Ayacaba (Aypate fortress, Ciudad Encantada, northeast of Piura, border with Ecuador)
Pomabamba (lost city of Yaino, north of Chavin)
Trujillo: ++Chan Chan, +Huacas Sol y Luz, Huanchaco
Chiclayo: +Sipan, ++Tucume`
Chachapoyas: ++Kuelap, Levanto, Yalep,
Karajia sarcophagi in the Utcubamba Valley (70 kms northwest of Chachapoyas)
Pajaten (Abiseo, between Chachapoyas and Cajamarca)
Train from Lima to Cerro de Pasco
Jungle trekking (Rio Napo)
Cuzco: Plaza de Almas, Compania de Jesus, +Catedral, Mercede, +S Domingo/ Qorikancha, Plaza de S Blas
+Camino del Inca/ Inka trail
Choquequirao, Inka fortress, 98 km west of Cusco, reached by walking from the village of Cachora (a cable car is being planned)
Manu national park
Puerto Maldonado and jungle
Lima: Plaza Grau, Catedral, Arcivescovado, Palacio de Gobierno, +S Domingo, ++S Francisco, S Pedro, ++Museo de Oro
+Puno, Uros, Taquile, lake Titicaca
Arequipa: ++Santa Catalina
Arequipa: ++Santa Catalina
Nazca: ++Nazca lines
- $1=2.7 soles
- Peru is still a poor country but around Cuzco things have changed dramatically in the 2000s: all roads are paved, the buses are good, the collectivos are brand new Japanese vans, school children wear a uniform, the colorful markets are tidy and well organized, there are Internet cafes everywhere and even the cheapest hostel has wi-fi. You can still occasionally see an old lady wearing the traditional clothes, but those are really for tourists these days. The Inca ruins are run efficiently and no vendors are allowed inside anymore. The good news is that it is a lot easier to visit these places now. The bad news is that this is the same kind of "sterilized tourism" that you can find anywhere in the West: if i showed you a picture of Cuzco without telling you that it's Cuzco, you wouldn't know it's in Peru. It could be anywhere in Spain or Turkey or Brazil.
- Lima is not terribly safe but the historical center is safe, if nothing else because of the massive amount of police. The Museo de Oro is interesting but it is located far from the center (Alonso de Molina in Surco) and it's expensive (33 soles or $13). Confusingly, there are two National Museums:
the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History (Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Antropologia e Historia),
which is the larger, and the Museo Arqueologico Rafael Larco.
The former contains the Lanzon from Chavin, a reconstruction of the burial chamber of Sipan, and the mural "Revolt of the Objects". The latter (Avenida Bolivar in Pueblo Libre) is more specifically about the ancient cultures (and probably the best museum in Peru). In fact,
the smaller one is much more expensive (30 soles or $11) than the bigger one.
They are both difficult to reach if you don't take taxis. Bus from the historical center to the Larco: 87.
- Lima airport to center: walk out of the international arrivals, turn right, cross the parking lot, take the pedestrian exit and walk 50 meters to the right to the bus stop and ask for a collectivo that goes to your destination (eg Plaza de Armas or Miraflores).
- Cheap accommodation in the historical center of Lima: +Hostal San Francisco 35 soles (one block from San Francisco), Hotel Espana (next door), Hotel Europa 20 soles (across from San Francisco), Hospedaje Santa Rosa 30 soles, Pension Ibarra 25 soles (on noisy Tacna). Miraflores has many more hostels but the prices are usually higher (not only for accommodation).
- Cuzco is extremely safe. It has become a gigantic tourist trap with police everywhere. Cuzco is still a very cheap town by the standards of tourist towns. Menu economico can be as little as 10 soles (less than $4) and includes two courses. There are so many hotels and guesthouses that it is easy to bargain a good price for accommodation. In the San Blas barrio you can find a single room with bath for $10-12 and you can have dinner with $5. Food on average is very good in the San Blas neighborhood (look for "menu economico" which usually includes a first and a second and it's around 10 soles). My favorite restaurants were on Choquechaka. There are Hospedajes and Hostals. Hostals are generally twice more expensive than Hospedajes. After visiting a few, my favorite is Mamma Cuscom Calle Alabado 536 in San Blas (about 300 meters from Plaza de Armas). Transportation fron the airport to downtown is super-cheap: an official taxi is 8 soles ($3) and buses outside the airport run to one block from Plaza de Armas for 1.5 soles (less than $1).
