In November of 2017, we traveled to the beautiful land of Peru. Neither of us had been to South America before and we were definitely excited to see what it was all about (and of course to find out the answer to the age-old question: does the water REALLY go down the toilet the other way?)
We chose to go to Peru mostly because of Machu Picchu & believe me, it did not disappoint (more on that later).
Joining us in Peru were Sam’s sister and her boyfriend, who met us in Lima on a flight from CA.
Our time in Peru had us seeing the following places: The Amazon, Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lima. Each place was amazing and we feel very blessed to have seen them.
Upon landing in Lima Airport after our arrival from JFK (what’s up NYC?!), we then boarded another flight to Iquitos. Iquitos is the town where you stay to start your Amazon tour. We spent a day and night there and got picked up from our hotel the next morning by a representative from the company who we booked the tour with. (The drink pictured here is a Pisco Sour, which is delicious and a staple drink in Peru. It’s definitely a must-try!)
Upon booking our trip earlier in the year, research led us to find Maniti Expeditions. This incredible company was whom we chose to spend our 3 days in the Amazon with. Despite the bare, rustic accommodations, this part of the trip was by far one of the coolest experiences we had! The representative from Maniti drove us from our hotel to the port where we boarded the boat that would take us to the Maniti Camp. It was about a 2-hour boatride and the sights along the way were absolutely breathtaking!
Days 1-3: The ‘Amazing’ Amazon:
After a 2 hour ride on an amazing Amazon River, we arrived at the Maniti Camp and were shown our cabin. The accommodations are very bare & rustic so if you like fancy hotels and white-glove service, this is definitely not for you! We are middle of the road when it comes to how we like our accommodations and we didn’t find this place too bad. The main thing there is that there is only electricity for a few hours so that was hard to get used to. One night we were hanging out in the dining area with some people during the ‘light’ hours and all of a sudden the lights went off and we had to make our way back to our cabin in complete darkness (and rain), so that was quite challenging. Also the water in the shower is not warm – it is chilly not super super cold, but it wasn’t unbearable and actually felt good since the Amazon is so hot & humid. All in all, we didn’t mind the accommodations so much. A few words of caution: DO NOT DRINK THE WATER IN THE AMAZON. It can make you sick. They do provide fully drinkable water at the camp free of charge but the water from the tap in your bathroom should not be drank.
After unpacking in our cabin and having lunch, we were taken on a boat to ‘La Isla de Los Monos’ (Monkey Island). This was an amazing place where we were able to get up close & personal and feed all types of monkeys and they also have a parrot there that we were able to hold. The monkeys were so cute and affectionate and one latched onto Sam so much that when it was time to leave, he would not budge and started whimpering.
After a fun day at Monkey Island it was time to come back to camp for dinner. The food at the camp was amazing and meal time was spent with other guests at the camp so it was nice to hang out and get to meet fellow travelers.
The second day we went to a sloth sanctuary where we got to hold sloths and even an anaconda! We were also treated to a lesson on how to make sugar cane juice and got to have a sample of it, which was very delicious. We had previously tried sugar cane juice on our Vietnam trip, so it was cool to see and use the machine they make it from and then try the fresh juice from it. It’s surprisingly a very difficult process!
After our morning with the sloths, we got back on the boat and started to head back to our next destination, piranha fishing!
We reached the fishing spot where we would try and catch piranha. Our guide instructed us on how to master the technique. The rod must be dropped in and out very quickly as the piranha are incredibly fast swimmers. We surprisingly caught very many fish and our guide told us the kitchen at the camp could cook them and we could eat them for dinner!
After fishing our guide asked if anyone wanted to swim in the river before returning to camp, Sam took this unique opportunity to swim in the Amazon River and jumped in.
On the way back we also passed a floating bar and we asked our guide if we could stop there and get drinks and he said yes! This place was really cool. They had great drinks for cheap prices and some music playing that we danced to.
Back at camp we had dinner which included the cooked piranhas we had previously caught earlier in the day. I’m not much of a ‘pescador’ but these were very enjoyable. After dinner our guide took us on a night hike through the woods where we heard various animal sounds of the jungle and saw some critters such as black widow spiders and a poisonous tree frog. The frog is only poisonous if the venom gets in your blood so I am proud to report Sam made it back to New York alive.
