A little over four months in and a little less than two months to go on this massive, diverse continent! It’s hard to really comprehend just how much we’ve seen but at the same time, the more we speak to other travellers, the more we realise there is to see.
With flights home booked though, all good things must come to an end, so you can bet we’re making the most of the next couple of months.
As always, this post is designed to give you practical tips for your travels through Peru (and the Galapagos) – information regarding costings, transport, accommodation and activities – it’s all in there.
Isn’t it time you began planning your adventure through South America?
Puerto Maldanado (the Gateway to the Amazon), Peru
An easy overnight bus (or short flight) from Cusco, Puerto Maldanado is the closest jumping-off point to the Peruvian Amazon. A visit to the Amazon was always a ‘must-do’ in our eyes and as we made new friends and explored the jungle, there was no doubt we made the right choice in visiting.
Accommodation: 3 nights in a private bungalow at Amazon Planet. We joined them for the ‘Native Program’ but they have a range of options available – all including food, basic drinks, a guide and activities. The accommodation itself was comfortable (but not lux) – exactly what you’d hope for in the Amazon.
Activities: Night jungle treks, boat floats, a visit to a local tribe and plenty of hammock-time, the activities at Amazon Planet were varied and interesting whilst still providing enough downtime in the heat of the day. Read about our first Amazon experience here.
Onwards travel to Cusco: Another night, another bus. This time we paid PEN40 (USD12.35/NZD17.85) each for a salon cama seat (the equivalent of business class on a plane) on Superciva but weren’t quite as impressed. The toilets were smelly from the moment we stepped aboard and the snacks were very basic. If Excluciva is running that night, you can definitely expect a much improved service for only PEN10 more – with that said though, there’s not much to do in the centre of Puerto Maldanado so we wouldn’t consider staying an extra night to catch the nicer bus.
With Macchu Pichu behind us, we had a few last activities and hikes to tick off in Cusco before moving on. A uniquely beautiful city, and one that we came to know fairly well, it was a pleasure spending more time in the cultural capital of Peru.
Accommodation: Though we enjoyed the first hostel we stayed in, Magic Cusco, it was a little out of town, so upon our return we decided to check another option out – Magicpacker Hostel. They’ve got a great range of bed configurations available and it’s another example of a perfect social-but-not-party hostel – just what you need after a long day of trekking. 4-bed mixed dorm @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.80/NZD15.60) – fabulous hot showers and the biggest TV you’ve ever seen (running Netflix) included! Don’t miss their PEN10 optional dinners too – it was one of the best meals we had in Cusco and not much more than USD3.
Via Ferrata and Zipline
High above the Sacred Valley you’ll find the Skylodge Adventure Suites. These infamous glass pods are attached to the cliff, providing brave guests with a chance to sleep under the stars in one of the most unique locations imaginable… unfortunately for us though, we weren’t the only ones that thought this sounded like a good idea – the pods were booked solid for months!
If, like us, you’re unable to spend an evening in the pod, there’s a great alternative available in the form of a day trip. Geared up, you’ll climb over 400 metres, above the glass lodge and then zipline your way down through 6 different exciting lines; if you’re in reasonable shape it’s easily achievable (and the via ferrata can be substituted for a hike up should you prefer).
Humantay Lagoon Hike
A relatively easy hike, Humantay is one not to be missed! For those not keen on the uphill hike, horses are available for a reasonable cost.
Rainbow Mountain Hike (Take One)
Before visiting, we’d heard a lot about the hike to Rainbow Mountain – some saying it was a must-see from Cusco whilst others said the colours are nothing like the over-saturated ones you’ll see floating around the city as touts try to book travellers on tours.
Keen to find out for ourselves (but not so keen to experience the altitude sickness we’d heard so much about) we’d initially joined the alternative trek which gets hikers much, much closer to the top of an different mountain in the same range. Hikers here only have to walk for 45 minutes up (and 20 down) and have the space practically to themselves.
Unfortunately for us though, the mountains saw one of their first snows of the season which meant our private tour couldn’t even make it to the carpark, let alone to the infamous rainbow. Instead, we spent the day checking out local historical sites and an awe-inspiring canyon. Sure, it wasn’t what we went to see, but the canyon did go a way towards making up for that.
Would we recommend the alternative Rainbow Mountain trip? As long as the weather is clear, absolutely! At this point in time though, there is no way for tour providers to check the conditions up the top of the mountain – this means that some guests will find themselves on a long car ride (at a relatively high price compared with the original Rainbow Mountain) that results in a distinct lack of rainbow at the end of it all.
Rainbow Mountain (Take Two!)
