Tag Archives: Peru

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A stopover at Lima, Peru

Lima was mainly a stopover for us to connect between Iquitos and Cuzco. We were running short of time and had to quickly see Machu Picchu as our time to enter Chile was running out. We were even contemplating dropping Chile out of our itinerary.

Lima had really tasty veg food, starting from the 6.50 sole meal at Govinda’s and corn from street carts.

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A few hours in Arequipa, Peru

We only had a few hours in Arequipa, Peru. We arrived via overnight bus from Cuzco and had a flight later in the morning to Santiago, Chile. Our friend Cat from England was kind enough to let us tag along with her to her hostel where we could freshen up. We all went for an early morning walk which was really enjoyable.

A military parade in the main plaza

Fruit vendor starting the day

We ran into this little shop that was offering an early breakfast. The locals who were awake were all wandering in for a porridge like drink made of soya and maca, mildly sweetened. Address: 427A Sucre

Soya maca drink – major hit!

We want some more!

Snowcapped mountains in the background

 It was on to the airport after this, to Santiago, Chile.

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Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

For the unplanned visitor to Machu Picchu, the Inca Trail is often not the best way to go. The Inca trail gets booked months in advance, is closed in February and is very expensive (at least $500 per person and climbing up each year). We did not want to be restricted by booking the inca trail in advance as we had no idea when we’d be in Peru.

Yes, we biked down that road!
Relaxing on hamacas at one of the lunch stops after long hours of hiking
Cat – powerful but effortless hiker, most of us struggled to keep up with her
Steep narrow verdant hiking paths
Our patient and charismatic guide, Ebert
Relaxing at a hot spring towards the end of the day

When we arrived in Cuzco (we used the 20+ hour Cruz Del Sur bus service) it was already February and the Inca trail was closed. We have heard about a lot of other beautiful treks in the region, so we didnt think it was particularly important to go on the Inca trail. Some of the other treks offered from Cuzco are:

  • Salkantay trek – long, hard and very beautiful
  • Choquequirao trek – leading to the ruins of the same name. A shorter, far less common trek. I came to know about this when it got featured on the New York Times years ago. You can continue from the ruins for a few more days to get to Machu Picchu.
  • Ausangate – Ausangate and Vilcabamba are harder and more off the beaten track.
  • Vilcabamba
In addition to these treks, the Huaraz region in Peru offers fantastic trekking (Cordillera Huayhuash/Blanca etc.). Keeping all this in mind, the structure and complexity around the Inca trail didnt really appeal to us. Given it was February, none of these options were open to us anyway. We finally discovered the Inca jungle trek – a biking/hiking combo trek through tropical jungles that leads to Aguas Calientes. And it cost a fraction of the Inca Trail at $180.
Other aspects of the trek:
  • No camping. You get to stay in small family owned lodges every night. The lodge will prepare your meal based on your request.
  • You carry your own stuff – we packed a very light day pack with just a change of clothes.
  • In the villages you can buy stuff
  • You’ll walk next to the roaring river on several occasions, sometimes crossing it on bridges
  • The food was really good. Simple vegetarian fare was very easy to get.
  • Its not cold! Except for the first day and the last day, the weather is tropical and heavenly.

Inca Jungle Trek

The Inca Jungle Trek sees four days of fun filled action and costs ~ $180. We booked our tour at the Loki hostel tour booking desk. Anyone is welcome. They pick you up in the morning of day 1 at Loki and other designated spots and here is a rough overview:
Day 1 – pick up from Loki hostel, drive past ollantaytambo to a high altitude spot at 4200 meters + at Abra Malaga. Crazy and fun downhill bike ride from here. When the ride ends at a village, you get lunch and a small walk later, rest for the day.
Day 2 – long walking day. Involves a very beautiful section on an old Inca trail. One of the rest stops is a small house with hammocks and a monkey. A visit to a hot springs along the way. Mostly in jungle, so the weather is great.
Day 3 – Some more walking and you arrive at the hydroelectrica station near Aguas Calientes. You can take the train if you are tired, but we walked along the rail road tracks for a few hours. Sleep at Aguas Calientes.
Day 4 – Early AM walk/bus to Machu Picchu. Bus cost is not included. Guided tour at MP. Return to Aguas Caliente for evening train back to Ollantaytambo (train fare included). Bus transport to Cuzco (included in fare).
More details here – we booked it through these guys by simply walking to the hostel where our British friend we met in Iquitos was staying.
The trek was really well organized and was a great experience. We had excellent company – in fact, there were two Chilean girls whom we met again in Santiago and an English girl who visited us during her travels in India much later. It rained a lot, but we’d dry off quickly once the sun came out.

Inca Jungle Trek or Inca Trail?

Everyone who visits Peru want to try the Inca trail. While I dont deny for a second that it would be a great experience to be on the historic trail to Machu Picchu, I think its not an easy trek to plan, unless you are exclusively visiting Peru or have rigid timelines. If you are looking for simply a great experience and an opportunity to be amidst natural beauty to forget the rigors of daily life, the Inca jungle trek works just as well! I am quite sure you wont regret doing either trek. Given a chance, I’d happily do the Inca jungle trek again.
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Cuzco and Machu Picchu…assorted thoughts and pictures

After two months of backpacking in South America, some of it through really off tun-touristy areas, we finally reached Cuzco and the first thing we noticed were the number of tourists/travelers/backpackers. The semi cama seats on the Cruz Del Sur bus from Lima to Cuzco was luxurious and I was pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian food served to me on the bus. Yes, the bus has an attendant, a restroom and food served to your seat! I slept through most of the 20+ hours from Lima. The bus was filled with foreign tourists, mostly carrying heavy backpacks and the bus station at Lima has a check in facility for bags. Its not much different from an airport really.

