Peru

When We Were There: December 28, 2008 to January 16, 2009

Places We Visited: Lima, Huacachina, Nazca, Cusco, Huanchaco

View all of our posts about Peru here.

Exchange Rate: $1 = $3 Peruvian Soles
See a breakdown of our Peruvian budget here.

WHAT WE DID

Lima
Lima was our recovery city post-Inca Trail, so we spent a lot of time lounging around and enjoying the wonders of the Wong grocery store. We also walked around Miraflores, the most popular neighborhood for tourists, and walked around the historic center. In the center, we took a tour of Santa Domingo (5 soles each), which was interesting and included an up-close look at the crypts.

Huacachina

This oasis town is tiny but probably the most popular spot in Peru for sandboarding. Jeff and Theresa’s brother Gregory hurled themselves down the hills (35 soles each) while Theresa relaxed lakeside.

Nazca
The main reason for visiting this town is to see the famous drawings in the desert outside of it, and the only real way to do this is to fly over in an airplane. We took a half-hour flight ($50 each) in a four-seater plane. Though some people experience serious motion sickness on this flight, we had no problem and found it to be a good experience. We had an afternoon to kill after the flight and before our bus, so we also visited the Nazca Museum (15 soles each), which had a pretty cool mummy as well as some pottery and other such artifacts.

Cusco & Surrounding Area
We structured our time in Cusco around the 4-day traditional Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu with Peru Treks ($430 adults, $400 students). The trek was exhausting but amazing, and in our opinion, the only way to get to Machu Picchu, which is a phenomenal site. After thet trek, we visited the Aguas Calientes thermal baths (10 soles each), where the baths themselves aren’t much but the showers were awesome and worth the visit, especially after 4 days of hiking without bathing. Making use of the cusco Tourist Pass (130 soles adults, 70 soles students), we also visited a number of the surrounding archaeological sites including Pisac, and Chinchero. Additionally we visited the Pisac market (though not on its biggest day) and Qoriconcha, the most important Inca site in Cusco proper (10 soles adult, 5 students).

Huanchaco
There’s not a whole lot to do in this beach town but hang out at the beach. We did go to see the most recent Bond movie (7 soles each), and Jeff rented one of the reed boats from the local fishermen and took it out for a ride (10 soles)

WHERE WE STAYED

Hostal Pukara (Lima): In the Miraflores area but about a 10 minute walk from the main square, this family-run hostal is a friendly, well-located, and quiet place. The breakfast is just breads and fruit but you can have as much as you want, and there’s tea and coffee available all day. A large kitchen allows for self-catering. 80 soles for a double room with wi-fi, private bathroom, TV, and breakfast. A triple was only about 10 soles more.

Hotel Turistico Estrellita del Sur (Nazca): Arriving late at night and with no plans, we followed the bus station tout to this place, which turned out to be plenty sufficient. The room was basic but clean and quiet. I wouldn’t want to stay here long term because it’s pretty dull but for one night, it’s suitable, not to mention cheap. 45 soles for a triple with private bathroom and TV.

Hospedaje Tumi (Cusco): We booked this one online and found it not to be what we were expecting. The shared common area was in an outside courtyard, so being the rainy season it was completely useless and all the furniture was covered with plastic tarps. The bathrooms are frosted glass enclosed cubes in each room, and we always had to ask in order to have hot water for the showers. The room was freezing. In all fairness, however, it is well located near the main plaza and the breakfast was very good with bread, eggs, juice, etc. $28 for a triple with private bathroom

Hospedaje Recoleta (Cusco): Though a bit of a walk to the center of Cusco (10 minutes), we really liked this hostel, which we moved to after one night at Hospedaje Tumi. The staff was very friendly, the breakfast good, and the rooms large and comfortable. 93 soles for a triple with TV, private bathroom, and breakfast. Wi-fi in the lobby.

La Casa Suiza (Haunchaco): The rooms are a bit small here but sufficient and there are many good common areas. The breakfast is also excellent, though we had some confusion with that. The guy who checked us in said it was included; the guy who checked us out tried to say it wasn’t, though in the end he agreed to include it in the price. 80 soles for a double with private bathroom, TV, wi-fi, and breakfast.

PLACES WE ATE
The daily menu is the way to go in Peru, as you can often get a very filling, multi-course meal for cheap. In Lima, the grocery stores are awesome, and so we self-catered the majority of our meals there. On the Inca Trail, the food was surprisingly good, especially considering that it was carried on the backs of our porters and cooked in camp, and always filling. Chinese food is very popular throughout Peru, and it’s generally very good and cheap.

El Fogon (Cusco): On one of the main tourist drags in Cusco, this small restaurant offers excellent set price menus. The menus include a trip to the salad bar, a soup, an entree with sides, and a dessert. It’s really tasty and cheap to boot. 13 soles for the set menu plus a drink.

Bembos (Cusco): At this fast food chain, the chicken sandwiches are better than the hamburgers. It’s nothing special and it’s a bit pricey, but it’s quick. 55 soles for lunch for three.

El Alluyi (Aguas Caliente): The meeting place for our Inca Trail group after we explored Macchu Pichu, this restaurant had good pizzas and other entrees, though as expected in a tourist town, it’s not cheap. 90 soles for one large pizza and one entree plus drinks.

Peki (Cusco): This sandwich shop was a welcome treat. They had both sandwiches and wraps, and the menu was pretty extensive. Everything is made fresh while you wait. We ate here twice. 37 soles for dinner for three.

My Friend (Huanchaco): This hostel restaurant offers a great set price menu for lunch each day. We ate there twice, trying four different entrees, all of which were good. 16 soles for lunch for two.

Casa Tere (Huanchaco): Though known for their pizza, we had to go with the burgers, as that’s what we were craving. Jeff went for the oddest burger on the menu, which included two hamburger patties, a chicken patty, bacon, tiny french fries, and the usual toppings, and he loved it. 30 soles for dinner for two.

El Rey (Huanchaco): One of many similiar restuarants along the main drag in Huanchaco, this place offers a set menu with ceviche, which we were anxious to try as it is a popular Peruvian dish. We weren’t impressed as it just tasted like lime to us. Nothing special, but not bad either. 20 soles for lunch for two.

NOTES

*Buses in Peru are notoriously bad with frequent crashes marring most companies’ records. The crashes are usually caused by driver error as the drivers have very long shifts and often fall asleep at the wheel, thus running into incoming traffic or going off the side of the road. Robberies are also not unheard of. We opted to take Cruz del Sur for almost all of our bus rides. Though more expensive, they have the best safety record in Peru.

*Crossing the border from Peru to Ecuador can be a pain. The coastal route is considered to be high risk for robberies and other scams, while the inland route from Piura to Loja was closed due to strikes while we were there. If there are no strikes, the best option is to take the Loja Express direct bus between the two towns.

*It seems that everyone you encounter in Peru speaks English. It’s almost disconcerting although it is convenient if your Spanish isn’t great. The tourist industry is obviously the most lucrative industry in the country.

*If you want to hike the classic Inca Trail, you must plan in advance. Access to the trail is now strictly controlled, and it’s not possible to just show up in Cusco and get on a hike anymore. There are alternative treks, however, if you don’t book in time, though because of the restrictions on the Inca Trail, they are actually now becoming rather crowded. Many, many outfitters offer hikes on the Inca Trail, but please, please, please, do your research. If the price is significantly lower than other outfitters, ask why. Chances are they are treating their porters poorly.

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