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Peru & Panama – 10 days
My trip to Peru and Panama was a 10 day trip so this is what I ended up packing overall for my trip. Below this first list, is how I reorganized my bags for the actual Inca Trail hiking days (4 days 3 nights).
I reorganized my bags accordingly for the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu as anything in my daypack I am required to carry the entire hike and also whatever I pack in my duffel bag that the porter carries is only accessible at the end of each hiking day but must also fit in the weight restrictions.
For Machu Picchu
What I wore & what was packed in the duffel bag the porter carried.
-4 pants – waterproof-ish track pants, loose fitting pair of pants, 2 tights (one coldgear for sleeping in)
*in all honesty, to pack lighter, you could get away with 1-2 pairs of tights to wear for the entire hike as you won’t be showering and just change your underwear). Bring a pair of pants to wear for sleeping.
-2 long sleeve (1 to sleep in). We lucked out with weather so rain was minimal.
-2 tank tops
-2 sports bras
-5 socks – 4 for climbing, 1 for sleeping
-packable blanket (added this layer in my sleeping bag on the cold night)
-packable towel ( if you plan on showering or want an extra layer in your sleeping bag, this is good to have)
-little microfibre towel – when it got hot and I stripped down to just a tank top – the towel sat between the shoulder straps on my shoulders to give some extra padding
-gloves – only used when descending after dead woman’s pass and also at night trying to take star photos
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.
Tipping – we had a group of 14 – 160sols (per person) to porters and chef. 90sol between head and assistant chef & 9 sold divided amongst porters. Tour guides we did 100 sol (per person) for both tour guides (50 sol each).
We booked our 4 day 3 night Inca Trail Hike with Alpaca Expedition. Alpaca expedition was started by a local who started off as a porter than became a tour guide and finally decided to establish his own tour company.
Day 1 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
We got picked up at 715AM in Ollantaytambo. Arrived at basecamp (Piskacucho – 8923ft/2720m) for breakfast and final packing of the duffel bags that get handed off to the porters. There were 2 things I dreaded for this trip – getting altitude sickness and getting my period. Went to the Banos (washroom) at base camp before we even enter the main gates and my period decided to show up (yes sorry TMI but it happens). Wet wipes are a godsend just to let you know.
We started our hike around 830-9AM. Before we could actually start our hike, we needed to line up at the main gate to ensure the permits are correct and match your passport as well as making sure the porters have under 30 kilo (each duffel needs to be 7 kilo). The porters carry 2 persons duffels plus their own personal bag. They also need to go through a checkpoint to ensure the weight in under before they could continue on. My day pack was 20lb with 2.5L of water plus my camera and snacks and a sweater. It was hot and I did start off at breakfast in just a tank top as today’s trek is a hotter one but decided to wear a long sleeve because there are mosquitos.
We had 14 in our group. Reagan & Matt (Austin, Texas), Lily & Anthony (Switzerland – French speaking side), Kaitlin & George (San Francisco) plus our lot (Sofia & Ronan from San Francisco, Karen, Chi, Patrick, Gayaanan & Andrew) plus our tour guides – Jose and Reynaldo. We had 23 porters accompanying us on our trek including 2 as chef and sous chef. Chef Roger went to school in Cuzco to study culinary and each day, he prepares meals based on what is best for digestion depending on the altitudes.
Day 1 is the longest day for hiking – 14KM. It is broken down into 4.5 hours before we stop for lunch then continue another 2 hours before we end for day 1. This is training day to prepare you for dead woman’s pass. Flat ground for first half then slopey for the second half. Banos stops along the way for 1 sol a visit – remember to bring your own toilet paper!
Sofia is a small Russian woman but man she is a beast keeping up with the lead tour guide with so much ease. Altitude makes the climb just that much more difficult. It’s not like your muscles are sore or anything but the lack of oxygen makes your body feel heavier.
It was sunny and hot but mainly cloudy. When we made it past our first two slopes, we reached a beautiful lookout point of semi ancient ruins.. It’s insane how fast the porters move with that much gear. They carry everything including food for 3 days with them on day 1. People live in the mountains so they can grab fresh ingredients if needed (but no one inhabits the actual Inca Trails). They don’t carry water for the 3 days but get it nearby and boil it for us.
