Peru is one of the most diverse countries I have ever visited, from beaches to the amazon, to mountains and deserts, Peru really has it all! This was my first time visiting South America and it was a very unique experience.
We arrived in Lima late at night. We used a tour company for our trip and therefore had a driver and guide waiting to pick us up. We were immediately instructed to place any belongings that did not fit in the trunk, in the middle of the vehicle. The traffic in Lima is horrible at all hours, and we had our first culture shock, learning people often smash the windows of moving cars as they drive by, trying to grab passenger’s possessions.
Whenever I travel to somewhere different, I am filled with curiosity. I watched with wide eyes as we passed through poor neighbourhoods, feeling a bit like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. The farther away we headed from the airport, the more developed the city became. We finally arrived at the beautiful Lima Country Club Hotel and once in our rooms, quickly fell asleep.
In the morning, we embarked on a foodie tour of the city, with the Lima Gourmet Company. Our first stop was Tostaduria Bisetti. Situated in a very cute neighbourhood, this coffee shop offers extremely high quality coffee. Each bean is selected by hand, for the roasting process.
The next stop was a local market. There was such a wide variety of fresh produce. We had the privilege of sampling many delicious fruits I had never knew existed. There were also a few food stands bustling with locals, serving three course meals for $2.50 USD!
After the market we headed for our pisco sour and ceviche making class, located with a stunning view of the ocean.
Pisco sour is a very popular drink in Peru, and with 3 ounces of pisco ( hard alcohol: 38-48%) in each drink, we could quickly see why! The ceviche was actually quite simple to make and extremely refreshing and tasty.
By this point in the tour, we were very full and our next stop was lunch! The restaurant was located on an archaeological site, with partial profits from the restaurant supporting its restoration.
After lunch ( or perhaps more aptly named, Lunner? Dunch?), we headed back to our hotel in a full food coma! If you are visiting Lima, I would definitely recommend this tour as I found it to be a very immersive and delicious, cultural experience.
After a relaxing day in Lima, we were headed for the jungle! Our plane descended into lush greenery and we boarded a tour bus, waving goodbye to WIFI, cell service and a majority of the things we take for granted in North America. We were greeted by 40 degree Celsius heat, 100% humidity. Long sleeve shirts, full length pants, hiking boots and bug spray were our armour against the malaria and other fun disease carrying mosquitos. I quickly came to realize that being coated in sunscreen, bug spray, citronella oil, and sweat was a feeling that was going to become my new normal over the next few days.
We drove through the streets of Puerto Maldonaldo. The areas of Lima I had thought seemed poor, now seemed like gated communities in comparison to the shacks we passed. It was truly an eye opening experience.
Our bus arrived at the river and the small bags we were allotted for this adventure were carried down to a small narrow boat.
We all piled aboard and began the 1 hour trip to our lodge. The river was muddy and on either embankments, the forest seemed shorter than I had imagined, but incredibly vast. It was an eerie feeling to picture all of the creatures hiding below the surface.
We finally arrived at Inkaterra Amazoncia. Though rustic, the lodge was beautiful. It was an interesting mix between luxury and camping. The electricity was only on for certain hours of the days and we were staying in little huts with mesh walls and mosquito nets surrounding the beds. Toilet paper could not be flushed, and a whistle was provided in our rooms in case of emergency. In contrast, the dining hall provided 3 course meals, linen napkins and servers in all white uniforms. There was a spa on the property and daily maid service.
The first thing we did once we arrived, was have lunch. I ordered banana gnocchi for lunch and it was very yummy. After checking out our huts we visited the activity centre to for a rundown of events available on our trip and to meet our guide, David (pronounced daw-vid), as well as Brian and Diana, a very nice couple from New Zealand who would be joining our tour. Our guide David was very charismatic and knowledgeable. Significantly shorter than our entire family, he assured us he could carry any of us out of the jungle easily, if we had a problem. David had grown up in the jungle, as the second youngest of 9 children, without electricity and living in a hut. It was incredibly fascinating to hear about his life and perspective on things. He had left the jungle to get an education and one day dreamed of opening his own Amazon lodge.
The first night we ventured on a boat ride to see nocturnal animals. Though the sun had set, little relief was offered from the heat and humidity, but at least being on the boat offered a nice breeze. We saw quite a few animals on the banks of the river. Most notably was a caiman (aka alligator) and a capybara ( golden retriever sized rat). After our adventure that night we headed to bed and despite the mosquito nets, I could still see bugs squirming on the sheets. After swatting as many bugs as I could, I tried to embrace what was yet another aspect of the jungle and fall asleep.
