Oh, Peru. Peru turned out to be everything I needed, and nothing like I expected. In all seriousness - apart from Macchu Picchu (where we didn’t end up going - more on that later) I knew nothing about Peru when we arrived. We flew into Lima at the end of March, with the idea to stay there for a week and then head on to Cusco for some mountain time.
We were in a bit of a rush throughout our time in Peru - more so than I wanted it to be. This was mainly because end of April we had to be in the U.S.A. for a wedding. So we picked only two places to explore - Lima, and Cusco.
Lima was what you would expect of a city in South America - large, musical, colorful and fun. It is situated right at the ocean, so you get some awesome views when wandering the cliffside park in Miraflores. Apart from some cute coffee shops we found (especially Caleta dolsa was a big favorite) and the cute walks, there was relatively little to do, like every city.
What I really liked after our adventures in Colombia, was how safe I felt. How peaceful and calm the people were. It really felt like an overgrown surfers' paradise, which was really awesome!
The area in Lima we stayed in was right outside the famous Miraflores, an area called Barranco. I really do stand behind this choice, it was by far the nicest area of Lima. The houses had more character than modern Miraflores, and there was plenty of choice when it came to walking routes, parks and restaurants.
Our favorites? For breakfast, head to Caleta Dolsa or Colonia & Co. Awesome coffee, delish sandwiches, great vibes! For a cheap lunch, I’d say Monstrous Sandwiches was our go-to, or a piece of pie at Jank’as Café!
After a week of exploring Lima, we got on the plane to Cusco. And let me tell you - the arrival was epic. Soaring in between endless mountains, I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. In Cusco, we were welcomed by our taxi driver who gifted us a bunch of Llama keychains and brought us to Vilma, of who we would rent an apartment for the full month.
Cusco’s streets are lined with the cutest little fake-llama-product stores and tourist shops, the buildings a combination of Inca structures and Spanish builds, and the entire historic center is protected by UNESCO as a world heritage site - and I can see why. It’s stunning, there is just no words to describe it.
Our first days in Cusco were HARD - this city is about 12.000 ft up, and we just came from sea level, which in hindsight was not our smartest move. Elevation sickness was the result - headaches, insomnia, weakness, joint pains, even puking and other bowel issues were part of the symptoms. Luckily, there were plenty of fresh Coca leafs available to chew and make tea out of, which relieved the symptoms a bit. After a couple of days, we were finally able to start exploring the endless stairs of Cusco’s streets, and so we did.
When wandering down the steps of Cusco from where we stayed, there were endless colors, both in the shops and the dresses of the local people. Dressed in their traditional dresses, carrying around baby sheep, llamas, alpacas, and goats for tourists to take pictures with. If you like llama’s and alpacas as much as Olive, then Cusco is definitely the place for you.
The one downside of Cusco - the amazingly cute Llama printed ponchos and sweaters you see everywhere? Very fake. If it doesn’t cost you more than a hundred dollars, it’s definitely fake. When shopping for some nice souvenirs, make sure to take a lighter - grab a fiber from the item you want to buy and burn the fiber (outside), if it melts - it’s not wool. If it smells like burning hair and just turns to ash - it’s wool. Also, don’t be fooled by the items actually smelling like llama - I’m pretty sure they simply rub them on some llamas before placing them in the store.
Restaurants sporting signs with deals for Llama burgers and traditional Cuy dishes (which is guinea pig) were everywhere, and oh did we indulge. We didn’t try guinea pig because we heard it was not that great, but Llama and Alpaca were an absolute treat, so good! Some of our favorite places to go to were Qura for coffee and EPIC avo toast, Tacomania and Kormasutra for the most delicious Indian and Mexican food (this restaurant is ALWAYS full though, so be on time!) Masha for a Peruvian take on Raclette, Jack’s Café for those greasy hangover breakfasts we all need sometimes, Nuna Raymi for traditional Peruvian dishes, and Piedra & Sal for the best Alpaca steak you’ll ever have.
My favorite part of Cusco, however, was not down - it was up. Right behind our house, about 10 flights of stairs straight up, the city ended and the mountains began. The views over Cusco are stunning, and right behind the city lay the ruins of Saqsaywaman. The fortified complex has a wide view of the valley to the southeast, and studies suggest that the hilltop has been occupied by humans since at least 900 BCE. The most amazing find at Saqsaywaman however, was the huge rocks that surrounded a large plaza or square, these rocks are amongst the largest rocks ever used in human structures in Pre-Hispanic America, and the cutting and stacking of the rocks (without the use of any form of mortar) was done so precisely, that even now - about 3000 years later - you still cannot fit a piece of paper between them.
Most people stop their exploration with Saqsaywaman, or travel on to Pisac and other parts of the Sacred Valley, but there is so much more to explore. From the temple, you can walk or ride horses through the beautiful mountains behind Cusco. There are endless (free) temples to explore, my favorite being the Moon temple, and the temple of Mother earth with it’s endless tunnels you can wander through.
And the views! There is nothing like these views.
From Cusco there are plenty of day trips to make as well - the big one most people want to do, though, is Macchu Picchu + the Inca trail. Unfortunately for us, dogs are not allowed in either of those, so when Jess came over we booked a stay near Macchu Picchu instead, so we could leave Olive home to explore the temples. But that also didn’t happen. We booked our tickets through Viator, and only two days before our supposed travel to Aguas Calientes we got called by the tour company that there were no tickets reserved for us, and none available for another week, meaning we could not go. Luckily, we got to live vicariously through Jess and the amazing photos she took, and it gives us a good reason to go back one day!
Instead, we wandered through the secret valley and visited a few sites - Since we only had very limited time we chose to go to Moray and the Maras salt flats, Without doubt, the Inca ruins of Moray are one of the most interesting and beautiful ruins in Peru. Designed like a dug-out amphitheater, scientists are still baffled as to what the site was actually used for.
The latest theory is that the Inca people were using it as a sort of test laboratory for crops, with every circle of the site having a significant temperature decrease it is thought that a large amount of different crops could be grown in the same area.
Located near the ruins of Moray is the town of Maras. The town is famous for its local salt-evaporation ponds that have been in use since the Inca period. The salt deposited here would have been shipped out across the entire Inca nation, and is all sourced from a tiny little salt water spring that feeds the salt flats.
The last site we visited, when in Peru, was probably also the hardest, as well as the prettiest of all. Humantay lake. After about 3 hours of driving, we arrived at the starting point of the hike, a hike that would take us to a height of 14,000 ft. The hike took us through endless fields of horses and lupines, and went straight up. Every corner we turned, I thought we were finally there, yet, there would be another mountain to conquer. It wasn’t an easy walk, and the elevation sure didn’t help, but the icy blue lake and amazing conversations with fellow tourists at the top made it for sure worth it.
Our trip ended with another few days in Lima, before flying to Mexico to continue our adventures.
Overall, I wish we could have stayed in Peru for longer. The people are so kind and helpful, and easy to talk to. The nature is beautiful beyond belief, there is so much to do, and the intense history that hides behind every building, every stone, is just absolutely fascinating.
Thank you Peru, for having us!