Our hearts are filled with joy and our eyes are gleaning with pride as we embark on this journey to share our travel tales from Peru. We are not quite over this beautiful country just yet....the memories from this amazing trip will truly last a lifetime! For all you "travel greedy" peeps out there, don't forget to add Peru to your bucket list!
It was total serendipity that brought our travelling toes to Peru. We would be lying if we professed that it was our childhood dream to visit Machu Picchu, the glorious and secret ruins of the Inca civilization- a true world wonder. In the midst of an eventful summer (to say the least), we randomly snooped around for the best places to visit in October in an attempt to take advantage of the Canadian Thanksgiving long weekend. And just like that, Peru popped up as one of the highly recommended destinations...and so decided to take this trip of a lifetime :) We felt one with the warm local folks and the furry llamas and alpacas!
In this blog, we've tried to summarize all the basics to help you with your travel planning. Additionally, we've included an overview of our 12 day itinerary. If you're the kind that prefers a bullet style summary, this blog is a good place to start. We will share location specific details and photos (yay) in the weeks to come. Read on amigos!
- International- We booked our round trip through Air Canada from Toronto to Lima, the capital city of Peru. We had a lay over in Bogota, Colombia, on our way to Lima, but managed to find a direct 8 hour flight on our way back to Toronto.
- Local Flights- We booked all our local flights through Avianca Airlines. Our flights were punctual and comfortable. The staff were polite and hospitable. Other common domestic flight options to consider are LATAM, Star Peru, and Peruvian Airlines.
- Lima Airport to Hotel Transfer- When you first land in Lima, you want a hassle free way of getting to your hotel. We booked the airport shuttle through Airport Express for $8 per head that took us from the airport to our hotel in Miraflores (city center square) late at night. If you book a taxi or shuttle directly through your hotel in Lima, it may cost you much more. These buses are equipped with Wifi on board and have flyers of various local city tours. The staff were helpful and made us feel welcomed.
- Road Travel- We were very impressed with the on-board services and convenience offered by two bus operators that we chose for our Peruvian road trip ventures: Cruz Del Sur and Inca Express (details to follow in our blogs). Take a look at their websites for an idea of their travel routes. Both services are reliable and offer an affordable way of getting from city to city.
- Train: You can consider a luxurious train ride with the Belmond Andean Explorer on a scenic rail route from Cusco to Puno. We chose a more affordable road trip option during our journey, but we've heard the Andean Explorer with its vistas of the majestic Andean ranges is totally worth the bucks!
We tried to pack "relatively" light for our trip (please note- 'relatively' is a 'relative' term...lol!). Between the two of us, we took two carry-on trolleys, two back packs (including our camera bag), one 60 liter bigger hiking backpack for all our travel extras (e.g., shoes, first aid kit, basic energy foods, etc.), and our drone bag. Trying to get better at this packing business...always a work in progress...sigh!
Note: Inside Machu Picchu, you are only allowed to take a regular sized backpack. So if you are backpacking with a larger hiking bag, you will not be allowed to take that inside Machu Picchu. Most hotels and lodges in Cusco (if you are starting your Machu Picchu adventure with your tour operator from Cusco) and Aguas Calientes (where people stay en route to Machu Picchu) will offer to store your luggage for free. Our Air BnB accommodation in Cusco stored our luggage for us as we made our way on our 2 day Inca trek.
- Clothes for all seasons- We carried summer wear, active wear, and layers for colder altitudes. We also took our rain coats/ponchos and wind breaker jackets which we found to be very helpful! We took our hiking shoes and less bulky sneakers for our walks. And no... did not use our swim wear in October in Peru :)
- Sun Screen
- Insect Repellent- Purchase a repellent that covers a variety of bugs, especially mosquitoes, sand flies, and tics. We read many blogs where people complained about nasty sand flies. We actually got quite lucky and were not stung by any sand flies throughout our hikes (yay for cooler October weather!). We did get a few mosquito bites which were larger and harder than the usual bite bump that didn't fade away for a few days. Oh well! Of course basic precautions such as long sleeves and long pants always helps
- Reusable Water Bottle
- Camera- as much as photos don't do justice to the beauty of this place, don't forget to take a good camera to capture the stunning vistas.
