, I would 100% have them take us around Cusco and to Machu Picchu, but I think the other stuff could be done on your own just as easily. Still, it ruled.
Caitlin and I found this sweet deal with Aero Mexico where we could transfer our Amex points and get a good rate (plus it was the only airline we could find to work with our dates and Amex points) and we booked these PERFECT flights that had one layover, so it was SLCàMEXàLIM. And, to make matters better, we were booked first class. (Actually, Aero Mexico just has business class I think, but I was told it was the same thing).
And then…pregnancy. So we decided (OK, I decided) that I would go with Jeff, so we had to change everything…which was very expensive. More upsetting, though, was the fact that the good flights were no longer available. We couldn’t just switch the ticket from Caitlin to Jeff, so we had to cancel everything and re-book everything. So our new flights went from Salt Lake to Guadalajara to Mexico City to Lima. In one word:
The most diva thing I will ever say: Business class wasn’t super impressive. The seats didn’t recline much more than usual and the legroom was decent but I was hoping for a lay-flat seat (which the dude on the phone told me we would have). Whatever though, still beats coach. The food was pretty good and even though the flights were bloody tedious on the way, we made it.
By the way, my Priority Pass card saved us for this trip. We had a lounge in every airport we went to (including the miniscule Juliaca) except SLC, but Delta let us in there since we were flying internationally on business class. And the lounges were so good. The one in Lima had a SHOWER which felt amazing after 18 hours on the road, and it also had sugar free Inca Kola which changed my life repeatedly. The flights wouldn’t have been so bad, even with the miserable three leg trip, had we not immediately started our Cusco tour pretty much upon landing. But…
Here’s a video showing the shower in Lima…after like 20 hours on flights and in airports, this will change your life. Get the Chase card! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGLBwrURL4I&feature=youtu.be
We sat in Lima for a couple hours which was nice (shower, Inca Kola) then flew to Cusco, which was a quick and easy hourlong flight. By this point, we were so insanely tired and ready for a nice long nap. Cesar, the cool owner of Lamanita, came to pick us up, and we knew what we were in for, but it was still a bummer to hear him say that we would go to the hotel and needed to be ready for the city tour in an hour. Alas, the hard life of a diva traveler.
…I CAN’T BREATHE IN THIS TOWN…LIKE SERIOUSLY
I thought Utah was pretty high elevation-wise…and I was wrong. Getting to Cusco is crazy because it feels like you lose your breath just standing there. It was unlike any place I’d been before and made for some brutal hiking and walking and standing and pretty much everything. We climbed the stairs to the cathedral and I was completely out of breath and exhausted. Luckily, it did get (slightly) better over the time we spent in Peru, but people told us Cusco is probably not the best place to start your adventure in Peru if you feel like you might struggle with elevation. So yeah, beware but know it’s survivable.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS: CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF THE ASSUMPTION OF THE VIRGIN
After 30 minutes of delirious rest at the Puma Hotel, our tour van came and we were off to Cusco Cathedral. Cusco was a cool start to the trip because there’s a ton of cool culture and history (and great food), and it was insanely cool to learn so much about the Incas and later the Spanish. The cathedral is a cool place to start.
Look, here’s a video of us gasping for breath outside the Cathedral: https://youtu.be/MxJO-WSPyGQ
As usual, I’m not going to rehash every detail of every place we went to, but one thing that was rad about the cathedral was the tunnels. No, sadly, we didn’t get to go into them (wait until the Lima catacombs, those were dope) but you can see tunnels below some parts of the cathedral and they supposedly connect a bunch of different sites around Cusco.
FYI, our tour guide, J-Lo, was great, teaching us all about the history of Peru. I had no idea Quechua was even a language, much less that people still speak it, but now I know.
Probably the 2 coolest things in the cathedral were first, the painting of Christ and the Apostles having the Last Supper. The cool thing about it is the artist mixed Andean culture and food into the painting, including THE GROUP FEASTING ON A GUINEA PIG (!!!) so it was a Peruvian style meal they were eating. A very cool take and unique twist. Which reminds me…
Oh man, between Inca Kola and chicha moraga, these Peruvians know their beverages. Chicha moraga is made from purple corn and it’s phenomenal. That’s all you need to know. It’s sweet and delicious and you should drink lots. It’s pictured in the painting I mentioned above. And the second thing I really enjoyed in Cusco Cathedral was…
BLACK CHRIST STATUE
There’s a statue of Christ that has dark skin, and by itself it’s not incredibly compelling if you don’t know the backstory. In 1650, a MASSIVE earthquake pretty much leveled Cusco, and the people took this statue from the cathedral around the city to try and stop the quake and according to local tradition, it did! So it’s very holy and celebrated, and we even saw a lighter skinned copy of it later on the trip (in Lima, I think).
TEMPLE OF THE SUN AND SACSAYHUAMÁN
Even though the cathedral was cool, I was really in Peru to see some old Inca stuff, and the Temple of the Sun was cool because it had a bunch of Inca ruins. Not the most compelling, but a cool place to drop by if you’re in the area. Sacsayhuamán was the real goodie goods. It’s this massive open field place above the city with sweet views, very near the white Christ statue that is vaguely reminiscent of the Rio one I’ve never seen. In Sacsayhuamán, there’s a ton of old pyramid walls, and, just like the ones in Egypt, these pyramid walls are hard to appreciate until you’re there. It seems like it would be hard to build these in 2019, much less the 1500s, so maybe aliens did build them?! There’s even a wall with a fist built in out of these huge boulders, as well as one with a llama which I forgot to find. It was fun because you could just walk around and explore and climb on stuff and go up staircases and just have so many good and beautiful views. If you go to Cusco, Sacsayhuamán is a can’t miss.
Here’s us checking out Sacsayhuamán: https://youtu.be/3CmCvwxZIwo
And, as a bonus, it’s one you can actually (kinda) pronounce, because J-Lo just told us to say “sexy woman” and it sounds pretty bloody close to the actual pronunciation. Win!
TAMBOMACHAY AND PUKA PUKARA
First things first, Tambomachay is at an elevation of 12,526 (according to Siri at least, Google says 12,500). So yeah, it almost killed me (shoutout to the Hold Steady) and Jeff. It was legitimately difficult, and the trail is uphill. The real highlight is just walking by the creek and appreciating the beauty of the mountains. It’s got water coming down through some rocks and has the Inca Baths, where (supposedly) you can stay forever young by bathing in the water. Not interested. Puka Pukara is similar, a bunch of ruins, and it’s hard to really describe or appreciate without being there, but they’re cool and worth seeing if you are in the area.
The last stop (besides the tourist trap alpaca wool shop they took us to on the way home) was Qenqo, which is another big stone neighborhood. This was cool because we went inside through a couple tunnels to see this big stone table on which sacrifices were performed back in the day. That’s my kind of place! In my opinion, Cusco is absolutely a city worth exploring and I would probably just do this entire tour again to get a feel for the whole city. It was rad to see the colonial plus the ancient and we loved the whole tour (minus the fact we were so insanely bloody crazy tired). Just like that, our tour was over and it was back to the Puma Hotel for a rest and a plan for dinner.
YOLA RESTAURANT… MEH
One of our guides (who knows which one) said Yola was a can’t miss restaurant and authentic and affordable and blah blah blah, so I was set on going. It was close to our hotel…and it was a pretty big letdown. My caramel flan cheesecake hybrid was actually pretty good, and they served it first which was rad. They spoke no English and I speak no Spanish so it was fun trying to communicate and just pointing at the menu. I ended up getting chicken which I had no idea would be fried and really heavy. Alas, it was decent, not great. Jeff got some barbeque platter of fatty and stringy meats and what looked like entrails or something. He didn’t love it, but he did love the chicha morada, which was the best thing about the meal. So yeah, with so much amazing food in Peru, this was one wasted meal.
