Peru! The Incan Empire, a land of mixing cultures and of tradition that is fighting to stay alive. Come with us on this 10 day adventure across Peru! If you are like us, and hail from a country with easy access to the coast, you are going to want to take it easy the first few days. You will be, as we have come to realize, an airsick lowlander. Cusco, Peru is nearly 4000 meters above sea level, and many of the hikes can easily cross into the 5000 meter range! In short, you need time to acclimatize to the new dizzying heights you find yourself in. After a few days of city fun, as well as some coca tea, your body will adjust and you will be ready to tackle Machu Picchu!
Day 1: Things to Do in Cusco and Ollantaytambo
There are a few launching points for your adventures around the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. The first is the obvious one, Cusco. Cusco has an airport and is easily accessible from Lima. It also has a train station with a line to Machu Picchu. Though it is farther away from the Sacred Valley, you will have access to the greatest number of services since it's a larger city. Option number 2 is to stay in Ollantaytambo, a small town north of the sacred valley with a train station that goes to Machu Picchu. You can get to Ollyantambo by train or by hired car from Cusco, but the advantage of a hired car is that you can tour the other locations within the Sacred Valley on your way there! We found that it was much more cost effective and efficient to hire a one way car tour from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, since it seemed much more complicated (and more stressful) to wait for colectivos (shared taxis) at each of the stops. Once you’ve toured the Sacred Valley and stayed in Ollyantambo for a while, you are ready for Machu Picchu.
Day 2: Things to Do in Ollantaytambo
Machu Picchu has some new strange rules surrounding it, so read up before you go! We found that they didn’t check bags really at all, and we were not required to hire a guide, but they are strict about ticket times! If you want to hike Huaynu Picchu, you will need to book an entrance time as well, as they only allow 200 visitors a day to help ease overcrowding. The hike took us just over 2 hours, and if it is warm and sunny out, it can be brutal, so bring lots of water! Personally, we thought the view from the top was worth the climb, but look at the pictures and decide for yourself!
Day 3: Things to Do in Ollantaytambo
If you are staying in Ollyantambo or Cusco, you can’t miss at least a day trip with Sky Lodge. Sky Lodge is an adventure hotel company, with hotel capsule pods built high into the mountain side for thrill seekers to take refuge for a night. If you don’t fancy sleeping in a hanging pod of glass, you can opt for a day trip, which consists of a mountain climb up to the pods, a three course lunch, and a zip line back down to base camp. This may have been our favorite part of the trip, but we were lucky to have the tour to ourselves! I can’t decide if the rock climbing or the zip lining was more fun, but either way, you will have a blast! We headed back to Cusco afterwards for the tail end of our trip in southern Peru.
Day 4: Things to Do in Cusco
No trip to Cusco would be complete without an excursion to Rainbow Mountain, or the Mountain of 7 Colors. Most people will go to Vinicunca, which requires a difficult hike and is often extremely crowded. There is, however, an alternative option, one of which we hesitate to write about as it's such a beautiful hidden gem, unspoiled by the crowds. Palccoyo is other end of the mountain range, and in comparison is far less crowded. You can drive to the entrance and it’s only about 30-40 minutes of walking until you reach the lookout spot. This is the first hike where we truly felt the effects of the high altitude. We had to stop several times to catch our breath, despite the hike not being too strenuous. But everywhere we looked, the views were incredible and 100% worth the long drive.
Day 5: Things to Do in Cusco
After a bit of shopping in Cusco on our last day in the area, we made our way north, high into the mountains. We flew to Lima to catch an overnight bus from Lima to Huaraz. The Cruz Del Sur bus is most recommended for safety and comfort, with VIP seating on the first floor and regular seating on the top floor - though both have reclining seats that are surprisingly comfortable! They provide pillows and blankets as well. We took the bus both ways and had no issues with it either time.
Day 6-8: Things to Do in Huaraz
When we got to Huaraz, we had already set up tours to a variety of locations for hiking and exploring the area. While it's not necessary, it'll save you some stress to book all your tours ahead of time, and we do recommend booking English tours if you don't understand Spanish. We had everything pre-arranged (as most groups do) to pick us up from our hotel early in the morning, drive us out into the mountains, and return us back home afterwards. The tours are usually full days and would get us back around 4-5 PM, so you have the option of bringing your own lunch or eating at a restaurant that the tours will usually stop at.
Our first location of the trip was to Pastoruri Glacier, a beautiful mountain lake and glacier, high in the mountains. Despite the relatively dry weather on the way up the mountain, it started to rain on us during the hike from the parking lot to the glacier. It was all worth it though, because as we crested the final hill to see the glacier and lake, we were struck by how beautiful it was. The rain stopped long enough for us to set up our camera gear with its foul weather protection, and just as we went to take our first photos, it began to snow! It was freezing, but we didn’t care! We had a blast playing along the shore of the lake, running through the snowfall and snapping awesome pictures.
Our days in Huazez had a certain cadence, wake up, quick breakfast, get picked up for a mountain adventure, ride home, dinner, edit photos and shower, rinse and repeat. Lake Paron was no different, except for the fact that it was possibly the easiest of the three hikes we did there. Our tour picked us up, carried us to the top of the mountain and right to the base of Lake Paron! There are a few unique things to do at Lake Paron, the first of which is kayaking. There is a small boat rental shop on the lake, and if you have the time, you can adventure on the water. But if epic views are more your style, you can hike up the hillside to a set of boulders that span a huge cliffside.
Of all the lakes and hikes we took this trip, Llaca Lake had to be our favorite purely because it was a place of wonder and beauty without any the crowds of the other locations. Never before on any of our trips have we gone sightseeing to a place like this this and had the whole place to ourselves. It was a treat to say the least, sitting on the shore, waiting for the fog to part so we could get the perfect shot of the glacier and lake. We had a private driver that day as well, which meant we could stay as long as we wanted, which we absolutely did! We spent over two hours just enjoying the quietness of that place and spending time together before heading back to town. We ended the day in a coffee shop, reading books from a small library they had there, which is as close to a perfect day as you are going to get. That night we took a bus back to Lima overnight for our last day in Peru.
Day 9-10: Things to Do in Lima
With our one day in Lima, we took a cooking class, had amazing coffee, walked along the waterfront, saw the dancing water show and shopped in about 100 hipster stores. There are so many good guides out there about Lima, and while I don’t think we missed anything while we were there, I do think you could spend a few days there and fill your time very pleasantly. We hope you enjoyed coming along with journey with us and hope you enjoy your own Peruvian adventure soon!