Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Sardinia dos and donts: what to do in Sardinia

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora

Visit Sardinia: Barumini

Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini

At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.

Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.

Dos

Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.

Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.

Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.

Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.

If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.

Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.

Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna

Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.

Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.

If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.

Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).

Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.

Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.

Donts

Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!

Asinara - Sardinia

Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…

Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!

Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.

Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.

Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!

Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!

Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!

Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero

Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.

Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Visit Sardinia on a budget: the East Coast and the North

Where to go in Sardinia for your budget holiday

Su Gorropu and Golfo di Orisei:

If you are looking for some of the best beaches in Sardinia, head to the East coast. From Costa Rei, you can catch a bus (ARST) to Tortolì and once there go to Baunei.There are so many things to do in Sardinia, that the area also offers some of the best hikes in Europe: from Cagliari you can join one of the many guided tours to hike the Gorropu Canyon (the deepest in Europe).

Hiking Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: go on a hike!

The trek is not difficult, but it is easy to get lost so better having a guide. For more information, ask the cooperative that watches over the canyon. Make sure to wear appropriate hiking shoes and to carry plenty of water and food. Although the path is often shaded, weather in Sardinia can get pretty extreme and it does get really hot in the summer season. Once you finish the hike, you will be in the area of Dorgali.

You can stop in Dorgali for a few nights, and stay at agriturismo Canales, completely immersed in the nature and with a gorgeous view over the lake Cedrino, and which offers delicious traditional Sardinian food. It also rents kayak to reach the source of Su Cologone.

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino - one of the things to do in Sardinia

Kayaking on Lake Cedrino – one of the things to do in Sardinia

From Dorgali, you can go to Cala Gonone, from where numerous boats leave daily to the spectacular Golfo di Orosei, taking you to some ofSardinia best beaches, that can only be reached via boat or via a hike. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts and there is also a camping site for travellers on a tight budget. In Golfo di Orosei, do not miss the long, sandy beach of Berchida.

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Berchida is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

From Cala Gonone, you can reach Cala Fuili, from where you can start the free trekking to the beautiful Cala Luna, set of a number of movies including the recent “Swept Away” featuring Madonna and among Sardinia best beaches.

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Swept away in Cala Luna, one of Sardinia best beaches

Alternatively, you can go to Baunei and reach the plateau of Golgo (Altipiano del Golgo). From there, you can join together some of the best things to do in Sardinia – going on hikes, rafting, diving in freshwater underground caves, and visiting some of the best beaches in Sardinia. The wild wild east of Sardinia, as Lonely Planet calls it, is the best for outdoor activities. There you can sleep in a wonderful hostel immersed in nature and surrounded by animals left free to roam (there are rooms for any budget, including rustic cabins or pitching your tent, which only costs 5 euro per person per day). It is run by Cooperativa Goloritzè, which is the same that organises boat tours around the Golfo di Orosei leaving from Santa Maria Navarrese (around € 40 for the whole day, carry your own lunch), a number of hiking tours and the beautiful 7 day long backpacking trip “Selvaggio Blu” (wild blue) which takes you from beach to beach in a path across nature.

You can eat in the delicious restaurant of the hostel (between €20 and €30 per person for a set menu which is enough for 2 people, actually – so be clever and order just one and share, you will not regret it and food will not be wasted; or else, you can pay a la carte). There is also a packed lunch service. If you manage to get a tip, get the number of one of the local shepards and go have dinner at his place. It will be a rustic set meal for about €25 (including drinks), where you can fill on his production of cheese, season vegetables, culurgiones di patate (potatoes and cheese filled fresh pasta, which is a local specialty), piglet and seadas (sweet fried cheese filled pastries served hot with honey).

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

Things to do in Sardinia: jumping off cliffs

From Golgo plateau, you can do a number of independent and free activities, as there are hiking trails to some of Sardinia best beaches (calculate that you will be going downhill on the way there, and uphill coming back, but the duration is roughly the same) which you really can’t miss when you visit Sardinia, such as Cala Mariolu, Cala Sisine, Cala Biriola, etc., including what I value as one of the most spectacular beaches not only in Sardinia, but in the entire world: climbing paradise Cala Goloritzé.

A walk in the woods, which will eventually open up to reveal the most crystal clear, transparent water you can imagine. The beach is tiny, a real gem where several sources of fresh water end, making the sea very cold but pleasantly refreshing on hot days. Cala Goloritzé is famous for its 143 meters spire hanging over the beach, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Carry plenty of water and some food, there are no services at all on the route and at the beach.

