I am so tragically behind on this blog that it’s embarrassing, but I refuse to give up, so onward! [Warning: this is a LONG one…]
After a lovely 4 weeks of family and friends, it was time to get back on the road – we couldn’t forget Latin America! We didn’t plan this leg of the trip until we were well into the groove of things, after Christmas actually, which significantly affected our approach. While the previous 8 months of travel were a bit 2-fast-2-furious, we wanted to take a much slower pace in Latin America. We decided to limit ourselves to 3 countries: Peru, Argentina, and Costa Rica. We ended up keeping up our previous crazed pace for Peru because friends were joining us and they only had 2 weeks off from work – and so we begin.
Day 291: Peru, here we come!
Our friends Amanda and Andrew joined us for this leg of the trip, and things started off with a delayed United flight out of EWR. [Are United flights EVER on time? I broke my rule of avoiding United because it turns out they have a direct flight from EWR to Lima AND Ben and I had enough left over United miles to get both one-way flights for $FREE, plus the cost of our Economy Plus seats–$115 each for a 9 hour flight? Not bad.]
The delay was annoying but not the end of the world. We landed later than expected, but we were just staying at the airport hotel across the street for the night before our early morning flight to Cusco. The only thing worth noting here might be that Amanda and Andrew got their first taste of terrifying driving on the incredibly short (100 meters) ride from the airport to the Holiday Inn across the road. It was sort of like the big traffic circle that goes around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but 5000x more insane. I wish I had aerial view video.
Day 292: Why can’t I breathe?
We had a quick breakfast at the hotel and then onto our flight to Cusco. Our hotel – Andenes al Cielo – was very cute and I highly recommend it!
Once we were checked in to our rooms, it was time to explore Cusco and find some lunch. Our hotel was just a couple of blocks from the main square, which has a ton of restaurants and lovely views, but can I just say that walking 2 blocks at a VERY slight incline at 11,000 feet (3400 meters) sort of feels like you might die? I mean…like where is the oxygen? Anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog knows that I hate exercise, and that’s nothing compared to how much I detest hills. When you add zero oxygen to said hills, I start to slowly die. So, with that said, Cusco was a test like no other. Ben better be glad that Amanda and Andrew were with us – I was so ashamed to struggle and look unfit in front of them that I powered through while internally cursing the oxygen gods (let’s be honest, I externally cursed them sometimes too). All of the whining aside, I have to admit, Cusco is beautiful. It was chilly but the weather was lovely and the mountains were a wonderful backdrop to the city.
We went off to have lunch at La Feria per the recommendation of our hotel, and we had a lovely meal. Fun fact: despite being Hispanic and a native Spanish speaker, I found myself questioning what half of the menu items were. Why? Because surprise, surprise, Latin America is made up of 20 countries and 600+ million people, and while we have a unifying language, there are plenty of things that differ across each region, including vocabulary and cuisine. It was a fun and educating experience to sit there and Google different menu items and find new words for foods I grew up with. My fave? All of the words for (and types of) corn! I ❤️ corn and let me just say that Peru is where it’s AT. Anyway. Lunch was great.
It wasn’t long after lunch when we found our first baby animals, and obviously a photo shoot ensued.
Lots more wandering and window shopping happened – we were trying to give ourselves the day to acclimatize to the lack of oxygen and perusing the endless supply of alpaca clothes. We eventually grabbed dinner at Mutu Art & Eatery, where I ended up having a dish I can’t remember the name of but was like a cold chicken salad sandwich but instead of bread it was cold mashed potatoes and there was avocado somewhere in there too…I don’t know. It was weird? I don’t think I’d eat it again. ANYWAY. We checked out the hotel rooftop that night post-dinner (the huffing and puffing I did climbing the stairs was a bit ridiculous) and the views were great:
Day 293: So. Many. Hills. Can’t. Breathe. Help.