5 am means wake up time in the jungle. We lathered on our bug spray and sun screen and then headed to the dining hall to grab a quick breakfast before our expedition. We filled up our water bottles and then headed to the boat. The boat dropped us off and we trekked through a few kilometres of mud, stopping to see monkeys and birds, before we reached Lake Sandoval. Lake Sandoval is home to black caimans, deadly anacondas, piranhas and more. Our group piled into a tiny wood canoe and David asked if anyone wanted to swim. There were no takers, despite the fact that being on the canoe was blisteringly hot. We saw a family of monkeys, turtles, birds, and even a family of giant otters. We returned our canoe to the dock and hiked back to where we were originally dropped off. Our boat was waiting for us and as we motored down the river, it began to rain torrentially. I had actually been praying for some rain to cool off from the heat and was pretty excited. But soon after a thunder and lightning storm commenced and our boat driver quickly headed for the river bank as lightning flashed nearby. It was definitely exciting!Once the lightning subsided, we headed back to our lodge. Our afternoon activities were canceled because of the storm and instead we had a relaxing happy hour with our group.
The next morning we were able to sleep in until 6am! We took a boat to a farm and tasted many different fruits. Most notably, we tried cocoa fruit, which is the same plant chocolate is produced from. It was delicious! We then walked through the jungle to canoe through a creek and then headed to the activity located in the treetops. We walked through a series of rickety suspension bridges, viewing the jungles from a new perspective. We even saw a tucan!
After lunch we headed to a lagoon. We saw many different species of birds and even sleeping bats.There had been a fairly recent anaconda spotting in this area but luckily we did not run into any. We then headed to the botanical garden to learn about different plants.
We saw a tree that “bled” red sap, a tree home to venomous ants that is used in the jungle for punishment, and we learned about the benefits of lemongrass when a person is sick and the positive effects of ginger on impotence. We cracked open and ate Brazilian nuts and finally headed back home for happy hour.
That night when I was lying in bed, I could hear a bat screeching outside the mesh of my hut, trying to claw its way inside. David had taught us about the vampire bats living in the area and I was quickly wishing for bugs in my bed instead.
The next morning we headed on a final walk with David. Until this point, most of our walks had taken place boat rides away, but today we followed a path only a few meters away from the huts we were staying in. We quickly stumbled upon a tarantula and a few minutes later we found a family of them. Another group member also spotted a snake! I was definitely glad we had saved this walk for our last day!
We then packed up our bags, loaded them onto the boat and headed back to the city to catch our plane. After what seemed like forever, I finally had WIFI and cell service again. We were back in civilization!
To be honest, that first night I was not sure I would survive 4 days in the jungle. But looking back, the Amazon was definitely a highlight of my entire Peru experience. It was a big step outside my comfort zone but provided me with memories that will last a lifetime.
The flight to Cusco was breathtaking. Tucked in the midst of mountains, this town is located at quite high elevation (3,399m). I quickly started to feel the effects of the elevation, even though I had taken altitude medication. According to my googling, altitude sickness can effect anyone, regardless of your fitness level. You are more likely to be effected if you are female and young, but otherwise it seems to be quite random who the altitude effects.
We stayed at the JW Marriott and luckily they pump some extra oxygen into the rooms and offer complimentary oxygen tanks delivered to your room with a paramedic. They also provide the standard coca tea (made from the same plant as cocaine) to help with the elevation. I had heard so many people rave about this tea, but I felt little to no benefit and was not a huge fan of the taste. For me, oxygen and rest were the only things that really made me feel better. I would definitely recommend this hotel. It was originally a 16th century convent and has been beautifully renovated. The hotel offers free tours, allowing visitors to have a cultural experience from the comfort of their own hotel. We also had the chance to meet Panchita the alpaca, in the hotel’s courtyard.
In terms of attractions, we visited the Inka ruins, “Sacsayhuaman” or “Sexy Woman”. These ruins were beautiful and it was definitely interesting to hear about the Inka culture. We then visited some Alpacas, Llamas, and a shop selling clothing and accessories made from their wool (very expensive) before descending to the city.
We also took a chocolate making class, visited the cocaine museum, more Inka ruins and visited the nearby and stunning salt flats. Cusco is a cute city to walk around, but unfortunately the altitude made it hard for me to fully enjoy it.
Finally we descended to lower altitude as we headed to Machu Picchu. We took a train to the start of our one day trek. The 1 day Machu Picchu hike was an amazing experience. I would definitely recommend it! We stopped often to learn about historically significant information, explained by our guide.
