Peru is BAD ASS. I think about my adventures there daily and whenever anyone asks about my trip, my first rant of approval is always dedicated to something from this country!! It was easily one of the most diverse and culturally rich places I have ever visited with the Andean mountain range running right down the middle, beautiful coast around the outside and Amazonian jungle filling its borders with Colombia and Brazil!!
I flew into Peru from Colombia with Viva Colombia for $160 (Bogota to Lima) and I then moved on to Bolivia on an overnight bus. A lot of people with more time come through Equador on the bus from Colombia which would have been awesome if I had more time!!
I hope you like overnight buses (!) because in this country they are unavoidable!! I caught 9 during my time here (which in 5 weeks is pretty intense) sometimes one after the other (which I can't say I recommend). The one tip I have is if you are traveling from Ica (Huacachina) to Cusco but are planning on going to Arequipa as well, go there first and then go from Arequipa to Cusco after because although on the map they look the same distance apart, the journey across from Ica to Cusco winds through the Andean mountains making it beautiful however INCREDIBLY time consuming (about 23 hours) vrs the 10 to Arequipa and then 10 from there again to Cusco!! (I hope this makes sense…). The best bus company is undeniably CRUZ DEL SUR whom I had the pleasure of traveling with a couple of times… there were occasions when their tickets actually cost the same as the shitter bus companies so even if you are trying to save money, check their ticket price first!! As always, its cheaper to get your ticket at the bus stop rather than online, however the buses do sell out!! So if you are making an integral trip make sure you book the tickets a day or two in advance. Some buses have double and single seats so if you are a solo traveler (like me) look out for companies that have the solo seats to avoid being up close and personal with a nice but unidentified Peruvian man for the night. Also make sure your bus has a toilet because sometimes they don’t and when you're on a bus for 14+ hours this is something of a necessity…. I found the buses here incredibly safe, they were always full of people and ran on time and stuck to their routes. Most people fly in and out of Lima however, spend most of their time in Cusco or surrounds meaning they need to get back to Lima to fly out… in this circumstance flying between the two cities is quite a good option as it cuts out almost 24 hours of bus travel time and the cost for these flights, especially when booked in advance, is actually not a lot more than the bus!
As for internal travel (once in the cities) taxis are dirt cheap… most have meters so you'll be safe on getting the right price however a lot of bartering is involved so get acquainted with the going rate and be assertive !!
The hostels in Peru aren't as good as Colombia but they also don't have the ridiculously inflated price tag, so you'll be more than comfortable here for far less than you would there!!! I didn’t stay anywhere that I would go out of my way to recommend mainly because there are so many options with equal standards and the scene is constantly evolving with new properties coming out almost weekly... Check out hostelworld (especially as a solo traveler) for reviews and vibe explanations… if you're traveling in a couple or a group of friends then Airbnb and booking.com will probably offer you cheaper options!! (that may not be hostels). As a solo traveler I had to stay in hostels in order to avoid feeling isolated… which meant I spent a lot more than I would have with someone else but also meant I got to meet a lot of fun people!! Given that I was trekking most of the time (or on an overnight bus) I only stayed in hostels for a few nights while I was in Peru anyway!!
The food in Peru is pretty shit. Everything is deep fried and covered in oil... I'm a fairly strict vegetarian when I'm travelling because its cost effective and means usually I don’t have to eat anything gross. In South America vegetarian means egg AND LOTS OF IT. There was some quite good fish in certain places but as per usual it was DEEP FRIED. Even the banana is deep fried (platano) and you'll be lucky if you get 2 slices of tomato on the side of your meal for some actual nutrition. As I spent most of my time on treks I was eating hiking food which was surprisingly okay (given that there's no deep fryer in the wilderness) but did mean lots of carbs. Whenever I had the chance (or a kitchen) I'd buy a few different vegetables from the market and put them with tuna which was super tasty and didn’t make me feel gross afterwords. Obviously if your budget lends to it, there are nice places to eat out in Peru and the food I'm talking about here is strictly the affordable/street food that I (as a backpacker) could afford.
