The idea of Peru was simply that, an idea, a year ago when my coworker Alyssa told me about it. Hearing her talk about her adventure left me wanting to know more. Sure, I’ve seen numerous travel videos and Instagram photos of the iconic city, but the plan to go wasn’t solidified until my buddy Tom informed me about his $350 plane ticket purchased. It was September of 2016 then.
Fast forward six months and I am sitting on a United Airline plane to Mexico City (MEX) from George Bush International Airport (IAH) with Alondra. It took some persuasion, but she decided Peru would be great for her first out of country trip. We grabbed tacos at the airport (it wasn’t great) and took a six-hour flight to Lima. We waited for what seems to be forever before boarding a one-hour flight to Cusco (finally)!
Dawn was about to break when we at last landed in Cusco. Our hostel was supposed to pick us up from Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ), but I failed to spot them. Either that or they didn’t bother to show up. I wasn’t sure. It was 5a at the time. Alondra and I were both exhausted as evidence by sleep deprivation, hunger, and in much need of a comfy bed.
The airport wasn’t big so finding baggage claim wasn’t too much trouble. Just be advised that you’re going to be bombarded with local tour guides and taxi drivers who swear their itineraries are the best. I would advise not to book anything here.
A 15m taxi ride and (30 soles) later we reached Loki Hostel . by this time it was a quarter before 6a, and we were informed that check-in wasn’t until 2p. We had so much time to kill. The prices at Loki were a bit on the pricey side when compared with other hostels in the area. I booked my 6 bed with shared bathroom for 36 sols a night ($12 usd). It wasn’t the most comfortable stay, but I can’t complain since luxury isn’t on my list of priorities when traveling. However, if you’re looking for a party hostel then Loki is for you. They have their own inside bar with various activities throughout the week to ensure their guest won’t get bored/or sleep.
One amenities that they offered that I found very useful was that we’re able to leave our luggage at the hostel’s storage for safe keeping. It was a huge weight off of our shoulders (no pun intended).
Cusco is the launching point of many of the treks to Machu Picchu. It’s a small city with many tourist traps. It is located in southeastern Peru, near the Urubamba Valley of the Andes mountain range. In 2013, the city had a population of 400,000. What bothered us the most was the elevation of 3,400m (11,200 ft).
Many blogs advised that precaution to deal with high elevation should be taken when traveling to Peru. Compared to Austin, it’s only 200m. Luckily enough, I took their advice and brought along some Acetazolamide (Diamox). Common symptoms of altitude sickness was nausea, vomiting, and feeling of uneasiness. I was feeling all of the above and more. I also advise to take along some Dramamine as well. The pills worked and enabled me to explore the city.
It was here that Alondra and I were expected to rendezvous with Kevin, Tom, Kimmy, and Khanh. They arrived a few days before and had their symptoms controlled (except Tom).
Be sure to check out the Plaza de Armas and Citadel. There are many local food vendors at the town square as well. Each night there are comedy shows hosted by locals. The language was lost in translation so although I had no idea what was being said I can tell by the reaction of the crowd that it was really funny.
I “jajaja” along anyway.
On our way to dinner, we ran into three little girls who had an alpaca with them. Taken that some of us haven’t seen one we all swarmed to them. Next thing you know the older old of the three had their hand out and demanded 20 soles from Tom. They wanted us to pay to be in the presence of their alpacas. Realizing this we began to pulled away, but not until the youngest one held her hand out and asked for $2 this time. It was just hilarious witnessing the whole situation.
We had dinner at Morena Peruvian Kitchen (morenaperuviankitchen.com) that night. The menu serves a vast option of Peruvian means with a modern contemporary twist. The meal was nothing short of flavorful.
We ordered family style and tried everything from the leche de tigre, anticucchos, to the aeropuerto de mariscos. The meal, decor, and refreshments was delicious! Try not to drool too much scrolling down alright.
As a conclusion to our meal, we had triple chocolate ice cream right out of a cocoa bean pod! I must admit, it was a bit bigger than I expected.
After dinner, we had our pre-trek meeting. It was here that I met Guido, our guide, for the first time. Luckily for our group, he was bilingual. He went over what to expect from the trek, and broke down how each of the four days will play out. To be honest, I was somewhat nervous hearing it. Our total head-count came out to be thirteen. We had folks from Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, and even some from the states in our arsenal. A few rounds of obligatory “Hi, my name is…” followed as we attempted to get acquainted with the people we’re going to be spending the next week with. Nonetheless, they all seem very pleasant.
