We went to Peru! Well, specifically we went to Lima, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, and Cotahuasi Canyon. I’m going to do a few posts on Lima/Arequipa/Colca etc. which I’ll eventually link to here. This post is the first post and a general outline of what did, in a day-by-day breakdown.
It was an incredible and spontaneous vacation. We decided relatively last minute to go to Peru for the honest reason that the tickets to get there from Boston we relatively inexpensive, and we’ve wanted to go to Peru for quite some time for a big reason a lot of people go — Machu Picchu! But clearly we did not end up going there. After we booked the tickets, we purchased some guide books, did some research and realized two things: 1) There are a lot of things you can do in Peru besides Machu Picchu <– this we already knew, but we didn’t know what to do. 2) It’s the rainy season in Peru, so the conventional “hike to Machu Picchu and then hike Huayna Picchu” was a bit more challenging since the Inca Trail, which we wanted to do, was closed for the month of February.
Not ones to be discouraged, we decided to head down south to the city of Arequpia to explore the “la ciudad blanca” which means the white city. It’s called this because of the particular volcanic rock, sillar, used to build a lot of the structures in the city. As our guide told us, there is also the dual meaning of the city as it was founded by the Spanish, and many of the inhabitants are of Spanish origin.
From what we gathered, it seemed to be a pretty academic city. It has 15 universities, including a public university, and acts as the home of the Constitutional Court of Peru. While tourism is a major industry in Arequipa — as it is a great “stop over town” for travellers on their way to Colca Canyon, they also have a pretty big trade and manufacturing industry. It’s also just a cool town — I highly recommend visiting and actually taking a few days to actually explore the city and the nearby district of Yanahuara.
From there we travelled to Cotahuasi Canyon and Colca Canyon. So Cotahuasi isn’t something guidebooks, or at least ours, really mentioned. It was in a passing paragraph and Tyler happened to look it up, learning that it was pretty cool place. It is the highest point in the Arequipa region, the deepest canyon in the world cut by Rio Cotahuasi, and boasts all kinds of weather — snow, warm, rain, dry in one area and it’s pretty remote in large part because of the unpaved and straight up scary roads at some points, and the high altitude (in some areas upwards of 19,000 ft). We decided we really wanted to try and see it if possible, but did not feel comfortable attempting to get there or hike their by ourselves — so we went with a tour company, Pablo Tours. I could not recommend this tour company more. They were professional, friendly, quick to respond, and provided us with a knowledgable and friendly guide, an awesome car + driver for the INSANE roads/not roads we were going on, accommodations, vegetarian food, etc. This is what the bulk of our spending went to while in Peru, but it was worth every penny.
It was unbelievably beautiful. I don’t think I can actually express in words how beautiful it was. We would drive from one place to another, and I would never stop looking out the window. You see Incan ruins, Incan farming terraces that are still in use today, gorgeous greenery, canyons, so so so many llamas/vacuñas/alpacas, and more. And the hiking, oh man. First of all, hiking at altitude is NO JOKE, even if you are pretty fit. Second, the hike we went on in Cotahuasi Canyon was in general safe, but there were parts of it that were legitimately the most dangerous thing I have ever done. There was NO room for error — just gravelly doom waiting for you if you mis-stepped. But totttttally worth it.
If you are going to Colca, and you have the time and means, try to go to Cotahuasi. It’s incredible. It was clear that the towns/villages we went to were trying to encourage tourism and welcomed tourists (because tourism money really can help bring an area of intense poverty) and more formal roads (rather than a mudslide cut out of the side of a mountain) were in talks.
Prepare for that altitude sickness though, it’s no joke. A post to come on this later.
We spent a day in Colca Canyon and did the Colca thing — went to see the Andean Condors at Cruz del Condor. These cuties are on considered ‘near threatened’ on the endangered species list, which I think means that their population is declining. They have very slow reproductive rates, crazy long lives, and wingspans between 8-10 feet — they are beautiful. It was awesome to see them fly and soar in the lifts on Colca Canyon. I recommend going their early (aim to get their around 7:30) to grab a good seat and beat the masses of tour buses that come around 8-8:30. Then just sit, be prepared to sit and watch and wait…and when the sun comes out and heats the ground…lift is created…and birds fly. It’s great. I didn’t take any pictures of this really, because I just wanted to watch them fly.
Finally, we went to Lima. People had told us that there ‘wasn’t much to see or do’ in Lima, and they couldn’t be more wrong! We loved it. We stayed in the touristy areas, and had a blast. We walked along the Miraflores boardwalk from Miraflores, to Barranco, to Chorrillos, and we saw a variety of what Lima had to offer: the touristy Miraflores, the artsy Barranco, and the neighborhood living and picanterias (spicy food restaurants) of Chorrillos.
So, if you’re thinking about visiting Peru, please do. Get a guidebook and see what there is to do besides Machu Picchu (though we will be going back to see that site!)
More to come:
What to do with 24 hours in Lima
Altitude Sickness: What is it? What causes it?
What to pack for backpacking in Peru?