DAY 2: SACRED VALLEY AND SUCH
So I think I slept as well as I ever have in my life that first night in Cusco, but a warning: CRAZY DREAMS BRO! I didn’t know this until I talked to Jeff and later checked the all-knowing Google, but an effect of high altitude is extremely vivid dreams. I can’t remember what exactly I dreamt about but it was scary and hyper realistic and I woke up in a sweat and terror. So did Jeff. So, just FYI, prepare yourself for that.
Each hotel we stayed at had a breakfast buffet, of which I was expecting little. But they turned out to all be surprisingly good! I don’t know what they are exactly, but there are these little bananas in Peru which were at every breakfast and they were amazing! And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really like bananas. Anyways, each hotel had eggs, meats, hot chocolate, juice, cereal, and a bunch of stuff like that. Compared to my last hotel “breakfast” in Miami which was just crappy granola bars, this was like manna from heaven.
FIRST VIEW OF THE SACRED VALLEY AND PISAQ TOWN
Bright and early, our tour van came and we headed to the Sacred Valley, which we were able to see from above at the first stop. It’s beautiful and as I’ve said a million times before, I can’t even find words to explain it. But yeah, it’s rad, and seeing it from the viewpoint was rad and exciting that were going to spend the day exploring it.
Down below the viewpoint was Pisaq town, which I absolutely loved. In fact, Jeff and I both said if we had the choice, we would have loved to spend a night in Pisaq. It has a small-town feel, and we walked around the main street (yeah, it’s a tourist trap of shops and stuff but it’s rad) and just took in the people and the culture. I paid some little girls a few Peruvian sols for some rad photos with their pet goat and sheep and it was just a fun place. I would highly recommend at least a couple hours in Pisaq.
PISAQ ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK
Now this? This was awesome. There’s just a TON of ruins, houses, farmland, and it paints a pretty clear picture of Inca life. There’s an entire city of stone houses you can go walk through and explore. They said each section was like a different neighborhood and it was fun to just go up and down and in and out and do whatever looked cool. It’s an amazingly beautiful area in the mountains and we had a couple hours to just run around and see what we could see. Super awesome.
Check it out! It’s Pisaq! https://youtu.be/3rWvl5kJfHU
From there, the bus went for a couple hours and stopped in a small town called Urubamba. Most of the people, including Jeff, ate at a buffet called El Maizal, which Jeff told me was really good. He loved the ceviche, which is seafood so I wouldn’t have eaten it anyways. I wasn’t super hungry so I walked around Urubamba and just explored and bought some snacks at a corner shop. It was cool trying to communicate in Spanish with the guy behind the counter only to have him answer me in perfect English. I’m amazed by people who can do that.
Now Ollantaytambo was another super rad place, and if you’re heading to Machu Picchu, you’ll be there anyways so you might as well check it out. Yes, it’s more ruins, but it’s just insane ruins. It reminded me of Jordan for some reason, maybe just the climbing up and up and up and up like the Monastery at Petra. There’s just a million terraces where the Incas created microclimates and farmed different things, and you climb and climb and climb and the top is just a cool view of the town and of all the terraces. Minus the constant gasping for breath, I loved this area and it was cool to see everything from above.
I HATE YOU PERU RAIL
From Ollantaytambo, you catch the train to Aguas Calientas town, which is the start of Machu Picchu. It was supposed to be a 2 hour ride, which wouldn’t have been so bad. After all, it was through a pretty part of the country and I was excited. Alas, from the time we got onboard there were problems. First, Jeff and I weren’t anywhere near each other…a minor deal, I know, but weird. Next, the seats were pretty bloody small and uncomfortable, and there wasn’t a ton of room for bags, which is fine because I pack light. The seats were like airplane seats, but still, no biggie (shoutout to Biggie Smalls). And I was sitting across from an absolutely INSUFFERABLE American “doctor” (who really knows, right) who was talking his very uninterested traveling partner about how brilliant he was. But the real lame thing was the delay delay delay delayyyyyyyyyy. The train randomly stopped, which was (we thought) some small thing until 20 and 30 minutes went by. Then, finally, they announce that we had to wait for a different train to pass by and we would be on our way. And then…a train passed! Yay! We’re…still sitting? Then, much later, another announcement that we had to wait for a different train…then yet another. In the end, I’m just being dramatic and it was something like a 90 minute delay, so not the end of the world, but it was a small and tight train and everyone got a bit antsy, especially with very little communication from the staff. One dude got downright rude to the workers, which was lame, but alas, I was just ready to get to the town and eat and sleep. In the end, we made it so whatever. By the way, our train was delayed heading back, but not as long.
AGUAS CALIENTAS POOLS OF CALIENTAS AGUAS
Luckily Jeff had actually done some research and found out there were actual hotpots in the town called hot water. We found out that it was still open, despite the delay, and we chucked our bags at the Presidente Hotel (more on that later) and headed straight for the pools. We were tired and sick of traveling and hungry (more on that later) but wanted to soak in some hot pools.
…And they kinda sucked. First off, we only had like 25 minutes until they closed, and even though the people mentioned it was a bit of a walk from the ticket counter to the actual hot tubs, it was a bloody long walk. From our hotel to the actual ticket counter, it was maybe 10-15 minutes, but it wasn’t a huge deal. But man…the walk from the ticket counter to the actual pools? Very steep! Maybe we were just tired, maybe it was the elevation, maybe I’m just a diva, but it seemed forever. And yeah, I’m complaining a lot, sorry. I promise it will end.
The pools themselves were warm and not crazy crowded, but they stank. Like, literally, stinky. But not Iceland Sulphur style, it actually smelled like urine or something. It was fun and semi-relaxing, but I spent the whole time with my neck craned to the sky so as to not smell whatever the water was. But, on the positive side, I had no swimming suit so I got to tub in my workout undies, which was a new and invigorating experience.
The tubs were fine and all, they had a few different temperatures and a little tiny falls and a pool, and it was semi-relaxing, but it smelled weird, and our clothes smelled bad the rest of the trip from it. Whatever, still better than being in Utah, right?
HOT SPRINGS RESTAURANT
I forgot to mention, our guide for the next day, Antonio, met us at the train station and took us to the hotel. He also led us to the springs, and we ended up meeting him afterwards for dinner. He took us to a restaurant called Hot Springs (there is apparently Hot Springs and Hot Springs II, we went to #1) and it was freakin good. I got a pizza, which was incredibly delicious, I had no idea Peru had good pizza but it ruled. Jeff, being the Last Great American Hero, got the cuy…aka…
EATING FREAKING GUINEA PIG
Yes, Jeff ordered cuy. The rodent. Guinea pig. As we drove through some of the small towns on the bus, we saw lots of guinea pig themed restaurants and art, and we saw street vendors selling what looked to be shaved guinea pigs with sticks jammed through them. Seriously, they looked really gross, and we thought surely it wouldn’t look like that when Jeff ordered it…
But it did. The guinea pig was served on its back, its tiny paws still clenched into their death grip. The head was severed, but on the plate, complete with buck rodent teeth. Jeff said it should have at least had a crabapple or something in its mouth. It’s pretty gross looking, and I’m not trying to insult Peruvian culture, it’s just a crazy thing for us to see and eat.
And the flavor was nothing special. It was deep fried, and the skin was pretty chewy. The meat itself reminded me, texture-wise, of chicken because you just kinda pull meat off the bone like a chicken wing. Flavor wise, it was probably most similar to chicken also. It wasn’t super good or super gross, just kinda meh. But we did it, all thanks to Jeff!
THE PRESIDENTE HOTEL
Not much to say about this place (side note: hotel check out times were SO WEIRD! This one had a check out time of 8am! Luckily we were already going to be gone). The room was pretty nice and it was RIGHT next to the Urubamba river, which was a nice white noise type sound and provided a great view that morning. We had a slight mishap with the toilet which I will never mention again, but suffice it to say, it was gross and they certainly didn’t have anyone on hand to help. So beware of Peruvian toilets. But the room was cool and we loved being so close to the river.
