PERU CHEAT SHEET
- Visa: No for US / Canadian / Australian Citizens for tourist stays less than 90 days + no necessary vaccinations, though Yellow Fever is recommended
- Best Time to Travel: Off Peak - November to April for cheaper deals/ less crowds but it is also RAINY SEASON / Peak season - May to September
- Currency: 1 SOLE = .31 USD / .44AUD / .41 CAD
- Cost of Typical Meal - 5-10 soles at a typical, no frills touristy restaurant
- CC friendly: Yes, in Lima and Cuzco. Cash in Huaraz
- Transportation: Cabs. Buses like Cruz Del Sur for long distance travel to Huaraz
- Airports: Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport (CUZ) in Cuzco and Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM) in Lima
- Language: Quechua and Spanish in Cuzco, with many shopkeepers speaking English. Spanish and English in Lima.
ONGOING RUMOR: Machu Picchu is life changing.
MY EXPERIENCE: HELL YES.
THOUGHTS: Of every country I've visited, Peru was my favorite for adventure. If you are a fan of outdoor exploration or seeking a contemplative moment straight out of a Paulo Coehlo book, come to Peru.
TIP: Peruvians are sticklers about their cash and will refuse to accept bills if they are folded, bent, or worn in any way. Bring your own toilet paper with you , as public toilets are cost 1 Sole and may not supply any.
A G U I D E T O T H E
MOST ULTIMATE ADVENTURING
MACHU PICCHU, GLACIERS, AND A PLACE CALLED LAGOON 69
A TREK THROUGH RAIN, SNOW AND MUD FOR FIVE DAYS
THE SALKANTAY TREK is voted one of the 25 most beautiful hikes in the world by National Geographic. From hiking through snow tipped mountains to gleaming wet rainforests, the Salkantay Trek has been one of my favorite experiences in life. In total, I only paid $324USD for my guided 5DAY/4NIGHT hike inclusive of meals, supplies, entrance ticket and train fare from Machu Picchu. For more detail about my 5 day hike to Machu PIcchu, read about it HERE in my adventures section and how to prepare for the hike here. Read my TRAVEL HACK on how to score guided tours for less than half the original cost to Machu Picchu.
TO CATCH A SUNRISE AT MACHU PICCHU
We walked in pitch darkness for twenty minutes from our hostel in Aguas Calientes to arrive at the first entrance of Machu Picchu. With the exception of the strobe orbs of flashlights from those walking ahead of us, we could make out nothing in the darkness.
After the gates opened at 5AM, we continued on our blinded march towards the Inca stairs, a 1,700 stone step pathway built by - you guessed it -The Incans. The Inca Steps are rugged and uneven, offering no sympathy for overzealous early risers. The sun started to rise as we climbed up the stairs, and victims slowly succumbed to the altitude, stopping for breaks on the stone steps.
Some thoughts that ran through my head as I climbed the 40 minutes or so to the top of the steps were:
"Am I almost there?"
"Am I dead yet?"
"I regret this decision"
"This better make my butt bigger"
Finally, we got to the main entrance of Machu Picchu, where security checked my passport, entrance ticket and Machu Picchu Montana ticket. Security will confiscate any walking sticks, water bottles or food you have.
In my experience, I barely saw a sunrise. At such a high elevation, the view is shrouded by clouds, and early morning it started to pour. If you are not a fan of crowds then I would recommend skipping the sunrise, coming later in the morning to do one of the hikes to Huayna Picchu or Machu Pichhu Montana and catching the sunset after most people have cleared out by 4 or 5pm. The site closes at 6PM.
MORE THAN I EVER LEARNED IN HISTORY CLASS
THE STORY BEHIND MACHU PICCHU
Built in the 1400's by the Incans, the site was chosen for it's proximity to "Salkantay Mountain" meaning, Savage Mountain. (NOT SAVAGE GARDEN, but I did include a link if you want to listen to some throwbacks). Aerial views of Machu Picchu resemble a condor from one view, and of a fox when turned upside down. Both animals are revered in Incan culture because of their reciprocal relationship - Condors circle weak and dying animals from above, symboling to the fox to attack the creature. After the fox finished eating it's fill, the condor would swoop down and eat the remains. Each condor is said to have only one mate for life. If one of their mates dies, the remaining one will fly high up into the sky and soar down into the ground to commit suicide. Incans believed condors were messengers from the Gods who would bring spirits from the Earth to the Heavens.
Incans were master stone cutters, and were so precise with their cutting that they needed no mortar in between their stones. Despite several earthquakes, Machu Picchu is still in tact because of their "earthquake proof "designs which involves walls to be built slightly inclined. I try to think of when you stand on the train and how your legs are positioned. You lose balance if your legs were just standing straight together, but when they are spread open and slightly at an angle they are much more stable.
When the Spaniards came to invade, the Incans halted production on Machu Picchu and hid the trail to this site. It was left hidden for several hundreds of years until 1911 when explorer Hiram Bingham was said to have "rediscovered" Machu Picchu as he was on the search for a different city.