Another day in Cusco, this time with more exploring. [We each got one of the tourist passes that gives you access to various major sites in Cusco and the surrounding areas, and we probably didn’t get enough use out of it, BUT it did make things simple when visiting each place, so worth considering.] At this point (4.5 months after the fact…shame on me), I can’t remember the names of half the places we saw but it was a lot of churches…lots and lots of churches/other religious buildings. Of course, to get to half of them, you have to climb 500 steps/a hill of death. Thank god for great views at the end of the torture.
After all of the churches and a quick and yummy lunch at Inka Grill, we made our way to Qorikancha – a temple from the Inca Empire. This place is incredibly well preserved, and when you see the precision of the temple walls, it sort of blows your mind – they did this without any modern machinery! I’m half convinced they were magicians.
Later that night we had dinner at Bodega 138, where they make a mean lasagna and a ginormous calzone. Not only was the food delicious, but they also sat us right by the giant pizza oven and we were finally SO WARM. It was lovely.
Day 294: Heaven is filled with baby alpaca blankets
We went on a full day tour of the Sacred Valley, including stops in Awanacancha, Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Salineras.
First stop was the Santuario Animal de Cochahuasi for a little up close animal action – they rescue animals and attempt to rehabilitate and re-release them when possible. So many cuties!
Our stop in Pisac was another opportunity to cuddle cute baby animals, plus also somehow talk ourselves (and by ourselves I mean me) into buying ridiculously expensive things like baby alpaca blankets that make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven.
(DISCLAIMER: Alpacas are SHEARED, like sheep – they do NOT kill the alpacas to get their fur. Please do not send PETA after me.)
The stop in Ollantaytambo included a visit to the ruins, which of course required climbing 500 steps to get there. That said, it was pretty damn impressive, and the views were incredible.
The last stop was at the Salineras or Salinas de Maras – aka the salt mines. Honestly, the pictures don’t do them justice. So COOL.
Some more pictures to help you appreciate the views we saw along this drive:
That night, once they dropped us off in Cusco, we had dinner at Korma Sutra to take a small break from Peruvian food. Not too shabby for Indian food on the other side of the world from India!
Day 295: Oh hi there Machu Picchu!
Per recommendations from several travel planning sites, trips to Machu Picchu (MP) are best organized as a 1 day/overnight from Cusco/Sacred Valley so you can leave your big luggage behind and only take an overnight bag. Given that there were more train times available from Ollantaytambo, we opted to take a taxi there and then jump on the train to Aguas Calientes (AC). We opted to ride with PeruRail because it was affordable and had decent enough reviews – good enough service for what it is. When we arrived in AC, we went straight to our hotel – Casa Andina – to drop off our things and head back to the center of town to grab the bus that goes up to MP. I was too freaked out during the bus ride to take pictures/video but just prepare yourself for sharp turns, steep climbs, scary-looking cliff drops, and close calls with buses going the other direction on what is somehow a two-lane road but definitely doesn’t comfortably fit two buses at the same time. Maybe just close your eyes.
We met our tour guide at the main entrance to the ruins and off we went! Honestly, there are no words. This place is incredible. When you stop and think about the fact that human beings built this with their bare hands at 7900 feet (2400 meters)? It’s humbling.
Eventually, it was time to head back down. We grabbed dinner at Mapacho, which was delish BTW. We had to call it an early night because the others were heading back to MP the next day for some early morning hiking (I obviously was not going to be hiking).
Day 296: Proud owner of a piece of heaven
Ben, Amanda, and Andrew headed out at like 4am or some other ungodly hour for their morning hike. It was pretty foggy unfortunately, but it did clear up quite a bit by the time they were on their way down so they did manage to get some sweet views. I asked them to report on the hiking conditions when they got back and they said it’s literally stairs all the way up. Needless to say, THANK BABY JESUS that I didn’t go.
