A little detour to Arequipa and Colca Canyon

We weren’t actually planning on going to Arequipa, but after several people highly recommending it despite the extra 10 hour busride, we decided we had to check it out.

On top of the world!

Arequipa is a large colonial city with charming streets, a pigeon-filled main square and the large Santa Catalina monastery which is like a city within the city and definitely worth a visit. It’s called “the White City” because of the white lava stone used for many of the buildings. We only spent 2 nights here which we found to be enough as we weren’t really that charmed by the city. We spent our days mostly strolling around town.

Plaza de Armas

Silencio

We decided that we needed to try “cuy” which is fried or grilled guinea pig (marsvin) – this is a typical dish in the Peruvian highlands and a favorite of many local people we talked to. It had a really nice, crispy skin, but it was a struggle to get to the good meat as these little guys aren’t especially muscular. It was an interesting experience (tasted almost like chicken), though we probably won’t eat it again – it is just so unappetizing with the whole body right there in front of you, not to mention that it is really difficult to find enough meat to get full.

Sceptical

From Arequipa we booked a tour to the Colca Canyon. The drive from Arequipa to Chivay in the Colca Valley (where we spent the night) took us past hoards of alpacas and their wild and beautiful relatives the vicuñas, beautiful scenery and an altitude of 4910 meters (that’s almost twice the height of Galdhøpiggen, Norways highest mountain!).

The Incas had one of their food production areas in the Colca Valley and they would walk all the way from Cusco to spend the harvest season in the valley before walking back with the produce! The whole valley is filled with pre-Inca stepped agricultural terraces, most of them still in use by the local farmers.

On the road

Vicuñas grazing

Terraces and valleys

At the western end of Colca Valley is where the Colca Canyon starts, this is the deepest canyon in the world with a depth of 4160 meters. From the viewpoint Cruz del Condor we could see the small beginning of the canyon as well as several Andean condors. The condors were gliding on the warm currents, some just over our heads – quite special when their wingspans can be up to 3.2 meters! The landscape and the views were amazing and definitely worth our little detour.

Flying close to the tourists

Male condor up close

Traditional clothing

Almost twice the height of the highest mountain in Norway!

Amazing landscape

See more pictures from Arequipa, Colca Valley and the rest of Peru here.

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Magnificent Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the new seven wonders of the world, and a must-do if you are in Peru. It is a once in a lifetime experience to see how the Incas managed to build a sacred retreat high up in the mountains of Peru. Given that the Inca empire only lasted for a hundred years (before the Spanish conquistadors came and destroyed them in the 1500s) it’s truly amazing to see how much they built and the technology they had developed.

Sunrise on Machu Picchu

There are several ways to travel to Machu Picchu, none of them especially cheap (more on that later), but all of them start from Cusco, which was the Inca capitol. Cusco itself is a nice town with lots to do for adventure-hungry tourists (there are about 200 travel agencies across town), but as Mathias got a bad case of altitude sickness we had to take it pretty slow the first days. Cusco really is a “tourist town”, which has both its positives and negatives. Positives being many good restaurants (we especially recommend La Bodega 138 and Jack’s Café) and options for tours, and negatives being that you feel that everyone wants to get some money from you and exploit the tourists as much as possible.

Back-alleys of Cusco

Under the arc

To get to Machu Picchu we opted for the popular scenic train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town), spending a night there and walking up to Machu Picchu early the next morning. From Aguas Calientes it’s about an hour and 10 minutes brisk walk, mostly steep uphill, to get to Machu Picchu. We started in the dark at 5 o’clock in the morning in pitch black with only the stars to guide us (ok, and a headlight), which turned out to be a little late to get started as there were several busloads of people already in line at the top when we arrived 6:10. Not a big problem, but we were hoping to get a look before there were people everywhere. We did catch the sun rising above the mountains and the first light on Machu Picchu, which was spectacular!

Mathias gazing at Machu Picchu

Sun rays over the mountaintops

We managed to spend a full 10 hours walking around, taking pictures and relaxing while taking in the view of Machu Picchu. There are several tracks around the main “urban area”, and also tracks further out to the Sun Gate (great views!), the Inca bridge (a bit disappointing), and Huayna Picchu if you have the tickets (we didn’t :( ). We walked around marvelling at the views and the many many llamas grassing in the area (even a baby llama!). It really is a spectacular location and we can imagine this to be a retreat for the wealthy (which is one theory).

A llama grazing

Jump!

The explorer

Tips on travelling to Machu Picchu

There are mainly four ways to do Machu Picchu:

  1. Doing the Inca Trail. This is the highlight for many backpackers. A 2 or 4-day trek through stunning views and several Inca ruins. Price is about $400-500 and it must be booked several months in advance. We talked to some Brits who booked it two months ahead, but this was in the shoulder season (April).
  2. Booking a shuttle tour. This is the cheapest option, we found it for about $125 including the shuttle to the hydro station, a night in Aguas Calientes, the guide at Machu Picchu and the shuttle back to Cusco. There is a one and a half-hour trek from the hydro station to Aguas Calientes.
  3. Booking a tour with train. This includes the bus to Ollantaytambo, train to Aguas Calientes, overnight there, bus to Machu Pichhu in the morning and a 2 hour guided tour, and the return train. The cheapest we found this for was about $225 p.p.
  4. Booking everything yourself. This is what we did. We booked with Incarail both ways for $106 each (Perurail is another option for trains),  bought our Machu Pichhu tickets (PEN 128=$49 each), stayed at the first hostel we found (Hostal Inca II for PEN 65 total including breakfast), and walked up to Machu Pichhu (we took the bus back which is about $10), and took shuttles betwen Ollantaytambo and Cusco (10 PEN pp each way). Our total ended up nearly the same as the cheapest tour with train, but we loved being masters of our own time an being able to spend all the time we wanted at Machu Picchu. We had a Wikipedia article on Machu Picchu (on the iTravel app), asked some of the guards around, and slyly overheard some of the guides in the passing tour groups, and all in all got a lot of information without our own guide!

There are also other tours such as jungle tours and more adventure filled tours to get to Machu Picchu. We didn’t look into that but they are probably not in as high demand as the Inca Trail.

  • Whatever option you choose, bring lots of water and snacks as it gets hot and tiring walking around Machu Picchu and the food outside is pretty expensive (it’s a bit of a no-no, but the guards didn’t check any bags as far as we saw)
  • The best time is before 9 am and after 3 pm, because of the sun and the crowds (much better pictures!)
  • Book early for cheaper train tickets, and also if you want to do Huayna Picchu!
  • A free map is available at the entrance after they have checked your tickets
  • Bring some information about Machu Picchu either on your phone (iTravel!) or in print if you don’t want to spend the money on a guide ($25)

Traditional woman

Girl in traditional clothes

Chewing llama

Tuva petting a baby llama

Me and the llama having a moment

The main plaza

Check out more pictures from Machu Picchu and the rest of Peru here.