We woke up at 445AM and had breakfast in the hotel (included) before catching a bus up to Machu Picchu. It takes about 30 minutes to get up there. We booked ourselves to do the Machu Picchu mountain hike that opens at 7AM. You need to show the permit as well as your passport to climb. You enter and sign in with your time. This is important because just a month or 2 prior to our climb, a German man had climbed Huayana Mountain (where you need to climb on your bum and hands at certain points) and he decided to do a jump photo and fell to his death. Back to Machu Picchu Mountain hike – so many steps and so steep at points. I would think at this point, after 4 days of climbing, this would be rather easy but I digress.
The beginning was very similar to our normal Inca trail hike but then it got really steep at points on the side of a cliff. The first flat stop showed us only clouds where Machu Picchu was located. As time went by and the higher we trekked, the clouds started to dissipate and we could see more below us getting glimpse of Machu Picchu and the mountains.
The Ranger had told us this hike would take about an hour to do each way – so much heavy breathing coming from me.
Just like previous days, you climb and think that that next pass is the end but then you turn the corner to find more steps spiralling upwards. Even without walking sticks Sofia is still a powerhouse leading the pack. Patrick joined shortly after with Ronan right behind.
After the landing with the giant rock and the small passageway, there are about 3 more spiral sets of steps which are steep before you make it to your final destination. I made it up to have my heads in the clouds but within minutes, the clouds shifted to expose the beauty that lies below surrounding Machu Picchu.
We stayed up there for a while and I would say about 20 minutes after we arrived, our group of 7 (Gayaanan stayed below) were all together at the top. Sofia, Ronan and myself were about to leave as Karen and Chi made it up but Andrew insisted I stay but not really saying much. Then Andrew also insisted Sofia and Ronan stay as well and that’s when it clicked in that something special was going to happen.
Karen was too busy taking photos and Chi was extremely nervous. He wanted to do it right at the corner where you have the best view of Machu Picchu but if was too crowded. He then typed in his phone that he wanted everyone minus myself to leave as it made him even more anxious so down they went. I lingered around taking photos and whatnot trying to entice Karen into walking over to certain areas but none were to her liking.
It finally got to a point where I was taking photos of them like I normally do then taking solo ones of Karen. Chi told her to turn around so I could get a shot of her from behind looking out at Machu Picchu and then that’s when it happened. Chi got down on one knee and Karen turned around then did a double take and Chi swung his arm out with a ring in his hand and stuttered asking her to marry him. A delayed reaction said it all and now Machu Picchu and this Peru trip hold a special meaning to Chi and Karen. Check out their story.
Once that happened, I packed up my camera and descended. I went backwards down the first 2 sets of stairs then it got a little bit better going down as the steps weren’t as steep and short. I bombed it down and made it out the gate just minutes after the rest had gotten down. We wandered a bit of Machu Picchu before heading back down in the bus. When we returned to Aguas Caliente, it started to rain. Grabbed food from Orquidea Grill but rushed them as we needed to catch our train. I got the ceviche 40 sol – it was tasty but a little too vingery for my liking.
After lunch, went back to the hotel to grab our things and to the train station we went. The train station is located within the market place up the stairs. Karen booked the Vistadome train for us which includes a little entertainment and snack as we ride for an hour back to Ollantaytambo.
From Ollantaytambo, we got picked up by the shuttle to take us all back to Cuzco. We arrived at the main square and we’re delivered our luggage to the van. We packed our luggage in the van then Sofia and Ronan got dropped off at their hotel then Karen, Chi and myself got dropped off at the airport before the boys got dropped off. The Cuzco airport is very simple and security check was the easiest with no line and right through we went. Our flight was with Latam to Lima for 2 hours. We booked a car with the same driver as our first day – George but this time we stayed in the nicer part of town Miraflores.
Girasoles Hotel (Ernesto Diez Canseco 696, Miraflores, Peru) with a triple bed room for $80USD. By the time we checked in, it was already 1030PM so we decided to order in for dinner. Chifa aka Chinese closed at 1030PM so we ordered Pardo’s Chicken instead. We got fries and Peruvian roasted whole chicken and ate with our hands on the bed. Chi and Karen’s engagement dinner.