Even though I had 5 weeks here I genuinely struggled to fit in everything I wanted to see… Peru is a big country and in hindsight I'd rather have been selective with my locations and had more time, than rushed around and overdone it on the overnight buses (which meant being outrageously exhausted ALL THE TIME). I plan on writing out individual posts for each place I visited in Peru as there is a lot of information to share however here is a small summary of each place I went for those of you wising to put together an itinerary!!
Hot off the plane from Bogota, I had landed in Lima and paid an outrageous $20 for my taxi to the Cruz del Sur bus station (watch out for Lima airport as it is notorious for expensive taxis (try and find other people going to the same area you are to split the cost!!)) . I had booked a 9pm overnight bus to Huaraz which was about a 10 hour journey. The bus was uneventful however on arrival my (disabling) exhaustion was explained when I came down with a severely aggressive flu that went on to last 6 days!!! (!!). After lying in my bed of pain for the duration of my illness (and watching an unholy amount of Desperate Housewives) I felt I was well enough to tackle the Laguna 69 day trek that takes you up to 4700 meters… Despite my repulsive snottiness I made a friend (!) here and he was heading north for a week before coming back down so I decided to join him to give myself a little more time to recover before tackling any bigger treks .
We took an overnight bus to Trujillo where we left our bags at the bus station and spent the day exploring. Don’t expect too much here as the city itself is a little dull (although the main square and church are quite colourful). We spent the morning drinking coffee and lying in a local park (true fun!!) and in the afternoon we got a collectivo out to Huaca del Sol which was an archaeological site of the 'Moche' people. The actual tour (which cost about $4) wasn’t anything to write home about but the mountains that surrounded it were so sick!! The area is very barren and sandy with mountains that go on and on and nothing else. We spent most of our afternoon covered in sand (and dirt) as we climbed as high as we could to get the best views and I struggled (without prevail) to remember the Indian Jones theme song which I thought particularly fitting. We then got our second overnight bus to Mancora, a beach town near the boarder of Equador at the very north of Peru. We planned to spend several days here doing not much while I recovered from being sick and to get out of the cold and altitude. The weather here is amazing, it was clear skies and 28 degrees all day, everyday.
After I was confident I had re-cooperated from being ill I got an overnight bus all the way back to Huaraz (which ended up taking almost 24 hours and involved 3 bus changes) I don't recommend doing this trip all in one go (or if you do, make sure its with one of the better bus companies so you don’t have to change and you have some space to breathe).
Once in Huaraz I signed up for the Santa Cruz trek for the next day. Given that I was on my own and didn't have any of my camping gear, trekking with a company was the best option for me and in Peru the organized treks are cheap!! This 4 day hike cost me under $120 which included all food, all gear and all transport (and other fun things that I cant be bothered to list) This trek was up there with one of the coolest things I've ever done, you are outrageously isolated, high in altitude and surrounded by huge mountains the entire time. I RECOMMEND!!!.
After the trek I caught an overnight bus from Huaraz to Lima where I met back with my friend. We stayed at the 1900 hostel in the center of the city. This hostel is fucking beautiful; high ceilings, wooden floorboards, plants hanging from the ceilings, huge windows and a rooftop with a city view. We spent most of our time together in Lima in the hostel, sitting on the balcony drinking coffee or running through the corridors brushing our hands through the hanging plants. We ventured out into the city a few times to explore the nearby markets but we never made it to the coast which is the reason people usually come here (aha). I only stayed in Lima for 1 night on my way south, I didn't think it to be anything special so I wouldn’t stay here for long (especially if you don’t have a lot of time).
