RTW Update No.3 – All About Peru

After an incredible 3.5 weeks in summer all the time Puerto Rico, and an awe-inspiring month in Ecuador that culminated with a blissful trip to the Galapagos Islands, it was time to move onto Peru. There we traded sandals and wetsuits for warm jackets and hiking boots. Indeed, we spent most of our time in Peru either hiking or recovering from hiking. We climbed to over 5100m in the wild and rugged Cordillera Blanca, moved through the ice-capped Salkantay Pass to reach the incomparable Machu Picchu, and walked down into one of the deepest canyons in the world. We also spent 2 weeks learning Spanish in the White City of Arequipa and sampled many delicious craft beers around the country.

In total, we spent almost 2 months in Peru and still are finding reasons to go back, despite spending half of our time there in less than perfect health…more on that later. But for now, Peru inspired us with its landscapes, delighted us with its tasty food and drink, and provided us with a glimpse into its rich history and culture.

Getting to Peru from Ecuador

This was one of the harrier parts of our journey as the bus routes from Southern Ecuador to Northern Peru are long and not super well-known. We took the not horrendously uncomfortable 12 hour overnight Azuay Transport bus from Cuenca, Ecuador to Chiclayo, Peru, complete with a surprisingly painless 3am border crossing. Just remember that you have to get back on the bus after getting your exit stamp in Ecuador because you have to drive 5km to the  Peruvian border. Some other travellers we met didn’t get this advice and spent a confusingly long time waiting at the exit stamp office.

Baby Llamas in Cusco
Getting a photo with a baby alpaca is practically required when you’re in Peru

From Chiclayo, we had to take a taxi to the bus terminal and hop on another bus to Trujillo.  Once in Trujillo, we booked a much more comfortable 8 hour bus the next morning to Huaraz with Linea Transport. We had planned on taking another overnight bus, but seats were sold out which surprised us a bit because this didn’t seem like the most popular route in Peru. While in Trujillo, we missed the chance to see the ancient Chan Chan pre-Incan ruins but did get to enjoy some amazing street food near our hotel, including lemon meringue pie from the lady who just happened to walk by while we were waiting for the hotel owner to get back.  Although not planned, spending a night in a hotel sleeping on an actual bed was one of the best things imaginable after so many long bus rides.

Trekking in Hauraz

Finally after 2.5 days of bus rides, we arrived in Huaraz, the launch point of the picturesque and awe-inspiring Cordillera Blanca. We stayed at Humberto’s Guest House which is a like a homestay since it’s basically some extra rooms that have been added to Humberto’s family’s house. Humberto waited for us in the bus station and offered us some advice on tours and getting to downtown. That first night we discovered delicious Sierra Andina beer on tap at Trivio, a place we would visit many times over the next two weeks.

For our first trek, we headed up to Laguna Willacacocha near the city and celebrated Canada Day with a view and a post-hike brew at Trivio.

From there, we tackled the busy and tough but rewarding Laguna 69 trek where we climbed up to over 4600m.

 

Zentravellers at Laguna 69
Zentravellers at Laguna 69

Feeling acclimatized, we headed out on the beautiful but tough Alkipo-Ishinca 3 day trek, that took us up to 5000m on the top of Alkipo Pass and had us camping under some of the most beautiful stars we’ve ever seen. The hike was beautiful, but our guide was pretty terrible and led us down a wrong turn, so we don’t recommend using Climber Land for this trek.

Admiring the view on the Alkipo-Ishinca Trek
Admiring the view on the Alkipo-Ishinca Trek

After the trek, I caught the cold that was going around and had to spend the next couple days recovering. We were able to check out the Chancos hot springs for a relaxing soak and shop for sweaters in the artisan’s market.

Once I was feeling a little better, we set out to tackle Mateo Peak for some beginner mountaineering. Following a pleasant trek through the rolling Cordillera Negra, we camped by a trout farm where dogs and pigs joined us for the night. At 4am we were picked up to drive to the trailhead at 4700m where we started our hike up to the glacier and were greeted with incredible sunrise views as we walked. At about 4900m, we put our crampons on and roped in to cross the glacier to the peak at 5125m. It was slow going, but we made it and enjoyed the staggeringly beautiful panoramic vista from the peak. Afterward, we went for ice cream in Carhuaz and enjoyed a nice meal with beer en route back to Huaraz. For this trek, we used Peruvian Classic Adventures who we highly recommend.

 

Zentravellers on the summit of Mt Matteo
Zentravellers on the summit of Mt Matteo at 5,150m

Having almost our fill of high altitude adventures, we set our sights on charming Cusco but not without a list about a mile long of other treks we would like to do in the Cordillera Blanca. Pisco Peak and Hauyhuash circuit call!

