Treks and Macchu Picchu: Choosing the right trek for you!

Blurb

People may argue that Peru is the backpackers dream whereas others argue Australia is. However there is no denying that Peru is an amazing country. I stopped in Peru for 9 days but I soon came to realise that I should have spent at least a month in this amazing country. However, in my adventure I knew I just wanted to have a taste of South America, just like my European trip so that I could decide whether it is worth exploring. Just for future reference, I think you guys should consider doing Chile, Bolivia and Peru in a holiday trip or adventure trip. It is a common trip to go from Colombia and then head downwards towards Peru, into Bolivia, Chile and then to venture towards Argentina to end up in Brazil. Unfortunately as my plan pulls me across to South Africa, I had to accept that I could only spend 3.5 weeks in South America. However if you have unlimited time, just fly to somewhere in South America and transverse across.

So I flew into Lima from Havana and then waited a few hours to fly into Cusco, where the legendary Macchu Picchu is found. However Peru’s culture is so rich that even if you wound up in the country, there is plenty more else to see and do here, it would take years to scratch away at what Peru has to offer.

Rooms

I didn’t get an AirBnB, gutted! The price of a hostel was definitely dirt cheap, I paid £4 a night and the room wasn’t bad. The girl at the desk, Indira was nice to chat to and super polite! The room is standard, sheets were clean but I wasn’t expecting luxury.

Some of the people on my trek did mention that they had booked an AirBnb, I booked via Hostelworld and although the website is well laid out and appeals to the air, there are some flaws in its booking system. Be super careful because the mobile site will likely not save your date preference and sometimes the online website will mess up your dates. It’s happened to me, more than once! However you can wing it and see what pops up on the day.

A lot of travellers I met were from America or Scandinavia and were travelling for 1-3 months, they usually booked two nights’ accommodation then made decisions from there. I’m such a noob! However it depends whether you prefer to plan out your trip (recommended if it’s a short 2-3 week trip) but if it lasts months then plan out a week at a time and book only 2-3 nights accommodation before deciding if you want to stay longer or move to another city, you’ll cover more ground and see more.

Cusco City

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Colonial style Catedral in Plaza de Armas

There is a lot to see in the city, it has the Plaza de Armas, Regocijo Plaza, Old town, Plaza de San Francisco, San Pedro market and a few museums too. There are free walking tours everyday but they do get abit crowded, but of course it is a tip based service.

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My favourite areas were the old part of Cusco and also San Pedro market. The museums here were small and there wasn’t much on show. However San Pedro market is like a bazaar and you can shop for tea, fruit, food and souvenirs here. If you do go for some food, a blog called a gringoslifeincusco recommended Mama Natys as the food was good and hot, so safe for tourists. However I would recommend eating any street food after doing a trek or tour as you may not adapt well to the South American climate.

The old part of Cusco is all cobbled and has narrow streets, I walked around this area and it had a lot of souvenir shops but if you keep going up the street then you may find Limbus bar, it offers amazing views and I had a pint of Cusquena while overlooking the mountains and Cusco city. I suspect during sunset, that the views would be immense but go regardless.

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View from Limbus bar

Trekking

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Day one of the Lares trek

If you have arrived in Peru then you will of course be looking to do a trek or tour, or at the very least go to Macchu Picchu. If you decide to just go to Macchu Picchu then you can either book through an agency or you can get a ticket and just make your own way there. I remember overhearing an American traveller who only had a few days in Cusco, bombarding the receptionist with questions on how to go about getting to Macchu Picchu and if he could fly, ride horseback, teleport or train it. I’ll get to this.

So there are several different treks you can do:

  1. Inca trail: this is the most famous and overprescribed trail, you need a permit to do this. Even if you are the most experienced trekker in the world, you need a permit to do this trail and so you will have to book with an agency. However the tour can be booked up 6 months – 1 year in advance and it is the toughest trail, if you are really up for it then you need to book early but there are alterantives.
  2. Salkantay: this is the second most popular trek and it is considerably more cheaper than the Inca trail. It can last for 2-4 nights and it is an interesting trek, a lot of travellers I met did this trek.
  3. Inca Jungle: this isn’t really a trek, it is more of an adventure experience where you can zipline, river raft and bicycle ride your way towards Macchu Picchu. From what I understand you are driven to the peak and you bicycle ride your way down and see sites along the way
  4. Vilcabamba trek: this 5-7 day trek is more like an expedition and it offers the most into the lost city of the Incas. Our tour guide said this was a beautiful trek and not many people know about it
  5. Lares trek: 4 day trek, this is the trek that I did and again not many people had heard of it. A lot of travellers will be familiar with the Inca trail/ Salkantay trek/ Inca Jungle trek. The Lares trek is similar to Salkantay but you reach the highest elevation on the second day. The Lares trek was very quiet and on the 3rd day we were given the option to spend a whole day at the Lares hot spring if we walked for a further 3 hours. I’m telling you, it was magical and an excellent choice.
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Magical hot spring

