Rainbow Mountain, Cusco, Peru

One item on my bucket list in Peru was to check out the famous Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca). You might have heard of it or seen photos on social media, and you might also have heard about how crowded this place is getting right now. After doing some research, I was actually getting a bit nervous about this day trip, as I do not particularly like tours with too many tourists. Be warned: I heard something like 2500 people per day visit the trail, so you can be sure that you will be hit by a selfie stick at least once during the tour! I was actually considering looking at a different tour, a bit less crowded, of the Red Valley and an area called Palccoyo. However, my mom was really excited about the idea of Rainbow Mountain, and so we decided to go ahead and book this tour. We booked with a company called Machu Picchu Reservations (through a seller from Puma Trek/Tour Agency), as it was recommended to us by someone at our hostel.

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Cusco, Peru

After we came back from Machu Picchu, we stayed in Cusco at the Hospedaje Recoleta, just about 15min walk away from the historic center, in St Blas district. My friend was staying only one day with us, and we decided to take it easy that day before they left for the airport. We had been pretty much on the go for the last 9 days, so it was exciting for my mom and I to know that we would be staying put in Cusco for another 5 nights afterwards.

On our first day in Cusco, we went to the Artisanal Market to shop for a few last souvenirs and gifts. We were told that the market in Cusco was probably where the prices would be the best (for touristy items mainly). I don’t really buy much anymore when I travel, but my travel partners got crazy with alpaca scarfs and blankets (scarfs for 3-4$ as a gift is a pretty good deal!). Most of the touristy gifts and souvenirs will be the same from city to city, from market to market. The idea is just to walk around and spot a few things you like before buying. The prices are so cheap, I usually don’t try to bargain that much anymore. Instead, I try to buy somewhere where I had a really great service, and where I feel like I am contributing to help the local craft or artist more than the big business. I try to make sure that I buy items made locally as much as possible, if at all possible!

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Aguas Caliente, Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, Peru

We had our second night bus with Peru Hop from Puno to Cusco (about 8-9hrs). I was a bit nervous about this one as I had booked this bus on the night just before our train to Aguas Caliente. With only 10 days before my friend left from Cusco, we had little room to move our itinerary around, but we still wanted to have enough time to make it to the ancient Inca’s city without feeling too rushed.

Luckily, it all went well with no delays and we arrived at Cusco around 5AM that morning. We had arranged to leave our bags at our hostel in Cusco, the Hospedaje Recoleta. We had time to take a quick shower and I took a nap in the common lounge area before we cabbed to the train station around 730AM. It gave us just enough time to walk around, get a few snacks from the San Pedro Market and get on our train.

I guess I should start by explaining my thought process on this one. When I decided to visit Machu Picchu, I had many options in mind, depending on how much time I had and who I would be visiting with. There are many options to choose from depending on your budget and what kind of experience you want to have. A lot of people opt for a multiday trek, carrying a day pack and having some local guides carrying the bulk of the overnight gear, camp gear and food. The treks can vary from 3 to 7 days, with cost varying from 250 to 2000US. There are a lot of different companies, trails, etc. to consider before making your final decision. If you do decide to go on a trek, please make yourself a favor and get as much information as possible on the altitude, elevation gain, km of trek per day and difficulty of the trail. Some treks are going up to some mountain passes at 5200m of altitude, and not everyone can (or should) attempt such hikes with no prior experience and/or acclimatization.

I consider myself a pretty experienced hiker/trekker (I haven’t done tons of long multiday treks, however I have done a lot of overnights and enough multiday hikes 100% independently to know what I am getting into), and the length of the treks offered made me doubt my own ability to do the treks and actually fully enjoy it. My main issue : the altitude. Being in Peru only for 3 weeks, I did not want to risk getting altitude sickness (again), and waste thousands of dollars and many days of my trip not enjoying my time and feeling like crap (I don’t think I can describe altitude sickness better than this). Moreover, as I was traveling this time with my mom and a friend who have not done overnighters before, it wasn’t really an option.

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Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru

We left Arequipa very early in the morning with our Peru Hop bus. We arrived in Juliaca where we took a transfer (all arranged by the company) all the way to Puno and drop off at our hostel. We stayed at Suite Independencia, which is just a few blocks from the main Plaza and the main touristy street. As a lot of places in Peru, there was barely any heating and the rooms were cold. I also skipped shower for a few days in Arequipa and Puno due to the lack of consistent hot water in the shower… ha well.

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Nazca and Arequipa, Peru

Our first stop after leaving Huacachina was Ica and the winery El Catador. This was an included short tour and tasting arranged with Peru Hop. My only downside was that the group was too large for my taste, but the tour was short and we got to taste 4-5 different products. Their wines are wayyyy too sweet for me!

As part of the Peru Hop ticket, we had an included stop at the Nazca lines viewing tower. This is basically a massive staircase tower on the side of the main highway where people go up for typically 2min to take photos of 3 of the well-known Nazca lines. Basically, we still are unsure what they were for and how they were made, but you definitely needed to be up high to see and understand the full shape and meaning of it (although they were made way before we could fly). Quite honestly, I’m glad this stop was included in our bus ride and I didn’t have to make special arrangements to get there. It was super short and we can’t really see much from the tower. I heard from other travelers that staying in Nazca one night and taking the flight over the lines was incredible, however there is nothing really to do in Nazca after your 20min flight is over.

We stopped in Nazca quickly to get some food as take out (about 20soles for the dinner, all pre-arranged by Peru Hop) and hit the road again. Usually, this stop includes a proper stop for dinner in Nazca with the group. However, there were some strikes happening recently and farmers were blocking the roads at random hours to protests a massive government investment in mining. Our guide decided that we should make it short and just keep going and try to be in Arequipa early. Turns out we were fine, but a group who left a few hours after us go stranded for 38hrs in total (instead of a 12h trip) as they hit the strike at 2 different locations on the highway. We’ve heard that the president had heard them and was going to post-pone his decision in order to reopen negotiations. Which was good for us and meant we had no bus issue for the rest of our trip! Yay!

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Paracas and Huacachina, Peru

Our bus came to pick us up directly at our hostel that morning. We jumped in the bus and drove a few hours until Paracas, where we stopped for lunch and for the first tour of the trip. For 50 soles, we did the 2h boat tour and ride to the Ballestas Islands.

These islands are Peru’s own version of the Galapagos and you will ride around the islands and see tons of wildlife. Be ready for the smell and lots of bird poop falling down on you – I would strongly recommend bringing a small poncho or at least a hat that you can easily wash afterwards. I ended up putting my soft rain shell on as we got to the islands and I’m glad I did, because it would have stained my other layers otherwise.

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