Highlights of Peru

Highlights of Peru

My first stop in Peru was Trujillo, in the North. The city, which is surrounded by the desert, is very lively and interesting. I visited the nearby site of Chan Chan. A long bus journey across the desert took me to Lima, the incredible capital, where I visited the main attractions around Plaza de Armas and in Miraflores. Not far from Lima (although it is a long ride), I hiked Marcahuasi.

I then went south, to explored the Islas Ballestas, Paracas, sandboard in Huacachina and finally reach Nazca, where I took a bumpy place to fly over the lines and where I visited the many surrounding archeological sites. From Nazca, I made my way to Arequipa, the white city, from where I hiked the Canyon del Colca.

My next stop was Puno, which I used as the starting point to visit the islands of Lake Titicaca. A flight then took me to Cusco, the capital of the Inca empire, and an incredible city altogether: it offers so many attractions and even its surroundings are packed with archeological sites, such as Saksaywaman and Pucapucara. I further visited the Sacred Valley – the sites of Moray, Pisac and Ollantaytambo, which was my stop before embarking on the incredible experience of the Inca Trail. I got to see the sunrise over Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku, I explored all of the site and even hiked mountain Huayna Picchu.

Cusco was my last stop before having to fly back to Italy.

Read more about Peru!

Inca Trail dos and donts: tips and tricks for trips to Peru

Inca Trail dos and donts: tips and tricks for trips to Peru

How to make the most of your Machu Picchu Inca Trail

There is no better, more adventurous way to fully experience the ancient Inca culture of Peru other than doing the official Inca trail. This is the only way through which you will be able to walk on the sacred Inca ground, to visit sites that are otherwise not accessible to travellers, and to view the sunrise on Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku. The other hikes may be great, hard, you may get to see amazing landscapes too. But nothing can compare to the experience you will have when puffing and struggling on the only real Camino Inca to Machu Picchu. This is definitely among the best things to do in Peru.

Best things to do in Peru - viewing Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku

Best things to do in Peru – viewing Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku

Places to visit in Peru: one of the many hidden sites, only accessible via the official Inca Trail

Places to visit in Peru: one of the many hidden sites, only accessible via the official Inca Trail

Doing the Inca trail is no easy thing, so here are a few tips to fully enjoy it.

DOs

Do your research: Various companies can organise your trekking to Machu Picchu. Among the most recommended ones there are Llama Path  and SAS. A Lima based agency which is also highly recommended is Peru Tourist Information, whose chief is a real superstar. Prices vary, depending the company you pick and on what you want to include in your trail. They can vary from 450 US dollars for the vary basic, to 800 US dollars for the most pricey company and including a number of extra services.

Do plan ahead: there is no such thing as showing up at an agency in Cusco and asking to do the official Camino Inca. The most it will be able to offer you are alternative routes, such as the very challenging 5 to 7 days Salcantay Trek, or the 3 days Jungle Trek. If you think hiking the Inca Trail is one of the things to do in Peru, you should know that the official Inca Trail permits are issued by the Peruvian government each January, and they are sold out very fast. Only 180 visitors per day are admitted, so if you think this is an experience you want to live, plan ahead, make your reservations well in advance. To give you an idea, I did my trail in April and I had it booked by the end of December. In April, everything was sold out until October.

Top things to do in Peru: hike the Camino Inka-Inka Trail

Top things to do in Peru: hike the Camino Inka-Inka Trail

Do pick a date and stick to it: Inca Trail permits are not refundable – once you pick a date, you have to stick to it and arrange the rest of your travel itinerary accordingly. So, think well before deciding. What I can say is that, no matter the season, you will at some point get the typical inca train weather: rain and extreme chill. April and May are the best months for nature lovers – flowers (especially orchids); September to November are less crowded and December to March rainy, and the trail may be very slippery (but, really, it does rain in any season).