Peru & Panama last half
We took our time to get up then downstairs for breakfast. We walked over to the nearest grocery store – metro to purchase some snacks to bring home. The Miraflores area is higher end city as oppose to the main area of Lima and has beautiful architecture. I absolutely love the doors and colours that exist here.
Next stop was Manolo (Av. Larco 608, Miraflores – Lima – Perú ) for a Dulce de Leche churro 5 sol. Our plan for this morning was to take the free walking tour but when we arrived at the square, we met with the tour guide but he wanted to wait until 11AM for more people. We needed to make our way to the airport for 2PM so we decided to explore on our own
We ended up walking down to the waterfront area (Circuito de Playas) that was above the beach line. With palm trees and the look of the area, it reminded me of California and Hawaii with a tropical feel. This is where all the fitness buffs come out especially runners and bikers. You can look down where the highway is and also the beach where surfers were ripping the waves.
We walked to the El Parque del Amor also known as the Love Park then to the lighthouse before taking an uber 45 minutes to the main square of Plaza Armas and walked around to see the beautiful area which was pedestrian only. We made it to the main square and watched a bit of the changing of guards. This is one of the countries I’ve seen with an abundance of female officers whether it be policia or traffic control.
We rushed back to our hotel as we asked for late check out for 1PM. Grabbed an uber and headed for the airport. Before going past the gate we stopped and had McDonald’s. We got the fried chicken but it wasn’t impressive. It tasted like KFC chicken. 20.50sol. Through security and had about 50 sol left so I bought small bottles of pisco and alfajores cookies.
We threw our stuff down and walked down the street to the right to Rey – 24 hour grocery store. There are so many products that are produced from the states that it wasn’t that fun to explore what different snacks from what we have back home. The currency in Panama is USD as legal tender. The lines to checkout were quite long even at 1030PM but I bought a bunch of items and it only cost me $12USD.
Since we arrived late, we went next door to Niko’s 24 hour restaurant that had sandwich deals and I think further down the line, some hot Panamanian dishes. I got the BLT with fries for $5.25USD. It took 20-25 minutes to get our food making it after 11PM when we ate. They asked me my name for the bill but not for Karen so when we looked at the receipts, they put her name as China and mine said my name. I guess I’m too dark they don’t now what I am unlike Karen who is pale lol.
We went back to the hotel and showered and it was such an amazing shower. Chi and myself bought Panama beer so we drank that and watched American TV game shows. Panama beer isn’t quite my taste of beer.
Our main flight was with COPA Airlines to Lima, Peru with a stopover in Panama both ways. I caught the flight deal of $417CAD return. For my whole duration of this trip, I travelled with Karen and Chi as Andrew and his friend’s Gayaanan & Patrick joined us later as they were staying longer as and Karen’s friend’s Sofia and Ronan that joined us for the hike of the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. There is no time change from Toronto.
I did carry-on only and I’m very impressed with my North Face duffel bag as it has been my main luggage for 3 trips now including last years 25 day Southeast Asia trip.
I borrowed a 28L Deuter backpack for the hike in replacement of my kata rucksack camera bag and I’m impressed it fits under the seat even being so jam-packed.
Copa Airlines is pretty decent with touchscreens that look a little more up to date with a USB port but selection of films is limited and food is provided on the main flights but not spectacular.
The Tucuman airport in Panama reminds me of JFK airport – very basic. The currency in Panama is USD. The prices for food seemed unbelievably high in the airport considering a bottle of water was $3USD or a snack pack size Doritos was also $3USD. We ended up walking around but prices were the same as back home but in USD. We grabbed Nathan’s hotdogs (2 hotdogs + drink + fries for $16USD).