Film fans should know that the character of Indiana Jones is loosely based on Hiram Bingham.
Take the time to explore and get your Machu Picchu shots. I do recommend getting a tour if you can, as you'll want to learn all about the intricate history. Be warned: The bathrooms are OUTSIDE of Machu Picchu, so make sure to use the bathroom before entering. You'll have to pay 1 peso and get a receipt. Take the bus back down after the hike, it's about $12USD.
HIKING UP MACHU PICCHU MONTANA
(AS IF HIKING FOR FIVE DAYS WASN'T ENOUGH)
just a little more torture for the legs
While Machu Picchu is a majesty within itself, people rave about the hike to the top of Huayna Picchu, a mountain directly opposite Machu Picchu that offers a bird's eye view of the site. Only 400 people are allowed to climb Huanya Picchu a day, and tickets must be bought months in advance during peak season.
I opted to get a ticket for MACHU PICCHU MONTANA, which stands 3,082 meters (10,111 feet) above sea level, and 652 meters (2,139 feet) above Machu Picchu. Tickets only cost an additional $6USD.
The entry hours are from 7-11AM with the last entrance at 12pm. The montana closes at 2pm. The hike is difficult, but not impossible. It's mostly an uphill stone path with the last half hour being the most dangerous. A steep staircase clings to the edge of the mountain, with one side flanked by an old wall and the other nothing but a long plummet to the ground. On the way back down this staircase, I came down the steps on my bottom because it was so nerve wracking. We took our time, took plenty of breaks and had plenty of encouragement from people coming down as we were going up. The steps alternate between 10-15 inches for each step. It turns out that these high steps were not meant to be walked, but run. The alternating height was designed to be easier to run by the Incas for efficiency.
The view on top was breath taking, Machu Picchu was barely a sight from that high up. Not many people climb up the Montana, so we basically had the view to ourselves. We were so high that we could see cloud being formed from the top of the mountains.
CLIMBING 322 FLOORS IN ONE DAY
STATS FOR ONE DAY
IN MACHU PICCHU
The stats to the left pertain to my day hiking to Machu Picchu.
The itinerary went as follows:
4AM: Walk about 20 minutes from the hostel in Aguas Calientes to the gates of Machu Picchu.
5AM: Walk and climb the 1,700 steps to the actual entrance of Machu Picchu.
6AM: Enter Macchu Picchu and walk around with guide for approx. 2 hours
8AM: Walk to the Sun Gate, explore, take pictures
10:00AM: Walk back from Sun Gate (approx 40 mins) - begin walk to Machu Picchu Montana
10:50AM: MUST check in to the Montana by 11AM. Get to the entrance of the Montana. An hour and a half ascent to the top of Machu Picchu Montana
12:15pm: FINALLY make it!
12:30pm: Last people on top of the montana. Get kicked out and have to start descending back down by 12:30pm. Sweet talk the security guard into letting us stay for a few more minutes.
1:45pm: Arrive back at Machu Picchu and do a little more exploring, take pictures and get our passports stamped by the entrance.
2:15pm:Leave Machu Picchu and catch the bus back to Aguas Calientes to the hostel.
JUST A SMALL TOWN, LIVING IN A LONELY WORLD
The town of Huaraz is a small city filled with hikers and backpackers on their way to explore some of the beautiful scenery in the Cordillera Huayhash surrounding Huaraz. The town was colorful and just beginning to wake up, I could hear static-y radios playing upbeat, latin music. Old grandmothers swept the streets with makeshift straw brooms, the shop behind them emblazoned with homemade signs hawking the day's "menu turista". Families of stray dogs roamed the streets, nibbling at each other's tails and gently panting on the sidewalks. Little did I know, that this would be the last of civilization that I would come to see in Huaraz.
the most beautiful day hike
IS to a place called
Getting to Lagoon 69 is a FIVE hour hike (roundtrip) 4,600 meters / 15, 091 feet above sea level through valleys, rocky paths, grassy fields and mud. A LOT OF IT. I booked a tour through my hostel for 45Soles / $14USD. In terms of difficulty, this is physically taxing due to the high altitude but the scenery will make it all worth it. There was only one person in our group of twelve who got sick from the altitude and had to stay behind. Our guide ended up staying with the person, and the remaining group of us made the way to the lake ourselves. We only met three other people on the path, so while the trail was straightforward, I'd be hesitant to try it alone without a guide. You might have a better sense of direction than I. I tried to take a shortcut and ended up stuck on the side of a mountain of pointy weeds for twenty minutes looking like a silly mountain goat.
Be sure to pack a lot of extra snacks + water! The hike starts early in the morning, with a pickup around 5AM. We were dropped off at a restaurant to grab some breakfast early in the AM. I picked up an extra avocado sandwich for the hike because I knew I would lose energy midway. Coming off the Macchu Picchu hike, I learned how to pack for a serious hike. A few of the people in my group started feeling lightheaded and had run out of water before we even made it to the lagoon. I brought Nuunu caffeine tablets, water and snacks. It rained and got chilly as we reached the top of the lagoon, Ibrought my light Uniglo jacket and a rain coat and was fine.