Here’s the rad view of the Urubamba River from our hotel balcony: https://youtu.be/yvVvzNurDhw
DAY 3: WE REALLY BLOODY DID MACHU PICCHU!!!
Ok, my complaining is over. All in all, Peru was amazing and I loved it very much. As for Machu Picchu? OH MY XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX! For one of the rare times in my travels, I actually had really high expectations for this, as opposed to usually just going in with a laissez-faire attitude. Back in 2009(?) some friends of my roommates had gone and had some dope photos they had taken printed and framed on their walls, and that’s when I decided I was going to go. It took 10 years, but I made it happen, and it was so so so so so so so so worth it!
Here’s an OK video of Machu Picchu from the top viewpoint: https://youtu.be/xkQLAm7gwW0
Antonio said he would come get us at 5am for the Machu Picchu sunrise, which I was not stoked about. Remember, I’ve built my whole life around not having an alarm, so 5am is not great for me. We told him we didn’t care about the sunrise and settled on 6am instead, and after a great breakfast buffet, we were off. There’s a bus that takes you to the top of Machu Picchu, and it was not as crowded as I thought it would be. Pretty much from the second you get off the bus, your life is changed. Actually, even on the ride up, you see heaps of beautiful scenery and as you get higher there’s all this cool mist and you see other mountaintops and the Urubamba river and it’s just rad. The only bathrooms are right off the bus at the top (25 minute ride up, 2 Sol to use the johns) and then it’s Picchu time!
I mentioned earlier that Jeff and I opted out of the sunrise tour, mainly because we were sick of the 5am wakeup calls but also because we figured it would be cool to be at Machu, sunrise or not. Imagine our vindication (shoutout to Dashboard) when we got to the viewpoint and saw nothing but fog. Antonio told us we made a good decision since nobody saw the sunrise anyways. And actually, as the fog cleared, we did see the sun come through so it was just as good.
Here’s (kinda) seeing the sun through the mist from the top viewpoint: https://youtu.be/_T0N7znorM0
As usual, I’m out of adjectives to describe things but Machu Picchu is simply…amazing. Like, life changing. We stood at the viewpoint and could see the little terraces that lead down, but I was super bummed that we weren’t going to see the super famous view from above, and I told Antonio this, to which he replied, “Just wait, you’ll see it.” I was skeptical due to the fog, but it ended up being even more climactic because the fog cleared in little sections so we could see a window here and there of the main structure until finally we saw it all and I almost cried. Fulfilling a life goal is awesome, and seeing Machu Picchu is really awesome, so the combination was just bloody great.
You want another viewpoint video? Cool, this is from the guardhouse: https://youtu.be/Wr8U9qTv8u0
From the viewpoint, we walked to what I call the Valley of Decision. Actually I don’t call it that and I just made it up, but it sounds cool. There’s a bunch of llamas, which would not cooperate for my cool selfie pic, and then you choose to go to the Sun Gate, the Inca Bridge, or down into the buildings most commonly known as Machu Picchu. And trust me, dear reader (hi mom), we were torn as to which direction to go. It was like a choose your own adventure book…IN REAL LIFE!
Llamas are cool. https://youtu.be/Sv1hD1deCt8
Ok not really. We figured we’d just wing it and wander around to see what we could see. We first headed up towards the Sun Gate, which is over an hour up, but which has the benefit of being able to see the Machu Picchu settlement from anywhere, so it’s a sweet view the whole way. It’s pretty steep in some places, and combined with the elevation, it was a slow slog for Jeff and me. The cool thing is how un-crowded this path was, we were pretty much alone on all of it.
The really cool thing was all the butterflies. Me, being colorblind, cannot speak on what colors they were, but there were these white ones that had this yellow tint on their wings and almost looked fluorescent. Jeff and I basically chased them up the trail trying to get a good photo…to no avail.
After maybe an hour of heading towards the Sun Gate (which we really didn’t plan on going all the way to), we decided to rest and head back down towards Machu Picchu. The views up the Sun Gate trail are absolutely stunning, and I would recommend heading that way, even if just for a few minutes, to appreciate the seclusion and nature and amazing views.
A NOTE ON WATER
Yes, I’m dumb. Being the oaftard I am, I didn’t think much about how much water to bring, and once we left the hotel, I figured I’d be able to get more water anywhere, because it’s a touristy place and those places always have water, right? Wrong. There’s a little cafe right by the toilets but it was a super long line in the morning, and I ended up just going with what I had. Jeff brought a lot more water than I did, but in the end, we both ran out. It was no big deal because we were ready to go by the time we did, but if you plan on making it an all-day thing, I would take several liters of water. I’d rather have to carry a heavy bottle than have to leave because I didn’t have enough. So yeah, do it.
WANDERING THE RUINS
…Changed my life. We ended up skipping the Inca Bridge since we were told you can only view it from afar anyways, and headed down into the ruins. And it freakin ruled. There’s a million paths around the ruins, and Jeff and I had an awesome time just meandering around, ducking into and out of doorways and taking paths with less people (shoutout Robert Frost) and sitting wherever we felt like and taking rad photos and pretty much just living the dream. I loved just going wherever we felt and going at our own pace. We could have taken 15 minutes to get down or we could have taken 5 hours. I think it took us about 2 hours to get back to the entrance point, and it was some of the greatest hours of my life.
Here’s us wandering the ruins: https://youtu.be/_uqFWsPIAyM
TAKE YA PASSPORT
I had no idea about this but luckily Antonio told us the night before that you can get a cool and rare passport stamp at Machu Picchu. So we took our passports and even though the line to get the stamp was long (mostly because people just pushed their way in because nobody knows how to wait in lines apparently) but worth doing. It’s actually just a pad of ink and a rubber stamp and you do it yourself, and I have no idea if it’s even legal to randomly stamp your own passport but whatever, it’s dope.
BACK TO TOWN (AKA SUGAR FREE RED BULL IN PARADISE)
From there, you basically catch any random bus that’s heading down (they go every few minutes) and before you know it you’re back in Aguas Calientes. Now, lest my dear readers (hi mama) accuse me of neglect, allow me to tell you one thing…SUGAR FREE RED BULL! In Cusco, I worked up the nerve to ask a shop owner for (imagine some crappy accent) Red Bull, which he says si and shows me. Then I ask for sin asucar (minus sugar) and he gives me a look like I’d just said the stupidest thing he’d heard all day and dismissively said no. So I thought maybe it didn’t exist in Peru. And, weirdly enough also, in Cusco, Jeff and I didn’t see any grocery stores up until this point. We asked around and people kept pointing us to these little corner shops which, while awesome, are decidedly not supermercados. So fast forward to Aguas Calientes, a tiny town in which I expected to find approximately nothing. But after eating at Hot Springs the night before, I’d wandered into a couple souvenir shops and happened across my personal Holy Grail, my own private Mecca: MAPI MARKET! It’s pretty much the same as any other corner shop except it has Sugar Free Red Bull, which, yes, some say it sells at an obscene markup, but I am not one of those naysayers. Jeff and I pretty much bought out their whole stock and to this day I regret nothing. Mapi is right on the main street where you catch the bus so it’s hard to miss.
EATING ALPACA AT MAPACHO
Someone recommended Mapacho restaurant to us, and since we had the afternoon with no plans (and no beds, since hotel checkout was 8am so we couldn’t go nap), we headed there for lunch. One great thing about Aguas Calientes town is it’s very walkable and small, so everything is easy to reach. Mapacho has an outdoor balcony upstairs which was cool because it’s right by the Urubamba river, so it was a cool atmosphere and after an exhausting day of walking we were happy to chill and cram food.
I got a pizza, which was decent but not great, but what really matters is that JEFF ORDERED ALPACA AND WE ATE IT! (Did Jeff order the guinea pig and alpaca, and I ate some of each, making me a moocher and freeloader? Yes). It kinda seems sacrilegious to eat an alpaca in Peru, since every place there is selling baby alpaca wool, but whatever, it was delicious! It was definitely higher on my “eat this again” list than guinea pig, and it was just like a more flavorful beef. Plus, if you’re in Peru it’s just another thing you gotta do.