The weather when we landed was 24 degrees celsius but raining which delayed our next flight to Cusco by 30-40 minutes. We all booked the emergency exit seats for the extra leg room however we were notified when we originally checked in at Pearson that depending on the flight since we don’t speak Spanish, we may be asked to move seats. The first flight, we were fine as they showed us the manual with images but the second flight, they were adamant so we got moved. A meal on this flight as well – better – empanadas, vanilla oreos and salad.
When we finally landed in Cusco getting through customs was rather quick but had to wait for Andrew’s check in luggage before going through security once more. Karen had already arranged a driver for 55 sol to get us to our hostel for the night – Backpacker 1900 (Wilson 1588, Distrito de Lima 15046, Perú) for 16USD. It seems all the vehicles they drive in Peru so far that I’ve seen are all manual and the lanes are super tight if not made up. 3 lanes become 4 lanes. The hostel is cute with tall skinny doors to the rooms but the rooms are basic and they have windows and open terraces so at night, you can hear a little bit of the street noises which still isn’t too bad.
On our itinerary for our first night in Lima was to attend Circuito Mágico del Agua del Parque de la Reserva (Jr. Madre de Dios S/N, Distrito de Lima, Peru – Open 3PM-1030PM) Admission is 4 soles. Karen had also mentioned to not have valuables hanging out for display if not needed so my camera stayed in my bag until we reached the park but otherwise, it seemed ok. NOTE – if you are in a car and taking photos with your camera or phone BEWARE there are many people on the street in between cars selling all sorts of things and they could try to snatch your valuables. At the water park, we made the last show that consisted of the large fountains of water illuminating colours, images and symbols that were projected onto the water with music. After the show, we wandered the park to look at the different fountains. The Tunnel of surprises was my favourite – it illuminated orange and you could walk through it. The park closed at 10PM and onward we went to find dinner.
Pardo’s Chicken was a recommendation and it didn’t fall short. I guess Peru’s Swiss Chalet. 1/4 Peruvian roasted chicken with sweet potato basket weave fries and a side salad 21.50sol and of course an Inca kola (Peru’s version of Cream Soda) $6sol. After all that walking and it being late in the day, we decided to Uber back to the hostel to get a good night’s sleep before walking up early to catch our flight to Cuzco.
I don’t know what it is but I had the hardest time trying to sleep. It was a mix of my mind wouldn’t shut off, to getting super hot under the blanket and a mix of having a stuffed nose. We Uber-ed to the airport and flew to Cusco with Avianca Airlines and I have to tell you, it was by far the best sleep I had within that 24 hour timespan. We met up with Andrew’s friend Patrick at the airport and off we went. The flight was about 2 hours to Cusco from Lima and the start to our acclimatizing. We took a van that would take us to Alpaca Expedition office to get our trek registration/payment completed and orientation. We had paid a deposit earlier to our trip via Paypal and had to pay the remainder in USD which varied depending on what equipment you were renting. I opted out of renting walking sticks (my reasoning is that I need my hand to hold my camera). After payment, you are brought to another room where you are given an orientation and a rundown of what is expected on our trek. We were welcomed with a hot cup of coca leaf tea which helps with altitude sickness. After our orientation, we are given our duffel bag (in the end, max weight is 7KG including sleeping bag, pillow and whatever else you rent – air mattress + personal belongings). This duffel bag will be what the porters will be carrying on the trek for us and we had to pack it the night before we head for the trek. Their office close around 5-6PM so we asked if we could leave our luggage there until then to explore.
Nearby, Karen had made reservations at a restaurant called Chicha Por Gaston Acurio – Calle Plaza Regacijo 261, 2 Nivel. It is located up the stairs on the second floor that is connected to an inner courtyard of a hostel/hotel. The restaurant is modern looking and closer to the kitchen, there are hanging corn for decoration with the other side of the room with little balconies you can peer out and see out to the little parkette across the street. They do have free wifi – just ask for the password.