What did I do while they were hiking and earning their lunch? One guess. A massage – DUH. No one should be surprised. We kept one of the hotel rooms for late check out so the hikers could shower when they returned, and then we grabbed some lunch to go from Mapacho for the train ride back to Ollantaytambo. We headed back to Andenes al Cielo in Cusco for a little nap time before dinner. My glorious baby alpaca blanket was delivered that night and man, I wish I had a picture of what my face looked like when I received that thing…pure joy. I’ll have to post a picture sometime this winter when I bust it out for proper use. Dinner that night was at some rando place called Plus Restaurant that wasn’t particularly good but eh, it was food.
Day 297: The Peruvian Post Office is my sworn enemy. Forever.
Our time is Cusco was sadly over. We had an early morning flight to Arequipa and headed straight to our hotel – Mint – to check in. They didn’t have our rooms available yet, so we went off to explore for a while. First stop was brunch at Tanta – very yummy. Right across the street is the Santa Catalina Monastery, a monastery of nuns originally built in the 1500s which is still in use today. Super interesting place to visit and definitely worth the few bucks to have a proper tour guide. Also super pretty with lovely colors.
Next up was a visit to the Museo Santuarios Andinos, where we got to see Juanita – the mummy of a girl who was believed to have been ritually sacrificed to the gods during the Incan Empire in the 1400s. We weren’t allowed to take pictures of anything in this museum but it was SO amazing. Couldn’t recommend it enough.
We headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner, and I decided to use the opportunity to mail my alpaca blanket back home since it was too big to lug around for the rest of the trip. We all headed to the main post office location in Arequipa in an Uber, since we would go find dinner right after and how long could it possibly take, right? Famous last words. I would like to say right now that the Peruvian postal service is my forever nemesis. I cannot get into the full story because my blood pressure is bound to rise and it will make this post way too long, but trust me – it was an epic fucking disaster. After an hour of literally running around the streets of Arequipa trying to find all of the things I needed to mail this damn blanket (shipping box, white paper to cover the ENTIRE box, tape for the ENTIRE box, and a copy of my passport), I failed to complete this one simple task. We took my giant box with us to dinner and I spent the entire night internally (and sometimes externally) cursing the Peruvian postal service. Dinner was at Lazos, where everyone had big juicy hunks of meat with big glasses of yummy red wine to make us feel better.
Days 298-299: Killer views, adorable alpacas, and impressive condors
We embarked on a 2 day tour of Colca Canyon with various stops, half of which I no longer remember, with an overnight at Casa Andina in Chivay. This tour wasn’t our favorite, mostly because it wasn’t very well organized by the tour company (Tour Giardino), but the driver and guide were nice and took good care of us.
First up, the views:
Next, the animals:
Special mention to the condors:
Lastly, the local flavor:
We got dropped off back at our Arequipa hotel (Mint) when the tour was over, and I immediately steeled myself for another battle with the post office. This time I came prepared with everything I could ever need and went with ample time in case they now required a DNA sample. (You think I’m joking but they did end up requiring FINGERPRINTS.) I don’t think I’ve ever felt as vindicated in my life as when I left that post office having successfully shipped something. It cost way too much money and was gonna take way too long for that amount of money, but it was done! I celebrated with a pedicure. I later met up with the others at Las Gringas for dinner – good drink selection and yummy pizza, two thumbs up.
Day 300: Back to the big city
With our time in Arequipa over, it was time to head to Lima. After an early flight, we checked into our hotel – Hotel Estelar Miraflores – and grabbed a quick early lunch nearby while they prepared our rooms. We definitely weren’t in a ‘quaint’ small city anymore!
Once we were settled in, we decided to head down to Larcomar, a mall-type spot by the coast with shops and restaurants as well as lovely beach views.
We ended up heading back to the hotel for a little pool and relaxation time, though that was limited because the sun doesn’t hit the pool area for long, plus there were these giant scavenger birds a little too close for comfort. Later that night we had a fancy dinner at El Señorio de Sulco so that poor Ben and Amanda could FINALLY have proper ceviche. They were pleased.
