Sunday, May 23, 2010

Peru Itinerary

As mentioned earlier, we traveled the southern circuit of Peru as shown in the zoomed out map below. The adjacent map shows all the places we visited on this trip (listed in detail below).

Day 1:
  • Landed in Lima, Peru (A). Caught a local flight to Cusco (B)
  • Checked out Cusco (Korikancha Temple, Plaza de Armas) and Sacsayhuamán (more Incan ruins)
Day 2:
  • Took a private taxi to check out the Incan ruins at Sacred Valley: Moray, Salineras, Urubamba and Ollantaytambo (C)
  • Then took the Peru Rail from Ollantaytambo (C) to Machu Picchu Pueblo, also known as Aguas Calientes (D) where we stayed the night
Day 3:
  • Caught the first bus (5:30am) up to the entrance to Machu Picchu (D)
  • Hiked Waynapichu at the 10am slot (there are 2 slots: 7am and 10am, where only 200 people are allowed in each slot per day)
  • Took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes and then the Peru Rail train back to Ollantaytambo (C). Our private taxi was waiting for us there, and took us back to Cusco for the night (B)
Day 4:
  • Checked out the Sunday market at Pisac (near Sacred Valley)
  • Caught the overnight bus to Puno (E)

Day 5:
  • Took the commuting boat (not a private boat) to Uros (floating) Islands in Lake Titicaca - half day
  • Could have taken a taxi to check out the Sillustani Chulpas in the afternoon, but we just chilled around the Plaza de Armas (central plaza)
  • Took the overnight bus to Arequipa (F)
Day 6:
  • Checked out the Monastary of Santa Catalina (didn't impress us much - was the same nun's quarters repeated over and over again. It certainly was peaceful.) and Museo Santuarios Andinos, home of Juanita, also known as the Ice Maiden. Juanita was around 12yrs old when she was sacrificed for the Gods on the volcano Mt. Ampato.
Day 7:
  • Started our 2-day 1-night tour to the Colca Canyon - the deepest canyon in the world (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon at its deepest spot). Passed by a Vicuña reserve (a relative of the llama/alpaca, whose fur is the most sought after :(
  • Stayed the night in Chivay (G) after enjoying the natural hot springs and watching a dinner-folk dance show
Day 8:
  • Checked out the beginning of the Colca Canyon, and watched Andean Condors ride the thermals at Cruz del Condor
  • Came back to Arequipa (F) for New Years Eve celebrations at Club Déjà vu
Day 9:
  • Wandered around the empty streets of Arequipa on New Year's Day and the peaceful neighborhood of Yanahuara, which has a great vista point (called Mirador) to check out Volcano Misti
  • Took the overnight bus to Nazca (H)
Day 10:
  • Took a short plane ride on a 6-seater Cessna to marvel at Nazca Lines
  • Then it was on to another short ride, on a commuter bus though, to Ica (I). We stayed in Huacachina, which is an oasis town 3 miles from downtown Ica
  • After lunch in downtown Ica, we checked out a couple of wineries (Tacama, Catador, etc.) where we tasted (and bought) some of their wines and pisco (Peru's national drink)
  • Then we rode the sand dunes of Huacachina in a dune buggy and also did some sandboarding while we watched the sun set over the sandy hills
Day 11:
  • After a great night and breakfast at Hostel Suiza, we took another bus to Lima
  • After watching the changing of the guards at Lima's Plaza de Armas, we went over to the Miraflores district for dinner before retiring for the night
Day 12:
  • Flew back to the US!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Travel dates: Dec'09 - Jan'10

We heavily used the Lonely Planet to get most of this information, and did a bit of online research as well as checked with friends who live there and have visited there. We did the entire south Peru circuit.

If we had more time: We would have spent another day and night in Lima, gone to Kuelap and also crossed over to Bolivia to check out Salar de Uyuni (Emerald Lake, etc.) and a few other areas around there.

Prices: As a rule of thumb, negotiate with EVERYTHING, even with the price you've agreed to for your hotel. The only thing you can't negotiate for would be the Peru Rail tickets up to Machu Picchu or the Boleto Turistico which is the tourist pass to see all the ruins. You can get a student discount if you show proof (current student ID and/or an International Student ID).

