We are now in La Paz, Bolivia having spent an excellent 6 weeks in Peru without once updating our blog...oops!
Arequipa (7th September - 8th September)
From Arica in Chile we took a chaotic bus over the border where we had to surrender our passports to the bus conductor for the first part of the journey which left us feeling a little nervous. In Tacna, now in Peru, we went to the domestic bus terminal looking for a bus to Arequipa and luckily found one which should have left 25 mins ago but hadn't so we rushed onto that. It was a 6 hour journey through barren desert to Arequipa.
Arequipa is Peru's second largest city nestled at the bottom of the Misti volcano and we spent the next day wandering around the charming city full of buildings made from local volcanic rock. A particular highlight was the Convento de Santa Catalina, a 16th century monastery only opened to the public in the 1970s. It was almost a city within a city it was so big, as well as being calm and peaceful compared to the hustle and bustle outside. For lunch we treated ourselves in a (relatively) expensive Peruvian restaurant full of Peruvian families having ceviche, raw fish "cooked" in lemon juice, onions and chilli. It was a culinary highlight and we wished we could have tried more - we also had scallops smothered in parmesan which were delicious too.
Colca Canyon (9th September - 11th September)
From Arequipa we took a 6 hour bus to Cabanaconde where we arrived at dinner time. I was feeling horrendous as we had driven over a pass of about 4900m so my head was splitting. The next day we got up early to catch the 0630 bus to a viewpoint into the canyon to see condors flying. These are native Andean birds with wingspans of up to 3m. We got lucky and managed to see about 20 of them very close up! Then headed back to Cabanaconde for a 2 day trek into the canyon, which is the second biggest in the world. It was a very steep descent down into the canyon which took us about 4 hours but at the end we were rewarded with a bed in a lodge by the river which had lovely warm hot springs to relax in. The next day we got up early and walked across the other side of the valley to a traditional village before descending to 'the oasis', full of lush vegetation and hostels with swimming pools. We had lunch at one of these places and then took the steep path back up the canyon. Given it was mid afternoon and we had no cover from the sun, it was a very hard 2 hour climb!
Nazca (12th September)
From the Colca Canyon it was another 6 hour bus journey back to Arequipa and then an overnight bus to Nazca, famous for the Nazca lines. The town itself wasn't up to much at all and we decided not to do a flight over the lines as it was really expensive. Instead In the afternoon we took a taxi to see the Nazca lines up close and from the top of a couple of viewing towers, very impressive, although I'm sure they are better appreciated from the sky. Alice also treated herself to her first haircut in 9 months in a fancy salon in Nazca!
Huacachina (13th September - 14th September)
We spent one night in Huacachina, an oasis in the desert with a lagoon surrounded by mightily impressive sand dunes. We tried sand-boarding, similar to snowboarding but on sand, which was great fun but very daunting standing at the top of such huge sand-dunes. Apart from the dunes there wasn't anything to keep us at Huacachina so we spent the next night in Ica, a 10 minute taxi ride from the lagoon.
Ica (15th September)
Ica was another town with not much to offer us but we did make a trip to a bodega on the outskirts of the city where we were shown around an artesanal pisco bodega where the grapes are crushed by feet, unfortunately we visited outwith harvest season so we couldn't partake. The best part was the tastings where the guide seemed intent on getting us drunk. We tried numerous vintages of pisco and he had a double helping himself every-time which must have been a perk of his job. After such an enjoyable tour we decided to buy a bottle, which we gave to my parents when we met them in Cusco a couple of weeks later.
Paracas (16th September - 18th September)
The Paracas nature reserve is one of the best places in Peru to see wildlife and we did a boat tour to the Islas Bellestas where we saw thousands of birds, sea lions and penguins. It is called the 'poor man's galapagos', and Alice enjoyed it so much she left already planning a trip to the real thing, not this trip though unfortunately. We also visited the national park where we saw flamingos from a very long distance and some impressive rock formations.
