What is the first thing that comes to mind when we say Peru? Let us guess… Macchu Picchu? But Peru is so much more than just Macch Picchu. We lazed at a surf beach in the north, investigated impressive ruins of a sacred city from a civilisation contemporary with the Incas, saw the fourth highest waterfall in the world, did a 5 day hike to Macchu Picchu, did some sand boarding in the desert and discovered an amazing country.
Arriving early in the morning via an overnight bus is never a good way to start your experience in a country (trust us, we are experts on this). Our hotel didn’t have a spare room for us to sleep until check in, but they did have hammocks! Relaxing on our veranda after check in and some swims at the beach made the day a whole lot better.
Mancora is rather more of a tourist trap than we had anticipated, as its two main reasons for existence are: good surf and close location to Ecuador (therefore a good stopover for going north or south). We relaxed in Mancora for two nights, planning our next adventures and relaxing.
The sunsets were glorious. But our beach time had to end a bit to soon, for we were planning some adventures in the (currently) non touristy north of Peru.
So, we mentioned that over night buses suck right? Well, there was no other way to visit Chachapoyas, at least in the time we had left. So, firstly we got a bus down to the rather uninviting town of Chicloya, and were lucky to get the last two seats on the night bus to Chachapoyas. And by last, we really mean last. Right at the back of the bus, where the seats don’t recline fully. Still, we were happy to have the seats.
The culture of the Chachapoyas dates back to 750–800AD and developed in the Andean cloud forest. The word Chachapoyas is derived from the Quechua words “sacha” and “puyus” which mean “cloud forest” (this was shamelessly ripped from wikitravel). It was actually a civilisation of approx. 500,000 people and was invaded by the and taken over by the Incas, just 70 years before the Spanish came…
We arrived tired to Chachapoyas, eager to begin adventuring and exploring. No. Just no. We were too tired and we needed to sort too much stuff out. The markets were our first port of call and we liked them very much!
Then we decided to change hotels and then have something to eat. By the time all this was done, it was midday, and we decided to just relax and figure out what we wanted to do in the area.
Kuelap is an ancient stone city with walls up to 12 m high, the largest pre-Inca ruins in South America. We took a tour to these ruins with a stunning view over the entire area. We could understand why they build the city exactly at that place. Although, they would have been heavily reliant on the local population, as the sacred city has no natural supply of water, meaning it all needed to be carried 3hrs up. I guess that had quite a lot of llamas (btw, pronounced yamas in Spanish). About 1500 people lived in Kuelap, priests and the very upper class of society.
In the evening we met up with Kyle. One of the people we hung out with for almost a week in Ecuador (Quilotoa Loop and Banos). We booked a tour together for the next day and ate some cuy (guinea pig) for dinner. Sorry, we had to try it…. Delicious!
Karajia is a site containing several anthropomorphic sarcophagi built on a narrow cliff ledge. The civilisation of Chachapoyas entombed important men in sarcophagus. It was quite impressive to see how they made them and placed them in between cliff ledges. The best current theory (according to our tour guide) was that they constructed the sarcophagi in place, with the people curled up in a foetal position (symbolising the circle of life).
Gocta Waterfalls are 711m high, the world’s 4th highest waterfall. We took a collectivo to a place where it should be able to take a taxi to the start point of the hike to the Gocta falls. But, no luck… So together with two Spanish guys (who are already travelling for 2 years over the world) and a local, we started walking up, luckily grabbing a lift half way up. Friendly locals. The hike up to the Gocta Falls was splendid, even though it rained a couple of times. The whole way we had stunning views of the falls, that are made of two parts.
A lady selling fresh cane juice, in a place with magnificent views was a definite highlight of the hike. We ended the day with a nice meal with the four of us back in town.
You can book very good buses in Peru. They cost a bit more than the normal buses, but for our mental health it is defiantly worth it. So from Chachapoyas to Lima (23 hours) we took a VIP Movil Bus with 170 degrees reclining seats, 3 meals, touchscreen entertainment set and excellent service. So we actually slept! It is pretty funny seeing how well the food serving guy on bus balances all the drinks as the bus goes quite fast around corners.
In Lima we only stayed 24 hours, just enough to eat some cerviche (delicious dish of raw fish) and get our clothes cleaned at a Laundromat.
We arrived to Cusco after a 1hr flight from Lima. Back to 3,600m altitude, and not much time to adjust to it as we would start with our Salkantay trek the next dayAfter check in and some coca leaf tea we went to the information meeting for the Salkantaytrek, bought some snacks for the next five days and repacked our backpacks as we were only allowed to take 5 kilo each. …
Macchu Picchu hike – Salkantay
Day 1: Suyapata to Soraypampa
After an early pick up (5am) from the hotel, we drove for a couple hours, stopped for breakfast and then another 1hr in the bus. Finally time to start trekking! In our group we had 13 people and our guide was called Willy. Big Willy. The first day of hiking brought us through beautiful views and apart from Tamar falling down 5 metres (she survived it with minimal injuries), we arrived easily at our first campsite.
The campsite lay at 3900 metres and we could really feel the altitude. After our late lunch we all hiked up to Humantay Lake, just 500m higher. Just.
It was a brutal clime. The altitude made it a battle to get up, but we made it and enjoyed the stunning views.
Day 2: Soraypampa to Challway
We were woken up early with a cup of coca tea. Coca tea (yes made of coca leafs, the same leaves from which cocaine can be made) and coca candies really help you with the battle against altitude illness. After brekky we started with our hard and steep climb up to 4600 metres.