The water is ice cold, the stream supplying the lagoon comes from the melted snow on top of the mountain.
THE ICE CAPS ARE MELTING
An hour and a half outside of the town of Huaraz stands one of the only glaciers remaining in South America. Up until ten years ago, locals would come here to practice skiing and snowboarding. It's depreciated in size by over 40 percent in the past 40 years. Today, locals have been trying to conserve Pastoruri by covering rocks with sawdust to insulate the cold, and by painting boulders white to reflect the light.
I took a guided tour through my hostel with three other travelers, a sixty- something Mexican couple and a seasoned hiker from Wyoming. The tour cost 50 Soles / $15USD and an additional 7 Soles / $2USD for the park's entry fee. The four of us made the fairly simple journey to the Glacier with a thirty minutes walk up a slightly inclined path. The only killer here, is the altitude of 5,250 metres (17,200 feet) above sea level. Taking three steps in this altitude will make you feel as out of shape as the fat kid who got picked last in Dodgeball. If you can't handle the altitude, you can also ride donkeys for a portion of the journey, but you'll still have to trek it to the end.
WHAT TO PACK:
It was only chilly for about 45 minutes when we were actually at the glacier. Upon arrival, you can buy or rent ponchos, rainboots and other sorts of rain gear from the store at the tip of the base. I opted out and was fine without getting a poncho since it only snowed flurries for a bit. Otherwise, the weather did get chilly, but not unbearably so. I was wearing my Uniglo down jacket under my North Face rain jacket and was fine. This is a fairly simple hike so I didn't even bring water or snacks with me.
Cuzco, home of the original Inca Indians. Before the Spaniards invaded Cuzco, the native people had their own language called Quechua. Around every corner stands a piece of Incan history still leaving it's mark on the land.
Be sure to explore Cuzco on foot, there are plenty of secret stairwells and paths leading to adventure. To get a head start, take the FREE WALKING TOUR that starts from the Main Square twice a day. The tour also offers a free Pisco Sour and even a free bus ride to an Alpaca shop. Another option is to hike to El Cristo Blanco or The Statue of Christ. There is also a bus option to come here, but the views of the city are worth it to walk. You'll also pass by a formidable rock structure called "Sexy Lady" which I could not see anything sexy about, might just be a tourist scam or targeted towards people with rock fetishes. Once you get hungry, visit the massive indoor market at Mercado San Pedro and try some of the fresh fruits, local chocolates or to try some of the local Chifa, Peruvian fried rice. There are also several other excursions within the proximity including rock climbing, bungee jumping and zip lining.
Do be careful of your belongings here, as I was almost pick pocketed. You can read about how I fought a the gang of pick pocketers with my bare hands HERE (ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little). Besides that little mishap, Cuzco is overall safe and friendly, with the people being some of the warmest and friendly that I've met.
Take the time to acclimate and explore Cuzco before you make your way to Machu Picchu. It's a humble and quaint city if you can get out of tourist central.
DULCE DE LECHE CHURROS, A CAT PARK AND A ROCKY BEACH
Believe me, nature is glorious in every way. But, there is nothing, nothing like a hot shower and a warm, comfy mattress to lay in. After a few weeks trekking through the badlands of Peru, I was more than happy to get on a flight and walk on actual paved floors. Lima, it turns out was a happening city filled with some of the most incredible restaurants and unique sights in Peru.
I stayed in Miraflores, a beachside section of Lima that was a happy mix of Miami and Manhattan Beach in California. What's there to say about beach towns? Chic, upscale restaurants with outdoor seating, tall modern luxury buildings and quaint, secluded beachside houses that just fill you to the brim with jealousy.
In Lima, be warned. The beaches are awful. Instead of sand, they have rocks. So while your feet will be in excruciating pain, seasoned locals will be running, swimming and surfing barefoot. Take a visit to Parque Kennedy, famous for it's beautiful gardening and home to many friendly stray cats. Close to here is Manolo's Churros which is known for their Dulce de Leche filled churros.
WHERE I STAYED:
Pariwana Hostel - Loved this hostel. Incredibly clean, warm and social. It is a "party" hostel so you may encounter some noise, though you can ask for "quiet" rooms. I opted for an 8 female dorm only with a bathroom and it was great. They also have activities for guests like soccer games, ping pong, beer pong and have a bar/eating/hang out area.
Caroline Lodging- Run by a family, rooms were clean and comfortable, decent shower. Very basic. Free breakfast. Friendly and warm family, though the living room was dingy. Best part is that you can book your tours through the hostel for very affordable prices. I arrived at 6AM and was out the door for a 9AM hike to Pastoruri Glacier. If you plan on only being there to sleep then it is fine.
Condor Hostel: Way overcrowded, No air conditioning, Useless staff. Talking to a baseball glove would have been more helpful than these people, LOUD construction downstairs AND across the street. Noisy. We switched out after one night here.
Nomade Backpacker's Hostel- Very Clean and modern, Pool, 15 minute walk from center of Miraflores.