Returning to Rainbow Mountain, but this time the original version, I had another crack at making it to the top and this time was successful! With the help of a horse (for PEN60/USD18.20/NZD26) and a bit of trekking, I summited in time to soak in the incredible views.
Though some rave about Rainbow Mountain, the valley that it sits within really is just as incredible and well worth a visit. Glaciers hang not far from the summit, the Red Valley peeks out from around the corner and, of course, the rainbow coloured mountainside takes pride of place.
Onwards travel to Arequipa: Rejoining Peru Hop we travelled overnight, leaving Cusco late and arriving into Arequipa in the early hours. Our Peru Hop tickets were organised ahead of time in a package so none of our travel with them had a standalone price. If this is your first time in South America or you’re just looking for an extra touch of safety, comfort and convenience (sounds good, doesn’t it?), they’re the way to go.
With our plans to hike the Colca Canyon dashed thanks to a couple of head colds that we just couldn’t shake, for us, Arequipa became a place for some serious R&R.
The town itself is gorgeous and a significant departure from the hustle and bustle of Cusco so it ended up being a great place to spend some time. They have plenty of pubs and little restaurants serving up great food at reasonable prices and some beautiful old architecture, so it’s definitely a spot that deserves more time than the quick connection some give it.
Accommodation: 3 nights in a six-bed mixed dorm at Flying Dog Arequipa @ PEN26 each/night (USD7.80/NZD11.30)
Activities: Known for it’s relative proximity to the Colca Canyon and for affordable and fun rafting, there’s plenty of reasons to stop for a few nights in the city – both to enjoy the outdoors and the lovely township of Arequipa.
Onwards travel to Huacachina, Ica: Peru Hop once again.
A mega-touristy little town, built around South America’s only natural oasis, we didn’t really know what to expect upon our arrival. We’d been warned off staying there over the weekend due to the all-consuming noise that emanates from a few of the bars so intentionally planned our stay to avoid Friday and Saturday night. In doing so, we found Huazachina to be a surprisingly charming place to spend a night – yes it’s set up for tourists but sometimes there’s no harm in that.
Accommodation: 1 night in a 10-bed mixed dorm at the Wild Olive Guest House @ PEN29.65 each/night (USD9/NZD12.85). A great hostel with comfortable beds, clean bathrooms, great showers and a massive Netflix-playing television – our favourite hostel in Peru.
Activites: After relaxing around the oasis, we hit the desert for some serious dune bashing and sandboarding fun (booked through Peru Hop at PEN50/USD15/NZD21.45 each).
Onwards travel to Paracas (via Nazca): Good ol’ Peru Hop to the rescue again – this was a long day on the bus but thankfully it was broken up with a few strategic stops (lunch with a view and a quick look at some of the Nazca Lines).
Though we didn’t take to the air, we’ve heard great things about jumping on a Nazca fight to see the Nazca Lines in all their glory! If you have the time and the money, it sounds like it would be a great addition to your itinerary.
A quiet little seaside town, Paracas is home to a national park and is one of the best place to break the long journey from Huacachina to Lima.
Accommodation: 2 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm (one of which we were alone and the other there were four of us) at Los Frayles @ PEN30 each/night (USD9.10/NZD13). Though we didn’t use it, the property has a lovely pool and Peru Hop’s passenger discount means you get a much nicer hotel for the price of a hostel.
Activites: Quad bike tours of the national park are available, as is paragliding off of the sand dunes. We relaxed for a couple of days choosing only to join Peru Hop’s free tour out to the park.
Onwards travel to Lima: Our last journey with Peru Hop went smoothly, as did all the others – they really made getting through Peru easy for us! Again, we had a short stop on the way through, this time to visit a colonial homestead that was once involved in the local slave trade – it was hard to imagine life in the tunnels (and nor would anyone want to) but it was eye-opening to gain some insight into the history of the area.
Though we’d heard people rave about many cities in South America, Lima isn’t often one of them… but it deserves to be!
Accommodation: 3 nights in a 6-bed mixed dorm at HosteLima @ PEN23 each/night (USD7/NZD10). The staff at the hostel were lovely but it had a slightly strange vibe about it when we were there – if returning to Lima, we’d likely look elsewhere (but the price was right so we wouldn’t rule a return out).
Activities: We spend our days in Lima recharging our batteries after a serious of quick stops on our Peru Hop journey. The city has some great shopping (and we were well due some new clothes after months of backpacking), vibrant communities, fabulous food and beautiful views.
Looking for more adventure? We’d have loved to have gone paragliding off the clifftop but at USD80 for less than 10 minutes, we decided against it – if your budget allows, it looks like great fun!