Before we ordered, they brought us sweet purple corn bread and quinoa bread sticks – you need to eat the purple corn bun that shows up because it is absolutely delicious and I could eat that all day! I ended splitting with my brother the Curry Alpaca (50 sol) and the Pekin Guinea Pig (50 sol). The curry alpaca was really flavourful and came with a bed of quinoa to eat the curry with. Alpaca is a little tougher meat to eat but the meal was great. The Pekin Guinea Pig is a play on the traditional chinese Peking Duck with the thin, crisp skin with meat served alongside a crepe and the toppings. The pekin Guinea pig was served with a purple corn crepe, rocot hoisin, pickled turnip and carrot. It was not what I expected as the meat was spiced and seasoned perfectly and the crepe and toppings just added to the flavour so well that you wouldn’t even realize you are eating guinea pig. They also treated us with little complimentary alfajores cookies.
After our wonderful lunch, we walked to Plaza de Armas – the main square in Cusco where we got to explore a little on our own and also find a bank to take out more money. There is a Scotiabank on the Northwest corner by the McDonald’s that we took money out of. Just a word of advice, when you are withdrawing money from the machines, there is a limit of 400 sol per transactions so be prepared to take out limited amounts if you are in dire need to withdraw money.
We tried to see if uber was offered in Cusco – it is not. We hired a taxi and also following behind was an unregistered car that we hired. With our group of 7, we took the taxi and car to go up to Sacsayhuaman aka Sexy woman. Our unregistered car – we managed to work out a price of 7-8 sol. We also arranged with the taxi and car to return within 2-3 hours to bring us back down.
Upon arrival to the entrance, we purchased the Boleto Touristico Del Cusco – for $130 Soles. This ticket allows you entrance to multiple historical sites (16 – if you can make it to all the sites).
At this ruin, there is a section that has an all natural rock slide. It is smooth but the slide disconnects into sections so beware of possibly bruising your bottom. We noticed as soon as we landed in Cusco, that the air seemed a little heavier and this hike was a pre-hike to acclimatize us and prep us for our Inca Trail hike. We were wheezing hard at times during this hike. We saw alpacas & llamas at this site as well as a beautiful view over the city of Cusco mixing with ruins and mountain terrain and of course the statue of Jesus that looks similar to the one in Rio.
When we returned back to Plaza de Armas, we returned to Alpaca Expedition offices to grab our belongings and luckily Patrick speaks a little bit of Spanish and haggled with 2 taxi drivers to drive us to Urubamba (about 45 minutes-hour drive) to where we would sleep for the night. We talked them down to 70 sol however, if you are willing to take a bus with locals, it can be cheaper. To acclimatize, it is said that you should hike and adventure in higher altitude but try to sleep in lower altitudes to ease into it.
The ride to Urubamba was relaxing and scenic to say the least. The sunsetting over the horizon just made things that much nicer. When we finally arrived to Urubamba, the sun had gone down and our roads turned into somewhat narrow, unlit dirt roads leading up to our home for the night. We stayed at Amaru Valle hotel (Final del Jiron Grau, Urubamba, Cusco, Peru) With the 5 of us, we split into a triple room (80USD) and a single room. The rooms were actually little villa style and to be honest, we could’ve fit all 5 of us in to one room as the triple room had 3 single beds and a double bed. We also ordered packed lunch for the morning as we reserved a van to drive us in the morning to more ruins and sights.
We threw our stuff down and headed into town for our dinner reservations at El Huacatay (Jr. Arica 620, Urubamba Valle Sagrado de los Incas Cusco – Perú) You would honestly miss this place if you didn’t know about it. Hidden behind a door that then leads you down a little path past the courtyard to the dining area. I ordered the Malaya Frita (a marinated skirt steak with mint rice and potato wedges) & Andean Mint Liminade (freshly made and absolutely delicious) (56 sol). Honestly, the portions are so large but to tasty not to finish. We walked to one of the corner stores to purchase water and back we went to your villa for the night.
Woke up bright and early. Couldn’t sleep through the night. Stuffed nose, too hot etc. I went outside and explored the property as it’s a cute little villa property with yellow homes. We packed and then off we went to our complimentary breakfast. After breakfast, we grabbed our to-go lunch packs and hopped in the van we scheduled for the day to take us away.