BACK TO CUSCO
Just like that, our adventure was over in Aguas Calientes. We went back on the train (I still hate you, Peru Rail), and this time the delay wasn’t as long but it happened. Jeff and I were in completely different train cars this time, which was weird but whatever. The train and bus trips felt excruciatingly long and we kept wondering when the #$%^&* we would get back to Cusco. Both of us felt carsick after these long journeys but alas, we survived, ditched our stuff, and headed out to a fantastic meal.
A TASTE OF INDIA/CAFÉ CARVALHO = YESSSSSSS
As usual, I went into this entire trip knowing next to nothing, so when I started looking at good stuff to eat in Peru the day before I left, I was shocked to see that Peru is actually very well known for its food scene. Luckily, Jeff was more on top of things and had done some research of where we should eat, and on this night, he struck gold.
I have no idea why we chose Indian food in Cusco but I’m glad we did. A Taste of India was bloody amazing. I think I read that the owners are originally from India, and my goodness, it was among the best Indian meals I’ve ever had. I had butter chicken and garlic naan and about 30 glass bottle Coke Zeros and FINALLY tried gulab jamun…everything was amazing. This was the one place we discussed going back to multiple times and regretted when we didn’t. So freakin good. GO!
DAY 4: SALT MINES AND SUCH
Honestly, after seeing Machu Picchu, I would have been totally satisfied to just wander Peru for a day or 2 and then head home, it was that amazing. Day 4 was by far our most chill day of the entire tour, which Jeff and I both agreed was great. We were happy to have seen so much of Peru, but the go go go nature of the tour got old, and so this day was a breath of fresh air (literally, we went way out to the fresh air country) and we loved it.
After about an hours drive (Jeff and I were on our own with Cesar this day, which was a nice break from a big group), we showed up at our first stop of the day, the ruins of Moray. You probably know what they are, even if not by name: They’re these giant circles that look like alien crop circles where apparently the Incas created microclimates on each terrace to better farm specific things.
One thing they told us like 8,000 times over the course of the tour is how many varieties of potatoes and corn Peru has. I forget the number but it’s a lot…and they seem very proud of it, so that’s cool. But seeing these giant terraces is kinda mind boggling just because it seems like it would be hard to do in our day with our technology and equipment, so doing it 500 years ago is pretty dope. And to be fully honest, even though you just kinda see these ruins from above and it’s not super necessary, it makes for some sweet photos and the scenery driving out there is rad.
MARAS SALT PONDS
The highlight of the day was hitting up the salt ponds. I know it probably doesn’t sound super interesting, and when I looked at the itinerary Lamanita sent before we got to Peru I was highly skeptical, but I’m really glad we went. If you’re in Cusco, it’s worth doing Moray and the salt ponds, in my humble opinion.
Here’s a close up of the ponds: https://youtu.be/sW_dfgX4Xc8
As you head down into the valley where the salt pools are, it’s this crazy narrow winding dusty dirty road (OK, lots of roads in Peru match that description) and it’s pretty nerve wracking to see how close to certain death you might be if the car goes even a few inches off the cliff. Luckily Cesar said it was not even close to the craziest road he’d driven on. We stopped at a viewpoint way above the pools and holy x was it ever cool. I can’t really explain it except it’s kinda like a honeycomb looking thing and just looks rad from up above. We got some sweet pics and headed down.
Seeing the pools up close is even cooler. Apparently, the Incas found this spring that was salty coming out of the earth and built all these sectioned off pools as a way to harvest the salt…and they’re still in use today. We actually saw a few families and a few individuals working on the pools, and Cesar told us each family in the area gets one that they get salt from, both to use and to sell. Absolutely nuts! There’s a path that goes around and kinda through the pools, and Jeff and I were the only ones there which was cool to just walk and take photos and watch the salt workers. Once again, it wasn’t the most exciting thing, but it was a nice change of pace from the rush of everything else and we thought it was well worth seeing. From there, it was an hour drive back and we took a well-deserved nap at the Puma Hotel. Next stop? The mall.
WE WENT TO REAL PLAZA MALL AND WE ENJOYED IT AND I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR IT
After an amazing nap, Jeff and I had a quest: Find an actual grocery store in Cusco. I need not rehash my obsession for foreign grocery stores. Luckily, Jeff shares my passion. It’s fun to look at cool new foods, to hang out with locals, to just soak in the culture and real life. So we asked around and learned there was a mall in Cusco, and for the low low price of 5 sol (no seriously that is really low) we got into the back of a gypsy cab and were tearing towards the mall at unsafe speeds. Gotta love it.
Honestly, Real Plaza is one of my best memories from the trip. Jeff ate at this exotic Peruvian restaurant called something like “Burger King,” but we really just roamed around looking in stores and relaxing. We bought an obscene amount of Inca Kola sin azucar and we found, yet again, Sugar Free Red Bull, this time for less than $4 a can like it was in Aguas Calientes. But really it was just fun to experience a day in the life of a Peruvian, ya know? It was fun to escape the touristy stuff and just slow down and enjoy life. After we got groceries and walked around, we went outside and sat on this patch of grass (it was basically a median in the parking lot) and sipped Inca Kola and Red Bull and just chilled and honestly, it ruled. By the way, the grocery store was called Plaza Vea and we ended up finding another one in Lima and another in Puno and it’s awesome.
DINNER AT KION, ANOTHER MAJOR WIN
One thing Jeff and I wanted to try was Chifa, which (apparently) is a thing and it’s Peruvian Chinese fusion food. We kept trying to find a place but they all looked gross, so Jeff looked online and found Kion and we praise Tron that he did because it’s awesome.
First off, for a cheapskate yet fat and foodie wannabe like me, places like Thailand and Peru are a godsend. I love food, I just don’t love paying the GDP of a small nation for the meal. And Peru was insanely cheap and insanely good, a combination I hadn’t found outside of Thailand until now. Kion is a very upscale feeling restaurant and the food absolutely did not disappoint.
Jeff had read online that the wanton soup was good and according to him, it was amazing. I got chicken lo mein and it was really freakin good. Jeff got a couple things that he said were awesome, and the bill for my food was like $10 or something. So so good! It was a cool ending to a nice chill day. From Kion, we just went and bought some souvenirs (yes, I bought Peruvian sweaters for my unborn child, get over it). It was fun to haggle over prices in broken Spanish, and we always gave them what they wanted because it was still cheap and surely they need the extra dollar more than we needed to save it. All in all a great day and night. The next day, however…
DAY 5: A BLOODY LONG BUS RIDE TO PUNO
I get it, I’m a diva. I like nonstop flights and doing whatever I want all the time whether traveling or not. So take what I’m about to say at whatever value you want…if I could do it again, I would fly from Cusco to Juliaca or Puno or wherever possible and skip the 12 hours on the bus. We saw some cool stuff and all, but it wasn’t anything I would say is completely un-missable and pretty much from hour 1 onwards I felt like a caged animal.
That being said, we did the bus ride and did see some cool stuff along the way. As usual, we got off to an obscenely early start but luckily, and unlike pretty much all our other tours, this was almost completely empty, which was a nice break for us. The idea was that since we had to be on this long journey, the tour company would break up the trip as much as possible with a bunch of little stops along the way. Without these stops, I probably would have leapt to my death sometime between hours 2 and 3.
RUTA DEL BARROCO ANDINO AND SMALL TOWNS AND RAQCHI
The first stop on our bloody long journey was one my favorites, the church called Barroco Andino. It was your typical insanely over the top ornate church, built in the 1600s by Jesuits (I think, don’t quote me on that mom). It was kinda in the middle of nowhere which was cool and there were heaps of souvenir sellers around which was fun, but the painting near the doorway was bloody awesome. Apparently the painting is from the 1620s and is called Camino al Cielo y Camino al Infierno. It’s a big mural showing the different paths to heaven and hell, and there’s just a ton of cool symbolism and interesting things going on. If you’re heading to Puno, I’d say this is probably the coolest place to hit and it’s only an hour outside Cusco.