Along the way, we would stop by ruins and Jose would tell us more about the history behind each place. It started to rain at that point and the temperature dropped a bit. All the colourful rain jackets came out at that point. This was a good spot to catch our breaths before we continued on and it kept going higher and higher via a steeper and steeper trail.
The reward for this portion of the hike was the sound of lunch and it did not disappoint. They rent space from locals and setup a Banos for us, a room with a tarp to lay down our bags and water basins to clean ourselves and then into another room for lunch. We started off with a stuffed tomato with some yummy things. Then they brought out the rest – guacamole with chips (so good), their version of a caprese, chicken ceviche, trout, roasted corn nuts, rice, sweet potato soup and finished off the meal with peppermint tea. Apparently this peppermint tea if you are female, if they drink it everyday for 15 years, she will become sterile (used by the incas in the past). We refilled our waters and off we went.
The last leg was the hardest and we were told to go at our own pace to see how it will be for us the following day. Zigzag walking does help. As well, if there is a ramp or small rocks, go for those instead of climbing on the bigger rocks for more efficiency.
It’s tough to hike with a runny & stuffy nose. It does get hard to breathe and my knees were achy. From our last pit stop, it’s just an hour and half of steep uphill. You just need to take it at your pace and stop whenever your need to. My heartbeat was going too fast that that I can feel it pounding in my chest to the point that I would have to take a short break to catch my breathe and slow down my heart rate before continuing. Since this is at your own pace, we ended up passing the other Alpaca group that started 20 minutes before us and another group. You never know when you are reaching your final destination so you just need to keep going and push yourself. After the bridge, you go around a bend and the trail gets windy. Patrick ended up picking up a second wind after lunch and moved to the front at one point so when I was reaching our basecamp, I see him coming back down the path with only his camera in hand. He gives me the news – only 3 more minutes until I’ve reached the final destination for the night. Once I arrived, all the porters are cheering and congratulating me on finishing.
Upon arrival, our campsite is setup and all we needed to do was get into our tents and clean up. Baby wipes are key must haves on this trek especially when you are on your period and also to clean your clothing when you can’t do laundry. Everyone had time to relax before we had happy hour in the group tent where they serve drinks and biscuits with fresh popcorn. This downtime was a great opportunity to get to know your group members better. Right at 7PM, our dinner commenced. Starts off with soup then the dishes – yucca buns, rice, chicken curry, bean and something frita and finished off with chef Roger flambaying bananas in pisco.
My phone was sitting in between a towel and shirt in my backpack so at the end of the day, it only read 22000 steps but I know I did at least 29000 steps.
Our wake up time was scheduled for 445AM so after dinner, we all went back to our tents and bedtime at 830PM – the earliest I’ve gone to bed in decades.
Day 2 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
I woke up 3 times and couldn’t get back to sleep so I ended up being awake and alert around 2-330AM. We were woken up by Reynaldo making his bird noises and delivery of hot coca tea.
We each had 30 minutes to pack up our bags and duffel bags and lay them on the tarp outside before breakfast. Roger aka playboy our chef made a huge breakfast to fuel us for our hike, as it’s the biggest and longest day. I filled 2.5L of water in the morning as it’s the only time for free water and it has to last until lunch time after reaching dead woman’s pass and then going downhill. I also carried a separate water bottle that I used to put Nuun tablets in to give me that little extra boost of caffeine and sodium.
Second day of hiking – 16KM. All up hill to Dead Women’s Pass (13799ft/4200m). After lunch, it was game on. Go at your own pace. I started off strong behind Jose but once we started moving, I had to stop and take off clothing. I had a rain jacket and long sleeve plus tank top on and within 10-15 minutes, I was down to a tank top (I brought a small towel to cover my shoulders and give a layer between skin and straps). There was only one more pit stop on this trek (Llulluchapampa – 12460ft/3800m) where you can purchase water, drinks, snacks etc. It was also a beautiful spot to look at the mountains and see the peak of dead women’s pass with the top that looks like a dead woman and also her nipple. Free clean washrooms here but bring wet wipes or toilet paper.
From there, everyone for themselves and of course with Sofia leading our pack. Your determination lays in your own hands. The tour guides are there to motivate you to keep going but its all a mental game and in the end, you need to rely on yourself to keep going.