The drive to the salt mine is beautiful and even driving down towards it, is a sight to be seen. We stopped at the top of the road overlooking the mine (mind you very narrow so 2 cars cannot go side by side in certain parts). They punch a hole into your ticket and off you go. I am very surprised we were able to walk anywhere we wanted to. You have to walk through the market area before you hit the actual mine and then from there, you just find a way down. You weave between little pockets of salt that has crystallized to certain degrees. As we were walking down, there was somewhat a path that looked to be used a lot and we were correct as there were workers carry massive bags of salt from below to higher ground where they store the salt.
There were a few bags sitting on the path and Patrick and myself tried to lift it but nothing budged. When you walk further down, you see where the workers are picking up the bags of salt and they sit down and strap the bags to them before standing up and walking that same very narrow path up the hill. Some are wearing just sandals and a few wear sneakers. This is tedious work and hard labour but the Peruvians are strong people especially coming from farm/country side.
Our next stop was the Moray Ruins. It is approximately 50KM outside of Cuzco. It is a series of round terraces that were used for agriculture. Each level of the terrace was used to grow different crops as each level also differed in temperature. There are little stones that protrude from the side of the walls within the terrace that act as stairs to get between the levels. This system created a great way to research and observe how agriculture can grow in such a sustainable and efficient way as the levels of terraces acted as a irrigation system where none of the crops would ever get flooded as the excess water would drain downward.
Nowandays, you can walk down to have a closer look of the terraces however, you are not allowed onto the actual terraces. There is one main area that you see the full circle and levels but when you continue to walk along, there is a second section that has a smaller version of this circle terrace which isn’t as well preserved. When you finish the hike and finish above once again, there is also a smaller area further out that has a smaller set of circle terraces.
Since this is a national park/site, the toilets are free here but remember to bring toilet paper. They also have a little strip of stalls selling souvenirs and food. We took a break from the sun after our walk through and ate our packed lunches before we hopped back into the van and onwards to Ollantaytambo we went.
After a few detours, we made it to Ollantaytambo where our tour group will get picked up to start our Inca trail hike. We walk into the main square where there are tons of Peruvians dressed in their traditional attire selling souvenirs in the middle. We walk past it and head down a long cobblestone street with a little exposed water trench towards our hostel. This is when I am happy I decided not to bring a carry-on luggage with wheels as the cobblestone seemed difficult for the rest. We stayed at Kamma Guesthouse (Lari Calle 659). It is a cute little hostel that only has about 5 rooms. I shared with my brother in a corner unit with a door that open to view the cobblestone street we just came from and also windows that open and give us a great view of the Ollantaytambo ruins. This place also features a rooftop with a nice view of the city as well as the breakfast nook.
It is here at the hostel that we met with our last friend to come in – Gayaanan. Once we all got settled in, we headed over to the Ollantaytambo Ruins and up we went. The steps are steep but you just need to keep moving. The higher we went, the more wind there was. You have the option after reaching the highest point to either go back down the stone stairs you came from or continue along another path that takes you further along the ruins.
When we finished our hike, we all decided to split off for a few hours and explore the town, do some shopping etc. We were in the market and luckily I had Patrick there to haggle for me. The kids here are hustlers. I was looking at handmade bracelets for my best friends and then this kid comes beside me and sneezes on me but in his outfit he is so adorable is forgiven. However, if you take a photo of him he will come after you for 1 sol.
We walked around the town, venturing through the cobblestone roads and ended up heading towards the other mountains where it was less touristy but more local homes and like stores.
With live music playing and the restaurant/hotel run by expats. I ordered the wild mushroom pasta and Chicha Mirada (38.50sol).
We returned back to the hostel to pack for our hike. We are only allowed a limit of 7 kilos for the porter duffle bag. I originally got it down to 2.5 kiloes but once I switched around batteries and whatnot, it became heavier. My daypack though weighed 8 kilos including 1.5L of water, my DSLR and whatever I think I needed.