The next stop we made was to a place called Raqch’I (yeah, thanks Wikipedia for helping me with that one). Before we got there, it was another hour or 2 through rural Peru, which I found totally fascinating. Just these tiny towns, dirt roads, stray dogs everywhere and occasionally a small shop and some half-finished buildings. I just love seeing places like that around the world and wondering what life is like there. Anyways, Raqchi was cool, it was more ruins but different than what we’d seen. There’s the ruins of this massive temple and there’s a bunch of super tall pillars that actually make it pretty easy to visualize what it was like because they’re in good condition and still a bunch of them. There’s also a big wall running around the whole settlement, and it was fun to see what the old city used to be like. There’s a bunch of people selling cool souvenirs and stuff there, so it was a fun stop, but more than anything we were just glad it broke up the monotony of the bus ride.
LUNCH, A BUNCH MORE STOPS, JULIACA, AND FINALLY PUNO
We stopped for lunch at a place called Sumae (I think), in the middle of nowhere. It was a buffet that had good quinoa soup but otherwise was pretty unmemorable. The cool thing was out back there was a llama, an alpaca, and some other animal I couldn’t figure out. There was this old Peruvian lady who showed up after I started petting the animals, but rather than yelling at me for harassing them, she called them in Spanish and they came right over. It was rad, and resulted in some of the greatest photos of Jeff (of which there are many) I’ve ever seen. Just hanging out with the animals and Jeff and trying to communicate with this lady was a fun experience, and we gave her a few sols for her time. Good stuff.
From there, the endless bus-ing continued, and we stopped at a place called La Raya, which was 14,271 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL! Considering Everest Base Camp is like 17,500, La Raya is probably the highest I’ll ever go. And I’ve been to the Dead Sea, so I’ve seen all sorts of earth’s crazy altitudes. La Raya was cool because it’s in the middle of nowhere (again) and there’s just a ton of little stands out there selling stuff. I came home with some amazing stuff, by the way, and now that I’m home I wish I would have bought more, so maybe take an extra bag when you go.
Next we just cruised to a couple more places, but my favorite things were seeing the Chilean flamingoes, which were all over as we drove and so freakin cool. I’ve never seen a flamingo outside of a zoo (I think), so seeing them live was rad. There was also AMAZING patches of wildflowers all over the countryside, which even a colorblind schmuck like me could appreciate. We saw more ruins and a cool little town called Pukara, but by that point I was just ready to be off the bus. Funny enough, Jeff, ever the masochist, was tracking our route on his phone and the entire trip was only like 250 miles but the roads are SO slow and have SO many speedbumps randomly so the entire trip is so bloody slow. Whatever, what can ya do?
The last thing of interest was when we came through the town of Juliaca, we suddenly came to a total stop. It was wild! It seemed like the whole town was out and all the kids were spraying shaving cream or something at everyone and everything. Even the bus got a nice bath. It was crazy because it looked like there was a stadium full of people and the whole town was just out hanging out and barbecuing and just having fun. I would have loved to get out and see what it was all about, but luckily, the impromptu parties weren’t over just yet.
By the way, as you drive into Puno, it’s just a sweet view. It’s very pretty to see from above as you drive in, seeing Lake Titicaca in the background with the city kinda built on the hills around it.
THE PUNO PARTY! (FESTIVITY OF VIRGEN DE LA CANDELARIA OF PUNO)
After what felt like seven eternities, we pulled into Puno and someone was there to pick us up and take us to Casona Plaza hotel (which was great), Jeff and I unknowingly headed into what is one of my favorite travel memories of all time.
But first, a side note…I was not surprised that our hotels mostly didn’t have mini fridges. What DID surprise me was how many of them had fridges behind the counter or desk that they let us use. Pretty much all of them, including the Casona Plaza, so ask! They did, sadly, explode one of my Red Bulls, but I forgave them after many tears.
Anyways, as we’re sitting in our room unpacking and me trying not to vomit from extreme bus sickness, we hear a sound…an odd sound…a strange sound…whatever could it be? Wait, you can see it too, look!
So yeah, we’re in our room and suddenly a parade goes by on the street underneath us with mariachi style music. Like, a total moment from a Simpsons episode (Sideshow Bob arriving at Terror Lake) or Ferris Bueller where a parade just happens to be going by while you’re right there. But whatever, we thought it was funny then headed out to find food.
But pretty much as soon as we headed towards the town square, things were crazy. Kids spraying each other with foam, adults dressed like total pimps and playas, and just a fun scene, kind of like a less-white-trash carnival might be here in the USA. And yes, Caitlin and I happened upon a parade in Salzburg, this is not really a thing that happens to me but maybe it is? So Jeff and I followed the chaos and music we could hear until we came to the Basilica of Saint Charles, which is kinda in the town center, and it was absolutely nuts.
Here’s yet another video of the madness: https://youtu.be/L7lUqE-45CI
It seemed like the whole town was there (maybe they were?) and everyone was playing an instrument or singing or dancing or all three. It was just an insanely cool festival, the Festivity of Virgen de la Candelaria of Puno, and the men had dope suits, the women had amazing dresses, there were dozens if not hundreds of instruments playing together and it was just like a massive street party.
Here’s a short video of the music: https://youtu.be/CfONihLLw5E
It’s hard to explain, like everything in this blog, but it was just pure bliss and ecstasy. I seriously just was so happy watching these people just get so into their culture and they looked like they were having the best day of their lives. From what I could tell, the only thing that mattered was this, here, now. I was totally caught up in it and just felt so stoked to be alive, thousands of miles from home, surrounded by happy strangers and felt lucky to be digging their joys. Just so much fun, and we just hung and watched it all happen for who knows how long. It was completely unexpected and so amazing to see.
These adorable toddlers had the whole crowd entertained: https://youtu.be/cVZifE6PnM4
From there, we went to Remix Pizza, which had a rad ambiance (cool rock posters and oldschool music videos playing on the giant tv) but terrible pizza, probably the worst we had. Oh well, it was right by the festival so we weren’t too bummed. And we finished the night walking around Lima Street, which is just a mess of shops and restaurants and was total chaos. I’m not sure if it was so crazy because of the festival or if it normally is, but it was very crazy and we loved just roaming and enjoying life. Such a great night.
And yeah, I could not get enough of this horn section: https://youtu.be/RfvAF05FDIs
DAY 6: LAKE TITICACA’S FLOATING ISLANDS AND MORE
After last night’s madness of the parades and dancing and Lima street, I figured anything else that happened in Puno would be gravy since it had been so much fun already. Luckily, the day on Lake Titicaca was pretty rad and made the long bus ride (almost) worth it. To be honest, I told Caitlin when we go back (not if but when), we will probably just do Cusco, Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes, and Lima. I wouldn’t do Puno and Lake Titicaca unless we could fly there, which I suppose we could into Juliaca. Whatever, you can figure it out.
We actually got to sleep to a reasonable hour (7, I think) and headed to the docks where we got onto a boat to head to Uros Island. Of everything we did on this day, this was definitely my favorite. In fact, I’m currently wearing 2 bracelets I bought there (plus one for Caitlin, which I will wear if I find where she hid it) to remind me of what a cool place and cool people are there.
THE UROS ISLANDS ARE INSANE + COOL + WEIRD + FUN + INTERESTING + GOOD
I know Wikipedia is a thing and all, but I want to put this down so I remember it…the Uros Islands are insane. It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been back but I’m going to rehash what I remember: Back in the day, indigenous people in the Puno region were taking others slaves, so a bunch of people fled into Lake Titicaca and built islands out of reeds and basically started their own civilization out there. Now there’s over 100 of those islands, made of reeds, and the islands last about 35 years. They are continually patching the island they’re living on, and when it’s going to sink after the 35 years, they have already prepped another one and they just send the old one out to sink in the lake.