Our last day at Maniti Camp we were taken to a remote village where we met an amazonian tribe. This was a bit of culture shock as the people lived in very simple wood houses with no plumbing or electricity. Certainly made us appreciate what we have back home in the states! The tribespeople painted our faces (with juice from a fig), dressed us in their traditional garb, taught us some words in their language, danced with us and showed us how to blow darts. Dartblowing was such a cool and fun experience and a lot easier than I thought it’d be.
After our time at the tribe village, it was time to get back on the boat and head back to the port of Iquitos to begin our next leg of the trip: Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu. We definitely left parts of our hearts with the Amazonian people and we hope to be able to get back to Amazon again in the future.
Where We Stayed:
Maniti Eco-Lodge – Book it here
Days 4-6: Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu
After a night flight out of Iquitos, we arrived @ Cuzco Airport. Cuzco Airport is where you fly into to go to Aguas Calientes, since Aguas Calientes does not have its own airport. From Cuzco, we got in a cab that took us to Ollantaytambo where we boarded the train via Perurail to Aguas Calientes, the gateway city to Machu Picchu.
On our way to Ollantaytambo the cab got a flat tire, so that was eventful. Sam, the driver and Sam’s sister’s boyfriend Cameron stepped into action to help. (Here are the boys fixing the tire on the cab… great work, gentlemen!).
After that slight mishap we were on the move again. Mishaps sometimes happen on our travels, and especially in 2nd and 3rd world countries – things are not the same quality we are used to back home, so you just have to roll with the punches.
Eventually we made it to Ollantaytambo where we would catch our train. The journey from Cuzco airport to Ollantaytambo is approximately 1 hour. We had a few hours to kill between when we arrived and when we boarded the train so we had lunch and did some shopping in the cute little town. We recommend getting your tickets ahead of time online – it’s easy and they will be sent to you well before your journey. We had absolutely no problems and the process was quick and efficient.
The train ride was so amazing & scenic. There are 2 railways to take – either IncaRail or PeruRail. We went with PeruRail, so I cannot comment on the IncaRail experience. We took the Vistadome train, which is admittedly geared more toward tourists, but because it is a 360 degree view, it’s the best way to see the surroundings. The approximate travel time from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes on PeruRail is 2 hours.
Upon our arrival in Aguas Calientes, we got the bus tickets to Machu Picchu for Sam’s sister and her boyfriend. You can either get there by bus or walk up for approximately 1 hour from Aguas Calientes. (Sam and I chose the latter and it was an amazing, not too strenuous of a hike. We definitely recommend!) The bus tickets can be picked up at a few booths around the city and the bus leaves at various times early in the morning to bring people up to Machu Picchu. Get on line early, the lines tend to get very long! Get your tickets the day beforehand, as I don’t think the bus booths are open that early in the morning. (If you plan to walk up like we did, you do not need a bus ticket, you will just need your Machu Picchu tickets and be prepared to show them to a guard on the hiking trail).
After purchasing the bus tickets, we walked around the city seeing what else was around. There’s a really great market with tons of shops and food so we spent some time there. Tip: Aguas Calientes is on a hill so make sure you bring comfortable shoes.
One of the specialties all over the market and in Peru in general is alpaca wool. We bought 2 sweaters made from the stuff. It’s a bit itchy but super warm and cute! Beware of the knock-offs that say that are made from Alpaca wool but aren’t. You will know which ones because they are cheap. The authentic stuff will be around 350-400 soles (around $120 USD).
After our time in the market, we got to eat some dinner and then went back to the hotel to pass out for our next day at Machu Picchu.
The next morning we were PSYCHED to go to Machu Picchu!
Sam and I woke up early to start our trek upward on the hiking trail. We met up with Sam’s sister and her boyfriend later on at Machu Picchu because they took the bus up. Make sure you get your tickets online ahead of time to enter Machu Picchu. (They have made the restrictions a bit tougher and only allow 2,500 people a day into see it. You will want to get them early so that you can ensure slots are open for the day you are wanting to go). Also, bring your passport. They have a commemorative stamp at the end you can stamp into it that is pretty cool.
After about an hour hike from Aguas Calientes, we arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu. From there we met up with the 2 others and walked around the main area for a while.
Machu Picchu is so big and there is so much to see, so I recommend planning to be there between 4-6 hours. We spent about 5 hours there and we didn’t see all of it.
The highlight of the day for us was the hike up to Sun Gate. This is the highest point of Machu Picchu at about 2720m. It takes about 45 minutes to get up to the top of Sun Gate but it is definitely worth doing, as the views are incredible!
