Archive for the ‘Peru’ Category
After a whirlwind 2 days through Puno and Lake Titicaca, we were down to the final leg of our two-week trip across Peru. I had never heard of Colca Canyon before beginning to research places to visit in Peru, but after reading about the graceful condors that can only be found in the canyon, I knew we had to check it out.
From Puno, we took the 4M Express bus to Arequipa, passing through packs of alpacas (cuteness overload), a lake situated even higher than Titicaca, a series of volcanoes including El Misti, and a high point of 4,910 meters- just over 16,000 feet. The bus ride took about 7 hours and dropped us off directly at our hostel, Colonial Inn. Arequipa was by far the most European of the cities we had visited, with gorgeous Spanish architecture across town. We didn’t have much time to explore though- the next morning it was off to Colca Canyon!
After our exhausting Inca Trail hike, it was off to the legendary Lake Titicaca. The 3,200 sq. mile lake borders Peru and Bolivia, accessible on the Peruvian side via Puno, and is the largest lake in South America. ‘Titicaca’ roughly translates to “stone puma,” which the lake’s shape is supposed to resemble. I suppose this is true if you have a highly creative imagination and squint 🙂 At any rate, the day long tour of the Uros and Taquile Islands was a much needed break to recover from the fast pace of the Inca Trail. The tour began at 6:30 AM (it takes about 1.5 hours to get to the Uros Islands and another hour from there to Taquile) and ended around 5 PM.
Additional notes and tips after the break
Machu Picchu is limited by the Peruvian government to 2500 visitors each day – and only about 10% of that daily total typically come via the long route. Those that do make it are following in the same footsteps as the Incans in going from the old Incan capital of Cusco to the hidden peaks of Machu Picchu, a journey that takes you up, over, and around the cavernous Urubamba River Valley, to the tune of four days (or 3 if you are particularly motivated), 45 km (27 miles), and a hell of a lot of rock steps.
For us, taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was the main premise of our trip to Peru, and without a doubt, the experience delivered. Over the course of four long and tiring days, we gazed upon countless magnificent views, saw a plethora of Andean wildlife, pooped in a number of questionable holes in the ground, and tasted a life’s worth of home-cooked Peruvian and Incan dishes.
With Cusco at just about 11,000 feet, we spent our two pre-hike days acclimating to the altitude, and it was well worth it, especially on a trek where you are consistently above 10,000 feet (and that takes you as high as 14,000 ft on day two). While the distance from Cusco to Machu Picchu is actually 50 miles (and 500 years ago the Incans would have done the full load), the Inca Trail actually begins at Piscacucho at kilometer 82, after a quick pit stop at Ollantaytambo in the AM, where our bus picked up the 12 porters that we would have accompanying our group of 6. So it wasn’t really until about 9 or 10 when we first got started on the first leg of our journey, as day one was, in the words of our masterful guide Edgar, a relatively flat (even according to Peruvian standards, where flat really means up and down), 12 km jaunt. In the morning, we covered about half of the 12km at a constant altitude to Llaqtapata (8694 ft), where we had our first lunch stop. A very scenic couple of hours, the hike was along the Urubamba River, where we had a chance to see several Incan terraces and a few small ruins along the way. After a three-course lunch prepared by our porter-chef Fredi (“Chico”), which set the high standard for food throughout the trek, we took off on an afternoon where we would cover the remaining 5km, mostly going uphill to an elevation of 9842 feet, to the site of our first campsite at Wayllabamba. The views in the second half of the day were solid, if unspectacular, with a couple stops here and there to check out some Incan ruins in the distance. At Wayllabamba, we were camped in a field within the tiny village, surrounded on all sides by mountains. The village had a Christian church and some old ruins that we checked out at the top of the hill, where we happened upon a pick-up soccer game played by kids living in the village. All of our party, tired from the first day, went to bed early, especially since we were about to embark on a series of 5:30am wake-up calls.
I love packing. The thrill of making many items fit into a small container, the stress of figuring out what the bring, the panic that sets in when you wonder if you’ve brought enough…it all makes me giddy. But I understand that I am an anomaly, and that most people find packing tedious. Which is why I am going to tell you exactly what to bring on the 4 day Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu. I’ll let Darren cover the actual hike in a separate post, but in order to survive the hike, you’ll want to read my list closely. Onwards!
This is the duffel that Wayki Treks provides for a shared 2-person porter (15kg)
1. Waterproof Hiking Shoes– I wavered for a long time between hiking boots and hiking shoes, and ultimately decided on these Columbia hybrids (sorry, forget the model number) because they were a) waterproof; b) lightweight; and c) $24.99. I stuck my running insoles in them prior to departing and they served me well throughout the hike – after 8 hours of hiking, your feet are going to be tired no matter what. That being said, I would recommend considering the following factors when debating whether to go for a hiking shoe/hybrid or a hiking boot. First, how agile are you with your feet? I tend to forget to pick up my feet sometimes, and as a result did roll my ankle a few times throughout (no injuries though!). Ankle support would have been useful in those instances, but of course the tradeoff is weight. Second, how much time do you have to break in the shoes? If it’s a matter of brand new versus well worn, choose the latter. Third, make sure the shoes are waterproof, even if you go in dry season as we did. Weather in the Andes is highly unpredictable, and blisters are no fun! I did see a few others doing the hike in trail running sneakers, but hiking shoes (examples here, here, and here) and lightweight boots (like these and these) were the trail norm.