Cusco to Macchu Pichu

From Huaraz, we took a luxurious overnight bus with Cruz Del Sur to Lima’s terminale norte. From there, we hailed the ricketiest, most-banged up taxi we’ve ever seen to take us to the airport where we boarded a short, 1 hour and 45 minute flight to Cusco. This 3400m high city has all the charms that Huaraz lacks. Cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, colourful storefronts, and delicious restaurants please the senses and the traffic-reduced city centre offers a more peaceful alternative to Huaraz’s noisy congestion.

We set up a trek to Machu Picchu using the Salkantay route and enjoyed a challenging walk to the most beautiful ruins in the world. Taking the steps at 5:00am, we arrived at Machu Picchu for sunrise which was an awe-inspiring experience.

Zentravellers at Machu Picchu
Zentravellers at Machu Picchu

Next we set our sights on hiking the Rainbow Mountain, but first we needed to recover from Phil’s cold, my food poisoning, and then my second food poisoning which happened while we were supposed to be recovering, and then Phil’s food poisoning. We spent a week in quiet Pisac, touring their local ruins, taking an almost ill-fated local bus journey to the Morary and Ollantaytambo ruins, and found the Sacred Valley Micro-Brewery. There we sampled delicious brews and supped on a massive cheeseburger, but then couldn’t find a collectivo heading back to Pisac. It didn’t seem to matter who we asked, everyone said they weren’t going that way. We knew that we could get partially “home” so we grabbed the first collectivo going to Urubamba which was actually someone’s car. Once there, we took a taxi to the Pisac bus station which was closed for the night. As we walked back toward town, we tried to flag down anyone going to Piscac, but no one said they were. This was really surprising to us since it’s only 45 minutes from Cusco, and everyone was going back to Cusco that night, albeit by a slightly different route.  Eventually, we hopped on one going to nearby Caral thinking we could at least spend the night there if need be and then take a short collectivo back to Pisac the next  morning, but luckily found one going to Pisac from Caral that night. Crisis averted!

 

Moray Ruins in the Sacred Valley
Moray Ruins in the Sacred Valley

Once back in Pisac, a place that’s famous for any manner of new-age healing, and/or hallucinogenic retreat, I got sick again and puked up my fresh pressed juice along the side of the road in front of two cops who turned their motorcycle around to come back towards us. Expecting a mouthful on being a sloppy, stupid tourist who likely took too much Ayahuasca for all they knew, I was delighted when they asked if I was feeling better and told me to walk slower. This was almost as endearing of an encounter with South American cops as the one who gave us a police escort to the coffee farm in the Galapagos Islands.

After our non-hallucinogenic retreat in Pisac was over (I swear we were the only people that went to that place without getting high on some kind of jungle plant), we headed back to Cusco to try to set up a trip to Rainbow Mountain. Unfortunately Inka Time, the reputable agency we hoped to book with, told us that it had snowed too much recently and they weren’t leading trips at the moment. They told us if we had at least 3 days to wait, we could try it then but as charming as Cusco is, we weren’t able to find a place to stay that we liked in the rather cold at night city, so we opted to move onto the spring-like weather in Arequipa instead. Although we didn’t get to use Inka Time for any treks while in Cusco, we appreciated their honesty as many people were still willing to sell a trip to Rainbow Mountain even though you wouldn’t be able to see the famous colours on the peak.

Before setting off for Arequipa though, we needed to make a decision about whether or not we would leave South America to hike the Colorado Trail or keep going and use the time we would have spent hiking to tour Bolivia and possibly Brazil. Like so many other places in North America this summer, fires had ravaged forests near the trail and portions of it were closed and remained so for many weeks. We wanted to be able to do the whole thing, so we made the tough decision to put this dream on hold and focus on South America. Doing so would open up some opportunities for hiking in Bolivia’s Cordillera Real and taking Spanish lessons in Arequipa since we would now have an extra 6-8 weeks in the region. Of course, a week after we decided to postpone our thru-hike the entire trail reopened.

Having Fun and Getting Sick in Arequipa

Having reluctantly made our choice to put the Colorado Trail on hold for now, we took a gruelling 10 hour bus ride to Arequipa and instantly loved the White City. Flanked by massive 5800+m volcanoes and featuring a much more agreeable climate than Cusco with white stone-carved colonial architecture, Arequipa is a city of impressive contradictions. It is a place that is steeped in both pre-contact and colonial history, where all modern amenities can be found yet walking around the centre feels like stepping back in time,  and active pursuits are possible within minutes from the city’s edge. Its vibrant food scene blends new trends with ancient recipes so there is something for every taste too.