Costa Smeralda, Arcipelago de La Maddalena, Santa Teresa di Gallura and Castel Sardo:

Going to the North of Sardinia, you can reach Olbia from Tortolì by bus. This is as a starting point to visit the world famous Costa Smeralda, home of some of the best beaches in Sardinia. If you enjoy a good nightlife, stay in San Teodoro, a lively village offering many shops, restaurants, ice cream parlours and bars. There are hotels, bed and breafasts and apartments for rents, and for those on a tight budget even a camping site. There are many beaches that can be visited in this area and, guess what?, access is free in all of them. If you travel with your own car, you will at most have to pay for parking.

You can pick among many: Cala Brandinchi, Capriccioli, Baja Sardinia, Cannigione… and go for a walk in Porto Cervo. Amongst boutiques with prices accessible only to the richest, you can still go window shopping and have a gelato (which, by the way, will cost just like anywhere else). If you wonder where to go in Sardinia for something slightly, make your way to Porto San Paolo and catch the 10 minute ferry ride for a day trip to Isola di Tavolara: nobody lives there, there is just a small hostel and a kiosk!

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Tavolara is where to go in Sardinia

Further North, Palau is where to go in Sardinia to catch one of the boat tours the Maddalena Archipelago, offering the chance to visit Spargi, Budelli, Caprera and a famous beach known locally as Tahiti.

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

Can you deny Spargi is one of the best beaches in Sardinia?

For information and prices, you can visit the sites www.giteinbarca.it and www.elenatour.it. Asking locally, you may be able to find a private company and local guide. This is more comfortable and faster (not to mention, there are less people on it) and if you are in a large group you may save considerably – the more people, the cheaper. Calculate an average price of € 40, but it will be totally worth it. Finally, you can rent your own small zodiac (the small ones do not require you to have a special license) if you are up to manouvering it!

Not far from Palau, there is the lovely village of Santa Teresa di Gallura and, near it, the promontory of Capo Testa. The Torre di Longosardo (built around the 14th century under instructions of the king of Spain Philip the Second) is an interesting place to visit, and is found on the outer edge of the village. Following on the same route you can reach Castelsardo, with its beautiful Castello dei Doria, a castle built in 1102, and many other monuments and places of interest.

Check out my post on the best beaches in Sardinia and read “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

Is Sardinia on a budget possible at all? It is, if you follow my tips.

Have you visited Cagliari and its surrounding, and are now looking for more things to do in Sardinia and now feel the urge to just lay at the beach, take long walks, have nice meals and a refreshing beer at sunset and just cool down after dinner? Are you looking for where to go in Sardinia?

Look no more! Costa Rei is a top holiday destination where you can be a total beach bum and it is quite easy to reach from Cagliari. And, guess what? It is one of the best beaches in Sardinia, so much so that Lonely Planet states that beaches in the area are “out of this world” .

You just need to hop on an ARST bus from the main bus station in Piazza Matteotti. Should you have your own car, you just need to drive towards Strada Statale 554 and then follow the directions to Muravera to reach Strada Statale 125, then take the exit “Costa Rei”. Driving should take no longer than one hour.

The bus ride is longer as it goes along the coast, but those 2 hours will fly away while you enjoy the amazing view over the many small beaches of the gulf.

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Costa Rei, I have been coming here since I was a toddler and I have so many memories of this place. It is mostly geared towards families with children. It offers little in terms nightlife (just a few bars, a market, some live music in Piazza Italia – for more action head to the nearby Villasimius), but the long, white, sandy beach and the crystal clear water are free to access, making it an excellent cheap holiday destination.

No wonder a lot of people who visit Sardinia head straight there. If you are looking for things to do in Sardinia, besides snorkeling, you can also splurge and try all sorts of water sports – including water skiing, windsurf and kite surf. Just ask at any of the kiosks at the beach; they can also organise boat trips to the nearby Isola dei Cavoli and the various other beaches in the area (prices should be not over €40). Another option is asking at the information desk Butterfly Service.

If you have your own car or a bike, it will be easier to reach Cala Pira with its Spanish tower, Cala Sinzias, a nesting spot for caretta caretta turtles,

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

the tiny Monte Turnu and the further away Punta Molentis

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis - no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis – no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

and Porto Giunco (nearer Villasimius). If you have a taste for skinny dipping, closer to Capo Ferrato you will find a nudist beach – ask around for information.