Below is a day by day breakdown of what we did/saw:
Day 1: Arrived in Lima. Took a $20 green cab (the only cab company I would recommend taking from the Lima Airport) to Miraflores. Dropped off at Arabica Cafe for coffee and to figure out what we’re doing. Walked along Miraflores boardwalk. Took cab back (scheduled with our green cab driver ahead of time) to airport. Went to Arequipa, stayed at Flying Dog Hostel in Arequipa.
Day 2: Woke up in Arequipa.Went to San Francisco church and took a tour in spanish (5 soles/person). Walked to Plaza De Armas and saws the different church facades. Lunch at Mandala, a great vegetarian restaurant with peruvian vegetarian cuisine. Walked across bridge over Rio Chili into Yanahuara district. Went to Chaqchoa for beers and chocolate. DELICIOUS.
Day 3: Woke up bright and early at 5AM to start tour of Cotahuasi Canyon and Colca Canyon. Saw Toro Muerto and the petroglyphs with serpents, condors, pumas, and people. Saw lake Payacacha mount Coropuna. Went to Cotahuasi town, stayed at Villa Hermosa where we met Paca the baby alpaca.
Day 4: Car troubles, so we walked around the town of Cotahuasi for a while. Hiked Canyon de Cotahuasi — legitimately one of the scariest, awesomest things I’ve ever done. Sipiar Falls after that, incredible. Evening hot springs under the stars. Dingy hostal stay after that, but slept well because we were exhausted.
Day 5: Breakfast at El Buen Sabor. Valley of the Volcanos hike, went to a valley within the valley where there used to be a bull ring and bull remains. Tyler had a bit of…GI upset and couldn’t finish the hike. Cipro time! Stayed in Huancarama in amazing place with hot springs IN the rooms and an amazing dinner in our rooms from Pampahuasi Restaurant.
Day 6: Breakfast at Pampahuasi restaurant, the owners and their children do traditional peruvian dance for us, and take a lot of pictures of Tyler. Drove to Chivay and walked around the city. Sudden difference for us from the rural areas around Cotahuasi and the much more touristic area of Chivay. Very clear economic benefit to tourism. Stayed at Colca Inn and prepared to go to Cruz del Condor tomorrow.
Day 7: Woke up early and drove to Cruz del Condor! First few people there, saw 4-5 condors, absolutely amazing.Went back to Arequipa, stayed at the Flying dog again, and had dinner at Crepisimo! Great vegetarian options there…
Day 8: Wonderful breakfast at Flying dog of traditional Arequpia bread, jam, cheese, coffee, butter. Went to Mundo Alpca to learn about how alpaca fur is harvested. Walked around Arequipa and went to Cafe Fez-Istanbul for lunch and the best maracuya sour. Explored the huge open air market area in Arequipa, and got Tyler shoe fixed for three soles!
Day 9: Went to Mirador Yanahuara. Went to the store to buy cortauñas for Tyler (nail clippers), got some bread and cheese for lunch and had lunch at the Mirador in Yanahuara. Went home for a siesta, went to Chaqchoa for beer and chocolate and met a fantastic french couple there. Went to Santa Catalina Monastery with them which was incredible, a city within a city, and then Crepisimo for dinner.
Day 10: Last day in Arequipa. Went to the San Camilo market and walked around for quite a while — so much there! Purchased olives, bread, fruit, cheese, roasted corn nuts, a backpack for Tyler, and a spoon! Super cheap. Ate lunch at Plaza de San Francisco, which is quieter than Plaza de Armas and very pretty. Went to Zig-zag for dinner and had quinoa gnocci. Took cab to airport to catch flight to Lima. Super delayed. Got into Lima and took a cab to Miraflores Flying Dog where they forgot to make our reservation in the computer, so we stayed there in the “dorm” style living for a free night. Not too bad all in all.
Day 11: First day in Lima. Walked down to Larcomar Mall and had to buy shorts and a tank because it was too hot to walk around in my hiking gear. Watched the paragliders for a while until some random guy came up to us and asked Tyler to take pictures for his “business” since Tyler has a legit camera. We did, and Tyler was able to get even closer to the paragliders and even saw one go down in the ocean when the lift died. Walked to La Lucha super far away to get a sandwich only to realize there are no vegetarian options. Walked back to the hostal and felt silly when I realized that there was a La Lucha right near our hostal too. Walked to Wong’s grocery store and bought some quiches, beers, and pistachio milk. Watched the sunset in Parque de amor.
Day 12: Walked ALL DAY. From Miraflores –> Barranco –> Chorrillos along the cliffs. Went to the electricity museum. SUPER cool. Dinner at Bircher Brenner which was a meh vegetarian food restaurant. Went to Barranco for Maracuya sour nightcap. It was huge.
Day 13: Last day in Peru. We went to Cafe Verde again to eat lunch and relax, then to Museo Larco which was incredible and filled with awesome archeological finds from Incan and pre-Incan times. Went to Antigua Taberna Quierolo after and had a cheese sandwich and some cusquenas.
Day 14: Back to Boston!