The trail is narrow and provides unparalleled mountain views. We passed a waterfall and inka ruins. By this point in our trip, we had seen plenty of inka ruins, and I think doing the hike really elevated the experience and built up the ending – Machu Picchu, even more! In my opinion, doing the hike is a must. I really do not think taking the bus up would have come close to the experience we had. We did not actually enter Machu Picchu that day, as we had tickets the next day to ensure we had more time ( though I do not think this was necessary). Instead we had a wonderful view of it. I would recommend packing plenty of water as it was quite hot when we were hiking. We took the bus down the mountain afterwards, though there is a relatively short trail you can walk down. The town below is quite small and basic, but I was ecstatic to reach it and shower!
Lake Titicaca is not a place I would recommend visiting. The altitude is very high and therefore I was not feeling well. However, even despite the altitude I do not think this is a place worth seeing. The closest airport is located in a town where the primary industry is smuggling. Even entering the main town of Puno, everything is very run down. We did not feel super safe, but even if we had, we did not see a point in walking around the city. We stayed in the nicest hotel in the area and it was in definite need of a facelift. It is important to note we had terrible weather, also putting a dampener on our visit. The main attraction to lake Titicaca is visiting people who live in tiny islands made of reeds. I honestly felt like I was at a zoo. Here we were, paying to come watch the lives of extremely impoverished people living in tiny, damp shacks, trapped at sea. It was a strange, sad feeling. We also visited an Indigenous family on one of the rock islands. It was very interesting to hear about their culture, but again I felt intrusive.
Arequipa was our next stop. It had a very European feel and we had a great time walking around and exploring. We visited the convent and had a very educational tour ( definitely worth visiting and learning about the nuns’ lives in that era ). The Spanish presence brought Catholicism. Interestingly, in Arequipa’s main square, the Spanish mixed up plans for the cathedral with the cathedral for Mexico City. This small town ended up with an enormous and grandiose cathedral, spanning a block long.
We ate two delicious meals. The first was at Chica, it is a restaurant by Astrid and Gaston, who are very famous in Peru. The second was at Zig Zag and we were served the most beautiful salads I have ever seen and a flaming ice cream desert!
We came back to Lima for another day. I absolutely loved walking on the board walk in Miraflores. We also walked around the beautiful Larcomar shopping mall. We ate delicious food and had a wonderful cosmopolitan day.
Paracas provided a relaxing end to our vacation. We stayed in a very nice beach front hotel and had a chance to relax by the pool. One of my favourite parts of this destination was taking a boat to the “mini galepegos” and seeing wild penguins! There was one island full of birds. The smell was enough to knock you off your feet, and someone has the unfortunate job of collecting the bird feces from this island for fertilizer. On this outing, we also saw seals and even some nazca lines. However beyond our hotel, the town was not great. We were very unimpressed with the restaurants. The food we had off of the resort was terrible and still not cheap. The food on the resort was extremely overpriced. Another unfortunate aspect of this town is the wafting scent of sewage. A major highlight of this area and my entire trip, was the sand dunes. We rented a buggy at sunset and raced through the hills. We also tried sand-boarding. It was truly a magical experience that I would highly recommend.
On our last day we also visited Huacachina, Ica. This is where the oasis is located. It was pretty incredible to see a lush lake surrounded by miles of barren desert. DO NOT WEAR FLIP FLOPS. I learned this lesson the hard way and badly burned my feet. Sneakers or running shoes would be the best footwear choice for this destination.There is also the opportunity to rent buggies and go sand-boarding in this location. However, our guide informed us that the businesses operating in this location are not very safe and there have been casualties in the past. Though we did not stay overnight here, we noticed there were many nice, inexpensive hotels in this area.
Things to know:
- Expensive: Peru was much more expensive than I presumed. Prices ie. at restaurants, are very similar to North America.
- Tipping: We felt like we were constantly tipping, especially all of our guides and drivers. This is a big unforeseen cost to keep in mind.
- Toilets: In a lot of places you cannot flush toilet paper. I would always bring Kleenex with you as some bathrooms did not even offer toilet paper.
- Outlets: Many of the hotels actually would have 1 or 2 outlets that would work with north American plugs. I would still bring a converter though, just in case.
- Poverty: Peru is a developing country. The poverty was definitely not something I was expecting to be so drastic and was very eye opening.
Overall I had a great time in Peru and created memories to last a lifetime. I was pushed beyond my comfort zone and experienced a completely different way of life.