A more hidden spot – slightly harder to reach – is Feraxi. From Costa Rei, follow the directions to Capo Ferrato, then drive further along following the signs to Feraxi. The road will turn into a dirt one, and you will eventually get to a parking lot which is on the right hand side. From there, it is a short – if only slightly slippery – walk to two small beaches. One is longer and sandier, the other one is encaved among rocks and is perfect for snorkeling. This is also a great mountain biking itinerary, and you can easily rent bikes at Butterfly Service in Costa Rei.

If you are looking for what to do in Sardinia on a late afternoon, you may want go on an easy hike near Costa Rei, opt for the lighthouse of Capo Ferrato: plan to be there around sunset time for the perfect view.

Where to stay and eat in Costa Rei

Most people who go to Costa Rei either opt for an all-inclusive village or rent a flat. There are many local agencies that can provide information – you can find them all by doing a simple google search. The cheapest option are camping sites where you can pitch your tent or rent a bungalow – they are perfect for those who are visiting Sardinia on a budget. Among them, Camping Capo Ferrato and Camping Le Dune.

As in any cheap beach holiday destinations, there are many restaurants for all budgets. Chaplin is specialised in seafood and is among the cheapest. You can have a good pizza at Escargot, which has a great terrace overlooking the sea. Sa Cardiga e Su Pisci is the priciest and most reknown restaurant in the area. 

I Menhirs, near Olia Speciosa, offers a traditional Sardinian menu with organic, locally grown produce, with appetizers, freshly made pasta and meat dishes (such as the traditional piglet), dessert and drinks for around 30 euro.

Su Tostoini, on the way to Villasimius, is a cheap pizzeria very popular with the locals and perfect if you are visiting Sardinia on a budget. Arrive early to get your table or put your name on the list and wait patiently.

Festivals and events

If you care for more cultural things to do in Sardinia that show a good part of the local traditions, the Carnevale di Muravera takes places around 10 August each year. Muravera can be easily reached from Costa Rei (about 30 minutes drive, or via public transportation). There are other village festivals in Castiadas and Villaputzu, also not far from Costa Rei. They are all free to attend so perfect if you are visiting Sardinia on a budget.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

To read more about the incredible beaches in Sardinia, check my post “The Ultimate Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia.”

 

How To Make The Most Of Sardinia On A Budget

How To Make The Most Of Sardinia On A Budget

Places to visit in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: visiting the Miniera di Montevecchio

Things to do in Sardinia: visiting the Mines of Montevecchio – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Compulsive travellers like myself, those who as soon as they have a free weekend pack their backpack and leave, sometimes forget to think about places to visit that are actually pretty close, and prefer crossing their country’s borders. Well, there is a place where you can click off from your daily life, without travelling too far, and where you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a vibrant cultural life. There are so many things to do in Sardinia, you will have a great choice!

Hiking the Canyon de Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Hiking the Canyon de Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Searching for what to do in Sardinia? Hike a Canyon

Searching for what to do in Sardinia? Hike a Canyon

It is thus time to visit Sardinia, right in the centre of the Mediterranean, and the good news is that although it is almost mithologically described as a place for a few rich people, it is actually possible to have a cheap tour of it, and whatever your interests are, you won’t run out of things to do in Sardinia. The best beaches in Sardinia – which are the main attraction in the summer – all have free access. So carry your umbrella and beach towel and relax. Most hikes can be done independently. And almost any tourist location has a camping site where you can pitch your tent.

Is Aruttas is one of Sardinia best beaches

Is Aruttas is one of Sardinia best beaches

How to get to Sardinia:

Sardinia can be reached from Italy with a 50 minutes flight, and with no more than 3 hours flight from the rest of Europe. The main carriers that fly to the island are Alitalia and Meridiana, and British Airways has seasonal flights. Most budget airlines have flights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe. These are Volotea, Ryanair, Easyjet, Vueling and Air Berlin. There are three airports: AlgheroCagliari and Olbia. Any of them is a great starting point for a tour of the island. By booking in advance, making sure you catch a flight during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates a bit (being flexible), you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50.

If you are travelling with your family and children, want to have your own car, or if you simply like ferries (the average trip is 10 hours), you can catch one from Genova to Porto Torres (near Sassari, in the north of Sardinia), Livorno to Olbia or Civitavecchia to Cagliari. For prices, consult the websites of Tirrenia and Moby. Needless to say, if you carry your car on board the prices will raise, so calculate if this is really convenient. You can opt for a passage on the deck (cheapest option), for a reclining chair inside, for a first or second class cabin.