Once in Cuzco, it hit us quickly how much more expensive everything is compared to the rest of Peru we’ve been in. The food, the lodging, the tour prices are in dollars, the shopping! Cuzco is a vibrant tourist base – you can see that its a really old city and has so many plazas and beautiful buildings and museums. One can wander around for a few days and still not see everything. Machu Picchu is mentioned everywhere – tour operators abound near the central plaza and one has to be careful before choosing one. We made several trips to iPeru office on the plaza to understand how the tours work and whats the best way to pick a good company. As I described in a different post, we finally settled down for the Inca Jungle Trek from Loki hostel to visit Machu Picchu. iPeru has been a reliable source of tourist info for us across Peru. They are very hard to locate on the central plaza – do ask around, I think it is the same building as the BBVA continental office. There are many other tourist info offices nearby and the information is not all that good.

To see all the ruins nearby and museums in the city, you need a Boleto Touristico which costs 130 soles. We gave this a skip as we’d recently seen many ruins and wanted to just take some day trips out of Cuzco.
Just the train ride to Machu Picchu costs $70 round trip. All tour prices are in dollars in Cuzco. A budget trip to Machu Picchu is not very easy to do! Entrance fees cost 140 soles and 70 soles if you have an ISIC card.
Cuzco has great veg food options. There is a popular Indian restaurant here called Maikhana at Av El Sol on the 2nd floor. El Encuentro has 6 sole dinners and is located on Santa Catalina Ancha 384. There is a very nice Govindas on Saphy street. The folks at Maikhana own Om Cusco on Calle Saphy 661, where you pay for the meal at your discretion. All proceeds go towards feeding poor children in the area. Our favorite though which we repeatedly went to was Prasada – literally a hole in the wall spot in an apartment building on 152 Choquechacha. Awesome lentil burgers here and very pleasant people staff the place. No place to sit, so be prepared to stand or take away.

Chinchero market find

Lentil burger with guacamole at Prasada
Markets in Cuzco are fun. Explore and spot all the cool products made out of quinoa, maca and amaranth that you will not find elsewhere.
We took a day trip to Chinchero. Bus rides cost 2.5 soles per person one way. The market is small and interesting, but there are some lunch ladies who will sell you food. I snagged a plate of greens with broad beans for <2 soles.
From Aguas Caliente, bus rides to Machu Picchu cost $9 one way. At the top, a simple sandwich costs 20 soles.
For our stay in Cuzco, tucked away in a small alley, we found a family run hotel called Jardines Del Inka. They have a kitchen and private rooms for 40 soles after a small bargaining session. Mostly frequented by Chilean and other south american tourists.
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Why you should see the Kuelap ruins in Peru (Kuelap vs Machu Picchu)

In 2011, a million people visited Machu Picchu (MP). That is quite a lot of tourists! And justifiably so… Machu Picchu is old, enigmatic, located amidst immense natural beauty and Cuzco is a really charming base to visiting tourists. It is also draws people who want to simply trek the Inca trail, a really ancient trail used by the Incans to get to MP. When I saw dreamy Che in Motorcycle Diaries years ago, I decided that I simply have to go there one day.

However, there is a gem in Northern Peru – the Kuelap ruins which gave me an entirely different perspective! We saw both MP and Kuelap and at the end of it we decided that we’d rather skip MP, but not skip Kuelap. Again, to put confused minds at rest, both are really beautiful places and you will not regret visiting either of them.

Crowds

MP is really crowded. Its a world famous attraction and people world wide come to see it. You’ll try to go in a meditative state and visualize life there 300 years ago, only to be brought back to reality by a loud tour guide with his group that just passed by. We had  a tour guide in Kuelap, but the day we visited, 30 people visited the ruins.

Costs

Kuelap is a better deal for backpackers on a budget. You have to go spend the night at Aguas Caliente to be able to get to MP early in the morning. AC is a VERY expensive town where rates are in dollars! From AC it is a steep uphill walk for 2 hours (for the unfit) or pay $9 per ticket for the 20 minute ride up. $9 sounds cheap, but in the rest of the country you’ll pay 9 soles for a similar ride. A sandwich at MP food court, the most basic version, cost me 20 soles. Cheapest train tickets to Aguas Caliente from Cuzco cost $48/way.
In comparison, a sightseeing trip to Kuelap including entrance fees, guide, food (excellent veg fare customized for us – placed orders on the way to the ruins, had lunch upon return), transportation all in a day’s time cost us 160 soles or $62 approximately (2012).

Getting There

Its easy to fly into Cuzco, but not Chachapoyas. Getting to Chacha is not as easy to But Chachapoyas to Kuelap is a breeze if you book a tour or even if you just take a taxi/combi. To get to MP from Cuzco, you have to:

1) Book a train ride to Aguas Caliente. Stay at over priced Aguas Caliente so that you can check out the ruins early in the morning. No roads go to AC.
2) Hike the Inca trail. 4 days of walking is great if thats what you want, but a lot of people agree that there are several other fantastic hikes all over Peru (in the Cuzco area, in Colca Canyon and in Huaraz). Inca trail will set you back by $500, while Inca Jungle Trek, a just as much fun option, costs less than $200.
3) Take the bus to some place near Santa Maria and walk 2-3 hours from there to Aguas Caliente along the railway tracks. Not easy to plan with public transport, but not impossible either.

From Chachapoyas, there are collectivos and taxis going to Kuelap.

I loved Machu Pichu itself, but I was not enamored by the crowds, the very high un-backpacker costs or the not-for-public-transport tag it carries.

Culture

Kuelap is older and bigger than MP and is in remarkably good shape. 
Kuelap was built by the Chachapoyan people long before the Incans came into the picture. They eventually did and ousted the Chachapoyans and ruled over them, thereby exerting their influences on the the architecture.