We spent the whole of December and January in Peru. As we flew through Peru’s mountainous North, we kind of wished time would slow down. Then, as we spent the month at a Workaway in Cusco, we looked forward to repacking our bags and heading out on our next adventure. Isn’t that always how it goes?
Living la Vida Lima:
Watching Russel Crowe in Spanish
At the start of December, we settled into a shared apartment in Barranco for 10 days while waiting for my mom to come. Barranco is considered Lima’s bohemian neighborhood, and it made for an easy place to catch up on overdue blog posts. With exceptional street art, good food, and cool museums, Barranco makes for a solid alternative to Lima’s more bougey Miraflores neighborhood (think jogging blonde Peruvians and sterile apartment buildings).
Our flatmates were an older Venezuelan couple who spent the summer months of the year visiting their son in Lima. More nights than not, we made up a strong batch of pisco sours and settled in for a subtitled movie, family style. Turns out Russel Crowe is way less funny in Spanish, and our “dad” ended up snoozing through most of Daniel’s Netflix picks.
Lima is supposed to have the best food in all of South America, so we got there with one real plan. Most of our days were built around finding the best menu del días, eating street food, and blowing our budget on imported cheese at the supermarket.
When my mom came to visit, Lima devolved further into a ceviche and pisco whirlwind.
We learned a few local recipes in an excellent cooking class with YummyPeru (and shared their ceviche recipe if you want to try it out)! We also went to the famed Ayhuasca Bar for some excellent cocktails and a pretty scary cold seafood platter. If you ever have the chance to go, stick to the sours!
We all left Lima a bit fat and happy, and ready to switch back to the $2 soup, rice, meat, and beer that makes up the daily diet in the rest of Peru.
I Dream of Deserts:
We had heard Huacachina was cool, so we saved the excursion until my mom arrived. Huacachina is set up to suck with bad pizza and travel agencies on every block, but the sand dunes climbing high on all sides make it impossible to dislike.The dune buggy excursion was quite cheap and unexpectedly fun. My mom bravely pioneered the face-first sand boarding while the rest of our group thought twice.
Even if you normally skip over tourist-ready places, Huacachina is totallyworth it.
Some Ruins You’ve Probably Never Heard Of:
Our next trip was to Machu Picchu by series buses, planes, taxis, and trains.We spent the night before Machu Picchu in Aguas Calientes so we could get to Machu Picchu super early. We obviously did this to ensure that we could see llamas get chased around by tourists before they finally came to their wits and fled key view points.
Really, the ruins are beautiful as long as you get there before everyone else. We climbed up to the Sun Gate before the trekking groups, and got our obligatory photos in matching sweaters.
While we’d recommend late entry tickets to Huayna Picchu, the drag is having to hang around long enough to circle back through the park a second time. Walking through Machu Picchu at 11am was ALMOST enough to spoil the memory. But just almost.
We didn’t write a whole blog post on Machu Picchu because the internet probably already has enough information on the place, but if you have any questions about the trip or are looking for alternatives to Machu Picchu, we’ve gotcha covered!
The Other Machu Picchu: Trekking to Choquequirao:
We have been working hard at finding alternative travel destinations in South America. The lesser known spots tend to get half the crowds and none of the publicity, which was exactly what we wanted for our Inca Trail experience.
We decided on Choquequirao as our first solo camping trek.Ever had one of those experiences that is simultaneously the best and worst thing you’ve ever done? That was the Choquequirao Trek for us. The 4 day trek takes you deep into a canyon and straight up the other side. Loaded up with all our gear, we were completely spent by the time we made it to the ruins. We set up camp in the archeological park (shouldn’t really be allowed, but hey!) and trekked the final 30 minutes to the ruins.The Best Part: While only 1/3 excavated, Choquequirao is supposed to be 3x larger than Machu Picchu. If you can imagine Machu Picchu on the top of a mountain with no one else in it, then you can imagine Choquequirao. I once said lake summits were the coolest, but turns out that Incan ruin summits are definitely cooler.
The Worst Part: Remember how I said we were camping on the aforementioned mountain top? Well, it’s rainy season in Peru. In the middle of the night, we woke up in the middle of two concurrent and equally torrential rainstorms. With thunder sounding less than one-one-thousand away, and lightning illuminating the sky, our lovely little tent (and everything in it) got absolutely soaked. We woke up tired, and pretty miserable so we set out to finish the trek in one day – all 33km of it.
When we finished, we looked like this. Need I say more?
The Grinches on Christmas:
While our family sent us pictures of turduckens and decadent pastas, we did our best to create a Christmas Eve feast with a single pan and burner. We bought a better bottle of wine (still less than $7) and hunkered down for a screening of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
I spent most of Christmas Day throwing up and regretting our under-rinsed side salad, but I did manage to leave the hotel room for three hours. During that time, some $300 went missing from our wallets. When we realized it a few days later, our hearts grew three times smaller.
I guess this Christmas kind of had the reverse Grinch effect this year.
Cusco for a Minute:
Ever heard of Workaway? It’s a site that helps you exchange work anywhere in the world for food and board. Unlike WWOOF, Workaway lists everything from farm work to more skilled labor.
We found Katherine and Frédéric of pie experiences seeking help with their new website. They’re a Swiss-Peruvian couple with the most amazing daughter daughter and a lovely apartment in Cusco. We lived with them for the month of January while helping with their website SEO and video.
Cusco in Highlights:
On New Years Eve, we got in on Peruvian tradition with two particularly heinous pairs of yellow underwear and 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight.Our internet went out at the apartment for the week. We spent 10 hours a day stealing internet from Dunkin’ Donuts, and listening to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop on repeat. We literally could not stop it.
We never once succumbed to the ladies selling photos with baby alpacas.
We spent lots of time in the Sacred Valley with one weekend in Ollantaytambo and another tasting pachamanca in Pisac.
My best friend from college came for a visit and we ate an entire guinea pig to celebrate her Inca Trail victory!Twice a week, we took Spanish lessons at the San Blas Spanish School (probably the best part of Cusco was making some major progress on our language skills).
We learned to make Peruvian chocolate and got a little drunk in a pisco cocktail class.
Daniel [finally] got a haircut at an incredible old school barber shop.
We crossed into Bolivia and got to see Lake Titicaca just before February came.