I am writing my stories about Peru in a 3 part series. This is part 1 on the journey from the US to Lima to Cusco. The trek around Machu Picchu is part 2. The last part of the trip from Cusco to Lima is in part 3. Make sure you check them out.
So I just got back from Peru a few weeks ago and all I can say is wow. It is a beautiful country with even more beautiful people. I felt like I knew somewhat what to expect living in South America for 5 months in Ecuador when I was in college, but mostly I was wrong. Yes, of course some things were the same (infrastructure, transportation, religion, and rawness to name a few – A lot of “welcome to South America” to my friends). However, many aspects were very different. I managed fit in some fitness along the way (kind of appropriate for a triathlon blog — see some plank pictures). I traveled the whole country with my good friend Andrew (below).
Peru: Living in the Clouds to Running Through the Desert
The best way to describe the landscape of Peru is mystical. One day you will sitting at 11,000 ft. above sea level in Cusco getting hailed on (happened!) and the next you can be on the coast in a desert where it rains less than 0.3 inches per year (Lima). These variations in beauty and landscape are the reasons I love traveling (and now love Peru).
The people are also amazing. I found it easy to strike up a conversation with anyone. This was very much like Ecuador and I enjoyed getting my Spanish game back on. Unfortunately I was only in Peru for 9 days so I had very little chance to connect with locals, something I enjoy immensely. However, I did connect with a few including a very chatty Peruvian lady on the plane J. Making human connections is the best part about travel. You often forget about things you may have seen but human connection lasts forever. I have to say on this trip I made an abundance of awesome connections! I loved hearing about cultures from the locals in Peru to the girls we met from Australia.
Hurricanes and Travel Delays
Andrew would be my travel companion on this trip. Funnily enough this was his first international trip and true to form for something like this if something could go wrong it did haha. He did manage to keep up with me…mostly. We had the luck of flying during the first hurricane of the season, Hurricane Matthew. Weather can be a cruel beast sometimes, huh. We managed to fly around the hurricane and make it to Florida on Friday, but we missed our flight to Peru. Consequently, we were stuck in Fort Lauderdale for the day. I have to say Jet Blue was awesome in hooking us up with a hotel room and multiple meal tickets. Their customer service was the best I have experienced of any airline in a weather delay (mad props to them).
This was actually my 5th time in Florida this year (work trips), so I felt like a vet heading out on Las Olas Blvd. in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Being stuck Friday night wasn’t so bad as we explored the local night life (let me tell you it is happening). Saturday was a bit dry as were really stuck around the hotel since we had no desire to go to the beach and stay covered in salt for 6 hours. Passed some time at the all too fun Dave & Busters and headed to the airport. Flight out left after 6 and we landed in Lima around 11:00 pm local time on Saturday (fun 1 hour time difference due to daylight savings time in the US).
When You Finally Make it to Peru
I would give first impressions of Lima, but those involve sitting in a taxi (Uber!) and heading to Miraflores and the inside of our hostel. However, the ride along the coast is very pretty. A huge lit up cross overlooks the city (did I mention the similarity in religious devotion in South AmericaJ). With the day delay we spent a total of 10 hours in Lima and headed straight back to the airport in the morning for an 8:40 am flight to Cusco on Sunday. This was where I met up with my grad school classmates (the whole reason I had gone on this trip since our school trip was down to South America).
The flight to Cusco was beautiful. You fly over mountain range after mountain range shrouded in clouds. I was going to sleep, but the views made that impossible! We arrived in Cusco and thus began the nonstop travel in buses, vans, and trains. We headed to our guide agency and grabbed a juice before jumping in the van to explore some of the sacred valley. This was my first experience with Lúcuma, a fruit I had been told I had to eat as much of as possible. Have to say it was really good and there would be much more of it to come. The van tour of the sacred valley commenced through some of the most beautiful landscape I had ever seen.
The Beautiful Sacred Valley to my First Pisco Sour
You are constantly passing through fields, past mountains, across cliffs, and through valleys. Really incredible. We stopped at some indigenous weavers and saw some live cuy (guinea pig). Apparently these guys were being fattened up to be eaten. I also took an awesome Alpaca selfie. Take that as you like. We arrived in Ollantaytambo with 45 minutes before our train to Aquas Caliente. The van trip was super pretty despite our driver looking no older than 12 and driving like a mad man.
This is where we had our first Pisco Sours and damn they were delicious. Pisco is a local liquor kind of Brandy like made from grapes. Pisco Sours are actually fairly simple cocktails made from lime juice, ice, simple syrup, egg whites, and angostura bitters (I will be making some at home). We had our Pisco Sours in a tower restaurant that was half abandoned since it was being renovated while we were there (typical South America). The views from the top were actually pretty awesome. Managed to gulp those down and run down to the train stop.