Depending on your budget and how many are travelling, and on the duration of your trip, you can rent a car or decide to visit the island independently, with public transportation. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport, some are actually quite convenient. But be sure to book in advance in order to catch good deals. For information on the times and routes of buses and trains visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia. Any decent hotel, hostel and bed and breakfast should be able to offer you information on how to get there and even on how to get to places to visit.

When to go

Something for sure is that Sardinia never lets down travellers, in any season. In order to enjoy its beauty you should really spend a year there. But you can still appreciate how wonderful it is even in a few days or weeks. The island is equally gorgeous in winter and in summer, but weather in Sardinia can get really bad in the autumn and winter, when it rains a lot. Should you care to see sea that is even more beautiful than in a tropical paradise, summer may be the best season, from the end of May to the beginning of October. Expect to meet more tourists in August, when most Italians go on vacation. July is a good month, with less tourists and longer days. September is by far the quietest month, days are shorter, and the heat lower.

Here’s my “Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Festivals and events in Sardinia

There are a variety of events throughout the year, and one of the best things to do in Sardinia is participating to a “sagra”. During the summer, each village has its own festival, with traditional dance, songs, music and food. Among the most famous events, on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”, where people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of Sardinia (Sant’Efisio) whose statue is carried from the church in Cagliari to the village of Pula. Jazz lovers won’t want to miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, not far from Olbia, currently in its 28th edition. It is a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (which are free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. Wine lovers will enjoy Calici di Stelle in Jerzu. Food lovers willing to try traditional food will have many options, among them the “Sagra del Maialetto” (piglet) in Baunei. If you want a taste of traditional carnival costumes, Muravera Carnival in August is a parade of traditional masks from Sardinian mountain villages.

What I suggest to do is a tour of the island which takes you to cities, archelogical sites, cultural events, and that allows you to enjoy nature with hikes, water sports and relax on the beach.

I will suggest Cagliari as your starting point, as it is the main centre on the island and a beautiful city. You can also start touring from Olbia or Alghero, the other airports, and go on a loop! I will also give advice on where to go in Sardinia, what to do in Sardinia, and on the best beaches in Sardinia.

Finally, here’s my post on the best beaches in Sardinia.

Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi

Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi

Off the beaten path hikes: one of the best things to do in Peru

Top things to see in Peru: Marcahuasi

Top things to see in Peru: Marcahuasi

If you are a budget backpacker who can’t find any more things to do in Lima and need to recharge your batteries, there are nearby places that, although only 100 km away, will make you feel like you are on another planet. One of these places is Marcahuasi. Let me not spoil it for you with too much of a description. But be ready to experience its mysticism and its magic, knowing that it is one of the most incredible places to visit in Peru, especially if you are looking for some off the beaten path. It is possible to camp there, but you should be very well prepared with a good tent, excellent gear, and carry all foods and necessities (and walk up 4 km on horses or donkeys to carry all your belongings to the area where you can camp).

Despite not being too far from Lima, Marcahuasi is so isolated and hardly exploited by tourism, and it will take you a good 5 hours to reach it, with a few bus changes. You will hardly meet any tourists on the way. Don’t plan it as a day trip from Lima, even if they may tell you it is doable, as anything may happen along the way (a flat tire on the bus, construction works on the road; extreme fog or rain that may not allow to drive back; buses not leaving for some unknown reason) that may delay your journey and make it impossible to catch the last bus back. Be sure to carry warm clothes (set at 4000 meters above sea level, it does get very cold even during the day) and rain coat, and possibly a good sleeping bag.

What to do in Peru: catching an old bus from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta

What to do in Peru: catching an old bus from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta

Everybody stops - there is a car with an engine problem at the front!

Everybody stops – there is a car with an engine problem at the front!

How to get there

Travellers who have been on trips to Peru will be able to tell you that 100 km in this incredible country may involve hours of travel. Head out well early in the morning: from your hostel in Lima catch a taxi that will take you to the paradero (bus stop) where colectivos going to Chosica stop. That should cost you around 5 soles. Then, hop on a colectivo to Chosica (5 soles) and once there, look for the buses going to San Pedro de Casta (around 10 soles). There is one that leaves at 9 am. The bus will take about 3 hours, along a dirt road that will leave most passengers breathless for the beauty and the fear (it does drive along cliffs, and the road is truly narrow so if a car or bus is coming in the opposite direction, it will reverse until a spot where the road is wide enough to let the other pass!).