It was hard with lots of stops along the way. I wasn’t necessarily tired and not achy but having difficulty breathing makes all the motions react even slower than you would like.
I also learned at this point that if I wanted to drink water from the mouthpiece of my camelpak while simultaneously trying to walk, my body would have small panic attacks because there wasn’t enough oxygen entering into my lungs.
What I have learned about hiking the Inca Trail so far is that it warms up quite quickly and within 10 minutes of hiking, you end up needing to take off all the layers and be in a t-shirt/tank top. I also learned that while you are hiking up and turn a corner, you thinking you are nearing the end to only you aren’t even close but that there is more trail and it gets even steeper.
Slow but steady pace up to Dead Woman’s Pass. You are welcomed by cheering from the porters, your group and others who have also surmounted this feat to the top. It is hard to wrap your head around the fact you started at 8923FT in the early morning to make it up to 13779FT in only a few hours. The view looking back to where you came from is long and far and you need to take in that moment that you indeed hiked all that way and are stronger than you think you are. At the top, it shows two worlds – the hot sunny trail that you conquered but look over the pass, you are in the clouds and it is slowly floating around you. This image was surreal and one of my favourite moments as you see the porters resting on the mountainside with clouds slowly drifting overhead.
From here, it is all downhill to end the first day of your hike. I love downhill so much more. I wore my gloves, sweater, rain jacket going down and within 10 minutes, I had to either take off the jacket or unzip it. Same technique works here as climbing up, you can zigzag to help alleviate the pressure on your knees. I made good time going down and passed almost everyone (we were all so far behind Sofia) in our group but I enjoyed this section the most.
Finally made it to our stop (Pacaymayu – 11700FT/3580M) where Sofia was already there relaxing. I was welcomed with cheers from the porters and a hot cup of lemonade. They also had mats out for us to rest on. Once again, an amazing lunch. A few of us felt off after lunch and I’m blaming that on going from the highest point in altitude and plummeting down to a lower one so quickly.
Another uphill windy trail after lunch with a stop at the ruins Runkuracay. Jose & Reynaldo showed us how their people make rope from grass being woven and braided/rolled together that is strong enough to carry a person with a small section.
We continue uphill for another hour and half before reaching our next peak – Runkuracay (13123FT/4000M). Then downhill for a second time.
The path wasn’t too steep but it was eerie with the clouds/fog rolling in. We went at our own pace and for majority of the this trek, I was alone with no one in sight in front or behind for at least 10 minutes. Jose had mentioned that the ruins right before our basecamp was his favourite. The ruins of a temple were created on top of a cliff and the stairs were built into the mountainside which were very narrow steps. Sayacmarka was a temple where it is said that they found two small children’s bodies in fetal position on an alter that were privileged to be human sacrifices most likely with the aid of drugs like cocaine. The clouds were thick and everything became a blanket of white as we slowly descended those Cliffside stairs.
A little bit of downhill left then to basecamp for the night. This night in particular is one of the coldest but also one of the best views as we were set up in the valley overlooking the mountains. Siesta and dinner which ended off with some concoction of juice, tea and rum. It was significantly colder than the first two nights but for awhile, we stayed out to look and take photos of stars as the sky cleared for a bit
Day 3 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
530AM Wake up call. Day 3 is the shorter of hike days.
Cold nights makes for a cool morning. Tea served tent side to start our morning. Breakfast was delicious – fruit jello, bread and jam, quinoa oatmeal and pancakes. After breakfast, we were finally introduced to our 22 porters and chefs. Everyone went around and said their name, age and where they are from. Our porters ranged from 18-58?
We picked up our packs and off we went. It was a cold morning but I found after the first little section up hill, I had to stop and take off my rain jacket then stopped again around another bend to take off my longsleeve. I was in a good rhythm from there since it was flat and slowly going down hill until we all stopped to wait for everyone before heading to the cave. The porters are amazing. Running through the trail with 65lb bags like nothing.
Once we all went through the cave, everyone for themselves and luckily it was downhill – my favourite. We came to a campsite with an amazing lookout point. Then downhill again but this time it was incredibly steep and not as nice as yesterday’s. Some sections were tall but very short stone steps to steep rocks with barely any ridge to step onto. Luckily, we had rather good weather. I couldn’t imagine how much more difficult it would have been if it was raining the entire time.