- First Aid Kit: We always carry band aids, Tyelonol/Advil, and Gravol with us...basics for any emergencies
- Phone charger, camera battery charger, and an additional camera battery
Vaccines and Acclimatization/ Altitude Sickness
- Vaccines: Talk to your healthcare practitioner about your vaccines. Yang and I had up to date Hepatitis and Typhoid shots, so we didn't need to take anything for this trip. If you are going to the Amazon rainforest, a vaccine for Yellow Fever is recommended.
- Altitude Sickness: Sip on some coca tea that the locals swear by and get Sorochi pills from a pharmacy once you get to Cusco. As soon as we landed in Cusco and attempted to climb the many flights of steps in the city, we felt short of breath and a light pressure in the head. This pressure got worse for me with fatigue and I'm not usually someone that gets headaches. So altitude sickness and acclimatization is a real thing.
Most tour operators will recommend giving yourself about two to three days to acclimatize in and around Cusco before heading to Machu Picchu, although in altitude Machu Picchu is about 8,000 ft. above sea level and Cusco is 11,000 ft. high. I always had Gravol handy for any nausea or vomiting (just in case). I'm not a 100% sure about what helped me during my visit as I was trying a combo of things to feel healthy, erring on the side of caution (#health freak alert)! We took Sorochi pills when we got to Puno because of the increased altitude. These pills must have done something right, as we felt quite ok at the 12, 500 ft. altitude of the Lake Titicaca region! Whoa!
Note: Don't try to bring back Coca leaves, Coca candy, or Coca tea back with you to the United States or Canada. It is considered illegal in North America and will be seized by Customs, putting you through unnecessary hassle!
You will need Peruvian Soles to travel around Peru. Some local tour operators may accept American $. The major airports like Lima and Cusco have currency exchanges if you need to get local currency after you land. We got a slightly better rate at the local market outside the airport (e.g., Western Union near Plaza de Armas, Cusco).
Average Conversion Rate: 1 USD = 3.2 Soles; 1 CAD = 2.5 Soles.
Note: You must ensure that your currency notes are in perfect condition if you intend to exchange them in Peru. So if your US $ has the smallest rip or discoloration, it will not be accepted at the airport, by local money exchanges, and by local vendors. This can be a bit of a pain! The banks across Peru apparently give people a very hard time to accept "imperfect" notes and so travellers can face a difficult time exchanging such notes.
Phone: Claro and Movistar are the popular pre-paid sim card options available. You will need to purchase your sim card from the main city center square or from a local mall in the city. We used Claro during our travel and had good coverage throughout our trip.
Note: The Lima airport does not have the option of purchasing a sim card. There is a Claro store in the airport, but you have to purchase a phone with the plan. So don't waste your time like us running around the airport searching for a store.
Language: Spanish is widely spoken among the people of Peru. We struggled to communicate, especially with the local taxis. We eventually learned a few catch phrases beyond 'Ola' and 'Mucho Gracias'...lol! If you have a data plan, Google Translate will be your best friend. When you go into the interiors and visit local villages and communities (please do), you will learn that most people speak Quechua, the native language of the Andean people. In Puno, on the floating islands, we were told that people speak Aymara, another native language.
Planning a 12- 14 day tour of Peru can be quite challenging as there are so many beautiful locations to chose from. I guess all avid travellers have to come to terms with the fact that they cannot see everything and may have to save some treasures for future explorations. With this in mind, we picked our "travel pillars" in Peru. We chose to visit the locations mentioned below after much deliberation.
Take a glance at our gallery:) This is a teaser of the goodies coming your way. As we create our Peru blogs, we will activate the hyperlinks to go with each image below.
- Day 1: Travel from Toronto to Lima.
