Climbing the Incan Trail to Machu Picchu, surfing the longest left breaking wave in the world, visiting Cuzco, the ancient capital of the largest South American civilization ever known, or viewing the mysterious Nazca Lines from a tiny airplane above the Altiplano Plateau. Peru certainly boasts a robust historical and geographical attractiveness to travelers world wide. Traveling to Peru is something I would highly recommend to adventure seekers everywhere, but it is not your typical easy going vacation. You had better prepare yourself mentally, physically, and financially if you are hoping to get the most bang for your buck. Even for the most prepared wanderers, the journey will inevitably wear you down with it's many planes, trains, automobiles, and more step counts on your phone than you even thought possible. Here is a list of 5 lessons I Learned while traveling In Peru:
While Peru is not an overly large country by standard, it is not easy to get from point A to point B. For most international flights, you will land in the coastal city of Lima, a large urban sprawl with some 10 million people calling it home. The largest city in the country has some romantic upscale coastal walking paths in the Miraflores district and an incredible plaza where the Presidente resides, but most people do not fly to South America to walk on the beach and gaze at government buildings. If you're headed to Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, or some really great surfing, you'd better keep your bags packed. The quickest way to Machu Picchu is a 2 hour plane ride to Cuzco, 2 hour bus to Ollaytantambo, 1.5 hour train to Aguas Calientes, then 2 buses to the glorious wonder of the world. Yes, I said quickest...
Want to go to Nazca? Another 1.5 hour plane ride. How about Playa Chicama near the north coast of Peru where the REALLY good surf is? 2 hour flight or 9 hour bus.
Visiting the ancient city in the clouds is the main reason many people including myself make the great journey to Peru. Some say they can feel an energy like nowhere else in the world, some trek there to catch a glimpse of the past, but for me, it was just completely awe inspiring! We opted to knock Machu Picchu off our list right away and I am so thankful we made that decision. Aside from the great journey getting to the main kick off point Aguas Calientes, you now must conquer the glory of Machu Picchu itself. You know that iconic picture that everyone takes (as seen above)? Well that's only 1/3 of the whole citadel. There is a vast majority of terrace farming, housing, and temples behind you and on either side of the slope. If you look very closely on the top of the tallest mountain peak of Huayna Picchu, you can see more temples and terraced farming on a near vertical cliff! The picture you see below was taken at the top of the Sun Gate, which is a one hour hike up a cobble stone path to where the sun rises through two small peaks. All in all, we spent a total of eight hours exploring the ruins and totaled over 47,000 steps that day and still did not see all that the citadel had to offer. Exhausting, yes... Worth it, YOU BET! Do Machu Picchu first and recover for a couple days.
Aguas Calientes and Cuzco are the worst for harassing you to spend your Soles on over priced goods and meals that don't live up to the standard so eagerly portrayed by the stories you hear regarding Peruvian food fare. We found out quickly that when someone offers you 2 for 1 drinks for an all day happy hour, that really means 'Come on in, we'll give you terrible service and over charge you for sub par food.' The best restaurants don't need people harassing you in the streets, you'll pay a little more (75-100 Sole) for your meals but your experience will live up to the stories of Peruvian cuisine. In Cuzco try Mutu and Jack's Cafe, you'll be happy you did!
Counterfeit money is apparently a huge problem in Peru, so learning how to spot it is an essential asset the moment you land. If you're like us, you'll probably go to a currency exchange service before you leave home and take out larger bills in Peruvian Sole. Once you land and realize that cab rides only cost anywhere from 5 Sole to 50 Sole, it makes sense to break down those larger bills at the markets, grocery store, and other independently owned shops, but this is where the trouble lies. I'm not sure if it's lack of education, corruption, or a complete lack of care, but when we returned to Lima after a week in Cuzco, we learned that almost 200 Sole's we had were fake. Luckily, we had a friendly taxi driver give us some pointers.
1) Rub the bill on blank white paper. If the color bleeds, it's fake
2) If you hold the bill up at an angle to the light, you can see the corresponding number hidden in the black circle. No number? It's fake.
Side note: Coins are obvious once you compare two of the same coin side by side.
If you head to Peru's North coast or to the south you will come across nice sandy beaches, but we decided to stay in Lima near our Airbnb and test out the surf. It took us one day of bruised and barnacle filled toes to realize that we were in desperate need of some protection on our soft Canadian feet. The beaches around Lima are rocky, and it doesn't become sand the further you paddle out like it does in Nova Scotia. Now I am by no means a great surfer, so I usually spend a lot of time falling, paddling, and touching the bottom near the shore to catch a breath. Perhaps I am the cause of my own demise. The waves are tough, the periods are short, and the sets are unpredictable, but of course the locals made it look easy.
Peru was by FAR the most incredible place I have ever wandered, it was full of kind people and dominating pre and post colonial architecture. The natural geography is a magnificent sight to behold and the weather is warm and welcoming. We had two weeks in the country and didn't get to see many of it's wonderful attractions, but we will be heading back to Peru in the future with a little more planning and preparation. I hope this blog post has armed you with a little more knowledge than provided through more conventional travel blogs. Travel safe, travel smart, and ALWAYS keep wandering!