It’s been a minute since we were in Peru, but the memories remain, and when I decided I wanted to do a Travel section for my blog, I knew Peru had to be in here!
We last visited Peru in June of 2010, a few months after torrential rainfall ripped through parts of the country, making land travel impossible to some areas (including Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley of the Incas), and destroying the homes and livelihood of an estimated 20,000 people. The tourism industry took a huge hit during this time, with estimates reaching $1MM per day in lost revenue, and so re-establishing routes to Cusco and Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) became a focus for many Peruvians.
For this reason, we got to bear witness to the ingenuity of the Peruvian people as they worked to establish the infrastructure necessary to move tourists between cities as many pursued their bucket list goals of trekking the Inca Trail and hiking Machu Picchu. It took a lot of extra planning, but – spoiler alert – we made it! And our entire Peruvian journey was one for the books!
Lima as Our Home Base
Peru was one of the most hospitable countries we have visited. The people of Peru were incredibly nice and helpful while we were there, and almost any hotel clerk speaks pretty good (if not great) English, and they can direct you on what to do or where to go if you need help.
We winged a couple things in terms of our hotel and flight bookings, but for the most part everything worked out, and I had a friend in the Peace Corp in Peru at the time so I knew I had a safety net. In retrospect, I would have spent less time in Lima and more time in surrounding areas….Sandoval Lake, Nazca Lines, the Amazon rain forest, Huacachina, Colca Canyon/Arequipa, and Lake Titicaca (hello!), to name a few. Lima is a bustling city with a lot to offer, but there is an abundance of historic sites around the country that are waiting to be experienced.
Lima is broken up into various barrios. One of the premier entertainment centers is located in Miraflores and is called Larcomar…..it’s set overlooking the ocean and it really is beautiful – although don’t go here looking for a great cultural experience because it’s mostly chain restaurants and shops. While here (or if you see another one around town), we loved Havanna, it’s a coffee shop that started in Argentina and it’s wonderful. G is addicted to alfajores, and has even had them imported with some Inca Kola!
Other sites to see in Lima:
- Parque de Amor
- Virgen Milagrosa/Iglesia Matriz in Parque Kennedy – there are shops, cafes and restaurants around Parque Kennedy – it’s the unofficial city center for Lima
- Fuente de los Suspiros in Barranco – Barranco is a cute little barrio….I don’t know if this restaurant still exists, but we found Rustica while walking around and it had a buffet and live music and dancing…maybe it was the Pisco Sours, but we had a blast – probably wouldn’t recommend without the music and dancers though.
- Surf! The coast actually has some great surf spots and places on the sand where you can rent boards for the day
Where to Stay in Lima:
When in Lima, you’ll most likely want to stay in the Miraflores district. We are budget travelers, which is sometimes a success and sometimes a failure, but we liked Bayview Hotel, located at Las Dalias 276 Miraflores. If you’ve stored your travel points or want to splurge there is no shortage of brand name hotels in Lima for you.
The food scene has grown enormously since we were there, with some of the top chefs even coming to America to start restaurants. Some Peruvian dishes to try while you’re there:
- Aji de Gallina – chicken in a spicy sauce
- Lomo or Pollo Saltado – a stir fry with chicken or beef (not unlike fajitas), with the addition of french fries
- Tallarines Saltado – Peruvian stir fry with spaghetti like noodles (love this!)
- Ceviche – super fresh seafood, they use various citrus flavors to complement the fish
- Pollo a la Brasa – grilled chicken
- Causa – cold layered potato dish (variety of fillings include tuna, egg, avocado, herbs, lime, etc.)
- Tacu tacu – rice and bean patty served with leftover meats or egg
- Cuy – guinea pig – can’t say I tried this!
- Papa Rellena – meat stuffed potatoes
- Papa a la huancaina – appetizer of boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce
Virtually every dish is served with potatoes, so be ready for it! I love them, but G started giving me his by the end of the trip.
- Cuzquena – the national beer!
- Inca Kola
- Chicha morada
- Pisco Sour
Making Your Way to Machu Picchu
Getting to Machu Picchu, you’ll likely go from Lima to Cusco to Aguas Calientes. As mentioned, when we were in Peru there had been some historic rainfall that made our journey a little less than perfect. So in our case, we had to put together a makeshift itinerary instead of go on what should have been a quick train ride. Complications aside, the train journey was epic:
We opted NOT to walk to Inca Trail, but for the more adventurous sort this sounds like an amazing journey to take! It involves a 4-day, 26 mile trek by foot from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.
Our journey consisted of a flight from Lima to Cusco, then a train/bus combo from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, then a bus to Machu Picchu. All travel was booked in advance except for the bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to the Machu Picchu historic site.
Some tips on the journey to Machu Picchu
- The airline we used to get from Lima to Cusco was Star Peru (www.starperu.com), and we actually had to call to make sure we could book with them because the flights were SO much cheaper than the larger airlines, but at the time we couldn’t book online because we were out of the country. We paid $179 each for our round trip tickets from Lima to Cusco.
- At the time of our travel, we had to buy entrance tickets to Machu Picchu in Cusco, so be sure to find out if you need to do this….you don’t want to get all the way to Aguas Calientes and realize you needed to buy tickets in Cusco. Details on our ticket buying experience are in the next section…
- Once you arrive in Cuzco it’s great to walk around and get acclimated to the altitude….my stomach was a wreck while we were there. It’s a vibrant city and very historic and walk friendly. You will be completely bombarded by street vendors, but it’s a part of the experience (just be careful of pickpockets). The main area of town in Cusco is called Plaza de Armas, and it’s surrounded by bars and restaurants. Our favorite bar was Norton Pub, and we also liked Paddy’s Pub (very authentic South America, haha).