Train to MP: You can also choose to take the lesser expensive Inka Rail as well, which is not as popular yet and doesn't run as frequently as the Peru Rail. Also, you can easily skip the Vistadome train because you get the same vistas from the Backpacker train as well, which is just as spacious and comfortable and has big windows, for half the price (you just won't get the snack they give in the Vistadome train, which is easily passable).

Hiking in MP: If you're not that much into hiking, you don't need to wake up THAT early to get to MP if you aren't planning on hiking Waynapichu - the tall hill you see in every pic of the MP ruins. They only allow 400 people on it in a day. We wanted to hike it, so we got up at 3:30am, got in line for the bus that takes you up the hill to the park entrance (first bus is at 5:30am), and were definitely the first few in line at the entrance when the park opened at 6am. We hiked Waynapichu, but it took FOREVER to go up and come back, and when we got up there it was cloudy so we couldn't even get good views. And it was strenuous! And I'm not kidding (coming from two pretty active people)! We took the "shorter", harder route up, and the longer, "less strenuous" route back down.

Inca Trail: If you want to hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, you HAVE to book in advance because you cannot go on these trails without a licensed guide. There are 4 day and 2 day hikes as well. One of my friends is hiking the Inca trail to MP as we speak through Llama Path.

Weather: We went in the latter part of December, which is the rainy season in Machu Picchu. It was pouring heavily in Cusco and was 47 °F! Machu Picchu was certainly wet and was sprinkling almost throughout the day, but was thankfully not cold. A raincoat for 3 soles was all you needed (no sweater necessary). It did stop raining in the afternoon and the clouds dissipated, but there was still no sun. At least we were able to see the ruins clearly :). Arequipa, Nazca, Ica, Huacachina and Lima were all on the warmer side (shorts and t-shirt weather), since it is summer in the southern hemisphere this time of the year.

Altitude Sickness: Don't take it too lightly. Nishant and I got prescription pills for altitude sickness that they recommend you start taking 1-2 days before you get to the high altitude place (example: Cusco. MP is at a lower altitude than Cusco). I took it 1 day before and I didn't get sick AT ALL (it could also be because of my good genes, but I wasn't going to take the chance of having my vacation ruined ;-)). Nishant stopped taking them after the 2nd day and felt nagging sinus pressure, whereas one of our other friends who refused to take anything spent the entire first night in the bathroom of the restaurant we were having dinner at, throwing up!

Cuisine: For some reason, woodfire ovens (and hence, pizza) and spaghetti are ubiquitous here. I heard food is quite good if you hike the Inca trail - the company you go with makes food for you there, with plenty of vegetarian options. Since we wanted to try Peruvian fare and we weren't hiking (and I'm vegetarian), we were a bit disappointed with the variety of dishes. Ask for a 'tourist menu' at restaurants - they give you 2 or 3 course fare for cheaper than a la carte prices. Ceviche is popular in coastal cities, and Hotel Paradiso in Ica supposedly has amazing vegetarian ceviche (our friends vouched for it). Unfortunately the place was closed when we went. Our favorites were quinoa pancakes and rocoto relleno (bell peppers stuffed with vegetables, cheese and egg, or other non-vegetarian fillings) in Arequipa. Sol de Mayo was our favorite restaurant, in the Yanahuara district of Arequipa.

Nishant's food (left) & Coconut Crusted Flan (right)

Visa Requirements: US citizens do not need a visa. Indian citizens need to apply for a Peruvian visa, which is $30. The consulate is in San Francisco, and you just fill out an application and take your passport photo with you, go early and wait in line (apparently they're quite inefficient and slow), and you will get it done the same day. The earlier you go, the better. They open at 9am, and you basically want to be the first one in line or you'll be waiting there forever.

The highlights of our trip were Machu Picchu of course, and the Nazca Lines! Have fun! Feel free to ask any questions and email for our detailed itinerary!

Nazca Lines: The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the ubiquitous reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish ground beneath

The Roving Mind

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