This year Ed and I decided to stay in Latin America for Christmas and explore new sites in Peru. Since several people have asked, here’s a blog featuring some of our trip highlights, as well as tips for anyone who is also interested in traveling to the land of the Incas.
Cusco: Our first destination was Cusco, the launching spot for the international destination of Machu Picchu. A few years ago we did the trek to the hidden Incan city, but we missed so many other awesome places along the way. This time we didn’t do Machu Picchu, but instead chose to focus our time on all the other awesome locations.
- Get flights for the morning, especially if you have a tight schedule. Our afternoon flight was re-routed TWICE because of stormy weather, and most afternoons we were there had some storms blow in.
- Give yourself more days than you think you need. We spent three full days just in Cusco and a trip up the Sacred Valley, and there was still more to do. If you are doing Machu Picchu plan ahead and give yourself some extra time seeing many of the other sites.
- Find a reasonable tour company. Many of the sites, even close to Cusco, are not close. We booked tours for each day and were able to be driven to all the key locations. We would have missed so much without drivers.
Lake Titicaca and Puno: Our second destination was Lake Titicaca- the highest navigable lake in the world. We based this trip from the city of Puno, but spent 2 days on a boat tour. During our tour we visited the floating reed islands, and two other land islands. We spent an afternoon and night with a Quechua family as part of our tour, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me! The lady fed us and provided us a warm bed, plus she had 3 kids to play with. We also did several hikes (at 12,000 feet elevation!) and saw many other ruins of temples from Incan and pre-Incan times.
- Do the boat tour! It was the best way to see the islands on the lake and was so inexpensive (we paid around $35 for 4 meals and an overnight stay). Staying with a family seems potentially awkward, but was actually really fun!
- Don’t plan much time in Puno. There isn’t much to see and it’s fairly run down. It is a great place to get some rustic pizza though!
Arequipa: We arrived in the second largest city in Peru Christmas Eve and checked into our hostel. They told us that at midnight there would be fireworks, which was no joke! Right at midnight it seemed every home in the city set off fireworks from their roof. We were in a 360 degree firework extravagenza! The following days we laid low, did a walking tour around the city, and our last did day a one-day trip to the Colca Canyon. Besides the 2:30am pick up time, it was so amazing to see such a beautiful part of God’s creation. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon in the world, much deeper than the Grand Canyon. We were hoping to see Condors, but were not there early enough in the morning.
- The best part of the city of Arequipa is next the central plaza. We stayed at a hostel less than a block from the main Plaza and it was so easy to get around and see many of the main sights.
- Having arrived on a holiday all the museums and sites were closed, so we wish we had another day. (3 or more).
- We did a one day trip to the Colca Canyon, but wish we did the overnight two-day trip. We just saw the entrance to the Canyon, but would have liked to explore even more. It’s a 3 hour drive from Arequipa, so that in itself take a lot of time.
Lima: We hit Lima last and stayed pretty low key during our time there. We stayed in the Barranco neighborhood, which was a lot of fun since it’s the center of the arts scene. While in Lima we spent a day touring the Miraflores area and a day in the historic center. We ate some delicious sea food and people watched while sipping coffee.
- Before touring downtown we downloaded free audio tours on our phones, which were OK, but the directions of how to get from place to place were a little hard to decipher. Plus many places were not open so it was a lot of looking at buildings.
- We used the Metropoliano transportation system (like Transmi in Bogota, a hybrid of subway and buses) and it was so great! We were able to get from our hostel to down town safely and for less than a $1. We didn’t have to negotiate with a taxi driver and it was probably even faster.