- Grab a Pisco Sour in Cusco since it will be more “authentic” here than in Lima! Also, this would be the best place to try Cuy if you have any interest (I did not) – it’s the famed guinea pig “delicacy.” Ask around for restaurant recommendations if you do want to try it, many places require a long prep.
- I HIGHLY recommend The Ninos Hotel – Meloc Street 442 – it was recommended to me by my friend in the Peace Corps. A woman started this hotel in order to generate money to support the poor and neglected children of Cusco, she continues to run it and they have a restaurant aspect now too. The rooms are dormitory style, and they arranged a taxi from the airport as well.
- The train service we used from Cusco to Aguas Calientes was Peru Rail (www.perurail.com) and when we booked we had a lot of problems with them – the schedules and prices changed literally each hour! We never knew what we were going to get when we arrived. But it’s the only train service to Aguas Calientes, so we had to use it. Because of the rain damage, we actually had to take a bus from Cusco to a smaller station, then the train from there to Aguas Calientes. All train travel should be fully restored now, so hopefully your train journey will be easier (and direct from Cusco!).
Buying Machu Picchu entrance tickets in Cusco (our experience)
At the time of our travel, we had to buy Machu Picchu entrance tickets at the INC Main Office in Cusco, I don’t know if this is still the case or if you can buy them in Aguas Calientes now, this was the rule when we went:
Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu archaeological site must be purchased at the INC main office in the city of Cusco at San Bernardo Street and can no longer be purchased at the ruins ticket office.
We also suggest that train tickets are reconfirmed with Peru Rail prior to your traveling date as there are new timetables in place and tickets purchased in advance may be subject to minor alterations.
The INC office was a little difficult to find due to us not speaking Spanish, but it wasn’t impossible. The road system in Cusco isn’t an exact science. Also, everyone in South America pretty much runs on their own schedule. Flexibility is a requirement on your part.
The Machu Picchu entrance tickets were about $45 when we purchased, and we had to pay in exact change. This website helped us:
You Finally Made it to Aguas Calientes, Now What?
Depending on your method of travel (bus/train) – you will likely arrive in Aguas Calientes in the afternoon, so you’ll want to buy your BUS ticket for Machu Picchu when you arrive so you can leave first thing the next morning. I think it was $7 for the bus ticket and you’ll be able to ask around for directions to the bus ticket window.
Where to stay in Aguas Calientes:
We stayed at Hostel La Pequeña Casita (my review linked), which was right across from the train station and right next to the bus ticket window/bus stop (convenient for Machu Picchu the next morning). The hotel was in the perfect location and the staff was great, but don’t expect luxury accommodations anywhere in town, it’s all pretty run down.
I recommend just 1 night in Aguas Calientes unless you really want to explore the area around town. There are several hikes, but I’m not sure what else.
There is no hurry to get up to Machu Picchu in the morning UNLESS you want to do the Huayna Picchu hike (I highly recommend doing it!!).
Huayna Picchu is the giant mountain you always see in the background of Machu Picchu pictures.
Not only is it an awesome, challenging hike (altitude and rough terrain), you get amazing views of the valleys and Machu Picchu as you ascend. If you do want to do the Huayna Picchu hike, you’ll want to be in the bus line at about 4:00 a.m. It’s dark, cold, and early. But you want to be there early because they only let 400 people hike Huayna Picchu each day – 200 at 7:00 a.m. and 200 at 10:00 a.m. We wanted to be a part of the first group because the hike gets tougher the warmer it gets in the day. We arrived at the bus stop right around 4:00 a.m. (definitely loved staying next door to the bus stop!) and we were the second bus to get to the Machu Picchu entrance gate….once in line they hand out numbers for the Huayna Picchu hike and we were #74 and #75. We finished the hike about 11:00 a.m. and we had the rest of the afternoon to explore the ruins at ground level. The hike is tough! You’re battling loose ground, altitude, and narrow walkways a lot of the time. Bring water and light clothing.
After Machu Picchu we headed back to Aguas Calientes, ate, recuperated from a super strenuous day, and eventually made the train/bus journey back to Cusco, ultimately flying back to Lima for a few more days.
A Note on Safety and Transportation
For the most part, we had no issues and found the people of Peru to be welcoming and helpful, BUT my friend from the Peace Corps was robbed and assaulted on multiple occasions during her few years in Peru, and she provided stories about other volunteers who experiences the same. While we were there, she took us to an orphanage that she co-founded, located in the Rimac area of Lima…..this is NOT an area I would recommend venturing. She told us police rarely patrol the area because it’s so notoriously dangerous, even for them, and we were chased down an alley by a man wielding a broken beer bottle – fun story to recount, but not fun at the time. Visiting the orphanage WAS a great experience, although I wouldn’t recommend it without a guide.
For taxis in Lima, you should generally be safe using Taxi Green/Taxi Verde, or if you trust your hotel they can call an auto service for you. Do not take off-brand taxis, and be careful of getting ripped off by people driving luxury vehicles who claim to be taxis. Guess who took a Mercedes from the airport? This girl…..and my $5 taxi ride turned into $60.
We only have our experience to base our advice off of, but if you have any questions I will try to answer. Would love to hear your fun Peru travel experiences as well; it really is a wonderful country!