- Day 2: Day trip from Lima to Huacachina desert oasis by Cruz Del Sur bus; early morning departure. Sand buggy ride and sand boarding in Huacachina.
- Day 3: Travel day- Travel back to Lima from Huacachina by Cruz Del Sur bus. Afternoon flight from Lima to Cusco.
- Day 4: Day trip from Cusco to Sacred Valley. Early morning departure with a private taxi. Visited Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray, and Maras.
- Day 5 and Day 6: Two day Inca trail; group tour with Llama Path. Cusco to Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu. Day 6- back to Cusco by night time.
- Day 7: Full day adventurous trip to Vinicunca Mountain/Rainbow Mountain; group tour with Marvelous Peru.
- Day 8: Guided tour bus ride from Cusco to Puno with Inca Express bus. Visited Andahuaylillas church, Raqchi, Marangani, La Raya, and Pukara en route to Puno. Beautiful visitas of Lake titicaca, the largest lake in South America and the world's highest navigable lake!
- Day 9: All day tour of Uros Floating Island with Uros Khantati; private tour and home stay on the floating islands.
- Day 10: Sillustani burial towers tour with All Ways Travel, including a boat ride on lake Umayo and local village tour for a delicious lunch; private guided tour.
- Day 11: Flight from Juliaca (near Puno) to Lima. Exploring Barranco district, Lima.
- Day 12: Travel from Lima to Toronto
VARIATIONS or ADD ONS
If you have a few extra days and want to consider some variations to the itinerary above, do consider these wonderful locations:
- In addition to your Huacachina day trip, you can tag on a day to visit Paracas and Islas Ballestas, also known as the poor man's Galapagos Islands. The waters and the vistas look serene and beautiful.
- You can consider adding Nazca lines, Arequippa, and Colca Canyon to your travels. You can take a bus ride farther south from Huacachina to explore these spots, or tag them onto your journey toward Puno. We've heard so many wonderful things about Arequippa, a city bustling with local culture.
- Some folks that we met during our travels also added an Amazon rainforest loop to their tour. You can do a two to three day addition to Puerto Maldonado and Iquitos and visit the Amazon rainforest in all its Peruvian glory.
- I think my only regret is not being able to see the beautiful Huayhuash mountain ranges that lie north of Lima! Do go if you have time. So stunning!
- During your visit to Puno and the Lake Titicaca region, you can look into adding a tour to Taquille and Amantani Islands. They are touristy, but we've heard they offer a great taste of the local culture and livelihood.
Local Tour Operators
We used the below listed local tours during our travel. Take a peek!
-Llama Path: Macchu Picchu- for our two day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. Well organized and enjoyable group tours; knowledgeable and friendly guides; small group size; personable; prompt and effective communication. FYI- We were able to book our trek pretty last minute with them in September for our travels in October. Contrary to this, permits for the four day Inca trek sell out really fast and need to be purchased months in advance with better planning.
- Sacred Valley Tour- Pisac Ruins- So there is a guide named Eddie who sits in a store opposite the check post where you have to buy your ticket to enter Sacred Valley. Please hire him to show you around Pisaq. Well worth it. We learned so many fascinating details about the Incas and their lifestyle from him. Amazing!
- Marvelous Peru- Rainbow Mountain- Vinicunca tour- We booked this tour locally. It was way cheaper than booking the Rainbow mountain tour ahead of time online (like half the price). This tour agency was average in service- personally found the group size large and one of their guides a bit pushy and repetitive. But otherwise, I can't complain. The guides supported me all the way with my altitude sickness at the crazy heights of this mountain!
- Inca Express: Cusco to Puno- affordable guided bus tour with many local stops.
- Uros Khantati: Home stay and tour of Uros Floating Islands- delightful and unique experience to say the least!
- All Ways Travels: Highly recommend them for your tours in the Lake Titicaca, Puno area. We booked the Sillustani half day tour with them and it was such an enjoyable experience with our guide for the day.
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