Peru Part 2: Lake Titicaca & Rainbow Mountain

Okay, so now that we’ve gotten to Peru somehow, here is a breakdown of the tours and activities.

A note about tours: It appears that the tours being organized are subcontracted out to other tour companies so you will not be with the same group for the duration of the tour. For example, on the Lake Titicaca tour, we had the tour agency we booked with pick us up in a taxi and then pass us off to the tour company who would take us on a tour to Puno (the town next to Lake Titicaca). That tour company took us to a bus station where an agent met us, took us in a cab to our hotel. In the morning, we ended up with a different tour guide who picked us up in a shuttle and took us to the boat where we met a different group of people, etc. 

What I’m saying here is that with these overnight tours you will not likely have the same group of people OR the same tour guide; however, we were always taken care of every step of the way. This was not explained to us ahead of time but the communication from the first company on WhatsApp was great and after the first tour we knew what to expect.

Day One: Cusco

Sharee and I arrived in Cusco around 11:00 a.m., tired from our red eye. We checked into our AirBnB, an adorable little place that is in a great location, very close to the main square in Cusco, Plaza de Armas. Check in was at 2:00 p.m. but our host’s sister let us into the apartment early which was very kind. While we had two overnight trips, the apartment was only $35/night so we kept it the entire time because it was easier that way. Plus, our host, Gabi, was very accommodating and responsive. If you need a small place to stay, I highly recommend it.


This was the only day we did not have a tour scheduled so we wandered around Cusco and huffed and puffed up the streets as we breathed in the thin air at over 11,000 ft. 

Day Two: Journey to Lake Titicaca

We were picked up in a taxi by our tour guide at the Palacio De Nazarenas (most tours will not pick up at an AirBnB so we chose the fancy schmantzy hotel nearby) which was a short two minute walk from the apartment.

One of our first stops was San Pedro Apóstol, the “Sistine Chapel of the Andes” which is a church built over a ceremonial site for the Incans. (Note: you cannot take pictures inside the church)

Spaniards were real jerks, and just went building over sacred sites all the time. Like this church which was built over a temple. The church has frescoes painted by the Jesuits that were used to indoctrinate the indigenous populations; however then the Dominicans came over and were like “Your frescos are trash, Jesuits, we’re putting big ol’ gold altars and paintings over them” so I guess they now know how it feels to have your stuff destroyed.

After this stop,  we continued along Sun Route, visiting several different archeological sites and got our first glimpse of the famous “Incan Road” which was a road system that went from Chile to Ecuador. We ended the night in Puno, right next to Lake Titicaca.

Day Three: Lake Titicaca
After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we were picked up by our guide to go on our boat tour. The first stop was the Uros Islands which are floating islands made of compressed reeds. Families can join other islands but if they do not pull their weight, can be cut off and pushed out into the lake. I would like to implement this practice here in America.

On this island they sell hand-crafted goods and speak Aymara as well as a bit of Spanish. Sharee and I were invited to the Island President’s hut for a tour where I leaned realllll hard on my basic Spanish skills from high school to communicate. He sold us some of his wife’s hand-woven tapestries. We then took a ride on one of the traditional boats where Sharee and I were attacked by four adorable little girls who braided our hair. One of the girls working on my hair finished early and then snagged my phone from me, looking at all my pictures and opening every app. She held it hostage the entire boat ride and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have some weird delivery from Amazon as a result.

The other girl didn’t like how the one girl did my braid so she took it out and redid it. I was slightly worried the first girl would have her part of the island cut off and pushed into the lake, but I think everything is going to be fine.

After this we headed over to Taquile Island where we hiked a way steep hill and had a traditionally cooked lunch while listening to stories about their culture, including how they use hats to determine who is single and who is not and man, is it wild. Learning about these very different cultures that lived on islands very close to one another was one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.

After this, we headed back to Puno. We had the option of paying 50 soles for access to a room before our bus ride home in four hours. Since that equated to about $12.50 total we took them up on that. A representative from the tour agency then met us at the hotel and took us to the bus station for an overnight ride back to Cusco. The seats on the bus were comfortable and leaned all the way back to help with sleeping, but the ride was… rough. Roads in Peru are a hodge podge of asphalt, pebbles, dirt, and rocks from the before times. At the bus station we were met by a taxi driver who took us back to our AirBnB

This tour was extremely well organized and I would highly recommend. There was a guide at every step of the way to take us to the next location. Lake Titicaca is 7.5 hrs from Cusco without stops which is why people usually don’t do it but if you’re looking to learn about the culture, you really should do it ::whispers:: it’s better than Machu Picchu

Worth it: Yes.

Day Four:Vinicunca (Rainbow Mountain)

Alright so this is where it gets VERY METAL.

Our overnight bus ride got us back to our apartment at 5:00 a.m. and after 2.5 hrs of sleep we were back down to meet our next tour guide at 8:30 a.m.