Happy to arrive, we were greeted with some stunning vistas.
Willy told us at the highest spot with views of the Salkantay pass about the legends around these mountains and performed a local ceremony with us. After that is was time for descending 1200 metres. This was a long day of hiking (9-10hrs), but fulfilling. We fell asleep very easily that night.
Day 3: Challway to Santa Teresa Hotsprings
This day we hiked down a gravel road for 4 hours (boring) until lunch and then we took a minivan to our campsite for the night. From there we went to some hotsprings (perhaps better named warm springs, as they weren’t particularly hot) and was so nice though to sit in the warm water after 2 cold days and no showers.
In the evening we had a campfire and a small party at the campsite.
Day 4: Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes
Zipline time! In the morning we went ziplining. 5 different lines and a walking bridge. Ziplining was fun, hanging like a monkey upside town on the line and flying above the ground like a condor.
Afterwards we were transported in a minibus to the starting point of the afternoon hike. We had the chance to listen to a different guide explain the history of Macchu Picchu in a rambling and incoherent manner, making us very glad that our guide was good at explaining things.
After lunch we walked along the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes (The town from which everyone goes to Macchu Picchu). A hard hike (because walking along train tracks is actually not so easy with all the loose stones) of 3 hours and not very interesting, but still very nice as it is the way to Macchu Picchu.
No more camping. We had a nice warm shower and in the evening went out for dinner with the whole group. An ok dinner, made much more exciting by a sighting of a rat. As we had to wake up at 3.30am, we went to bed very early.
Day 5: Macchu Picchu (MP)
We left early from the hotel to be early at the entrance gate at the bridge. The gate opened at 5am and together with other early birds we rushed up 100s and 100s of stairs (40 min worth of hard hiking) to beat the first busses with people that leave town.
We succeeded (with pain in our legs and so sweaty David needed to change t-shirts), and were amongst the very first people to be admitted, even before the sun had risen.
MP is a special place and it was great to finally be there. We enjoyed walking around the ruins, taking pictures and taking in the beautiful scenery.
You can also book entry to two additional hikes when at Macchu Picchu (only possible in advance) and we had selected to climb the Macchu Picchu mountain, rearing up behind Macchu Picchu. The hike was pretty exhausting, particularly considering the last 4 days (and morning) of hiking we had done. 100s and 100s and 100s of stairs, but the view from the top was very special.
Around 4 pm we left MP, had dinner and yummy fresh juice with some other people from the trek at the local marked (very cheap) and took the night train (and minivan) back to Cusco.
As we arrived back in Cusco at 1.30 am and we were already tired from 5 days of trekking, our bodies did not really want to work with us the next day. But many things had to be done, so we got ourselves going. We met up with Kyle again, who was going to start with the Salkantay trek the next day and went to the local market for laundry, shoe repairing, some souvenir shopping and lunch.
In between we had an amazing massage at “centro de masajes Samay” Cusco. Something that our bodies really needed. Another early night (not hard to convince us), with a 5am wake up for our flight to Bolivia…
Part 2 (after two weeks in Bolivia)
We arrived in Puno around 9pm from Copacabana (Bolivia) and got a taxi to a hotel we had been recommended. Only to find it was super cheap! 10 euros for two people, including breakfast! Great deal, we used the internet to find a kick ass apartment to rent for 3 days in our next destination, Arequipa. Just as we were about to go to sleep, a large fiesta (party) started up…. Which lasted until 5am… At least it was nice salsa music…
We got the bus to Arequipa without any hassles and arrived at around 3pm. Kyle and Sarah went to their hotel and we went to our home for the next 4 nights. And we used it as a home. The next day we had brunch with Kyle en Sarah at our plays. Then did some shopping for making cocktails and playing some games at home. We ended that day with watching the documentary ‘Land of the Cartels’ on Netflix.
The next days we spend mostly inside. Writing on our blog, application letters and doing other administrative tasks on our laptops. We had amazing fresh smoothies and snacks all day to give us enough energy. On the last day we had a long troll to plaza del Alma (city centre square) enjoying some nice food underway.
Ica is a non-descript town, featuring a boring plaza del armas (main square). We liked it! A day of relaxing and walking around the city (eating service and drinking quarapo),
and the following morning we caught a rickshaw (somewhat odd to see this in South America, as we associate them so strongly with India, but you will find them everywhere in Latin America) to Huacachina. Huachachina is an oasis, just a couple kilometres from Ica. David met up with Hvgo, a Peruvian slackliner to waterline over the water.
Tamar relaxed in the hammock and an excellent time was had! Afterwards, we went on a buggy ride with Hvgo’s friend who drives them into the desert as his job. He was an excellent driver and took us to some simply HUGE dunes, which we sandboarded down. Some of the dunes must have been well over 100m high and we got up to some pretty incredible speeds boarding down!
Sunset from dunes and a beer back in the city closed out this great day.
At one of the other days at Ica we went to a winery. They made red, white and bubble wine overthere and also pisco (main ingredient for our favorite Peruvian cocktail).
A long bus ride, a long taxi ride and we arrived to the rather upscale neighbourhood of La Punta. As the name would suggest, it is a small peninsula. What did we do in the couple of days we had here? Nothing. Some walking, some cervice and some pisco sours! A lovely, relaxing end to our time in South America.
Ps. We were quoted in a Dutch news paper about our trip through Northern Peru 🙂