There we spent a week learning Spanish, where I graduated to intermediate Spanish and Phil picked up beginner skills and another week touring the area. In addition to teaching us Spanish, our teachers also filled us in on some local culture and customs including where to find the best queso helado (aka frozen cheese, or fresh-made ice cream that’s so named because it looks like slices of cheese), and which picanterias were best. At the picanterias such as La Capitana and La Palomino, we were able to sample the best of local cuisine including potato cake (exactly as good as it sounds), stuffed spicy red pepper, beef stew, and choclo (local, fat, juicy, infinitely better than North American corn), as well as the chica and chicha morada drinks. We passed on the pickled pig feet though.

In addition to traditional dishes, we were drawn to Arequipa’s craft beer district and became semi-regulars at the Chelawasi Brewpub and Perro Maldito, the hot dog place with some made in house brews on tap and wicked-good playlists. Lastly, our culinary tour also included a chocolate workshop at Chaqchao where we made our own treats and learned how to tell the crap passing as chocolate from real chocolate.

 
Cacao Beans at Chaqchao
Cacao Beans at Chaqchao

While Arequipa’s food kept us satisfied and satiated, we also checked out the Museo de Santa Andino where the remains of a mummified 12 year old girl are on display. Juanita the “Ice maiden” was bonked on the head sometime between 1450 and 1480 to appease the Incan gods and was laid to rest in the glaciers of the 6380m Ampato volcano. When the volcano erupted in the 80s, the glaciers receded so archaeologists followed local knowledge to the peak to find her resting place. Now she is on display in the museum along with artefacts from the other child sacrifices found in the nearby peaks to educate people on Incan culture. Fortunately for today’s children of Peru, a simple offering of beer or chicha to Pachamama seems to suffice.

Adding to Arequipa’s fun is all the adventurous activities that can be arranged there. We went cycling and rock climbing in the same day, white water rafting on the Rio Chilli, trekking through the endlessly picturesque Colca Canyon, and Phil made it up Misti volcano at 5865 which is just 30 meters short of Mount Kilimanjaro. I unfortunately came down with my 3rd case of food poisoning (or gastritis? Regardless, my insides exploded) and then my second cold in Peru in the same week, so I wasn’t feeling up to a long, tough slog up the mountain. Taking a rest was the right choice, and since our next destination is Bolivia,  I’ll be able to climb some sky high peaks there.

 

Summit of Misti Volcano
Summit of Misti Volcano

So after almost 2 weeks in the White City, we reluctantly said adios to Arequipa and hopped on a comfy and reliable Bolivia Hop bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, where we would eventually make our way to Bolivia. While Puno has a rough reputation, we found it to be safe enough place to stay for a day and enjoyed some tasty food and good coffee while there. We also took a tour to the Urus floating islands which are a bit cheesy and likely something we would skip next time. Especially since all of the harvesting of reeds to make the islands which nobody actually lives on anymore is causing the endemic and cute as a button Titicaca grebe to race toward extinction. The lake itself is immensely beautiful and a visit there is a wonderful way to cap off our time in Peru. Next stop is Bolivia!

Thea’s Bird Life List

I didn’t get to add as many species to my list as I did in Ecuador, but Peru’s birds were pretty incredible nonetheless. Here are the new entries:

The Andean Condor
The iconic Andean Condor flying above Colca Canyon
  • Andean condor
  • Titicaca grebe
  • Giant hummingbird
  • Blue dove
  • Peruvian sierra finch
  • Torrent duck
  • Giant coot
  • Andean flicker
  • Puna ibis
  • Andean duck
  • Eared dove
  • Chiguanco thrush
  • Black-chested buzzard-eagle
  • Many-coloured rush tyrant
  • Black siskin
  • Hooded siskin
  • Yellow-winged blackbird
  • Scrub blackbird

Phil’s Fav Photo:

It’s difficult (impossible?) to pick just one photo from almost 50 days in a country that has stunning landscapes and is steeped in Incan history like Peru but one of the things that stood out was the amazing night skies during our trekking in Huaraz, Salkantay, and the Colca Canyon.  In fact, we lucked out with perfect conditions for photographing the Milky Way, with no moonlight, the Milky Way low on the horizon, and visible early in the evening (no staying up late required when the sun sets at 6PM every night!).  I had dreamed of being able to take night sky photos like this, and the conditions lined up to take a bunch at different destinations.  This was one of the first and was taken the night before we climbed Mt. Matteo.

Amazing Stars while Camping outside Huaraz

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