From Lima we got a 7am bus to Ica (which was a 6 hour journey). Ica is nothing special however it is boarded by a massive desert within which Huacachina lies!! After a short tuk tuk ride we arrived in Huacachina, where we booked into a sand-boarding sunset tour (at 5pm) and then spent the afternoon killing time over a long lunch and a walk through the dunes. We also hired real snowboards to ride down with but it was genuinely way more fun using the wooden boards to ride down on your stomach as the sand causes too much friction for actual boarding to be much good. The sunset sand-boarding tour was a special afternoon and one of my highlights from Peru (!) so I highly recommend dedicating a day to Huacachina. Initially I had planned to travel further south onto Arequipa because that way you avoid crossing the numerous mountain ranges to Cusco (as I above suggested) however (not following my own advice) my friend Adam was short for time and wanted to do Salkantay before he left so we booked an overnight bus from Ica to Cusco for that night and spent the next 22 hours on a bus scaling the Andes!!
On arrival in Cusco it was panic stations as we needed to be back in Cusco for Christmas and so we needed to start the Salkantay the next morning (at 4am). We had no tour booked and didn’t really know what we wanted to get out of it but we were lucky as the woman we were staying with had a friend with a tour company so instead of shopping around we just booked it with her. We paid $190 au for the 4 day trek which was more expensive than my Santa Cruz trek however it included the entrance to Machu Picchu so it was still V. cheap. We spent the evening power walking/running around Cusco trying to get everything we needed for the trek and then went to bed (albeit briefly) before getting up again for the 4am pick up.
The Salkantay trek for me was the best possible way to get to Machu Picchu! Its WAY cheaper than the Inca Trail (and you don't have to book months in advance) and is more diverse and far more adventurous than the Jungle Trek. We passed through mountain ranges, farms, jungles and rivers before ending up in Hydro Electrica, the small tourist town outside Machu Picchu, where we spent the night before the big climb up to Machu Picchu.
Once back in Cusco we spent a few days staying at the Atawkama Hostel which was a lovely little hostel just out of the center of town and really close to the main market. Cusco is a super cool city, with cobblestone streets, old churches, massive archways, markets and mountains!! The whole city is nestled into an enormous valley which is pretty impressive when you're above looking down.
We did a day trip to the Sacred Valley (Valle Segrado) to take san pedro which was pretty cool. If I'd had more time I would have spent longer here and gone to the many ruins and sites they have in the area.
After Adam left I did Rainbow mountain which is a day trip from Cusco. I have no words to describe the beauty I saw on this hike… the altitude alone is impressive as you reach 5200 meters (which at the time was the highest id ever been!!). The landscape here is outrageously unique although it was freezing cold (otherwise I could have spent days up there just gazing!!). As it is only a day trip I was able to get back to Cusco by 6pm and then board an overnight bus to Arequipa.
Arequipa is a cool, little colonial city with beautiful, white buildings and cobblestone streets. I hadn't planned to stay here and found myself at the Wild Rover as it was the only hostel I knew to direct my taxi driver to. Despite my desperate attempts to ward them away with my baggy pjs and eye mask over the forehead (whilst watching desperate housewives) people STILL kept trying to pour free shots into my mouth (?).
The next morning I got the 3am bus to the Colca Canyon which was 6 hours away. I had planned to hike the canyon in 2 days, staying overnight in the 'oasis' before heading back to Arequipa for an overnight bus to La Paz. The hike was incredibly beautiful and a pretty big physical challenge (which may have been because I tried to run the whole thing (?)). Doing the trek on my own meant I could go at my own pace and it felt like a huge adventure but I did get a little lonely having no-one to talk to for 48 hours... I only got lost a few times (none too drastically) which I was impressed by and I arrived at the oasis at about 2pm. I woke up at 5am the next day for the hike out of the canyon which I completed in a record breaking (seriously) 1 hour and 45 mins!! (!). After returning to Arequipa I got an overnight bus to Puno on the outskirts of Lake Titicaca where I waited for a few hours before my bus to La Paz !!