I’d like to remember this awesome trip in as much details as possible, and there’s no better way than to write it down. If you’re going to Peru soon, our travel route and tips are described specially for you :)
We designed our travel itinerary based on altitude. Cuzco, the heart of the mountain Peru, is the place where all the spicy routes start, and it’s at about 3400 meters above the sea level. Therefore, we started from Machu Picchu at “just” 2430 meters. We arrived at Cuzco, extremely tired and jet-legged, and decided to take a long walk to the station, where our travel was about to start.
It was showing only 10 kilometers from the airport to the Inca Rail pick-up place, and we had like 3 hours at our disposal. We decided to visit a small hill and enjoy the city view. As soon as we left the airport, we realized how weird we looked to the locals. Apparently, it works other way around as well: all the other people looked like aliens to us. Their constitution, skin color, clothes. So far, the mountain Peruvians and mayas in Mexico look the most different to me. And yeah, the appearance didn’t lie: the mountain dwellers are indeed peculiar, with their special culture, with endless festivals and tasty food. But we’ll get back to that later:)
Our plans to conquer the hill were brutally ruined: as soon as we left the main street, we located ourselves on a dirt road with lots of litter around and on itself with all the people literally staring at us. Even dogs were looking at us, surprised. Our instincts drove us back to the main road, and as we got to know later when we talked to the locals, it was a correct decision: most probably, we would have got robbed.
The first hours in Cuzco were not tiring: the altitude doesn’t affect right away.
We went back to the road where the smell of exhaust gases was pretty bothering: it’s so strong at that altitude! When we later stayed in Cuzco longer, we noticed that when it’s wet and the gases tend to be closer to the ground, the headache hit me very quickly outdoors. When it was sunny, it was much easier and I could have less coca tea that unfortunately had exclusively healing affect :)
So we are finally inside our train. Zhenia found the cheapest option: at that time it was Inca Rail. We couldn’t go for locals, so our ticket cost not 3$ but 50$ per person. We couldn’t complain: we were finally heading to one of the dream places, Machu Picchu.
How smart it was to remain jet lagged when we visited this blessed place! We could wake up really early and enjoy the sunrise on our way. To our surprise, there was a small queue when we arrived 30 min before they let the tourists in. Probably there were even more jet lagged ;)
Thanks to our host, we knew all the tricks: wake up early, take 30 min walk to the entrance, bring a lot of water and snacks and have your passport and admission ticket printed out. Btw, buy the tickets online asap! Same works for the train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes unless you plan to walk for a week.
The ticket to the Machu Picchu mountains should be bought separately, don’t be like us and take care of it before the trip. Be ready there’s no bathroom or food on the territory of Machu Picchu (after the second entrance).
I don’t want to be a spoiler, so I wan’t tell a lot about it. I believe if you go to Machu Picchu at the cloudy season, it’s much better than when it’s sunny. Pat llamas and travel by as much as trails around as you can. Visit the Botanic Garden and the museum at the very admission. We watched some Youtube videos about the Peru history and were deeply surprised how young and still mysterious the ruins are.
When we arrived to Cuzco again, it wasn’t so much fun for us fighting with the altitude. However, for the locals it was pretty amusing: I couldn’t remember the price of the bananas as soon as I heard the price of oranges, and as soon as the price of bananas was reminded, the oranges price was already forgot. I was like drunk and stupid, and Zhenia did his best to tie his shoe laces. Unfortunately, I looked high before I had the coca tea rather than after it, and climbing the third floor felt like a kilometer sprint to Zhenia.
Apart from the coca, fresh fruit and especially the hot chocolate made our life in a huge but cold apartment a true fest. Ah, and yeah, “Friends” series in Spanish.
Our first evening we were looking for a place where we could grab something, and we ran into a small family place. Such places is the best a tourist can dream of: local small business always attracts open-minded people, and this place was not an exception. The owner turned out to be a professional cook taking after Adreano Chelentano, Manuel, and his extremely friendly cute wife. Apart from a sophisticated chicken wings with a wonderful home-made souse, we remembered it by cozy talks. We got to know about globalization affecting Cuzco, about safety of the places (relatively safe in Cuzco, but extremely dangerous in Lima) and how the festival becomes a center of life in the mountains of Peru.
Thanks to Adreano/Manuel, we got to know Otto who has shown us all the Cuzco ruins. While the ruins stopped impressing after the second one, Otto talking about how Peruvians live was more and more exciting.
What stroke me the most is that Quechua is not just a clothes brand, actually, it’s the language of native Peruvians. Unfortunately, it didn’t have its written form, so how you can guess, it’s dying out. Otto’s dad still can speak some Quechua, and for Otto it’s already quite challenging. He speaks Spanish (2 types: Peruvian and Cuzqueñan with their “mamita y papita” all over the place), Italian, English… but not fluent Quechua.
Unfortunately, with the Spanish conquering the native inhabitants, the cultural heritage was destroyed heavily. As the local wars weakened Peruvians, about a hundred of armed Spanish could handle the battles easily. They destroyed everything they could: the temples got preserved only in Machu Picchu, simply because the Spanish couldn’t get there and the locals themselves forgot about their “king’s summer villa”.
That’s why, nobody knows how that ruins were constructed: it’s impressive how the gigantic rocks could be put this way, even with modern technology it’s a challenge.