Lush nature on the Inca Trail

Lush nature on the Inca Trail

Do arrive fit: the Inca trek is challenging for anybody. The altitude, the long walks, the fatigue and the little rest you may be able to get sleeping in a tent will eventually hit anybody. So, do train yourself by exercising and eating healthy food well before you embark on this adventure.

Do arrive in Cusco a few days before the starting date: this will allow you to get adjusted to the altitude. Cusco is located at 3300 meters above sea level and the trail starts at around 2800 meters. Being adjusted to the altitude will give you a good advantage. Not to mention, Cusco is a lovely city to hang out, there are numerous interesting sites to see and things to do in Cusco and in its surroundings, great restaurants and an amazing vibe.

Do wear appropriate gear: good hiking shoes, technical pants and a good rain coat are a must; carry along some thermic sweaters and t-shirts against the chill. Paths get slippery because of the rain, and you will surely want to avoid slipping down and breaking a leg: hiking shoes give you extra support; plain running shoes may be comfortable but are not geared to support your feet and ankles in hard conditions. The same goes for the rain coat: it does rain at some point or another and the last thing you want is getting wet and catch a cold, as it would ruin your experience. A good sleeping bag will save you from the freezing night of day 2, when you reach the highest point on the trail.

The Inca tunnel

The Inca tunnel

Inca weather at the back!

Inca weather at the back!

Do carry medications, especially prescriptions: there is no easy way out once you are on the trail. You can walk back after day 1; from day 2, the closest emergency centre would be in Aguas Calientes, and if you do get sick you will have to be carried by porters along the trail and down to the village (this actually happened to somebody in my group). It is definitely not pleasant to be sick while there, and not pleasant for the porters either. Remember that helicopters can’t access the trail as there is no landing point.

Do pack light: whether you decide to carry your own stuff or hire the services of half a porter, do not carry more than 7 kg. Should you chose to give your stuff to the porters, your bag will be weighted. If you want to carry your own stuff, you will want to keep the weight to a minimum. Days are long, and carrying around a heavy backpack will increase your fatigue, especially on day 2 when you will have to walk uphill most of the day and reach the peak of 4200 meters above sea level. All you need is a small bag with a change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a small towel, prescription medications and a headlamp.

Do carry some snacks: food is provided on the trail. You will have 3 main meals per day, plus two snacks. However, you will need some extra energy and having that bar of chocolate or that bag of peanuts will help you to keep walking.

Do carry some cash: you will use it to buy drinks on day one and two of the trail, and to tip the porters at the end of the trail. This is a sort of tradition: remember those porters are the last part of the chain and any extra help matters to them; besides you will want to reward them for their help!

Do be prepared for the “rustic” accommodation: tents are comfortable but they still are tents, and even if you have a mattress, you will still feel like you are sleeping on the floor. Dining tents are tight: you will be sitting elbow to elbow with your companions. Bathrooms are challenging, to say the least: expect filth, terrible smell, and freezing cold water.

Campsite on day 2

Campsite on day 2

Do expext amazing views and spectacular sites: mountains, glaciars, nature, waterfalls, clouds, flowers, jungle and hidden sites you didn’t even know existed. You will get to see all of this, and much more.

Glaciar views on day 3

Glaciar views on day 3

Could it be any better?

Could it be any better?

Another breathtaking view from the Inca Trail

Another breathtaking view from the Inca Trail

Do make new friends: this is a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world, share anecdotes, cheer each other up when it is really hard to walk, when the food is not as good as you would have wanted and when all you want is to rest.

Tired but happy, we reached the Inti Punku just in time to see the sunrise!

Tired but happy, we reached the Inti Punku just in time to see the sunrise!

Do consider your extra options: you can add an extra hike to Huayna Picchu, and enjoy yet another spectacular view of Machu Picchu. You have to book this in advance too, as only 180 visitors are admitted, twice per day.

Do book a dorm bed in Aguas Calientes for the day when you terminate the trek: you will be exhausted and the last thing you will want will be to walk around looking for a place to stay. Denny’s House has decent bed and great showers.

