Landing late in Lima, and because we were flying onto Cusco early the next morning, we opted a place to stay, close to the airport, staying at a place called Javier’s place, he picked us up from the airport and then took us and another couple who were staying to his local restaurant that does good Cerviche… (Cerviche is a national dish in Peru, however we’d already had it a few times in Columbia, as it’s widely available.) The food was good and Javier introduced us to another national favourite, the Pisco Sour, Pisco is a grape brandy that both Chile and Peru argue is exclusively theirs, it’s mixed with lime and egg whites and taste delicious – back at the hotel we all shared a number of beers and then hit the hay.
The flight to Cusco was not for the faint hearted, as we started our descent the aircraft pitched into a steeply angled turn and spiraled it’s way between numerous peaks, into the depression in which Cusco sits. The landing certainly tested the suspension! Getting our bags, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the airbnb we were staying at. Cusco, a city in the Peruvian Andes, was once capital of the Inca empire, and is now known for its archaeological remains and Spanish colonial architecture. Set at an altitude of 3,400m, it’s the gateway to further Inca sites.
As Cusco sits at such high altitide we had to be there 3 days before the Inca trail to acclimatise to the altitude. We used the time to stock up on some walking gear and coco leaves! Yes, coca leaves are the raw material for cocaine, but chewing the leaves or having them with tea, helps to combat the effects of altitude sickness, as well as numb the gums and give you green teeth!
Packed and ready to go we descended on the famous Inca trail trek, having had to book it 6-months ago in order to obtain a permit to walk in the footprints of the Incas….
Here’s some useful information about the trek:
Starting Altitude – 2720m
Highest Altitude – 4217m
Walking Distance – 26 miles
Day 1: Cusco – Km82 – Ayapata
The first day of the Inca Trail was pretty easy going. Covering 14km of the trail climbing gently up the Cusichaca Valley passing by the Inca site of Llactapata, where we enjoyed great views of the snow-capped peak Veronica (5900m). Our campsite for the night was at Ayapata (3300m / 10829ft). The food and set up was outstanding, we were really impressed with the standard and creativity of the food, especially since we were at the top of a mountain!
Day 2: Ayapata – Chaquicocha
Today is considered by many to be the hardest day of the trek; with two high passes (Dead Woman’s Pass is the highest at 4200m / 13779ft) to cross with a total walking distance of nearly 16km. We didn’t think it was that hard, but it was two hours constantly up hill and as the altitude got higher you definitely noticed a difference in your breath, whilst noticing every step you took.
We got fantastic views of the high mountain ranges as we crossed the two passes and visited two Inca sites (Runcuraccay and Sayacmarca).Our campsite for the night was at Chaquicocha (3600m / 11800ft) which like Ayapata is one of the quieter campsites and affords beautiful views of the sunsetting over the mountains in the distance.
Day 3: Chaquicocha – Winay Wayna
Having made it over the 2 passes yesterday we had a more relaxed day, through some of the most beautiful scenery the Inca Trail has to offer. With a relatively short distance to cover along what is known as Inca Flat we got to enjoy the lush and verdant cloud forest around us and the spectacular views of the Andes in the distance.
With visits to 2 Inca sites (Phuyupatamarca and Winay Wayna).
On the final day after a 3am start and a 3 hour walk we finally made it to Machu Picchu… Wow, what a site to behold, such a magical place, I actually felt honoured to be there, to soak it all up and bask in the wonders of what the Inca’s created. And the best part was we had blazing sun and clear sky’s which made it all the more impressive.
Leaving Macchu picchu we got the bus down to a town called Aguas Caliente, a town that lies in the gorge of the famous ruins, here we grabbed a quick bite to eat and a few beers, before getting on the train back to Cusco. On the trek, we made some great friends with an Australian couple Mark and Amy from Syndney, laughs a plenty were had. On our return to Cusco we managed to get a few nights out together consuming numerous Pisco Sours before they jetted off to the Galapagos islands!
We stayed around Cusco for a few days, mainly because I got bitten on the last day of the trek by hundreds of sandflies. My legs swelled up and I was having difficulty walking and needed time for the swelling to go down, but once I was on the mend, we took a collectivo taxi to Pisac, which sits at the heart of the Sacred Valley renown for its Inca ruins and artisan market.