Otto and Choco
Oh, this divine drink of Peruvian Gods! Chocolate… You dream about it, you tease yourself with a cocoa coffee in Mexico, you hear the stories from Jorge about it, and yet it will only exceed your expectations. There’s nothing more chocolate than the real hot chocolate. Not the melted chocolate we have in Ukraine, but the specially cooked from cocoa butter and powder…
If you cook it like Peruvians, it’ll be quite watery or milky, if you put 3 times less water than the package says, it will be bitter, but still possible to eat without adding sugar: that’s how delicious it is!
Thanks to our friend Otto, who revealed the cooking secret, we had it every evening. And morning. Basically, every time we ate at the apartment. We also ate lots of fruit. Honestly, we didn’t feel very well, but still content :)
“They have a permanent festival”, - told Otto, and we believed him
Have you ever imagined life at a permanent festival? When people dance and have fun almost all the time? When almost every day there’s a big holiday?
Believe it or not, Cuzco is one of the few places on Earth when this becomes reality. People are dancing all the time. I can’t remember even a day when we didn’t observe some national dance. Even in Lima they found us and danced us away at a dance festival :)
Humantai and Alejandro
We didn’t climb to the crystal blue Humantai lake alone. We did it with Alejandro from Argentina. And another 20 people or something. We just met Alejandro, but as you can already notice, we understood we’ll be friends very soon, and so far his input into Zhenia’s Spanish is bigger than mine. One day I will write a post about Argentina, maybe not even one :)
It was our first trip to higher mountains than Cuzco, about 4300 meters. Unlike Alejandro, who conquered the Rainbow mountains the next day (5200 meters), we were not ready. I got a terrible headache on my way back and no coca helped me until we went down. I should have learnt it and take pills before we climbed the Rainbow Mountains next day, but I was too slow to figure it out: nausea, terrible headache and dizziness overwhelmed me right after I climbed the mountain.
Anyways, who cares: we got to know so much about Argentina and Alejandro on our way to a mesmerizing view!
Like the Rainbow Mountains, the Lake appeared “thanks” to global warming: the ancient glacier started melting forming a lake with a crystal clear water nothing can live in.
If it keeps melting though, the diverse nature of Peru won’t be as diverse anymore and thousands of people won’t be able to make for a living like they do now.
When the next day we met Alejandro, we had a lot to exchange. We were looking for a gym all day long, investigated all the yards nearby, and ended up buying more fruit and do exercise at the apartment. By the way, I could do burbies! Maybe all thanks to coca…
That night Alejandro prepared us for the trip. First, he brought us to a tourist agency window. He’s found the picture of the Mountains and said: “See that? See how beautiful? Ok, it doesn’t look like that!” It was still pretty cool and worth visiting, but most of the pictures you google are photoshoped. And the sun almost never appears there.
What’s cool is first of all, the altitude. It’s interesting to know what your body can do, and even more interesting, what it can’t do. Second, the view. As for me, the mountains around the Rainbow one were even more beautiful: all covered with snow, rocky and scary. There, the lichen and moss survive the lowest temperature among all the planet flora. I didn’t see it, but I dreamt about it :)
The driest place in the world
The Netflix series “The Planet” starts with a mesmerizing view: thousands of birds are hunting the fish in a dark blue waters of the ocean. They are lazily floating in the air until they sea the pray and become a small lightning speed rocket catching unlucky fish.
It hasn’t been always like that: only recently did the Peruvian government took care of their southern desert to let birds enjoy the fish diversity and the safety of the most dry place on the Earth. Now this is preserved territory earning money on tourism rather than fishing.
We took a couple of excursions: The Ballestas Islands, the only way to see the penguins, and Paracas.
The Paracas Peninsula one was really good, but having more spare time would have been better, especially considering the cheap bike rent in the town of Paracas.
Traveling to the peninsula on foot was especially interesting: we could observe most of birds on our way. Most of all we enjoyed pelicans and tiny herons showing how skilled they were in fishing 2 meters from you. Flamingos were not so communicative: every time we approached them, they changed the location. All the group was staying still until the proud leading flamingo started moving away.
We were really sad about how much litter we found on the beach. While it was a pretty touristic place, it was quite obvious Peruvians don’t care about the plastic in the ocean. Sad…
Overall, we felt pretty safe in Paracas and in Pisco. We traveled using “colectivos” (local private small buses) and only in the evening it wasn’t that comfortable: maybe for a reason, maybe just because it was dark and we draw attention with our Slavic look. On the other hand, the very city of Pisco was pretty boring :)
Lima has a lot of districts, it’s a huge megapolis with almost 9 millions of dwellers. However, unless you love extreme or even risking your life, you will get acquainted with only two: the historic center and Miraflores. It’s a pretty dangerous place, and every good Peruvian will warn you against walking freely in all other regions.
What you can really enjoy in Lima is cheap surfing. 25 pesos and ride the waves the whole day, the suit is included! Although, I forgot I bargained and paid 30 to a Venezuelan guy while Zhenia was fighting the ocean power.
The historic center and Miraflores didn’t impress us (thanks, Ivan, for telling not to plan much time in Lima!). But what was really cool is that by accident we got to another festival. In the park of Lima, all the regions of Peru were representing their traditional dances, including Cuzqueños!
It was a pity we had to leave, and only the excitement about meeting Jorge and Ixchel in the Mexico city made this flight easier. Goodbye, Peru! Enjoy your every festive day! :)