Tired but happy, I finally reached Huayna Picchu

Tired but happy, I finally reached Huayna Picchu

DONts

Don’t forget your camera: you most certainly want to take pictures of the views, of the sites, and with your new friends.

Don’t underestimate the difficulty: it is hard, really hard. While day one is relatively easy (you will be rested after having slept on a proper bed in your hostel), day two is challenging as you will reach extreme altitude and will be going uphill most of the day. Day three is the longest day – 16 km: guides will tell you that you will be going through “inca planes”, which, you will discover, consist of continuous going up and downhill. By day four, you will be exhausted. This is when you will have to wake up at 3 to start walking towards Machu Picchu to get to see the sunrise from the Inti Punku.

Intipunku is reached before dawn on day 4 of the hike

Intipunku is reached before dawn on day 4 of the hike

The highest peak, reached on day 2

The highest peak, reached on day 2

By all means, do not despair if it seems too hard: following my advice, you will make it till the end and will feel a huge sense of achievement.

Don’t worry if you stink on the trail: everybody eventually will stink. You will sweat just like anybody else!

Don’t expect to shower: Showers are out of the equation until day two, but don’t get too excited: they are only cold, freezing cold. Do not shower unless you are ready to risk pneumonia.

Don’t forget to have fun: this is a once in a lifetime experience, and you must fully enjoy it!

If you are interested to find out about more things to do in Peru, click here.

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Find out some tips on how to walk the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu - via @clautavani

 

What to do in Peru: hiking the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu

What to do in Peru: hiking the Inca Trail Hike to Machu Picchu

Opting for the official Camino Inca is the only way to get to walk on the sacred Inca trail, to visit sites that are otherwise not accessible, and to see the sun rise on Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku. Alternative treks may be great, hard, one may get to see amazing landscapes too. But nothing can compare to the experience of walking on Inca ground. That’s why, when I had to choose on the things to do in Peru, I knew I would opt for the “real thing”.

Things to do in Peru? No doubt, hiking the Inka Trail

Things to do in Peru? No doubt, hiking the Inka Trail!

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu: tips advice and recommendations for backpackers on a budget

Planning ahead:

Among the things to do in Peru, this is by far the most amazing, exhilarating experience. But it is one people have to think about carefully and for which they need to do some planning ahead – for concise information on how to organise everything click here. The official inca trail permit is issued by the government of Peru each January, and it always sells out very fast. Only 180 visitors per day are admitted. I knew this was an experience I wanted to live, so I made sure to plan ahead, I did my research and made my reservations well in advance. I did my hike in April and I had it booked by the end of December. In April, everything was sold out until October, leaving last minute travellers to alternative routes such as the very challenging 5 to 7 days Salcantay Trek, or the 3 days Jungle Trek.

Once I picked a date, I had to stick to it. Permits are not refundable. So, I had to think well before deciding. What I can say is that, no matter the season, at some point it gets wet, cold, it rains and fatigue hits the hikers. April and May are the lushest months in terms of nature – flowers (especially orchids); September to November are less crowded and December to March the wettest months, and the trail may be very slippery (but, as I have said, it does rain in any season).

Recommendations:

Arrive fit: spend a few days in Cusco to adjust to the altitude before the start, and stay healthy and exercise. I did not regret it, as there are many things to do in Cusco.

Carry snacks: I got so hungry along the way. Snacks were provided but all the exercise and the walking, as well as the cold temperatures made me starve, so before leaving I bought energetic cereal bars, chocolates, nuts etc.

Pack light and wear appropriate gear: I recommend hiring a porter, especially for the second day of the hike which is all uphill and goes up to 4200 meters above sea level. Porters costs normally around $25 per day, per person and carry no more than 7 kg per person (bags are actually weighted on the first day). Pack as little as possible in terms of clothes. Tshirts, socks, warm sweaters, a hat a scarf and even gloves will be useful. Carry a good rain coat, wear hiking pants and by all means hiking boots. It is slippery on the trail and it is always recommended to wear good shoes that give good support to the feet and ankles. Carry an extra (empty) small backpack: whatever the porters carry, stays with the porters all day till reaching the base camp. I did need an extra bag to carry anything I may need for the day – camera, water, medicines, documents, snacks etc.