There are other treks you can partake in but it is entirely up to you. I met some people in the hostel that were experienced trekkers and so they tried to do the trek themselves, as you can do the trail by yourself and pay entry for the campsite (which is so cheap). However the only downside is that if you get lost then you will add extra time onto your trek, if you want to risk it then just be prepared (foodwise). However some operators will offer good deals on tours if you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg.

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Macchu Picchu

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This is the money shot – 3am wake up to queue for the bus

The glorious macchu picchu literally means old mountain in Quechua. Our tour guide said it was built as a secret city to be hidden away from the Spaniards as they were searching for Chief Pachakuti during their invasion. This is the crowning jewel to end all tours but if you wish to save some dollar then you can purchase a ticket yourself or go through a tour operator.

If you wish to go lone wolf on the tour then you have book a ticket and remember if you want to climb Wayna Picchu or Macchu Picchu then you need to purchase these tickets too – they are in limited amount (200 per day). To answer the American mans ramblings, you will have to reach Ollantaytambo and then take train to Aguas Calientes and from there you can trek up to Macchu picchu control entrance or take a bus up.

This is all fairly simple. There are several buses going to Ollantaytambo then you can buy a train ticket from Peru rail or Inca rail to get to Aguas Calientes, stay overnight then begin your trip to Macchu Picchu. I would suggest looking into this in detail because it can get confusing and if you are trying to make your trip abit cheaper, then you may only be saving $50. It can be done though!

So:

  1. Look into buses getting to Ollantaytambo
  2. In Ollantaytambo or prior you will need to organise a train journey into Aguas Calientes (there is no other way getting to it) – book with Peru rail or Inca rail
  3. Get to Aguas Calientes and decide if you want to trek up (1.5hours to entrance) or get a bus up (much nicer but you have to get up at 3.30am to queue if you want to be first into Macchu Picchu
  4. Look into tickets for Macchu Picchu and if you want to climb anything

Rainbow Mountain – Red Valley – City Tours

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Rainbow Mountain

I hadn’t really done much research into Peru but I knew Lima was the capital and that Arequipa and Nazca were popular places to visit. A couple told me that I had to visit rainbow mountain and the red valley next to it. They said that Peru Majestic was the only company which would guide you across red valley for $40, however I noticed you can do it yourself and pay 15 soles altogether to the entrance guides but then you will have to organise a ride to rainbow mountain. It was definitely worth the visit and if you don’t fancy trekking up to Rainbow mountain then you can ride a horse one way for 60 soles (but walking gives you that sense that you earned it!). Rainbow mountain usually gets quite busy, so get there early and take your photos. If you are trekking across Red valley then prepare for 3.5 hour trek, you will be able to slide down its sandy transverses though.

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Red Valley

The city tours are usually quite crowded and take you across sites like Qorikancha, Sacsuayhuaman and Humantay lake. I would definitely go on a city tour to see how the Inca civilisation was built up but just be wary it is a busy tour usually. I would also consider bargaining for a tour if you are booking several or if you are approached by a vendor then it is easier to bargain then in a shop environment.

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Food

Cuy

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Cuy al horno or guinea pig is the national dish of Peru. They take a guinea pig and usually fry it but I have seen baked Cuy available. However I don’t think it is a domesticated guinea pig and it seems bigger than the pet shop variety. The skin is super crispy, salty and slightly gamey but there isn’t really much meat on it. I went to Deva to try Cuy as the reviews were good, it was a nice setting and the waiter, Joel gave me some history about Peruvian food. He said there were over 300 different types of corn and potatoes.