Our day began early in the AM. Roll call was at 6:30, and we were advised that it’ll be the last time we’ll have access to any type of wifi for the next 48-72 hours.
Pause for silence. Cries a bit inside.
On top of the hill awaits our Loki Travel vans that encompass important equipment for our first day’s itinerary; our mountain bikes. A 45m ride took us to a small stop alongside the highway for breakfast. We had eggs, ham, and coffee. It filled the stomach.
We continued on the road for perhaps another hour or so. Views of the mountain drawn closer until I realized we were at the top of the Abra Malaga mountain range (3,200m). It was foggy as far as the eye could see. Dark storm clouds surrounded us as we began to geared up, and got accustomed with our bikes.
Luckily, no one suffered any major injuries. The slopes were very slippery at some point. That coupled with the rain made visibility another issue we had to watched out for on top of running off the mountain.
When we all safely reached the bottom we began heading toward our next checkpoint, Santa Maria. It was evening by the time we reached this small city. We had lunch and used this opportunity to freshen up. For an optional cost of 90 soles ($30 usd) we can choose to water raft. Some of our group opted out, myself included.
Cusquena was the beer of the land. Salud.
While others were away by the river, Guido, showed us a game many locals played, called “sapo” or frog in Spanish. Each player had five coins that aimed to make it through the frog’s mouth or one of the goals. Each goal had certain points on it, and the winner is who accumulates the most. It requires a combination of hand-eye coordination. I had neither hand or eye coordination to say the least at the time.
We then continued on to explored a part of Santa Maria. The little providence that we visited was mostly abandoned. Half-built houses with perhaps less than a handful of people in every other corner. Guido mentioned that many of the men would move away to work in the big city whenever they’re of age.
Knowing that Day 2 was the toughest we head to bed early after dinner. As we were heading out I took this picture of the some of the workers and their family watching Furious 6. The inner nerdy me gave a happy cried. Although it was in Spanish I was still excited. You see it’s very rare in the States to see a family watching a movie together with no cell phones in sight.
The second Day was said to be the toughest because we are to hike 18 km through some mountain ranges. We strapped on our gear, filled up the Camelpaks, and showered with bug spray before heading down for breakfast. A quick eat, and then it was time to hit the road.
We cut through jungle, roads, and then eventually back to jungle. We saw this lady after our first water break. She had a little stand of fresh fruits. Bananas, pineapples, soursops you name it. Not knowing the detrimental effects of his upcoming choice, Kevin, ate a popsicle.
He later regret the decision.
Our next checkpoint was this house in a little village that served Cuy, guinea pig. Although we were grossed out of the idea it was a delicacy in the region, therefore it was only appropriate we tried it.
There was also a table with various fruits, beans, coffee beans, and vegetables from the local region when we arrived. Guido used this opportunity to talked about the various crops of the region.
Fun fact. Kevin was happy to find out that Peru grew over 4,000 different kinds of potatoes!
After this little break, we all strapped up again and made our way up back to the road. It began to rain as everyone was packing. Many of us bought ponchos and rain fly for our gear. I did notice that the weather in Peru was somewhat irregular. It’ll be bright and sunny in the morning with showers at around noon, and then back to sunny bright weather again.
The view of the village soon disappeared as more foliage appears in sight. It was at this point that our trek collided with the Inca Trail. We began to ascend up narrow steps and within no time we’re atop of a mountain.
It was shortly here that Guido, our guide, showed us how to pay respect to the mountains (apu). He mentioned that it was costumed for travelers to pray to the mountain Gods for a safe journey to Machu Picchu. We did this by first rubbing our hands together with liquid from an amber flask, and then grasping a handful of coca leaves and holding them upright. He then taught us a prayer in Quechua. We all tried our best to listen and repeat what he said, but it was hard to hear with the approaching winds. A moment of silent later we blew three puffs of air toward each of the four mountains that surrounded us before laying the leaves within an indention at the peak. We then continue along the convoluted path laid out by narrow stones toward our next checkpoint.
For me, this was the most powerful moment of the trip.
At about 2p, we finally reached our lunch destination. We were a bit late on schedule if I recalled correctly. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant feeling to be able to rest our legs for a bit before continuing on. After an hour or so we came across this giant river. There was no clear path except to climb over rocks. The group walked alongside the bank of the forging river. The current was strong, and one wrong slip of the foot could mean being swept away to Brazil.