Huaraz (19th September - 23rd September)
After a 4 hour journey to Lima, crossing the city in a taxi, and then an overnight bus we arrived in Huaraz, the trekking capital of Peru, situated at over 3,000m above sea level. We took the first day easy to acclimatise to the altitude but unfortunately I had some digestive problems which lasted the whole time we were at altitude. On the second day we got up at the crack of dawn to take a collectivo (shared taxi) to a village nearby in the mountains where we climbed to Lake Churup at 4,450m. We walked up with a Swiss guy who wasn't as used to walking as us and almost fainted at one point when we had to scramble up the side of waterfall using ropes. It was a lovely walk to a peaceful lake high in the mountains but it was nothing in comparison to Laguna 69 which we did 2 days later day. Laguna 69 was a hard 2 hour trek to the lake but it was an amazing sight with crystal blue water surrounded by snow peaked mountains and a waterfall. The only downside to this walk was that it was a 3 hour drive away, 2 of which were along a steep and winding unpaved road. On another day, we took a 3 hour bus ride to Chavin to see ruins from a pre Inka culture but it was a bit lost on us without a guide. We decided to take a shared taxi back to Huaraz as the buses were unreliable. We set off with the vehicle half full but soon picked up workmen. When they all got in the driver was unable to do a hill start so some people had to get out while the driver got us to a flatter part. We then picked up some more people on a hill and again the driver couldn't do a hill start. However, he didn't put the brakes on properly so we started rolling down the hill. Despite everyone screaming at the driver we ended up in a concrete ditch, thankfully unharmed. We all helped push the vehicle out and then continued only for the suspension to break. Despite the driver assuring us it was safe to get in after he had tied it together we decided to wait for the next bus to pass, arriving safely back in Huaraz later that night.
Trujillo (24th September - 25th September)
Trujillo was our most northern stop in Peru and it was a relaxing place to spend 2 days. We stayed in nearby Huanchaco which was hosting the World Longboard Championships at the time so we spent a bit of time watching the surfers but it didn't really capture our attentions. Trujillo was a nice city and had two important historic ruins nearby, Chan Chan, the largest adobe city in the world, and Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, more adobe temples pre Chan Chan. Both sites were impressive, especially seeing Peruvian hairless dogs at both.
Lima (26th September - 27th September)
We only spent a day in Lima as no one we had spoken to had really inspired us to spend more time there. We were staying in the posh Miraflores area by the sea but went into the centre to see the main square and churches. However that day there was a general protest by workers so the whole square was cordoned off a block on every side with a heavy presence of riot police. We tried to get in at one checkpoint but the heavily armed policeman refused point blank to let us through. Thankfully at the next checkpoint which was a lot quieter we were allowed in to the deserted square where we watched changing of the guard. We then went to a cathedral where we saw some impressive catacombs before going back to the hostel having seen enough of Lima.
Cusco (28th September - 2nd October)
It was a 22 hour bus journey to Cusco from Lima but we travelled first class with the most expensive bus company which meant we had nice reclining leather seats with a personal TV to choose films and music from. We both watched an excessive dose of movies but found these more expensive seats less comfy than the cheaper ones as they had less legroom for us both. After relaxing for the afternoon we went to meet Alice's family at their hotel and then out for dinner. They were kind enough to look after us while we were in Cusco which was a nice change from our budget travel!
On our first day with the family we spent the morning wandering around Cusco and in the afternoon did a city tour with a guide. It was different for us having a private guide and we both noticed how much more tiring it was to take in all the information she gave us as well as see about 6 different things in one afternoon, although much more interesting with a guide! The highlight was seeing a picture in the cathedral of the Andean version of the last supper, where guinea pig was served for dinner!
The next two days we had to ourselves so we went to some Inca and other museums which had lots of interesting potteries and artefacts but rubbish English translations and explanations. It was an enjoyable and relaxing couple of days. We were both glad to spend this time with Alice's family in Cusco as it was the most relaxed city we visited in Peru but also with things to see and do.
On our final day in Cusco we went into the Sacred Valley. Alice's family had a tour that day which we didn't go on with them but we headed in the same way and bumped into them several times! The ruins were perched on a steep hillside with incredible terraces. Alice and I started at the top and walked all the way down into the village below which was a great walk, made better by the fact we hardly saw anyone else! On the way back, we stopped off at a small animal sanctuary where we got incredibly close with some native animals, with parrots sitting on our arms, and condors swooping just inches from our heads!
Inca Trail (3rd October - 6th October)
Probably the only thing we said we definitely wanted to do when we first started talking about this trip was the Inca Trail so we both had really high expectations for the trip. However, after we came back from our briefing trip the day before we were both a bit down as we felt almost everything the guide said was negative.
The first day we had to be at a square in town by 4am so it was a very early start. It was then a two hour drive to a town where we stopped for breakfast and then another hour to km 82, the start of the trail. There was 14 people in our group with 2 guides and 21 porters carrying our stuff! We were glad we had opted to pay extra for a porter to carry our stuff as it meant we had the minimal on our backs as we walked.