Consider that it really is impossible to wash for the duration of the hike. Toilets (or better, latrines) are a disgrace, sinks only have freezing cold water that made me reluctant to even wash my face, and even showers (available from day 2) are only cold: not really an option when it is cold outside and in the tents. I carried wet wipes instead to keep my hygiene to a decent level.

Carry prescription medicines and any other medicine you may need along the trail. There is no easy way out once on the trail. It is possible walk back after day 1; from day 2, the closest emergency centre would be in Aguas Calientes, and if one does get sick porters will have to carry him or her along the trail and down to the village (this actually happened to somebody in my group). Not pleasant for somebody sick, and not pleasant for the porters. Remember that helicopters can’t access and there is no landing for them anywhere along the trail!

Carry some cash: it is needed to buy things such as water along the way (up till day 2), and most importantly it is necessary in the end as it is a custom to leave a tip to the porters, cooks and guides.

What to expect:

Day one is relatively easy. Depending on the company that organises the Inca Trail, people will start walking between 8 am and 11 am, stop for lunch and then walk till they reach their camp where they will stop for the night.

Hiking the Inca Trail is one of the things to do in Peru: what an amazing view!

Hiking the Inca Trail is one of the things to do in Peru: what an amazing view!

On day two, guides will wake people up at around 5:30 am and they will leave soon after breakfast. Many consider this to be the hardest day, as it mostly is uphill and it reaches 4200 meters above sea level. On this day I experienced the typical inca trail weather: it was cold, rainy, and once we passed the highest point and start going downhill, even slippery. This is also the coldest night, as the base camp is at 3600 meters above sea level.

What to do in Peru? Visit one of the many archelogical sites on the Inka Trail

What to do in Peru? Visit one of the many archelogical sites on the Inka Trail

Inca trail weather behind!

Inca trail weather behind!

Mountains and clouds - spectacular views!

Mountains and clouds – spectacular views!

Places to visit in Peru: Runkurakay

Places to visit in Peru: Runkurakay

Slippery, steep Inka steps

Slippery, steep Inka steps

On day three, hikers will be waken up again at around 5:30 am. This is the longest day: a 16 km walk on “Inca plains”, that is along a path that goes up and down continuously until a certain point when it just goes downhill on slippery tight steps. To me, this was by far the hardest day.

The sacred camino inca is among the best things to do in Peru

The sacred camino inca is among the best things to do in Peru

Entering the Inka tunnel

Entering the Inka tunnel

Almost there!

Almost there!

Spectacular view on the way to the base camp

Spectacular view on the way to the base camp

The andes - view from the inca trail

The andes – view from the inca trail

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Glaciars – view from the inca trail

On the final day, the wake up call is at 3:00 am, in order to start walking towards the Inti Punku and get to enjoy the sunrise on Machu Picchu. I have been to Peru twice, and of all the things to do in Peru, this is my favourite one and would consider going just to experience it again! After the sun rises, we walked towards the site and have a guided tour, after which we were finally on our own.

Day 3 - finally at Inti Punku

Day 3 – finally at Inti Punku

Seeing the sunrise on Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku is one of the best things to do in Peru

Seeing the sunrise on Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku is one of the best things to do in Peru

A spectacular view of Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku

A spectacular view of Machu Picchu from the Inti Punku

The sun has finally settled over Machu Picchu

The sun has finally settled over Machu Picchu

View of Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu

View of Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu

Tents are relatively comfortable: a tent for 4 persons sleeps two. Sure, no matter how good the matresses and the sleeping bags are I did feel I was sleeping on the ground, but by the end of the day I would be tired enough that even that would feel comfortable.