I told y’all… METAL.

Because no one else booked the tour, Sharee and I had a private car with just us. It was a three hour drive from Cusco to Vinicunca, going the same direction as you head toward for Lake Titicaca. The last part of the drive is BEAUTIFUL, full of nature and trees and alpacas.



The hike is about 2 miles one way and starts at 14,500 ft. and ends at 16,500 feet, which was the highest that Sharee and I had ever hiked. We almost died, but still made it to the top in just over an hour–our tour guide said that was a great time, but he may have just been humoring us.

You can also rent a horse to get you most of the way up, but not up the steepest part, so you still have to walk it.


One sad note about Vinicunca is that the reason it was revealed was due to global warming– previously, snow and ice covered the very colorful mountain.

Due to social media it has taken off in popularity and has brought tourism to the rural area which has started an entirely different economy for the indingenous population. 

After a quick history lesson, we headed back down and went to a restaurant for a buffet lunch (a 3 p.m. lunch…?)… a restaurant we would visit a total of THREE TIMES on the trip. Then, it was back to Cusco.

Worth it:  Yes!

Next up, Part 3!

Or go back to Part 1

Peru Part 3: Machu Picchu, Inca Bridge, Via Ferrata

Day 5: Cusco to Machu Picchu

After getting an actual night’s sleep, we were met at the plaza by our tour guide who would be with us throughout the day. The route to Machu Picchu takes you through the Sacred Valley, a.k.a. “The Navel of Civilization” where many of the crops the entire world relies on (corn, potatoes, etc.) were developed over centuries of bioengineering.

From here we visited an archeological site where we got up and close with the terraces that you will see etched into just about every mountain you pass. It is an extra fee to get into the Sacred Valley (70 soles or about $17.50) which was not included in our tour fees, so be sure to have actual cash on hand.

After visiting this site, we went to the local silver store where I spent too much money on extremely beautiful (but incredibly inexpensive for the quality) jewelry. After that was lunch, another buffet that was an extra 45 soles ($10.25). It was a fancier buffet and Sharee and I had the best latte of our lives. One thing to note with buffets is they often time do not include drinks so you’ll have to pay extra for these.

After this buffet, we visited another temple which was built in the shape of a llama. 




We had another quick history lesson which included information on how the temple was created by bringing rocks over from a quarry across the valley and rolling them up the mountain, and how each piece was chiseled perfectly into place. 

During this excursion we also lost a Columbian couple who decided to shop instead of going on the tour. The bus left without them to take us to the train station and Sharee and I don’t know if they were ever seen again, so just a reminder to, y’know, stay with the group.

Next up was the train to Aguas Calientes, a.k.a. Machu Picchu town. This 2 hour ride requires a face shield the entire time. It also takes you through some beautiful country side.

At the station another guide was waiting to walk us to our hotel. It was dark at the time, but we could see the outline of Machu Picchu in the distance. Dinner was not included in this experience but there was not a lack of restaurants to choose from in this tourist town.
 

Day 6: Machu Picchu

After breakfast at our hotel, we were met by a guide to take us to the shuttle to Machu Picchu. The morning felt chaotic as we waited at the shuttle line for quite some time for our Machu Picchu guide to get there. 

We were then crammed onto a 25 minute shuttle ride up to Machu Picchu while wearing masks and face shields. It was hot and there was zero social distancing. We were told by our guide that in normal tourist times 8,000 people visited and you could be could be waiting up to 2 hours for a shuttle, but with Covid restrictions the numbers were drastically reduced. You can also definitely hike up from Aguas Calientes (or do the 4 day trek on the Incan Trail), but with our schedule we did not have time for that.

Getting off the shuttle and into Machu Picchu felt rushed and chaotic as well, but once we got going things relaxed. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Machu Picchu, but honestly the elevation is much lower than Cusco and Sharee and I felt that the altitude wasn’t as big of an issue as people make it out to be. Our guide stopped us along the way, going over some history, including the fact that no one knows what Machu Picchu was actually named. The name Machu Picchu comes from the fact that when the so-called “discoverer” of the site, Hiram Bingham (he didn’t actually discover it, locals knew of its existence and led him there) asked a group of farmers if they’d seen a city where kings had once lived, they said they knew of such a place an referred to it as “Machu Picchu” which meant “old mountain” in Quechua, the local language.

The tour took about three hours.  After the tour was finished, we took the shuttle back down to Aguas Calientes and did a bit of shopping at the train station before our two hour ride to Ollantaytambo where we were met by a cab driver that would take us back to Cusco.

Worth it: Kinda? This was our most expensive trip and I think if you go to Peru you kind of have to visit Machu Picchu, but it wasn’t my favorite trip. While there are other tours that are more expensive, we kind of felt nickel and dimed and it’d probably be better to pick a tour that includes everything. 

Day 7: The Last Incan Bridge

Okay… just where to begin with this one.