He advised to turn Cuy al horno (baked) as it was a traditional Cusco-style. They bring out the whole Cuy for picture purposes then it is taken back to the kitchen to be sliced up. I remember Joel saying to eat the Cuy with your hands and so I turned into a savage as I tore up that guinea pig.

Definitely a must try if you’re not a vegetarian.

Lomo Saltado

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Lomo is beef loin which is cut into strips then fried in soy sauce and herbs. It is served with chips and rice and is a great meal. It is filling, can be found for 15 soles and they do a chicken or pollo version too. I wouldn’t get tired of eating it to be fair because the flavours are abit Asian and I eat rice every day!

Bisteck Montada

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Bistec is Spanish for steak and montada is mounted. I had this meal at San Pedro market at Mama Natys and it did the trick. Frying steak (beef or alpaca) with a slight spiced coating with two eggs, salad, rice and chips. I combined it with some salsa verde and it was great. When I told Indira that I enjoyed some bisteck montada at San Pedro, she rolled her eyes back and said she really wanted some! I guess it was a good choice.

Soups – Caldo

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The Peruvians are also into their soups too, it ranges from Caldo de Pollo, noodle soup to quinoa soup. The chicken soup usually has a chicken leg which has been boiled and then garnished with some herbs, a nice hearty meal which is ideal for acclimatising in a high altitude place like Peru. However I would recommend the quinoa soup, tasty and healthy.

Empanadas

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As I walked back from a Cusco city tour, I only had 30 soles left and I wanted to save money for the airport taxi and also for one decent meal. However I walked past some pastry stores and I saw trays of empanadas for 3.50 soles. This is definitely a cheap alternative to a meal in the restaurants and does the trick to fill the void. The normal combinations are queso (cheese), carne (red meat), pollo (chicken), queso y jamon (ham and cheese), definitely try one and if you’re stuck for cash then this is a cheap alternative for a quick lunch or dinner.

Chicha Morada and Pisco Sour

These drinks are Peru’s own creations. Chicha morada is a slightly sweet purple corn based drink and it is delicious, very refreshing and it has a vegetable type flavour but it is very delicate. Pisco sour is a South American drink which was described to me like Peruvian tequila and mixed with lime juice and egg whites.

Coca Tea

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I put a slideshow of the food cooked for us by the tour cooks above but we always had coca on the table when we had a meal.

Coca leaves are commonly eaten and used to make a tea in Peru. These help with altitude sickness and are the precursor to making Tony Montana’s favourite white powder. Coca is found in candys, teas and they even put it in stews and currys. I met a travelling couple from Chicago in Lares and the guy was constantly chewing Coca! Coca will keep you up but it will help with altitude sickness, roll up a handful of leaves like a cigar and stick it in your cheek. The tour guide said that it is better to let it passively absorb the coca rather than chewing it. After 30 minutes, the coca will be used up and you can discard it.

And yes, coca cola used to use coca to flavour its drinks and supposedly still uses coca flavouring for its cola today. Also Inca cola is an extremely popular drink in Peru and it is a yellow/gold super sweet drink which you may want to try.

Top tips

  1. Take a good amount of cash to exchange or exchange into Soles beforehand – if you want to take money out of an ATM then they charge 19% surcharge and if you want to use VISA or Mastercard in a restaurant then there is a 10% service charge
  2. If you want to do the famous Inca trail then book at least 6 months in advance, sometimes there are spaces in the quiet seasons like November, December but the guide said it gets booked up in advance due to the limited amount of permits available for the trail
  3. If you want to just do one day tours or city tours but still want to visit Macchu Picchu then you can still do this. Either book for an entry permit via a tour guide or you can do it yourself
  4. Take at least 2-3 days to acclimatise, there is nothing worse than trekking up a mountain and feeling like you’ve turned into Vomitaurus rex or someone having your head in a vice. It is inevitable you will get some altitude sickness but if you acclimatise then the effects will reduce, the most common symptom is a headache – so drink plenty of water, have some sugar and drink that coca tea.
  5. Spend at least a month exploring Peru and then you can make your way to Chile or Boliva (La Paz is most popular). The buses going to Arequipa, Titicaca etc are readily available and cheap! There are buses called Peru Hop or Bolivia Hop which make it incredibly easy to move along Peru and Bolivia.
  6. Bring loo roll and a head torch.

 

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Enjoy the journey!

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