Base camp on day 2

Base camp on day 2

It does get cold, especially at night. Having good hiking clothes and a good sleeping bag is a must, unless wanting to challenge the chill. It also rains on the path, eventually every day at some point. I wanted to be extra sure to enjoy the sunrise from the Inti Punku so I picked a date during the dry season, but I was aware that inca trail weather can be temperamental year round!

Meals can be either very good or very bad, depending also on your personal taste. Either way, it is somewhat amazing to see what the cooks manage to put together in those conditions. Any special requests can and should be communicated in advance (allergies, intolerances, vegetarian options). Expect to have breakfast (which varies every day, and in any case always provides hot drinks), a snack, lunch (consisting of soup, a main course and fruits plus hot drinks), a merenda (usually pop corn and bisquits and hot drinks) and dinner (similar to lunch). By the end of each day, I was normally so hungry that I was thankful for whatever food was provided.

By the time I got to Machu Picchu, I was so exhausted, I was definitely filthy and probably stinky too. I was not ashamed however, but rather proud! This is not something that anybody does, and I had actually achieved it.

By all means, I got what I expected: I saw spectacular landscapes, amazing archeological sites, incredible nature; I made some really good friends in my group and meal times were always fun and chilled. This was a unique experience!

Beautiful nature

Beautiful nature

Prices:

Prices vary, depending on what is included in the trail and on the company picked. They can vary from 450 US dollars for the very basic, to 800 US dollars for the most pricey company and including a number of extra services.

Extras include: service of half porter to carry 7 kg of weight ($25 per day); sleeping bag rental ($25); entrance fee to Huayna Picchu, the steep sided mountain right behind Machu Picchu, a good hour trek uphill along a steep path, offering an amazing view over Machu Picchu ($75, normally done on the day after the you finish the Inca Trek, and the fee includes the entrance to the site so that visitors get to spend more time there).

Finally on top of Wayna Picchu!

Finally on top of Wayna Picchu!

Various companies organise the trail. Among the most recommended ones there are Llama Path  and SAS. I had everything organised by Peru Tourist Information, which is a local agency based in Lima, and I really enjoyed the services and care.

Extra Tips:

Almost any company that organises the Inca Trail also offers other tours, such as that of the Sacred Valley. Buying the Inca Trail, often means getting a good discount on other tours. Also watch out for discount or special rates for large groups.

If buying the Inca Trail and Sacred Valley together, my recommendation is to first do the Sacred Valley tour, get dropped off at Ollantaytambo, where it is possible to spend 2 extra days exploring the surroundings (included the sites of Moray and Salinas), and then get picked up from there to start the Inca Trail.

Remember that there is NO WAY to get into Machu Picchu for free. It is a UNESCO site – a World Heritage Site, and as such it is constantly under surveillance. The only trek that finishes in Machu Picchu directly is the official Camino Inca and this includes the entrance fee to the site. The Salkantay includes a visit of Machu Picchu but what it implies is that on the last day of the trek people go back down to Aguas Calientes, spend a night there, then go back up to enter via the main gates. Furthermore, the Salkantay is a difficult hike – trekkers need appropriate gear, a good guide, etc. It reaches peaks of over 5000 meters so it is important to be safe in those conditions. Remember that it is illegal to enter the site without paying (and, as I have said, impossible), furthermore, it is disrespectful to Peruvians and to all the other travellers who actually pay a fee. Those who can’t afford it, or that don’t think it is worth the money, simply should not go.

I have been to Machu Picchu three times, I hiked the Inca Trail once, and I think it is worth every cent I paid. So much so that I would be eager to do it again.

For more places to visit in Peru click here.

Places to visit in Peru: The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

Places to visit in Peru: The Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu

In a country of many wonders, one could spend months travelling around and yet leave feeling unfinished. Among the places to visit in Peru (and for a good reason) there are the Sacred Valley of the Rio Urubamba and Machu Picchu.

Sacred Valley:

The Sacred Valley of the Incas is one of the places to visit in Peru. The starting point to visit the Sacred Valley is Cusco. It is possoble to go to the sites independently (purchase a boleto turistico: tourists have two full days to visit Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Salinas), in which case it is necessary to arrange transportation. There are regular buses from Cusco to Pisac, Urubamba (from where it is possible to catch a but to go to Moray and Salinas) and Ollantaytambo.