Onwards travel to Huaraz: Another overnight bus, this one on Cruz del Sur (booked through BusBud, 10.30pm departure) for PEN80 each (USD24.30/NZD34.70). For once, all of the seats on the bus were salon cama and cheaper tickets were available for those that booked earlier, so if you see them online, be sure to snap them up!
A buzzing town, Huaraz’s streets really came to life in the evenings. Huaraz itself isn’t much to write home about but it is home to some of the best hiking in Peru.
Accommodation: 3 nights in a private room at Hostel Akilpo @ PEN35 each/night (USD10.60/NZD15.20). A super comfortable guest house but there was a fair bit of noise outside most nights (as I’d imagine there would be in many parts of Huaraz).
Activites – Hiking:
Totally unknown to us before our visit to Huaraz, Churup will forever go down in my memory as being home to some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen!
The hike itself starts with a reasonably steep ascent up a neverending set of steps before flattening out and then finishing in another climb. The steeper parts of the track feature rubber covered ropes which can be used to hoist yourself up and though it would be a relatively easy hike (climbing aside) at sea level, it’s a bit more difficult at altitude.
The hike that brings many travellers to the region really was one of the most beautiful day hikes we’ve ever seen. Cascading waterfalls, impressive cliffs and an all-consuming valley, we couldn’t believe nobody had told us just how amazing the hike to the lagoon actually was!
Though the hike itself was longer than Churup, the include was much more steady. Don’t let the lesser slope fool you though – it’s still a challenging trail due to the high altitude at which you’ll find it.
We suggest you book all your hiking through Abel at Caleb Expeditions – they’re by far the most recommended agency in town. Abel is generous with his time and information and knows the region like the back of his hand.
Onwards travel to Guayaquil, Ecuador: Getting to Ecuador was quite the journey but catching buses saved us a lot of money. Again, both buses were booked online through BusBud.
- Day bus from Huaraz to Trujillo with Linea. PEN40 each (USD12.15/NZD17.35)
- As we arrived into Trujillo in the afternoon and didn’t leave until close to midnight, we popped into the Ugarte Guest House between buses. For PEN10 each (USD3/NZD4.35) we were able to store our bags, relax using their internet and have a shower before continuing our journey.
- Night (and day!) bus from Trujillo, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador with Cruz del Sur. PEN150 each (USD45.55/NZD65) for 18 and a half hours aboard. The seats in salon cama were comfortable and included a basic breakfast and reasonable lunch. Though it was a long journey, it was much more manageable than it might sound.
The largest city in Ecuador and the gateway to the Galápagos, Guayaquil doesn’t exactly inspire visitors to the region. Maybe we were just staying in the wrong part of town but based on our experience (and that of every other traveller we’ve spoken to that’s been to the city), we’d encourage you to skip on through as quickly as possible.
Accommodation: 1 night in a private room at Residencial Turistico Guayas @ USD11.20 (NZD16) each.
Onwards travel to San Cristobal (Galápagos Islands): Flying Avianca, AV1636 @ USD207.58 each (NZD296.75).
The Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galápagos, what can we even say?
A bucket list destination for many, it far exceeded our expectations to the point that I would easily call it my favourite travel experience to date – not just within South America but of anywhere I’ve been.
We sailed aboard the MV Origin for seven glorious nights and then enjoyed another two staying on San Cristobal.
Because the cruise fell in the middle of this monthly round-up, I’m not going to include all of the details here (as this post is already well overdue and an experience as amazing as this deserves our full attention) but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek of the photos from our first day of cruising.
Lessons Learnt on the Road
- Orange juice can be hard to find! In cafes and restaurants you’ll likely find freshly squeezed fruit juice (and it is a treat) but it’s next to impossible to find in supermarkets and small stores – nectar instead is preferred in South America, and though it does the trick in a squeeze, it really doesn’t compare for us.
- There’s a knack to sleeping on night buses… sleeping pills. Initially, we tried not to take anything to help us sleep but after a few restless nights, we gave in a picked up some sleeping pills. They’ve made all the difference and make these journeys much more manageable! We’ve found availability to be significantly different between countries and even within them – in Peru, for example, we struggled to get anything other than herbal options in some pharmacies whilst others would supply us with medication normally only available with prescriptions.
As with all of our months on the road, there have been some real highlights but the highest of them all was, without doubt, our cruise through the Galápagos.
Stay tuned for more on that soon!
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and one of my travel related musings – Oh, You Count Countries, Do You?
It’s been a quiet month on the blog as it’s been a busy month of travel – stay tuned for further updates!