2. Flip Flops– Although it got cold by the time we entered camp each day, I was grateful to slip into my flip flops for a few minutes and give my feet a break from my shoes. Others also brought old running shoes, which probably function better especially when using the toilets (watch where you step!).
3. Hat, Scarf, and Gloves– We hiked the trail in August, and temperatures plummeted to just below freezing at night. Night 2 was particularly cold. Preserving body heat is essential especially during the evening and early morning.
4. Waterproof Duffel– I’ve blogged about packable duffels before, and this waterproof Oakley duffel that we brought along was the perfect size for the hike. Although Wayki Treks (our tour operator) gives you a duffel to store your belongings for the porters to carry (see picture above), their duffels aren’t waterproof. If it rains…yup, you’re screwed! In fact, on the last evening we experienced a torrential thunderstorm that left a few fellow hikers with damp clothing even though their things were inside of the tent. Store all of your goodies in plastic bags or a waterproof duffel, folks. Darren and I stashed our belongings in my Oakley duffel, which we then put into the trek operator duffels.
5. Underwear– You’re not showering for four days, but that’s no excuse for swamp ass.
As with many travelers that swarm the notorious Gringo Trail annually, Cusco was the launching point for our two-week Peruvian adventure. Located at a not-so-comfortable 3,400 m (11,800 ft) above sea level, the historical Inca capital boasts numerous attractions that left us, quite literally, breathless.
Getting There and Around
From DC, it was quite the trek to Cusco. There are no direct flights to neither Lima nor Cusco from the three WAS airports, and all flights to Lima from DC take place late afternoon/evening…making an overnight at the airport to make your AM Cusco connection all too likely. Our journey went like this: IAD >> PTY >> LIM >> CUZ. A heart-stopping 42 minute connection in Panama City was followed by a 5 hour overnight layover in Lima, bringing our total travel time to just over 14 hours. Buenas suerte friends, buenas suerte.
From the airport to the Plaza de Armas (city center), a taxi will cost you 10 soles. You MUST negotiate fare before getting into the cab. If you don’t like the price the drivers give you, walk away and find another car. Meters are non-existent in the cabbies, so buyer beware. No need to tip unless the driver handles your baggage, in which case 1-2 extra soles would be appropriate. Once you’re in the city center, everything is reasonably walkable. If you get tired, a cab to various parts of town shouldn’t cost more than 5 soles max.
We stayed at Hospedaje Turistico Recoleta on Jiron Pumacahua for $10 a night per person (4 bed, ensuite bathroom). The hostel is zero frills but has the necessities: free blowdryer, linens, towels, breakfast, and luggage storage (what, did you think I wheeled my Samsonite along the Inca Trail?). There’s hot water and heat, but both were of dubious quantity, a pattern that repeated itself at our various hostels across the country. The staff was friendly and spoke English if you need it. My only complaint would be that the hostel was located about 15 minutes walking from the Plaza de Armas, which wouldn’t be a problem except that we had to walk through the narrowest of alleyways, with traffic, to get there.
In just under a week, Darren and I will spend two weeks traveling around Peru. About half of our time will be spent hiking and glamping the legendary Inca Trail, culminating in an early morning descent into the one and only Machu Picchu. However, we’ve also planned another week’s worth of adventures that we are equally excited about (okay I lied- perhaps not equally excited, but it looks and sounds promising nonetheless) that includes a visit to the floating islands of Lake Titicaca and an excursion through the vast Colca Canyon. Darren and I will be traveling with two other friends for the entire two weeks, and our group for the Inca Trail includes an additional four friends that we are thrilled to be sharing this experience with. A lot of forethought and planning went into making this trip happen, which we began booking five months ago, and we’re hoping that sharing our itinerary and budget with you will help ease the stress that comes all too often with big travel.
Since the Inca Trail is a planning beast of its own, we’ll cover the planning, packing, and other goodies in a separate post. Oh, and we’re planning (as usual) to fit everything that we need into carryons, so we’ll share our packing list in –you guessed it- a separate post.
Please note that as this trip hasn’t actually happened yet, we cannot attest to the quality of each of the vendors we are using for our lodging and excursions. We’ll review and revise our recommendations as needed upon our return, but until then, rest assured that we did spend many hours combing through forums and reading reviews to ensure the best experience and value possible. I’ll go through the itinerary first, followed by a few extra tidbits of information and the estimated budget.