The best option is to do a Sacred Valley tour, which is not as expensive as one may think. It really is worth the extra pennies to have a good guide that will explain the history of the places. And there are a few more tips for things to do in Peru for those who are on a tight budget.

Any agency in Cusco will sell a Sacred Valley tour, which usually includes transportation, entrance fees and a guided visit of the citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and entrance fees to Moray and the Salinas; as well as lunch in one of the many restaurants in Urubamba. Options vary: it is possible to have a private car tour (which is the best option for a small group of friends) or a bus group tour. To help save extra pennies, there even are whole packages which includes the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu.

Most tours leave between 7:30 am and 9:00 am. Private cars usually leave earlier than buses, in order to let tourists experience the sites without having to push among the crowds of visitors. The tour can take tourists back to Cusco, or drop them off at Ollantaytambo, or even go directly to Aguas Calientes (which is the last stop before Machu Picchu).

Jumping around the Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo

Jumping around the Sacred Valley – Ollantaytambo

A gorgeous view from Ollantaytambo archeological site, Sacred Valley

A gorgeous view from Ollantaytambo archeological site, Sacred Valley

Places to visit in Peru: Sacred Valley, for a breathtaking view from Pisac archelogical site

Places to visit in Peru: Sacred Valley, for a breathtaking view from Pisac archelogical site

Ollantaytambo:

If there is more time to explore the area, Ollantaytambo is among the places to visit in Peru that, despite tiny, deserves a couple of days. It is charming and a perfectly preserved example of an Inca village, there are various lovely restaurants, a nice crafts market, and life goes on slowly and quietly. The ruins are big, and a guided tour will only visits one side. But if one spends a bit of extra time there, it is possible to access the other side and enjoy a spectacular view of the village from atop the mountain. It is also possible  to fully use your boleto turistico to go to Moray and the Salinas (catch a bus heading to Urubamba).

Where to stay and eat in Ollantaytambo:

There are various options, for expensive taste and for backpackers on a budget. Hostal Chaska Wasi is a decent budget option, but guests have to put up with the moody staff and owner and the temperamental showers. El Albergue, a little outside the village, right on the railway, is a luxury boutique hotel, with huge comfortable rooms and a top notch restaurant in it. For a decent meal, go to Il Piccolo Forno, an Italian run restaurant and pizzeria. It may not be as good as in Italy, but pretty good given what the place has to offer.

What to do in Peru? Spotting the face of the Inca in Ollantaytambo

What to do in Peru? Spotting the face of the Inca in Ollantaytambo

Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu:

Known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, Aguas Calientes is not particularly interesting if not for the hot springs and for its proximity to the archeological site, and we all know that Machu Picchu is one of the things to see in Peru. Sleeping here is a good way to have early access to it (the site opens at 6:00 am, carry your passport as you will need it to access), by catching one of the many buses that link the village to the archeological site (the first one leaves at 5:30 am, a round trip ticket costs 20 US dollars), or hiking up the trail (about one hour, uphill).

Places to visit in Peru: Machu Picchu - view from the Inti Punku

Places to visit in Peru: Machu Picchu – view from the Inti Punku

Where to stay and eat in Aguas Calientes:

I recommend Denny’s house, a hostel a little off the main centre of the village. Rooms are tiny, so be sure not to carry too much lugguage. But beds are comfortable, breakfast is filling and served very early for those who wake up early to go to Machu Picchu, and most importantly showers are hot and powerful (which never goes without saying in Peru).

There are many restaurants. Most of them will try to offer a set meal, which normally includes a soup, a main dish and dessert for around 20 soles. It is cheap, but not nearly enough food. Opt for a real meal and take time in picking a good restaurant. Chifas (Chinese restaurants) are usually good options for cheap, big and usually good portions of food.

Need to have more information on Peru? Check here.