Day 301-302: Aliens definitely exist
A trip to Peru isn’t complete without a visit to the infamous Nasca lines, so we booked a 2 day/1 night tour with Aeronasca with few key Peruvian stops, including the Ballesta Islands, a Nasca lines flight, the Huacachina dunes, and a pisco distillery. These two days were packed and a tad exhausting with very early morning starts, so in an ideal world it gets spread out a little better. That said, had a great time!
Day 1 had a 4am start (yikes!), with our driver picking us up long before the sun was out to start the long drive to Paracas. First up was the boat tour to Las Islas Ballestas, where you get a chance to see the Candelabro de Paracas along the way. The Ballesta Islands are a group of small islands that are home to a lot of local wildlife, mainly birds and sea lions. But what’s really interesting about these little islands? They’re completely covered in bird poop, aka guano. And why does that matter? Because apparently guano is a really amazing fertilizer and they ‘harvest’ so much of it from these islands that it’s a major contributor to the Peruvian economy. In fact, it’s important enough that they have government-employed GUARDS that live on these tiny islands to make sure the guano (YES, the bird poop) is not stolen. This shit (literally) blew my mind. (Oh, and I forgot to mention…it smells like death.)
After the boat tour, we continued inland towards Nasca, with a stop at a popular pisco distillery along the way. We got a tour of the place with details on how pisco is made and of course a proper tasting at the end. YUM. They also fed us some lunch so we wouldn’t be drunken disasters.
We eventually continued on our way to Nasca, where we’d be spending the night before our early morning flight over the Nasca lines. The hotels in that area are nothing to write home about and probably not worth staying at more than a night (two at most), but it’s a necessary stop since the early morning flights are the most recommended times. We grabbed dinner in town that night, at La Kasa Rustika – pretty decent if I remember correctly.
Day 2 started off with an 8am flight over the Nasca lines. Be warned: the plane is tiny and the pilot will be tilting it every which way to make sure everyone can see the lines properly, so you might hurl. I recommend a Scopolamine patch AND following the pilot’s instructions of only looking down when your side of the plane is tilting down – if you try to look when the opposite is tilted, I can easily see how someone would puke. Warnings aside, this was actually pretty fun and also REALLY cool to see the lines. I am 99% sure that aliens exist and have visited earth – and they apparently went to Peru to leave us some weird secret messages.
After the flight, we jumped back in the car to head towards the Huacachina dunes for some sandbuggy/sandboarding action. This was SO different from our dunes experience in Namibia – and as much as I felt like a beast after climbing the giant dune in Namibia, I had SO much fun in Huacachina. This stop is 100% worth it if you’re coming to Nasca. A proper guide/driver takes you in a sandbuggy on a crazy drive through the dunes and it’s like a glorious rollercoaster. So amazing. Then, he busts out the boogie boards so you can fling yourself down a few dunes (belly down so you don’t fall and die). So fun! Love love loved this.
Sadly, the dunes fun came to an end and we headed back to Lima. Once we were properly de-sandified, we grabbed dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel, and it was a shocking success. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Rigoletto had one of the best lasagnas I’ve ever had – and I’m a lasagna snob. 👏🏽
Day 303: Bye bye Peru 😭
For our last day, we explored Lima a bit more. Ben, Amanda, and Andrew went to visit Huaca Pucllana, pyramid ruins that are 1500 years old! I was a bit ruined-out so I skipped this visit (though honestly I can’t remember what I did except grab a quick lunch at Mickey D’s to continue my taste-test experiment), but I am kinda mad I missed the llama action…
We grabbed an early-ish dinner at Saqra, a place near our hotel that we’d tried to get into like 2-3 times prior and kept failing. I can’t remember how good the food was but the pictures sure look appetizing.
And that’s the end! We grabbed our bags at the hotel and off we went to the airport for our red-eyes – Amanda and Andrew were headed back to NYC and Ben and I were headed to Mendoza for the next leg of our trip.
More on Argentina next time! (And I promise it won’t take me a century this time.)