- Scam alert: photography is not allowed in most churches of Cuzco so think twice before you pay the spectacular entry prices (churches are not included in the general ticket)
- From the moment you arrive in Cuzco it is terribly difficult to identify the legitimate tourist information offices from the many travel agencies that pretend to be one.
One can definitely organize his visit to Cuzco and Machu Picchu without any need for travel agencies, but
a) It is difficult to find out which offices are government information offices and which are travel agencies (they all say "Tourist Information")
b) You need to visit three places to find everything you need:
1. The Municipalidad on Avenida del Sol one block from the Plaza de Armas is where you can buy the multiple ticket for 130 soles ($50) that grants you access to all the main ruins except Machu Picchu and except the churches.
2. Peru Rail next to the cathedral is where you can buy your train tickets to/from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu). Even in the low season you may want to book in advance because each train has a different price and of course everybody tries to get the cheapest ones. The prices range from $60 to $75 each way.
3. The Tourist Information on Marques one block from the cathedral square sells you the ticket to enter Machu Picchu with requires a reservation if you also want to hike Wayna Picchu (you do): 150 soles ($60).
In each of these places you may have to stand in line for a long time.
These offices are simple bureaucratic offices. They are totally useless to get real information. They simply sell you what they sell.
On top of these costs you have to add the cost of the shuttle from Aguas Calientes (the railway terminal) to Machu Picchu: $13 round trip.
The grand total is about $200!
Most tourists don't want to deal with all these procedures and use one of the many travel agencies that post the sign "Free Tourist Information". They will do everything for you for an additional fee, and frequently mess it up.
Here you need the passport even for peeing so take it with you all the time. Tickets (both to attractions and to trains) are issued in your name and they will check your name in the passport.
The whole excruciating experience is not fun at all. The rest of Peru is great. It's just this area that has been turned into a bureaucratic torture.
- There are three main ruins to visit near Cuzco: Ollantaytambo (the main ruin in the Sacred Valley), Pisaq and Saksayhuaman.
Saksayhuaman can be reached on foot from Cuzco in less than 30 minutes. From Plaza San Blas walk up the waterfall and look for stairs on your left. Follow the stairs all the way to the top for about 20 minutes (or 40 minutes if you are out of shape). When you hit the paved road, turn left and climb to the Cristo Blanco (the white statue of Christ) and then continue on the trail to the very visible ruins. The whole climb should take less than an hour.
There is also the old road that is now closed to vehicles but that starts from the other side of Cuzco.
Pisaq is more complicated. You take a collectivo (3.5 soles) from Cuzco's vegetable market that leaves you in Pisaq village. From here you cam hike to the ruins or take a taxi to the upper parking lot. Most tourists take the taxi that costs about 20 soles and then hike down the trail. Distances are always wildly exaggerated. You can climb up in less than two hours and down in one hour. Pisaq opens at 9am. If you are planning on hiking, you should take the collective at 6-7am.
Pisaq has one of the best markets to buy souvenirs (half the price of Cuzco, which is half the price of Aguas Calientes).
From Pisaq village you can take a bus to Urubamba (2 soles) where you can change to a bus to Ollantaytambo (2.5 soles). Each ride is about 30 minutes and there are frequent buses. The main ruins this time are very near the main square. It is worth a hike to Pinkuylluna across the valley (from the main square). It takes about 20 minutes to get to that ruin and another 10 minutes to reach the top of the mountain.
- One possible optimal tour of Cuzco and nearby ruins:
Day 1: Cuzco and hike to Saks.
Day 2: Pisaq and Ollantaytambo and train to Aguas Calientes.
Day 3: Machu Picchu and return to Cuzco.
- The Inca Trail (soon to be renamed Plastic Trail after the thousands of plastic bottles dumped along the way by the hikers) requires reservations and is extremely expensive, and by every account it is now infested with all sorts of vendors.
The Inca Trail is the mother of all tourist traps. In the high season the trail is very trafficked. In the low season you are one of the few tourists around so are constantly approached by vendors. Either way, it's hardly a refreshing experience. Agencies try to make it last as many days as you are willing to sit in a campground/refuge, but it can be done in less than two days (i did).