Our first ruins was a watchtower – Phuyupatamarca (12073FT/3680M).
From there, even steeper downhill. Very steep to the point you would need to walk side ways. I think I did well on time but my knee doesn’t like me for it. I was making good time down but parts of the trek were wet. PLEASE BE CAREFUL HIKING DOWN AND WATCH YOUR STEP! I shifted my body weight on a somewhat smooth rock (also don’t go for the smooth rocks when going downhill) and I went down. It was all a blur and happened so quickly but somehow I slipped and rolled off the path. Luckily, it was on a section of the path where there was more ground and not just a cliff although behind one set of trees I would’ve kept going. Luckily my slip, I rolled rather gracefully with camera still in hand but ripped part of my pants and waterproof case. I tried climbing back up but the soil was loose so I jumped back up, checked to see if my camera was fine and continued onward. Now that I think about it, it could’ve been horrible if I had actually fallen down and there was no ground and just cliff because there was no one in front or behind me for a good 15 minutes.
I made really good time going down after my fall that I was able to catch up with Sofia and Reagan. We arrived at our second ruins site of the day – Intipata. The ruins were so beautiful with giant terraces that looked over the sacred river in between Machu Picchu mountain and 2 others. Sofia, Reagan and myself were the first ones from our group with Kaitlin coming in next about 15 minutes later. The girls definitely rule this group. We stayed for awhile waiting for our whole group to gather and took photos before descending.
We descended down to the bottom of those ruins to find ourselves petting llamas. It got incredibly hot and then more downhill to finally reach basecamp for the night.
This basecamp offers cold showered and flushing Banos. This is also the site where about 500 people will be sleeping tonight and all the porters who will need to catch the train going out in the morning.
Big greeting from the porters and Chicha drink on arrival then lunch. A nice salad, soup, Red potato with tuna inside that resembled sushi, mashed potatoes, tomato & cucumbers, then a huge plate of avocado, fried eggs, cheese, sausage, steak, broccoli & yucca fries.
After lunch, we had the option of a shower mind you it is a cold shower. Myself and Sofia decided to do so before our final ruins site of the day. Best decision was to pack flip flops for the shower as you don’t want to step on the ground of the shower.
Our final site of the day – Winay Huaayna. As we were just about to leave, the rain started up and the temperature dropped. Jose said it if was dry season, it would be sweltering hot.
Winay Huaayna wasn’t completed as the Spaniards conquered them but the Quechuas took a 100 years to build it and it was said to be a temple and a hospital with an irrigation system as well as agriculture on the different terraces.
Siesta at 530PM then dinner following. Kaitlin and George weren’t feeling well and same with Ronan and skipped dinner. Dinner was great. Started off with mushroom soup, pizza, quinoa squares, rice with ham and Eggplant, pizza with pineapple and ham and stuffed peppers. They finished off the meal with a wonderful orange cake.
After Jose briefed us about tomorrow morning, we did a farewell celebration with the porters and chefs. The porters must leave during the night and hike down as the train company only allows the first train out for porters as the other times are for visitors. This rule applies to all porters from all companies.
By 9PM, everyone went to bed but before that, Banos and packing as much as possible as we wake for 3AM and are off.
Day 4 of 4 – Inca Trail Hike
3AM wake up call. Our morning began with walking about 5-10 minutes to the main gate /office where we wait 2 hours for the Rangers to open the gate with their magical key. Bring your rain ponchos to sit on while you wait. You can use the Banos stalls up the path if needed. It is freezing at 3AM so wear all your layers but be ready to strip down as the hike does get warm quickly.
We were probably hysterical at 3AM but our conversations were great. The sun started to come up around 430AM. We waited until 530AM before the Ranger came to open the gate. Jose and Reynaldo signed us in and off to the races. From this gate to the sun gate is an hour hike.
We for a while we all had good pace and stayed together momentarily turning our heads from the trail to capture a glimpse of the sun peaking over the mountain range casting gorgeous light enticing you to stop and take a photo.