The train to Aquas Caliente (the jumping off point for Machu Picchu) was actually pretty nice. You got a free drink and some snacks. It took about 2 – 2.5 hours. We arrived in Aquas Caliente maybe around 6:30 pm. The town is clearly a tourist trap but I thought it was actually kind of nice. There is a river running through it which our hotel was right next to. This made for perfect sleeping for me.
Finally Getting into some Peruvian Food and Sleeping in Peace
I finally had my first taste of Peruvian food (3 days into the trip L) of Lomo Saltado. Basically a beef stir fried plate with rice. First impressions are super flavorful and delicious. Headed to sleep in our hotel which was basically on terraces (pretty awesome). Slept like a baby to the sound of the running water (loved it). Woke up at 4 am to head to Machu Picchu. I am including this in another post because it really deserves it (you will see why).
After Machu Picchu, we had some time to spend in Aquas Caliente. We basically had a feast. This included some more pisco sours along with a three course meal. I had some alpaca steak along with a delicious soup. Finished off with some cocoa for the altitude. Aquas Caliente was fun, but it was time to head back to Cusco and get on the train. Train was uneventful as we talked about the mystical Machu Picchu.
Quaint yet Mind Blowing Cusco
We arrived back in Cusco late at night on Monday after jamming into a van. We checked out some of the local nightlife and got the lay of the land. Nothing too crazy but it was fun to hear some Reggaeton along with the typical top 40. I woke up earlier than I wanted to on Tuesday (probably because of the altitude). We had some bomb omelets at the hostel and some Coca tea (helps with the altitude).
My friend Andrew and I began to basically wander around Cusco a bit. It is a really cool little town and has a lot of charm. We stopped in a coffee shop called Cappuccino and had some delicious coffee. The place was awesome because it was up on the second floor and overlooked the whole plaza. We were able to sit out there and enjoy some awesome people watching.
Getting Through Crazy Weather for the Views
After this, we decided it would be a good idea to walk up to the massive Christ statue that overlooks the city. The city is at a solid 11,000 ft. so any walking is labored to be sure. As we were walking up the weather decided to turn against us and it started hailing really hard. We forced to stop and wait it out. The weather is super volatile and changes in seconds. The views at the top made the toil worth it. You could see across the whole city and the surrounding area. I also kept my fitness going by doing my plank right up on the ridge (was doing a plank challenge at the time).
We got moving down to heavy rain and actually made a dog friend. He followed us around for a little bit until he went off to do his own thing. There are stray dogs everywhere which is a little sad. We headed off to meet the rest of our friends for some lunch. Finally had an alpaca burger which I thought was amazing. It was super tender and lean. The meal would not be complete with a Cusqueña, the local beer. Also had some local ice cream at Cucharitas (little spoon) made on one of those cold stones with local fruit. It was so creamy and amazing. We walked around a bit more and just explored the city!
The Night In Cusco: Food, Views, Drinks, and Friends
It was high time for some cocktails and dinner so we headed up to one of the coolest places in the city. Limbus is situated halfway up the slope of Cusco. The views are amazing especially at night. You can see all the lights across the city going on forever. If you can bear the cold sitting outside is beautiful. The stars were out and the chilcanos we got were on point (pisco over ice with ginger ale). We had some amazing food as well: lamb skewers over veggies, grilled pork over root vegetables, and the classic grilled trout. This was one of my favorite meals of the trip.
With a happy belly, I was ready for some nightlife. We actually participated in the Hostel beer pong tournament that night. Eventually we lost after a spicy semifinal game. Along the way we met some 2 awesome Canadians who said they would go out with us that night. The night life the night before was a bit dead but tonight it was popping. There were so many people at the first bar we went to and it was all Spanish music (I loved it). Plus they had free drinks just for coming and 4 drinks for 25 soles (only $2.25 a drink). Dancing and getting a chance to let loose was amazing. It was a great night with our new friends.
Markets, Exotic food, and Juice
The next morning (Wednesday) we found a friend we had met from Utah earlier hanging out in the bar. We hit up an amazing breakfast at Jack’s café – huevos rancheros and a super good mocha. It was the perfect thing for that morning. The huge market was next. Everything was so cheap there (I think even cheaper than Ecuador) and they had so much different stuff. The sweater I bought was warm and soft – The perfect Alpaca product! I also had some amazing lucuma and orange juice. Drinking the amazing juices has been fulfilling in itself. Finally, it was time for a fixed almuerzo. I sat down and for 5 soles (less than $2!!!) I had vegetable soup, lomo saltado, and an apple drink. It satisfied my craving for street food for the time being.
After some more walking around and hanging out it was time for the dish of Cusco, cuy. We actually went to a really nice restaurant called Inca Grill and split a bunch of dishes including cuy. The cuy was very close tasting to chicken as I remembered it with a bit more toughness. The quinoa soup was super rich and filling along with the Ají gallina, which is kind of a cheese sauce over chicken and rice. The food was the perfect prep for what was about to be a long bus ride.
My trip was a lot of fun, but I still managed to train. Let me know if I can bring some adventure and diversity to your training.