Just like pretty much everything cool I’ve seen in the world; the islands are just a cool testament to human ingenuity. Like, people made their own land and have lived on it for ages in the middle of a lake…that’s nuts.
Here’s a quick tour inside a dude’s house on the island: https://youtu.be/brgtnisWzAA
And yes, the islands are super touristy. When you land on the first one after about a 30 minute boat ride out there, there’s a few native people to show you round. They speak Quechua and talk to the guide who translates into English. They talk about their daily life and it’s cool to see all these people just doing their thing, cooking, making crafts, patching the island, etc. They show some of the reeds and some of the fish and birds they eat there, and then you can go inside a house, which is pretty much exactly like the island itself just with a roof. It’s an unbelievable way of life but so bloody interesting. It did make me a bit sad that they offer you this boat ride to the next island for 10 sol, which is cool, but the dudes rowing just seem so old and worn out, and the women, in the only English they know, sing row row row your boat as you take off in their boat. I don’t know why it made me sad but it was kinda like they had to try and incorporate the west so as to survive or make money or whatever. I don’t know, I guess if they don’t mind I shouldn’t either. So yeah, we rode the boat over to the next island and did more browsing and chilling and hanging and it was great.
Here’s another view of one of the floating islands: https://youtu.be/waM71qyOCe4
Surprisingly, Taquile Island is not a floating island…wait aren’t all islands technically floating? Well it’s not a manmade one anyways, it’s the type of island you think of when you hear island…probably. Anyways, it’s about an hour and a half boat ride and thus is pretty secluded. From the top of Taquile you can see Bolivia which is pretty cool. Jeff and I wanted to head over to Bolivia for a few hours but we were so traveled out from all the going that we opted against another 4-5 hours on a bus. Next time, I guess.
Anyways, Taquile is super pretty, just an amazing view from pretty much everywhere we went. 2,000 people live out there and it was cool to see their way of life and houses and stuff without being too nosy. We were told to just follow this concrete path up to the top and my goodness, it was certainly up. And up. And up. The steep walk combined with the elevation made, as usual, for a gaspy and raspy walk. Luckily, we had heaps of time so we were in no hurry and stopped frequently to rest, take photos, and buy random stuff from old ladies by the side of the path.
Here’s us boating to one place or another: https://youtu.be/dy_n4k1mcb8
Now the top of the island is rad. Not just because it has an awesome view (it does), but there’s a couple neighborhoods and restaurants and a textile factory which is super rad. Most of the men on the island knit, so there’s heaps of cool things like hats and bags inside this big 3-story building. They told us it’s a consignment type shop where everyone from the island sells their stuff under one roof, and unfortunately I didn’t have cell service so I couldn’t see which bag Caitlin would hate the least so I didn’t buy anything but I certainly loved all of them.
From there, we went to what seemed to be a big communal kitchen/cabin thing where the locals made lunch for the group. Everyone but me got the fish and loved it, but me, not digging fish, had an omelette (the only other option) which was decent. They had some locals come show us some different traditions (like the cool hats signifying whether you’re single or married) along with some dances. It was interesting, but in my opinion went on a bit too long and I was antsy to get on our way, which we finally did. It was another hour and 45 minutes back to Puno, but luckily the boat had a little sun deck so Jeff and I hung out there and enjoyed views of the lake. Good times.
After the amazing night in Puno the night before, Jeff and I were satisfied with our experience here no matter what else happened. We ended up walking the streets and buying cool stuff (Jeff bought a pillow cover and a couple bags and sweaters for his niece and nephew, I bought a couple baby sweaters, a sweater for Caitlin and I, a cool bag with a llama on it, and a tote bag for Caitlin which she hasn’t used yet and I am thinking of stealing back). We also found another Plaza Vea grocery store and had so much fun looking at the hilarious shirts with semi-broken English on them, as well as stocking up on Pringles and candy for the trip the next day. And yes, I bought a bunch of Sugar Free Red Bull and sugar free Inca Kola…so sue me. It was delicious. We ended up roaming Lima Street again just window shopping and found a place for dinner called La Hosteria. It wasn’t anything too special, I think Jeff liked his more than I liked mine but after killer meals at Kion and Mapacho it was kind of a letdown.
One thing that’s super cool and super annoying in Peru is the buskers that come into restaurants. I mean, I’ve busked in New Zealand, playing my guitar and singing outside a Warehouse (kiwi Walmart) and I made like 40 or 50 New Zealand dollars, pretty sure it paid for my flight from Hastings to Christchurch or Wellington or something. But I was pretty unintrusive, I didn’t bug people, I just stood there and jammed and hoped people would take pity on me, which some did.
I remember in Paris some kids on the subway doing REALLY crappy karaoke then coming to each person asking for money, and that’s kinda what happens in Peru except it’s awesome music. In one restaurant, a dude came in with a full on one man band setup and played acoustic guitar and cool Peruvian flute pipes with a kick drum. It was super cool, and he was cool just sending a plate around. But at La Hosteria, the band came around to each table and kinda hesitated which made you feel obligated to give money. No big deal except at this point I was getting down to my last sol and since we only had a day left I was hoping to not have to exchange any more money. There were also people on our tours occasionally trying to sell books and stuff, but honestly it wasn’t a huge deal. The music was really cool and made eating more fun, except that it was super loud so we couldn’t talk. Whatever, it was worth the few bucks we paid them as a tip.
Just like that, our time in Puno was over. We slept great but both of us had insanely vivid dreams again, and they were scary and depressing, so just be prepared. Alas, the final day was coming and I was bummed because it had been a great trip.
DAY 7: WE’RE ON TO LIMA
The next morning, bright and way too early (as usual), a van full of people picked us up for the hour drive to Juliaca where we’d be flying back to Lima. Just as an aside, the driving in Peru is nuts. Not as bad as Egypt, but still really bad. I guess not bad, just chaotic and I would not have felt safe driving, so avoid it if you can.
Sadly boarding our flight from Juliaca to Lima: https://youtu.be/Zxg82xbVTR0
When we pulled into the city limits of Juliaca, I was completely shocked. The first part we drove through was as dirty as I have ever seen a city, Cairo included. I have never seen so much garbage on the streets. Seriously, it looked like a city dump, with several inches of rubbish piled in the streets and gutters and everywhere. It was a bummer to see because other parts of Juliaca seemed pretty cool. By the way, it was 56 degrees Fahrenheit when we left Juliaca, that will matter later
I know I mentioned this, but Juliaca had a Priority Pass lounge, which is insane since the whole airport is tiny and has 2 gates. The lounge was nice actually, lots of natural light and had an NBA game on ESPN. The chairs were comfortable. It didn’t have great food, but it did have sugar free Inca Kola so I was thrilled. How does Salt Lake City or Reykjavik not have one but Juliaca does?! We talked to an Australian guy in the lounge who was doing an insane trip all over South America and was headed to Argentina to board a freight ship headed for Antarctica. Life goals, man.
The flight was 1.5 hours and cost something like $200, which was surprisingly expensive but we really didn’t have a choice. We had a pretty rough landing and it took forever to deplane, but whatever, we were in our final city…
LIMA IS RAD
When we finally deplaned and headed outside to get picked up, it was 80 degrees and very humid. 80! Puno was 56! I guess that’s the difference in elevation, but it was a total shock and we were sweating the entire day. Even though our day in Lima was fun, the beginning was the most frustrating part of the whole tour.
Now, yeah, I’m gonna sound like a diva (yet again) but I don’t care, this was extremely frustrating. We arrived in Lima at something like noon. It was sweltering hot, but whatever, that’s no biggie smalls. Our dude Edwardo, who was super cool, picked us up and didn’t speak English, which again was no big deal. I was able to communicate though Siri translating for me (mostly), but Jeff and I couldn’t figure out what the plan was. Surely we were going to our hotel, right? But he kept saying we’d be at the hotel at ocho or something…we were like 8?!