Besides the Inca ruins I was really keen to see the local salt mines, called Maras salt mines or, “Las Salineras” they’re literally salt mines derived from the flow of a naturally salinated river creek between Ollantaytambo and Cusco, we were able to get up close and walk along the ridges. so we took a bus and hiked up to see them.
One of the towns we passed to and from the ruins as famous for eating Guinea Pigs ‘Pepián de Cuy o Conejo’, this is a delicacy in Peru – (Gem if you are reading this, I am sorry, I know you had a guinea pigs as pets growing up) yes its cooked, and yes Tom wanted to try it, so we headed to one of the many family’s selling them and ordered one. They aren’t the greatest of tasting, a lot like very greasy chicken, except there is no meat really to find.
Leaving the sacred valley, we flew from Cusco back to Lima, and then picked up an over night ‘Cruz del Sur’ bus to Huaraz. Huaraz is the holds the key to the Andean adventure kingdom and its rooftops command exhaustive panoramas of most impressive mountain ranges in the world, the Cordillera Huayhuash, also the mountain range climbed by British climber in near fatal film ‘Touching the Void’….
On arriving, we went into town and stocked up on hiking provisions and gas, before repacking the bags and heading to Laguna 69, known as one of the most beautiful sights in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca, so we were excited to set off.
After a strenuous four-hour uphill climb where we gained 4,600m in elevation, which by the way you bloody well felt it with your bags on, full of food and camping equipment. Nonetheless after a steady pace and then a very slow pace nearing the top we were finally presented with Laguna 69 and it didn’t disappoint – glacier aqua blue – even better there was only one other camper there, so we basically had the place to ourselves for the night – pure bliss.
It was pretty cold up there, there was ice on the tent in the morning, but our gear kept us warm. When the stars and moon came out it was so bright it was as though there was a light on in the tent, it truly was beautiful up there. During the night you could hear the rumblings of the glacier moving and rocks falling down into the water, waking us up a number of times….
Up early we had breakfast and took in the wonders, before the many hoards of day trippers make their ascent. Packing up, we then started our next ascent to the refugio, near to the base camp of Pisco mountain 5,752m.
This trek was hard work, the altitude and also the terrain didnt help, but we finally made it, we’d both hoped that the refugio would serve food and have a fire and serve wine, and guess what?! It bloody did! We were made up, as we were running lowish on food. Entering there was a roaring fire, and the guys who run it were super friendly. We ordered a glass of red wine, chicken and mash potato and sat down to play monopoly – it was wondeful, and the perfect setting, especially since it was raining outside and didnt stop until morning. Tearing ourselves away we headed to the tent and made a coco and camimille tea and hit the hay, warm, full and tired. The next morning we packed up and headed back down, returning to Huaraz for a nice hot shower and a comfy bed.
On the bus from Lima, we’d met a Californian, Michael, switching numbers we said we’d get together to do the Santa Cruz trek, this 4-day trek (which we did in 3)is one of the most popular treks in the Cordillera Blanca. Taking in spectacular mountains and lakes with beautiful views and colors. From the trailhead, therewas amazing views of the mountains Artesonraju, Rinrijirca and Alpamayo, as well as Huascaran (the highest mountain in Peru), the four peaks of Huandoy, Pisco, Chacraraju and Chopicalqui. The night before we met up for drinks and a hearty meal, and to discuss intineries, routes etc. We started the trek on Friday but finished on Sunday, pushing ourselves to the limits and also taking in other lakes on the trek.
On finishing, my feet were totally shot, I think I counted six blisters in total, Ouch! So I planned to rest them for a while before returning to the mountains. We had a last supper with Michael, saying our goodbyes, and then jumped on a bus north to Trujillo, on the coast. We didn’t stay in Trujillo, instead we headed to Huanchaco, a quaint fishing village famous.. Here we camped just for a night, whilst Tom surfed, we also bumped into a Dutch couple who were staying in Hauraz and also our campsite, a good excuse for a few beers and Pisco sours – we’re going to try and meet up when we get to Ecuador.
Leaving we got another overnight bus, which took us further up the coast to Mancora, on arriving the sun was blazing, there was a great breeze, so it wasn’t uncomfortably hot and we found a nice chilled out place to stay.
We decided after a frantic few weeks jumping around to stay put, so that’s what we did, we spent five days, relaxing on the beach, reading, surfing and eating fantastic food – just what we needed to recharge the batteries.
We still have a few things in Peru that we want to tick off, so we’ll be returning later on the trip as we pass back down from Ecuador to Bolivia.