Once you get to San Pedro de Casta, there is no way you can get lost: this is most definitely where you will spend the night. The village is truly tiny, and everybody knows each other. Chances are that the tourism office will be closed, but the lovely lady who owns the “restaurant” next door will be keen enough to call the employee in charge and ask him or her to show up, as there are tourists. You will have to register your name in the tourist book (where you will notice that at most there are 2 visitors per day) pay a fee to go up to the site (it is only 5 soles) and, if you want to rent horses, make sure you do require them a day in advance as there are very few in the village. The lady in the restaurant or the person in charge in the Tourism office will also point you to the nearby (and only) hostel.

Where to stay

There is only one, rustic “Hospedaje Municipal” where you can sleep (unless you are brave enough to camp in Marcahuasi): double private rooms with or without bathrooms (between 20 and 30 soles for the room). Forget about hot water: there are showers, but only cold ones, and in those dark, cold rooms you won’t really want to hop in a shower and risk pneumonia.

Not many trips to Peru include visits to San Pedro de Casta

Not many trips to Peru include visits to San Pedro de Casta

San Pedro de Casta

The village has little to offer – 3 rustic restaurants with plain but wholesome food (trout, potatoes, rice and little more), which also serves as tiendas (shops) and where you can drink the much needed mate de coca to fight the side effects of altitude. One of the best past-times in the village is to sit in the main (and possibly only) square to watch life go by: at around 1pm children head out of school and if you sit in the main plaza you will see them all run, rucksacks on, to have lunch in the comedor (eatery); peasants will go up and down the hills with their donkeys; the many village dogs (and a few cats) will be roaming about and bonding with tourists. The village surroundings are gorgeous: mountains, mountains and more mountains. It will get even more fascinating at around 2 pm, when the clouds will cover it and rain will start dropping, softly at first, then a real downpour. That’s when you want to head to one of the restaurants and start sipping mate de coca to fight the altitude, or anything warm, and read a good book.

Plan to have an early night: by 8 pm everybody is pretty much asleep in the village. There aren’t many things to do in Peru most remote village. There are no cars at all, so the only sound you will hear at night are donkeys randomly braying, the sound echoing in the whole village. You will sleep tight, even more so considering how quiet it is compared to chaotic Lima. People in San Pedro de Casta are truly friendly, so practice your Spanish with them: ask about their culture, their traditions, share yours, appreciate whatever help they offer, especially when they show you what to do in Peru when transportation lets you down (the lady from the restaurant next to the Tourism Office, for example, literally saved my trip arranging transportation to get back down to Chosica on a day when the buses decided not to run: she literally spent over an hour running from door to door, making phone calls, arranging a ride) and be thankful.

The trek to Markahuasi

An early wake up is definitely the best way to start. Aim to begin your hike at 6 am, when the sun starts rising. It normally rains later on in the day, with clouds starting to come down at around 10 and rain starting to drop at around 12:30. If you walk up early, you will have more chances to get a clear sky and a perfect view of the mountains and of the site. Make sure you do carry some snacks and plenty of water. It is a hard hike: from the already 3000 meters above sea level of the village, to the 4000 of Marcahuasi, along a steep (but well marked) path of little over 4 km (8 km in total, going up and back). There is nothing along the way – not a shop, not a bar. Only crops, nature and mountains. You won’t meet any tourists. At most, a few peasants and their donkeys (I think I met 3 during the whole hike). Chances are that one of the dogs from the village will follow you. It happened to me, and it felt great to have that quiet company and his incitement to continue walking any time I stopped on the way, exhausted.

One of my few encounters: a peasant and her donkey

One of my few encounters: a peasant and her donkey

Things to do in Peru: watching the sun rise over the mountains in Marcahuasi

Things to do in Peru: watching the sun rise over the mountains in Marcahuasi

Wow!

Wow!

Finally in Marcahuasi, Barbon takes a look around

Finally in Marcahuasi, Barbon takes a look around

You will think you have seen it all along the way – those spectacular mountains, rays of light shining through the clouds, a view of San Pedro de Casta from high up. Then, you will get to Marcahuasi and will feel entranced. Rock formations that resemble human faces, empty spaces, and a cold breeze that will chill your skin, the echo of your voice and your steps. Something is magic about this place, and you will be repaid of the long (and at times scary) bus journey, of the dust you breathed along the way, of the bone-chilling cold you felt during the night. You will know it then: hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru.

Hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru: the anfitheatre

Hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru: the anfitheatre

Barbon and I posing in Marcahuasi

Barbon and I posing in Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi

Human faces carved in the rock – done by nature or by humans?

For more places to visit in Peru, click here.