(By the way, at every stop light, there were people selling stuff, but like officially. Like, people in Pepsi shirts and hats and signs selling Pepsi at street corners, walking into the road to offer it to each car. It was nuts and I loved it).
Also, driving in Lima was so crazy. Even crazier than anywhere else. Traffic signs and lights seemed to be mere suggestions, so I was again so grateful we didn’t have to drive ourselves there.
Anyways, when we left the hotel, it was too early for breakfast, so the only food we’d had were these tiny prepackaged snacks from the lounge (and yeah, a bunch of Inca Kola and some candy we’d brought on the plane). We had no food and no water and were insanely tired and hungry and kinda travel sick from the nonstop going so far. And suddenly Edwardo was dropping us off at some random street. Our bags were in his trunk, and it was so bloody hot in there. We were trying to ask him if we could go to the hotel? Could we drop off our bags? Could we change clothes somewhere since we were in our Juliaca weather hoodies and stuff. No, no, and no. Suddenly our tour guide was there telling us to hurry up because our Lima walking tour was starting. So yeah, not ideal. We literally had to try and change on the side of a busy street and grabbed all the stuff from our bags that might melt or get ruined and just took it with us.
So yeah, off we went, super frustrated because we had absolutely no say and we were so freakin fungry and tired and not in the mood to walk all over Lima in sweltering heat. But alas, we had no choice, so off we went.
LIMA WALKING TOUR: CHURCHES AND SKELETONS AND STUFF
For all the anticipation I had for Peru, Lima was the day I was least looking forward to. I thought it was just going to be a big dirty city and figured it would just be a throwaway day to finish the trip. Funny enough, I came away from Lima feeling like I could absolutely live there, so shut my mouth, right?
Our walking tour started at Hotel Bolivar Lima, which is this giant fancy hotel where a bunch of famous people have stayed. It wasn’t super fascinating but inside they had this big dome of glass in the lobby which is pretty impressive and beautiful with the light coming through. We looked through their book of famous patrons and onwards we trudged.
From there, we walked over the Plaza San Martin, which is one of a couple public squares we went through. It was fun to see the architecture, very colonial style, and just to see Lima people doing their daily thing, hanging out, sipping drinks, walking dogs, and just living.
Next we headed to the Church Merced (that’s what my notes called it anyways) which is actually called Basilica y Convento de Nuestra Señora de la Marced. Riiiight. It was super beautiful outside with its Baroque architecture, and apparently was from the 1500s. One recurring theme from this tour, much like Cusco, is that a huge part of Lima was destroyed in an earthquake in 1746, so heaps of places in Lima were rebuilt or redone around that time. The interior was cool but nothing too essential and we headed back to the tour after just a few minutes inside.
Our next stop was Plaza Mayor, which is like Lima’s main square. It was really fun because of so much activity, just people everywhere doing everything from just chilling in the sun reading to walking babies in strollers to tourists taking photos to people playing soccer.Library?
Funny enough, that morning in Juliaca talking to the Australian dude, he told us to try and catch the changing of the guard at the Presidential Palace in Lima and we told him we had no idea if we could but we would try. As fate would have it, the changing was happening right as we came into the square, so it was super cool to be able to watch. There was a decent sized crowd outside the gates but not too crazy so we had a great viewpoint and it was fascinating. Strangely, the marching band was playing what sounded like Russian music, which was cool, and since the President was not around, apparently some high ranking air force dude came out to the front steps and saluted. If you’re in Lima in early afternoon I would say it’s definitely worth seeing. I thought it was cooler than what we’ve seen at Buckingham.
From there, we headed to what I think was the National University of San Marcos. Our guide told us it was the oldest university in the Americas, which is cool.
SANTO DOMINGO CONVENT TILE AND CEILING…MIND BLOWINGOur guide let us sneak a photo… these are all hand-painted from Spain
Something that I really, really enjoyed in Lima is the Santo Domingo Convent. There’s just so so so so so much tile, just a mind blowing amount, that they say came from Spain, and it is SO intricate. The crazy thing is each tile was hand-painted (and they all match). Also, the way they all fit together is just incredible. I can’t even fathom the amount of time and work that went into it. I’ve never seen anything like it that I remember, and it just goes on forever. And, as if that isn’t cool enough, the ceiling is similar but carved from wood. So many pieces that fit together it’s completely unreal. If you’re in Lima, I would highly recommend this. It won’t take super long but it’s just rad to see and appreciate in person.
Also the church has the skull of Saint Rose as well as Saint Martin de Porres, who was the first black saint. I know it’s morbid but I love seeing skulls and mummies and stuff. The Paris catacombs ruled, and the Crypt of the Capuchin Friars in Rome is one of my favorite things ever. Sadly, I wasn’t writing for Jetset back then, so I guess I’ll have to go back for a recap. And yeah, more on skulls and stuff in a minute.
BONES! CATACOMBS OF SAN FRANCISCO MONASTERYBoneyard!
The San Francisco church is cool by itself just because of the architecture and the cloisters you can see from the courtyard. But c’mon, the real reason to go is the catacombs, and they rule!
They say 25,000 people’s remains are down there, and it’s just as weird and creepy as the Paris catacombs. It’s dim and dusty and underground and just generally eerie. For me it’s always been hard to see these crypt bones as people. I mean, these were fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and it’s just crazy that this is how we all end up. I mean, I can only hope tourists gawk at my decomposing corpse at some point, but we can’t all be so lucky. It’s weird because there’s all these big bins and the bones are separated by bone-part into them. Like, a bin of coccyx and a bin of femurs and a bin of skulls. It’s quite odd, then there’s a couple places where the bones are in patterns. It’s a mix of morbid and cool. I had no idea this was in Lima, nor did I know we’d get to go in on our tour, but I loved it and again would highly recommend going, particularly if you like this morbid stuff (shoutout to Pup) like I do.I want my skull to end up here
There’s also a massive library like the ones you see in movies in the church which is worth seeing if you’re there. After being in the catacombs I fully expected the library to be haunted with flying books and the ladder thing moving by itself but alas, no such luck.
PARQUE DEL AMOR… LIMA’S LOVE PARKIn love yet?
Our last stop was the park of love, and it was actually dope. It’s got this cool tile mosaic wall around it with this massive (super ugly) statue of these lovers in the middle. It’s got romantic poetry all over the tile walls (well, they say it’s romantic…it’s in Spanish so I have no idea what it really said) and the views are awessssssssssome. Again, I had no idea Lima had nice beaches, and the ones below the park looked great. There were so many people down there and if we had more time I would have gone too. Just the view of the beaches and cliffs and everything is great, so if you’re in Miraflores, definitely go feel the love.
EXPLORING THE MIRAFLORES DISTRICT
On our way to our hotel (Hotel Carmel, which was great), we quickly drove by the pyramid in Miraflores called Huaca Pucllana. It kinda looks like a big dirt mound formed into bricks. Not the most impressive looking thing, but it’s 1500-2000 years old which is cool. The coolest part about it is it’s now just in the middle of some neighborhood. Like, there’s houses and skyrise buildings all around it, which gives it a cool look. We didn’t stop, but by this point Jeff and I were so ready to be done touring that we were cool with it.
Now, I never ever ever ever ever thought of this before heading to Peru, but I could absolutely live in Miraflores. It’s a rad district and Jeff mentioned it kinda has a Santa Monica vibe with a nice ocean breeze and smell. It’s full of cool shops and nice housing and amazing restaurants. I would absolutely love living there.Darn right I is.
After a nice chill at Hotel Carmel, Jeff and I decided to go see what we could see. As usual, I was starting to feel the existential crisis begin. I had looked forward to this trip for a couple months, and I’d wanted to go to Machu Picchu for 10 years. I was stoked to have finally gotten to continent #6 and it felt like it went so fast so I was getting bummed that it was already (almost) over. But still, I had like 100 sol to use so I wouldn’t have to take it home and we still had the night to cause chaos and havoc so we set out to do so.
