Two months of exploring the best nature and culture that the world has to offer in the city of Cusco, Peru and the nearby Amazonas.
- + 7
South America57 days / January - February 2021
Highs & Lows
There is endless natural and architectural beauty and amazing traditional culture that has stood the test of time!
The elevation is very high, and often you will find yourself out of of breath walking up endless steep roads around the city.
My trip began by flying into Miraflores, Lima. Miraflores is one of the best and safest areas in Lima. There are plentiful delicious restaurants (Lima is in the middle of a food renaissance), the views of the beach and dramatic coastline are beautiful, and the park area near the playa is absolutely bustling! Take a stroll around the area just before sunset, and you will find endless street food vendors, skateboarders showing off their skills, dance groups practicing, making videos or holding dance-offs, people working out in the outside gyms, and much more! Get some street food and enjoy the show, then be sure not to miss the beautiful sunset! Along the way there you will also pass wonderful chocolaterias, and an outside cat park filled with tons of cute cats. Note: the roads in Lima can be very confusing to walk, and next to impossible to drive. The driving is extremely crazy and aggressive, endless honking and slamming on the brakes, so don't rent a car here unless you have to. Try to plan out your route for walking ahead of time (the paths for walkers often diverge strangely from the map and you often can't cross the road due to too much traffic) and prepare to possibly get lost! Remember to always have a picture of your hostel address saved on your phone, and if you get too lost just take a taxi back, they are pretty cheap! Note: the taxis coming directly out of the airport/bus terminal will always be super overpriced. Walk a bit down the street from the airport/bus terminal and find substantially cheaper taxis, or take an uber.
From Lima, I took a cheap flight over to Cusco. Cusco is one of the most spectacular cities in the world. I spent one month here and it still was not enough. The architecture in the city is spectacular, all Spanish Colonial, and the location embedded right into the Andes Mountains allows for spectacular views everywhere you look. The prices are very affordable and usually very negotiable, particularly at the amazing local markets. The city is also extremely safe. Walk for a while in any direction, and you are bound to run into alpacas, stunning views, street vendors selling wonderful and cheap trinkets and fruits, ancient ruins, and indigenous people still living in the traditional way. Cusco is like stepping back in time to a world of fairytales. But despite the traditional village-type ambiance, the city also boasts many modern amenities - the restaurants are culturally diverse with delicious foods from all over, easy food delivery, and there is a large mall with high end stores common in the United States (warning: the prices will also be more similar to those found in the US) - but you won't find any skyscrapers here! I recommend you take a 1-3 day trip over to the Wolf Totem Hostel in nearby Pisac. It is only a short bus ride away and extremely beautiful and peaceful. You absolutely must visit the spectacular Rainbow Mountains and Macchu Picchu. I recommend doing a multiday trek to Macchu Picchu - the Salkantay passes through stunning scenery, but is much cheaper than the traditional Inca Trail trek. I also recommend visiting Maximo Nivel to sign up for volunteer opportunities in the area (they also offer Spanish classes and local homestays with lots of fun group events. Great way to meet other travelers and local people alike). I participated in a volunteer program working at an Alpaca farm in the Andes mountains, which was a very unique opportunity to immerse in my Spanish and have fun working with the locals. You also must try the local saunas - they offer access to steam and sauna rooms, with salt, aloe, and honey to exfoliate and moisturize your body, plus cheap massages and delicious fresh juice, all for about $9. Wear your swimsuit and expect to stay for at least 2-4 hours minimum!
Next, I took a 10hr overnight bus to Puerto Maldonado. Puerto Maldonado is an extremely cute and fun port city located directly on the Madre de Dios Amazon River. This is the place to visit (along with Iquitos) if you're looking for entry into the Amazon. Fishing, swimming and scenic boat/walking tours around the Amazon are all common here. But this town is also very fun to stay in for a couple of days all by itself. The town square is lively and filled with beautiful flowers, the food is lovely and cheap, there are mototaxis everywhere to take you around for less than $1 typically (about 3 soles) and the ambiance is extremely laidback and relaxed.
Next, I took a boat ride deep into the Amazonas to volunteer at the Panthera Sanctuary. If you have the the funds (about $300/week), you absolutely must stay and volunteer at Panthera Sanctuary in the Amazon Rainforest. It is a stunningly beautiful, but not commercialistic or inauthentic, retreat in the Amazon run by a herpetologist and ecologist who conduct wildlife surveys/research, do conservation work to help save the Amazon, and have a permaculture farm and agroforestry project. You will help with all of the above, while learning infinitely about the Amazon and all of the amazing flora and fauna that exist within it. I recommend at least 3-4 weeks to get the full effect of becoming one with the jungle. They have an amazing chef who cooks three meals a day, and you will constantly be learning and having the time of your life, playing with monkeys, catching frogs and snakes and caimans and harvesting food and taking boat trips to spot toucans and macaws and much more! The owners are some of the best people I've met while traveling and extremely fun to work with. My time at the sanctuary was the best and most peaceful time of my life, and I wish every day to return. Keep in mind it is extremely hot and humid and the mosquitos are worse than anywhere I've ever seen, so I recommend all thick, long, LOOSE clothes, sprayed with permethrin ahead of time. Also bring mosquito repellant, but keep in mind once you put repellant on your hands you can no longer touch frogs or put your hands in the water -- it's very bad for the frogs/water. My protip: bring a bottle of zyrtec and take a pill every day (or your preferred 24hr antihistamine). The antihistamine will kill the itching/swelling caused by the inevitable mosquito bites, and so you won't have any problems with the mosquitos. There is also no internet and only solar power, so download books/movies on your kindle or laptop ahead of time and bring a headlamp.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
You will want a lot of time in Cusco, and you will want to plan out your itinerary early as there is a LOT to do! Almost endless opportunities for day trips/hikes, multiday hikes, volunteer programs, museums.