We were blessed with fantastic weather on day one with glorious sunshine. The first morning was easy walking and it was relatively flat along the valley. For lunch, everyone was amazed at the quality of the food the chef rustled up, three courses, and four different mains to choose from! This continued for the next two days, and we even got proper cake with icing, although I have no idea how they cooked it halfway up a mountain on a gas hob!
Alice and I were lucky that we had spent a long time at altitude and also alot of time walking since we left home as we were by far the fittest among the group. As we were always near or at the front we had plenty of breaks waiting for the others to catch up which also helped. Day 2 was the "hardest" day where we climbed Dead Woman's Pass which was at 4200m. It was a long climb but there was great views to be had from the top. Unfortunately, the weather didn't stay good for us on day 3 as we awoke to rain pouring down. Thankfully, by the time we started to walk it had reduced to less heavy rain but our ponchos were still required! We arrived at our final campsite by lunch and had the afternoon to relax and explore a nearby Inca site.
The walk was very enjoyable and it was amazing to see the change in landscape as we progressed. The scenery was spectacular but not the most impressive we had seen. On our final day, we got up at 3am so that the porters could pack all the equipment and make their train home. We then joined the queue and waited for the gate to open to Machu Picchu. Luckily, we were one of the first groups to arrive so we had a seat and cover for the 2 hour or so wait. The guide then lead us to the famous Sun Gate for our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. He went as fast as he could which I was just able to keep up with but Alice dropped back when we hit some steep stairs, but it was worth it as when we arrived there was only a handful of people already there and we could just about make out the outline of Macchu Picchu as the clouds passed over. By the time the rest of the group arrived there was probably nearer 200 people and the cloud was getting worse so we felt lucky to have got their early.
We then descended to the site and after visiting our first non-long drop loo in 3 days the guide gave us a tour of Macchu Pichu. Luckily, the cloud disappeared as the morning wore on and we got some great photos of the site. On the recommendation of other travellers, Alice and I had bought entrance tickets for Waynu Pichu, the towering mountain over the site which gave amazing views. We both definitely agreed that this had lived up to expectations. Back in Aguas Calientes, we met up with the rest of the group for one final meal. The annoying thing was that our train back to Cusco wasn't until 1900 and we didn't get back home until near midnight so it was a very long last day. Overall though the Inca Trail has been a definite highlight of our travels so far!
Cusco (7th October)
Despite being tired from our walking, I persuaded Alice to get up before 7 and we went for the day into the Sacred Valley to a small town called Ollantaytambo. There were more ruins there but they were a bit disappointing having seen Macchu Pichu so we went back to Cusco, stopping for lunch in a small town on the way. At night, we took a night bus to Puerto Maldonado, where we would spend a few days in the jungle.
Puerto Maldonado (8th October - 11th October)
Puerto Maldonado is in the middle of the jungle and we could feel the change in climate as we descended from Cusco. By the time we arrived we were sticky and sweaty, making me wonder how I coped in Asia for 3 months! On our first day here, we slept in the morning and explored the town in the afternoon but there wasn't really anything to see. We then spent 3 days in the jungle staying in a rustic homestay on the edge of a lake. We were lucky to see lots of animals including caimans, giant river otters, loads of monkeys, parrots and lots of other exotic birds and butterflies.
Lake Titicaca (12th October - 15th October)
From Puerto Maldonado, we took a bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. On our first day, we spent the morning in bed followed by the afternoon exploring the town. We also went to see a boat from the 1860s which was constructed in England and then transported to Arica, Chile and then by mules to the lake. It had been very well restored and you can now stay on it which would have been nice if we had a bit of extra cash.
The next day we went to a small town called Llachon, further around the lake. There were very few tourists here but the community offers homestays so a woman on our collectivo suggested we stay with her. The accommodation was rustic but better than we had anticipated. It rained in the afternoon but we managed to arrange with a local man and his wife for them to take us to the floating islands the next day in their small boat. The floating islands are made entirely out of reeds, the floor, the huts, the boats, everything! Seeing these islands was amazing, and because we had arranged it ourselves from this small town, there weren't any other tourists there when we went. Later in the day, we took a minibus, then mototaxi and then boat to the island of Amantani where again we stayed in a homestay. Not quite so good this time, no running water and a lunch of a boiled egg and a couple of potatoes! In the afternoon we climbed to the top of the island and had great views across the lake from some Inca ruins. We were going to stay up there to watch sunset there but as it was cloudy we came down before it got dark.
The next day we went back to Puno and then took a collectivo to the border with Bolivia.