- Machu Picchu has become the most overpriced attraction in the world.
In my opinion it does not compare with other "lost cities" of the world, like Angkor, Tikal, Petra and Bagan, but it costs much more than any of them.
The Incas still lived in the stone age, and Machu Picchu is a good example of stone-age civilization. The craftmanship is extremely poor, especially if you think that it was built in the 16th century. The place is not big either: you can see every single stone in a few hours. There is absolutely no craftmanship to admire: no frescoes, no relief, no nothing. Compared with the ruins in Mexico (which are also much older), the Inca ruins are truly pathetic. What is truly breathtaking is the location, but there are only so many panoramic pictures that you can take of the same city.
It is not only the ticket that is overpriced: transportation (which is usually very cheap in Peru) is also overpriced. Despite the cost of the ticket, the train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu is extremely slow. Truly painful.
The contrast between government prices (usually quoted in dollars) and the prices of regular businesses like restaurants and hotels is staggering. It's like having two parallel economies, one that thinks $5 is a lot of money and one that thinks that $100 is cheap.
When you buy your ticket to Machu Picchu and your train ticket, you have to commit to a specific day and time. If it rains, you're screwed.
You can save on the train to Machu Picchu by taking the bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo, and viceversa take the bus from Olla to Cuzco. This way you only need the train for the section that does not have a road: Olla to Machu Picchu. This train costs about $70-80 round-trip instead of $150. The collectivo from Cuzco to Olla and viceversa costs 10 soles (less than $4) and takes one hour. It might even be faster as the train is extremely slow.
You can save on the shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu by hiking it. Walk down the road (walk downstream) for about 20 minutes until you cross the bridge (the guard will check your passport and ticket). Then turn right (the road goes left) and walk 100 meters: there is a clearly marked staircase on your left. The "trail" is one long staircase that takes approximately 40 minutes.
Finding accommodation in Aguas Calientes is usually easy as there are dozens of guesthouses, and they keep building new ones. The owners meet you at the train station with their little color brochures. Most of them are within a two minute walk from the train station. Bargain (especially if you arrive in the evening).
I stayed at +El Tambo for 35 soles (single room with private bathroom, wi-fi and tv set).
The main reason to stay in Aguas Calientes is to get up early in the morning and beat the crowds.
Needless to say, food is a lot more expensive in Aguas Calientes than in Cuzco.
It often gets dark early in Machu Picchu because the clouds obscure the sky. Most tourists leave in the early afternoon. Sometimes at 3pm it's already difficult to take pictures. Machu Picchu closes at 5pm.
There is water in Machu Picchu at the "Fuentes" but most foreigners don't trust it (I did).
- One way to organize your day in Machu Picchu:
* Reserve your hike to Wayna Picchu for 7am
* Hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu at 5:30am, arriving at 6:30am
* Cross the whole sanctuary until you reach the checkpoint for Wayna Picchu
* Wait in line. This can take one hour.
* Hike up the steep trail in about 40 minutes
* Wait at the top until the mist/fog disappears and you get a good view of Machu Picchu
* Walk down and explore the three main areas (the Tres Portadas, the astronomical observatory, the temples)
* Walk to the Inka bridge and back (30')
* Walk to the Sun Gate on the Inca trail (30')
- An alternative to the expensive train and to the expensive Inca Trail is to hire transportation to Santa Maria (several agencies organize minivans). The road to Santa Maria has been paved, is in excellent conditions and provides great views of the mountains. The drive takes about 5 hours because of traffic. From Santa Maria the hike to Aguas Calientes is an easy day hike.
- I was puzzled that in the touristy part of towns stores only sell drinks in plastic (which i abhor) but in the most regular neighborhoods they also sell drinks in glass. Then someone explained to me that tourists want plastic bottles both because they are lighter to carry and because... you can carry them. The procedure for glass bottles is that you return them to the store so that they can be sent back to the factory where they will be recycled: zero environmental footprint. Instead, plastic bottles can be disposed in garbage cans (there is no recycling here). It's the demand from tourists that is causing stores to switch from glass (that is always recycled) to plastic (that is never recycled). The local brands that used glass bottles are disappearing and your favorite multinational drinks in plastic are replacing them.
- Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash, the source of the Amazon River, boasts peaks above 6,600m. The whole trek is 170 kms.