We stopped as a group to take off layers in which I took off my toque, rain jacket, sweater but not t-shirt and immediately regretted it once I strapped my backpack back on. This is where our group started separating. I had to stop again to remove my t-shirt and got up to the sun gate in a tank top. The trail gets steep – like tall stones with little ledges to step on steep. The view is gorgeous from above as the sun starts to hit Machu Picchu and slowly spread to the rest of the surrounding mountains. I am so happy that it wasn’t cloudy and that we were fortunate enough to see this view.
Leaving the sun gate towards the main gate for Machu Picchu, it is downhill and is a decent decline which is about a 40 minute hike. Coming from the sun gate, you arrive to Machu Picchu already inside but we exited to use the Banos (1 sol but first time, no line up for women, only men’s). This is where you can stamp your passport for free with the Machu Picchu stamp and also where you can get food and catch the bus afterwards.
We went back in the correct way with tickets. The tickets allow only 3 entries (no hiking sticks allowed or food and no Banos inside). Jose took us to a terrace and started our lesson for the day. Machu Picchu was made to house the scholars. It got extremely hot once we got into Machu Picchu and I’m sure a few suffered heat exhaustion. By the time Jose finished taking us around and it was free time, I had already run out of water.
We ended up eating at the only snack shop outside the main gate with overpriced food. Hot dog, small water and large Inca kola for 36sol. Reagan, Sofia, Ronan and myself ended up staying there and chatting about everything for over an hour then Matt joined us after conquering the other high hike. At this point, we were exhausted and took the bus down to Aguas Caliente where we were to meet Jose and Reynaldo at a restaurant to grab our duffels and also have final lunch together. I got an alpaca burger 30 sol and shared a jarra of pisco sour with the girls. Another perk of this restaurant is that they allow Alpaca Expedition (and Im sure other companies) to store our duffel bags and also have free WIFI.
After filling out a survey and adding people to Facebook and email exchange, Jose and Reynaldo were off.
We left and checked into our hotel for the night Panorama B&B (Av. Hermanos Ayar N°305, Machu Picchu Pueblo, Peru) A cute little hotel with balconies and comfy beds. Everyone either slept or caught up on life with WiFi. We went back to the train ticket booth to purchase 2 way tickets back to Machu Picchu for 24USD for the following day.
With all 8 of us, we feasted. I got the French onion soup 30 sol and we also shared a nice white Peruvian wine (19sol pp of 5). They even gave us some complimentary appetizers. We wandered the streets and found ourselves in the main square before heading back home to sleep.
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.
This trip to Peru has been in talks for years with a certain group of people and it finally happened about 3-4 years after our original discussions because a flight deal popped up on www.nextdeparture.ca to Lima, Peru (with stopover in Panama) for only $417 CDN roundtrip including taxes with COPA Airlines. Within a 2 hour span of sharing this deal with my friends, initially 2 plus myself booked the flight egging on others to come join.
I am usually one of the main people to do the organizing and research for my trips but this one all goes to Karen with some help from Chi. My schedule got really busy and I wasn’t able to provide my organizing skills to this trip but Karen is a 1 woman team and does a stunning job of it including her signature little booklet she makes with everything including tips, timing for buses, train, taxis to dinner reservations and other bookings.
After the initial booking, we were able to add on my brother Andrew and then Karen’s friend’s Sofia & Ronan from SF and slowly after that, Andrew’s friends Gayaanan and Partrick joined us making it a 8 person trip with the priority of time focused on the inca trail hike to Machu Picchu. We chose the 4 day 3 night hike in late November and luckily the weather was absolutely perfectly timed for us. I travelled with Karen & Chi the entire time as the rest split off after the Inca Trail trek on other adventures.
FLY – YYZ->PAN->LIM
-Parque de la Reserva – Water show
-Sleep Lima – 1900 Backpackers
FLY – LIM->CUS
-Inca Trail Briefing – Alpaca Expeditions
-Lunch – Chicha
-Taxi to Urubamba
-Sleep Urubamba – Amaru Valle Hotel
-Maras Salt Mine
-Dinner – El Albergue
-Sleep – Ollantaytambo – Kamma Guesthouse
-Alpaca Expedition – 4 Day 3 Night Hike – Inca Trail to Machu Picchu