Anything go wrong during the trip?
When I first arrived I didn't realize how valuable the coins are - in the U.S., people rarely will ever use coins, so I essentially just gave all my coins away as a tip to the taxista in the very beginning! However, in Peru you will pay for the majority of things with just coins! It is therefore very, very helpful to keep a coin purse and carry that around with you. You will be using coins more often than not.
How was the food?
We frequented La Cantina Vino Italiano - they have the most delicious, authentic Italian pizza and cheese/meat platters, paired with delicious Italian wines. The owner is Italian and very friendly. KION Peruvian Chinese restaurant is delicious for Chinese food, very high quality. Kintaro Japanese Restaurant is the best for Japanese food and lovely sake. Taste of India is very good for Indian Food. Green Point Restaurant has great vegan food. Organika has great healthy and vegetarian food options. Fuego had great burgers. If you walk around the Plaza de Armas, you will also find a guy selling delicious crepes with all different flavors! Also, almost all of these places deliver right to your doorstep using Rappi! I highly recommend either downloading Rappi or using it on your computer. Then you can prepay and the food comes right to you. If you want to go out to eat, you can literally just walk around for 10 minutes and basically walk into any restaurant! There are guys outside waving around menus for their restaurants that you can read as you walk, and just pick one, most restaurants in Cusco are very good. Also, be sure to try the Pisco Sour (it should be a bit more expensive, otherwise it's probably not genuine) and the Chicha de Frutilla (strawberry beer)....Read More
What tips would you give a friend?
San Pedro Mercado, right near the Plaza de Armas town square, is the best local market I've found so far in South/Central America, and they offer some extremely delicious food as well! We went daily for the huge, fresh and insanely delicious fruit salads (6 soles/$1.50) and the also fresh and huge combinado jugos (3 soles/.70Cents). The market also sells extremely cheap and delicious chocolates, cheeses, breads, meats, herbs, plants, vegetables, trinkets (the cutest little alpaca keychains) and many, many beautiful woven goods! The weaving in Peru is some of the most ancient and spectacular in the world, so I implore you to support the local women weavers and purchase some of their goods! I bought a coin purse, backpack, shawl, and scarf, and they are all absolutely gorgeous and well-made. I would go back to Cusco just for the woven goods. Also, most people in Cusco do not speak English (unless they work specifically in tourism industry), so try to learn at least the common Spanish words/phrases before you go and download the English-Spanish translation app on your phone....Read More
Peruvians dress rather conservatively - the general "uniform" is jeans and a jacket in neutral/dark colors. In Cusco, I never saw a single person wearing shorts and hardly anyone deviated from the jeans/jacket outfit, so pack accordingly if you would like to blend in! The temperature during the day is mild/warm, around 21C/70F, but it gets much colder at night (around 14C/55F) and will be colder as well when you go on hikes up the mountains, so for sure bring a warm jacket. It also rains pretty often, so you will likely want a rain jacket as well. Although there isn't water nearby, I recommend bringing a bathing suit for the amazing saunas/steam rooms in the city! If you travel to the Amazonas, you will want light clothing to wear around town as it is extremely hot and humid (semi-conservative shorts, skirts, or dresses are all appropriate), but you will also need long loose clothes and mosquito spray to protect from the massive amounts of mosquitos in the Amazon. Bring a sunhat as well....Read More
Cabs are always the way to go in Cusco. They are everywhere and very cheap. The fare should typically be no more than 5 soles ($1.30) to go around the city, and about 10 soles to get to the airport. Either screenshot the address of the place you need to go, or take a picture of the intersection, and show it to the cab driver. Always negotiate the price before stepping into the vehicle. Tipping the taxistas is not customary in Peru.
The buses in Peru can be rather difficult to maneuver. The longer-duration/overnight buses are relatively simple, you just have to buy the ticket, then go to a separate line to pay a fee (about 2 Soles), then take the ticket and fee receipt to the main line, and then board. The buses taking you around the city are another beast altogether. You essentially have to already know which bus you need to get on and exactly where you need to get off. You say "Abajo!" when you see your stop coming up, and you pay the guy speaking extraordinarily rapidly saying the different destinations at the door as you leave. It's hard to know exactly what the price is also as it changes fairly often, but it's normally around 1-3 soles depending on how far you go. So, I wouldn't recommend using the city bus unless a local shows you the way. It's easier to either take a taxi or simply walk! Cusco is a very walkable city, as long as you don't mind steep hills. Also, like in many countries, you cannot throw toilet paper in the toilet (only in the waste bin found in all toilets), and you will usually have to pay a small fee for toilet paper/usage of public toilets. I took to carrying toilet paper around in my purse just in case. Also, the Peruvian culture is not so "polite." You do not need to often say gracias, de nada, disculpa, permiso, or other such "courtesy words." It's also common that nobody uses headphones in public and everyone just plays their own videos loudly, so keep that in mind and bring earplugs/headphones for public spaces, especially the overnight bus!!...Read More