This was our earliest trip, beginning at 4:45 a.m. 

We were the last ones to get picked up for this tour and so we had no options on where to sit on the shuttle except for the back row where we were surrounded by a family that we would soon find out was not only sick but also not inclined to wear masks.

When I say surrounded, I mean surrounded. Sick people in front of us. Sick people to the right of us. A pod, if you will, of sick people. Who knew they were sick because they brought a roll of toilet paper with them to blow their noses. And still decided to go on this tour.

The tour guide was nice but did not enforce mask wearing. I also felt that in the times of Covid we should not be in a full shuttle, and none of our tours besides this one had shuttles that were more than 50% full.

So, next is the tour. We first stopped for breakfast at the restaurant we’d stopped at for Vinicunca… Sharee and I went to the end of the table but did not eat because we were not hungry. But guess who came right on over and surrounded us? That’s right, SICK FAMILY! Our pod decided to envelop us once again.

The tour included visits to four lagoons which we thought were going to be some jungley, turquoise waters… but they were basically just a bunch of lakes.

We did make it to the Last Incan Bridge which is the last surviving example of the hundreds of bridges that were along the incan trail. Made of grass and sticks, the bridge is renewed ever year by local townspeople. Sharee and I got down well before the rest of the tour and were able to cross it three different times.

After this, we visited a small, extinct volcano (and I do mean small) and headed back to the same restaurant for the third time.

The shuttle ride back was really rough. With no AC and no mask wearing sick family getting sicker and sicker, my temper was starting to flare. To make matters worse, they also insisted on buying some Pan Chulta (bread) from vendors on the side of the road TWICE, prolonging our return to Cusco.

“This is it,” I thought. “If I don’t get Covid here, I will surely get something.”

(luckily both Sharee and I remained Covid and other illness free).

Worth it: That would be no. The tour wasn’t expensive… and two meals is good. Contracting Covid from a germy no mask wearin’ family? Bad.

I’d say find another company who takes health a little more seriously.

Day 8: Via Ferrata

You want the second most metal (literally) part of this trip? Well, here it is.

CLIMB UP A BIG OL’ SKETCHY WALL AND ZIPLINE DOWN

The perfect way to spend my 40th birthday.

Skylodge is a series of pods built into the side of a mountain. 

While you can say overnight in one of the pods, it’s $500 per person and so after Sharee and I loled for awhile, remembering we live in the Inland Empire, we went for the tour instead. To get to the hotel you actually have to climb up Via Ferrata, or “The Iron Way” which is a series of ladder like metal steps drilled into the wall of a cliff. METAL Y’ALL.

So. When we booked this trip, we planned it based off of the description. Pickup at 8. One hour drive to base camp each way. Climb wall, zipline down. One hour drive back.

Five hours total, said the site.

This would us back to Cusco at 1:00 p.m. We’d eat a meal, shop a bit, then head to the airport around 4:30 for our Flight at 7:45 (Cusco airport is… weird and can take longer to get through security). Bada bing, bada boom.

BUT

About 10 minutes into the shuttle ride our guide informed us we would be getting back until 5:00 p.m.

‘Scuse me?

The Getyourguide.com description was COMPLETELY wrong. And as an event planner, I do not do well with timelines being wrong.

After some reassurances from our guide that we’d make it to the airport on time, I didn’t leap out of the bus as it was still running and roll on to the sidewalk like something out of an action film and went on the trip anyway (y’all I seriously don’t do well with timelines being wrong).

And I’m sure glad I stayed, as this was my very favorite part of our time in Peru.

First off, the company takes safety seriously. We were distanced on the bus, everyone was wearing a mask, and this was hands down the best group we toured with.

Secondly, the guide actually arranged for a taxi to take us back to Cusco so we could be sure to get to the airport on time. Love it.

Also, Latam, take notice of what good customer service looks like. 

Finally, we had an amazing adventure, wall climbing and ziplining. The guides were so professional and helpful, especially when doing things like crossing this bonkers “bridge” made of just wire.

After a quick bagged lunch, we then went down the mountain with ever hiker’s dream: a series of six ziplines.

It’s possible I flipped around backwards.

After zipping down from the Skylodge, we got into our taxi that had specifically been called for us and made our way back to Cusco to catch our flight home.

Once we got through the nightmare that was the Lima airport, we made it into LAX at 7:30 exhausted, but grateful to be on US soil again where all toilets have seats and most dogs wearing sweater have owners.

So there you have it. Our trip to Peru in nine days. While it took a lot of planning and work, we’re glad we did not go with a tour company to plan each of our excursions. Most I’ve talked to who did so remark that we were able to see a lot more than one tour group offered and we saved money to boot.

Even though we saw a ton, there a couple of more things I would have liked to have done if we had more time:

Nazca Lines
Apukunaq Tianan

If you have questions, please feel free to comment below!

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