PANCHITA RESTAURANT…OH MY GOODNESS PANCHITA PANCHITA PANCHITA I LONG FOR YOU
Jeff had done some research and, as I noted, Miraflores is teeming with highly-rated restaurants. We went and looked at a few menus but decided on Panchita since it was Peruvian and we figured we might as well go out eating like locals. Oh my goodness. Oh my. Yes, yes, yes! I can’t even remember what Jeff got but I know he loved it. But I’m telling you…if you want your life changed…
PAPAS RELLENAS AT PANCHITA = DIVINEJust eat this and thank me later.
By the way, the service at Panchita suckkkkkkkkkkkked. They took so bloody long for everything even though the restaurant wasn’t busy. It looked like our waiter was trying to woo a girl there, not even kidding, because he would leave our table and go right to her and talk for like 20 minutes. In fact, after we paid, he never came back for the signed receipts so we finally just left some cash for a tip and took off after waiting 15 minutes. But the food made up for it.
Papas rellenas are kinda like mashed potatoes fried, so they have an outer crust, and they’re filled with meat and vegetables. I can’t really explain it but they were phenomenal. By far my favorite thing I ate in Peru and one of my favorite things I’ve eaten period. They were on the appetizer menu, so not super filling, but I wasn’t crazy hungry since we had just eaten rubbish since we never got a chance for a breakfast or lunch. I finished them and considered doing another round (they come with 2), but ended up feeling full enough with just the 2. I’m telling ya, they rule so get some.
VIVANDA SUPERMARKET…THE PERUVIAN WHOLE FOODS
By now you know how I feel about foreign grocery stores, and luckily Jeff feels the same. We figured we’d get some snacks for the flights home. Plus we wanted to just walk around because Miraflores is dope. We wandered around until we found the holy grail of Peruvian grocery stores: Vivanda. As soon as we walked in we both realized this was the Peru version of Whole Foods, tipped off mostly by the gigantic cheese section. They had so much cool stuff there, lots of earthy and organic type foods but lots of cool Peruvian stuff too. Jeff and I bought way too much stuff for the night and next day, but it was fun and we loved seeing what “upscale” Lima dwellers were buying.
KENNEDY PARK…A PLACE FOR THE CRAZY CAT LADY IN ALL OF USGrizelda Jr.
On our tour of Lima, our guide pointed out JFK park and we thought she said there were a bunch of cats living there but I wasn’t 100% sure that I heard her correctly. But when someone else mentioned a park full of cats I knew I had to go. We looked up reviews and honestly, judging by the way people describe the park, I was expecting it to be like a friggin pet store in there, which it wasn’t, but it was still so fun.
First off, the cats. There aren’t thousands like I was hoping, but there are quite a few. They’re all used to people so they’re super chill and pretty much just want attention. There were a few lounging but most of them just wandered around hanging out with people which was cool. There’s also a charity at one end of the park that takes donations for the cats and has food and water dishes out for them which is nice. So I just walked around hanging out with cats for a minute.My friend.
In the middle of Kennedy park there’s a space for vendors and it’s a little flea market. We were there at like 9 or 10pm and it was packed. There was all sorts of stuff being sold, mostly the usual touristy keychains and sweaters and bags, but also some cool local artists. Jeff tried to buy this dope psychedelic neon colored painting from a guy but we’d spent all our cash and the guy’s credit card reader didn’t work, sadly. But it was fun to see everything, and I was alternating between chasing cats and looking at cool stuff I no longer had cash to buy.
The last cool thing about Kennedy park is it’s just a nice place to chill. There were a bunch of benches around the park and there were people chatting, sipping coffees, eating, and a few different groups jamming with guitars. It’s the kind of place I think would be fun to visit all the time, just bring a book or something and watch people and relax. It was a perfect end to an amazing trip. Just like that, we headed home (after Jeff, upon being propositioned by a gross greasy guy for a “girlfriend” who was waiting upstairs, pointed to his Pinkberry and told the guy, “Pinkberry is my only girlfriend.” Good times.) and our trip was over.Cat.
THE FLIGHTS HOME
Yeah, I’m a diva, I know. But Aero Mexico’s Business Class, as I mentioned, is…meh. Not super impressive, but yes, better than coach. The flights home were surprisingly not bad at all. At the Mexico City airport, there are 2 restaurants that Priority Pass gives you $28 each to eat at, so Jeff and I had $56 between us for a totally free meal. We ate at one and the other I just got a bunch of food to go, so that was rad. Our second flight was from Mexico City to SLC and it wasn’t anything special but wasn’t too bad. All in all I don’t think I would have spent extra for Business Class on Aero Mexico except that I used points so it wasn’t a big deal. Whatever.I’m not sure if this is leaving Lima or entering Mexico City?
MISCELLANEOUS: TIPPING IS A BIG THING
One thing I wasn’t expecting (probably should have) is tipping is a thing. Even though I thought our tour cost would cover everything, it’s kinda implied that you tip. Sometimes they straight up ask, but it’s something you feel weird if you don’t do. We didn’t know that at first so we only had big bills and had to go break them for the first tip. But every driver, every guide, every hustler musician at a restaurant…everyone expects a tip. Our guide Cesar told us, “No, you don’t have to tip…but you can, just a few sol is good, just whatever you think is right…but you don’t have to.” So yeah, you kinda do, and we probably spent an additional $100USD just on tips. For the most part, the guides deserved it so whatever, but it’s something you should plan for.
MISCELLANEOUS: WHAT GEAR TO TAKE TO MACHU PICCHUMachu Picchu: Go. Now.
This was something I spent wayyyyyyyyy too much time on before we left. I pack light, so I wasn’t sure what to bring so as to make my experience not suck. I posted all over travel forums and talked to people who had been and still didn’t get a good answer, so here’s what I say to bring. And yes, the gear section will repeat some of this, so sue me.
I didn’t want to bring my heavy waterproof snow boots I got for Iceland, but it was either those or tennis shoes. And I am SO glad I just brought my gym/tennis shoes. Granted, it hadn’t been super rainy or anything so there wasn’t mud, but it’s pretty tame trails and stuff. I think maybe trail running shoes, which Jeff brought, would be good, or maybe some shoe-type hiking shoes, but nothing too extreme.
I already mentioned, bring lots of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, etc. I didn’t bring it, but Loinz’s collapsible water bottle he took to Iceland would have been perfect for this since it packs tiny. The usual hiking stuff. I would also bring a small bag/backpack like the one Caitlin bought that I hated but is actually awesome, just dump all your stuff in it and go. Keep it light so your spine doesn’t break, but you should be good. I brought a hoodie and poncho stuffed inside the bag but never had to touch them. Machu Picchu was a much milder hike than I expected, so you should be good to go fairly light. See the gear section below if you want to see some specifics.Can’t wait to go back
LAMANITA IS RAD, USE THEM
Once again, I ain’t makin no money from this, but I thought Lamanita did a great job with everything. Nothing went wrong or was delayed or anything, and it took all the hassle out of the trip. We basically showed up and everything else was done, I highly recommend it, at least for a Cusco tour and getting to/from Machu Picchu. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, lamanitatravel.com, or call them, which I found most helpful, at +51-84-227151.
FINAL REFLECTIONSI love you Peru.
And that, kids, is our week in Peru. As of this writing, I’ve been back almost a month, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I realize how much I enjoyed it. South America was awesome. Machu Picchu was absolutely life changing. Everything is very inexpensive, which is nice because it feels like a nicer vacation than, say, Iceland, where you’re paying $10 for a gross gas station sandwich. I loved the Inca history and the people were cool and I was shocked how much I loved Miraflores in Lima. So yeah, I would say go and you won’t regret it. Just don’t expect the guinea pig to taste amazing.