After Sun Gate we made our way back down to Machu Picchu City and explored the grounds for a few hours. We were so amazed at how precisely the Inca people were able to build this great city in the mountains.
Exhausted and out of water, (bring a lot of water if you plan on hiking as much as we did, they do sell water at the entrance but nowhere inside the actual site) we decided to head back down to Aguas Calientes.
That night before dinner we decided to explore the hot spring baths that the town has been so aptly named. The hot springs were extremely fun, we got to relax and enjoy some drinks. The springs were very relaxing and we needed that to soothe our achy muscles. For dinner that night we stumbled upon a great restaurant where Sam finally got to try Cuy (aka Guinea Pig). Sam said he loved it but the rest of us were a bit too apprehensive to try it. (I don’t eat housepets).
Where We Stayed:
Terrazas Del Inca Calle Bed & Breakfast Wiracocha M-18-4 Macchupicchu, 08681, Aguas Calientes 08681, PERU
Book it here (we loved this hotel!)
Days 7-9: Cuzco
After our time in Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, we returned to Cuzco via Peru Rail back to Ollantaytambo and then taxi. Beware the elevation in Cuzco is quite a bit higher than in Machu Picchu and can be quite taxing to move about. A couple of us feeling the effects, decided to pick up some natural altitude pills at the local pharmacy. We also chewed some coca leaves as well as drank coca tea. All of these things were helpful but we felt the pills helped the most. During our couple of days in Cuzco we explored the Historic/Central Square. The square was very lively and beautiful.
Cuzco is surprisingly a very popular place for full body massages. Sam loves getting massages but refuses to spend more than $15 for one due to being spoiled in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and now Peru. Our massages were about $10 each for an hour which is a great deal! (They cost about 6x as much here in the States). We also went shopping for more wool products, as well as art. Sam bought an alpaca winter hat and we also bought pillow covers made from Peruvian sheep wool which proudly sit on our couch at home. We found a small art gallery on a street near our hotel where the woman’s husband handpainted all the pieces. We bought an abstract painting of the Nazca Lines. Her daughter was about 4 years old and was the cutest little girl and such fun to hang out with.
The next day was my birthday. We spent the day at Awana Kancha which is an Alpaca Farm. On the way to the farm we got to see some of the archeological sites near Cuzco. The farm was so fun. It had Llamas, Alpacas, and even Vicuna. We got to feed the animals and learn about how their wool was made. We did not purchase any wool products here because we had already found everything we wanted in Cuzco.
When we got back to Cuzco Sam surprised me and his family with a dinner at a high end restaurant. The food was exceptional.
Sam’s sister and her boyfriend left that morning. With them gone we decided that it would be an adventurous experience to visit Rainbow Mountain. We booked our tour the day we got to Cusco looking for a challenging trek we thought might prepare us for future treks, such as Everest Base Camp (which we will partake on this November). I didn’t bring my hiking boots but luckily there are many shops that rent hiking and climbing equipment due to the fact that Cuzco is a jump-off point for many high altitude mountain treks. Rainbow Mountain is very beautiful and consists of seven different colors within the sediments. This mountain came about in recent years, as climates have warmed and snow melted from the top, the colors underneath have now been revealed. Our hike to the summit of Rainbow Mountain was very challenging and rewarding. The hike was 18Km long (6K up and 12K down) and reached an altitude of 5200m. Though we started getting some headaches the higher up we went, the views were definitely worth it! After reaching the peak we returned via the red valley which was beautiful. Looking back though we decided 18K is a bit too long for a 1 day hike especially at that altitude. If we had to do it over again we would have returned down the same trail we took up. That being said, we will always remember this part of our trip and are very proud of ourselves for doing it.
Where We Stayed:
Cuzco Plaza Nazarenas Plazoleta Nazarenas 181, Cuzco
Book it here
Day 10: Lima
After our fun couple of days in Cuzco, we flew back to Lima to spend one day/night before we headed to Ecuador to finish out our trip.
We chose to spend our time in the Miraflores section of Lima, which is near the beach and one of the more affluent areas of the city.
We spent the day walking around the city, checking out the ‘Love Park’ and watching the sunset and then had dinner at an amazing seafood restaurant called Delfino Mar. The food here was amazing and it was quite reasonably priced.
The next morning we said our goodbyes to Lima and Peru and headed to the Galapagos! (To read about that trip, click here)
We enjoyed our time in this beautiful country. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates in the next coming weeks.