When we reached the point to cross the river I looked up and saw this meandering cable with what seems to be a metal cart attached to it. As I approached closer it became clear what it was. The metal cart was used to transport passengers across the river (5 sols). It was being powered by hand.
It was sketchy as hell going across that thing for two reasons. 1) It was being pulled by a man on the other side, and 2) wasn’t even sure if the cable was able to withstand our weight.
Once across, we walked through a dark tunnel. Many of us took out our flashlights or phone to illuminate the way. It was roughly 5p at this time, and the sun was soon to descend behind the mountain. We were relief to find out that a hot spring awaits our arrival.
Knowing that the tough Day 2 was over I woke up more excited than ever. Today’s itinerary included zip lining at Vertikal Zip Line. I must admit I was nervous since I had never done it before. The thought of relying on a rope as you swing across two cliffs was a bit unsettling to me. I wouldn’t say I am not afraid of heights, but I sure was uncomfortable being up there.
There was a total of five different lines, and one suspension bridge at the end. The bridge was what I feared the most. Each of the wooden plaque felt like they were about to snap in half as soon as I lay my foot on it.
Holy fuck. That suspension bridge was beyond sketchy. I still cringed every time I look at this picture.
After this near death experience, we hit the road again. This time the destination was Aguas Calientes, the city that holds the mighty Machu Picchu. We used the railroad tracks as our “yellow brick road” to Aguas Calientes. It was an unstable path because the train would come through every now and then leaving everyone in a panic to scrambled for their lives. There wasn’t much room to move away to.
We break for lunch at a little cottage beside the railroad. It was operated by a little family of four. It was also here that I laid eye on Machu Picchu mountain for the first time. Some of the folks took a minute to nap while others found pleasure kicking around a rustic soccer ball.
7 km later we reached Aguas Caliente. It was refreshing to know that we finally made it. The town sits at the foot of Machu Picchu. It was filled with street vendors, bars, and restaurants. There’s also a train station for that those that decided not to trek to Machu Picchu. It’ll cost around 100 usd though.
That night we had dinner, AND wifi! Cheers to that ya’ll.
The Sanctuary of Machu Picchu is located on top of one the mountains of the Vilcabamba Valley, which can be reached in two ways; Walking only if you have enough time and has good physical condition, this hiking will take you average 45 minutes; the other faster and practical alternative is to go by bus, this bus will leave you at the gateway to the Citadel of Machu Picchu. Cost is 90 soles ($12 usd) for a one way. If you’re planning to take the bus be advised to wake up early. Your ticket will not specify a time of departure, but the bus will start to transport passengers at 5a. With that being said, way before dawn approaches line of people will begin to form beside the bus station. I would suggest begin making your way no later than 4a.
No wonder Machu Picchu is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World! An exhilarating feeling to be able to walk amongst the walls of the once mighty Inca civilization. For hundreds of years, until the American archaeologist Hiram Bingham stumbled upon it in 1911, the abandoned citadel’s existence was a secret known only to peasants living in the region. The site stretches over an impressive 5-mile distance, featuring more than 3,000 stone steps that link its many different levels.
Once you’re at Machu Picchu you have the choice of visiting 1) Huayna Picchu or 2) Machu Picchu mountain. Only a first couple hundreds of visitor are allowed to to see each of the two mountains each day, therefore visiting both on the same day will be impossible.
Alondra and I ended up climbing Huayna Picchu, but due to the heavy fog and rain (remember what I said about the weather) we weren’t able to get much of a view. Neitherless it was an amazing experience.
Machu Picchu closes at 4p so we had to head back to hostel by then, but not before we got our Machu Picchu passport stamp at the exit/entrance. Don’t forget it’s really important!
Be sure to purchase your train ticket back to Cusco in advance since they tend to be booked pretty rapidly. Luckily for us, Guido, was able to help us with this transaction.
It was at the train station that I snapped this picture of him. It’s my favorite because he stood by us for four days being nothing short of extraordinary. He went above and beyond with explaining as much as possible about this amazing country. His humor and charisma pierced through the language barrier.
This trip by far will be my most exhilarating one. There was just so many historical moments that really made the trip stood out to me. Peru is one amazing country. Its people is nothing short of spectacular. It really opened my eyes on what’s important in life and added another definition to happiness. Some of the people here have so little but are just as happy with life.
If you read this toward the end, a huge giant THANK YOU. Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Was this helpful? How could I improve? Should I post more external links? Let me know.
– Ty N. (@ccm_ty)