Charming Arequipa

After leaving Cusco, we caught another overnight bus to Arequipa. We used Cruz del Sur again as we’d had relatively good experiences with them previously. Again, we found it straightforward and comfortable. We arrived at our hostel the following day far too early to check in (6am) so had to amuse ourselves until 2pm. We had coffee in a French café, went shopping in the supermarket (where we also ate a very strange breakfast of eggs and pasta) and wandered around the centre. The Plaza de Armas in Arequipa is particularly pretty. When we were finally able to check in we both fell straight to sleep and napped for most of the afternoon. That night we cooked in the hostel kitchen and caught up on British tv in bed. Having our own room was the best. 

Plaza de Armas

Cathedral

Our own room with balcony!


On day 2 in Arequipa we took a cooking class to learn Peruvian techniques and cuisine. We chose Arthur restaurant which turned out to be an excellent choice. Arthur himself was very helpful and friendly. We had an amazing time and made delicious food. They even gave us a free pisco sour each which was a nice touch. After we made the food we got to eat it and we ended up back at the hostel completely stuffed. Obviously a brief nap followed and then some beer and rum drinking whilst playing cards to end a great day. 

Peeling prawns

The fire was meant to happen!


The next few days involved drinking coffee in various places, cooking in the hostel and trying not to spend too much money. We decided not to go to Colca Canyon as we thought the entrance fee was way too much. We visited a viewpoint and some more artesenal markets and found some quaint little side streets. One of the best things we did in Arequipa, other than the cooking class, was visit the Museo Santuarios Andinos. We watched a video in English to start the tour and were then shown various artefacts found on nearby mountains from Inca sacrifices. However, the ending was the most amazing part because we got to see the preserved mummy of a young girl once sacrificed at the top of a mountain. I won’t give too much away because the story is incredible and I would encourage anyone to go and visit when in Arequipa. The museum was so fascinating and the stories are so worth learning about. 

Exploring Arequipa


Lovely side streets

Rooftop sunset


After 4 nights in Arequipa and seeing as much as we could for not much money, we got another bus to our last stop in Peru – Puno. We only stayed here one night as it was simply another stopover for reaching the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca and staying in Copacabana. I can’t say much about Puno because we arrived at night and left early in the morning. We enjoyed our time in Peru and have lots of amazing memories to take away from our time there. Hopefully Bolivia would be just as memorable.  

I liked Lima

Lima was one of the few places of South America that I truly enjoyed being in. I liked the atmosphere, I liked how safe I felt and I liked that it had character. We stayed in the Miraflores area which was where most backpackers stay. We had loads of restaurants to choose from, coffee shops and different markets. On the first day we got to our hostel far too early to check-in (a common theme in the next few weeks of travelling). Luckily, the staff at the hostel were kind enough to let us shower after our night bus and leave our bags there until we could. We had a quick breakfast and then went out to explore Lima. Our main aim was to find clothes for our Machu Picchu trek the following week. Conveniently, Lima is full of proper clothes shops and even shopping centres (one of our first experiences of this in South America). It doesn’t take much to excite us these days but we were in our element. We spent hours wandering through Adidas, Nike and other sports/camping shops. Eventually we settled on a pair of ridiculously patterned leggings each (you’ll see these in the next blog) and a two more sensible t-shirts to wear as layers. We also purchased matching jumpers from the market. Much to Kat’s annoyance, I also spent way too long trying to find a decent knee support for the trek. I had very little success. We grabbed a quick fast-food lunch (Lima is full of KFCs and Pizza Huts) and left feeling very chilled and comfortable. 

Kennedy Park


On the way back from the mall we visited El Parque del Amor (the park of love) – a popular spot for tourists, wind surfers and people wanting to enjoy the chill vibes. Eventually, after a quick coffee stop, we headed back to the hostel to check-in Unfortunately, this was when I learnt that Barclays had blocked my debit card and refused to unblock it until they spoke to me on the phone. Any traveller will know that this is easier said than done. I had no credit on my phone, I used all of Kat’s to make a 30 second phone call to them that didn’t even make it through security and I was in Peru. At one point they actually suggested that I write them a letter. From Peru. After about 4 hours of faffing and trying to convince Barclays to speak to me, the hostel kindly let me use their phone. (As a side-note here, I would highly recommend Kokopelli hostel). It took another set of security questions (for the 4th time), lots of arguing and frustration, a foreign call centre and a UK call centre to finally sort it out. A couple of very kind ladies finally sorted my issue and unblocked my card to allow me access to my own money again. Yay. 

El Parque del Amor

Kat enjoying the park and her new jumper


After the Barclays issue I needed a beer or 6. So we went out in search of food and drink. Every restaurant near our hostel was offering a free Pisco sour (an interesting Peruvian drink that tastes a lot like tequila) so it was a case of choosing the best. Or, in our case, choosing the one with the best vegetarian options for Kat. We settled on one shared a couple of litres of beer for ridiculously cheap, a pizza and a salad. We probably got some of the best service that we’d had in South America and I have no idea what the restaurant was called so I can’t even recommend it. 

A litre of lager


The next day; our last in Lima, we got a bus into the historical centre just to see what it was like. We weren’t too impressed and should have just stayed in Miraflores. Still, we enjoyed a nice coffee and then KFC for lunch and spent some more wasted time trying to find me a knee support. Again to no avail. After only a few hours, we caught the bus back to Miraflores. That night we ‘cooked’ instant noodles and then went out for some over-priced and tiny churros. Seriously, there must have been about 5 on the plate. Early the following morning we set off for the airport to catch our flight to Cusco. We’d decided to fly because it wasn’t that much more expensive than the bus and it was MUCH quicker. VivaAir was the cheap, no-frills airline that we chose. Everything was extra money on top of the flight price but we got to Cusco in an hour instead of 12. 

Historical centre of Lima

Blog-writing and crosswording with coffee


Personally, I really liked Lima. It felt a little bit like London – more of what I’m used to culturally than other places we’d visited. I could have stayed longer but we had to get to Cusco for our Salkantay trek and to acclimatise to the altitude beforehand. Read all about it (and see the crazy leggings) in the next blog post!

A whale of a time on Ecuador’s coast

The next part of our journey was the best so far. After Mindo we had to somehow find our way to Puerto Lopez – our base for visiting Isla de la Plata. It proved to be quite difficult to get to from Mindo; we were told we had to get a bus to Los Blancos, then a bus to Santo Domingo, followed by a bus to Portoviejo, then a bus to Jipijapa and then finally a bus to Puerto Lopez. Luckily the journey actually involved fewer buses than this (3 in total). 

We got to Puerto Lopez at around 9pm and checked into our hostel (which incidentally had great reviews on booking.com). I have no idea how it had anything but awful reviews as it was the worst hostel we had stepped foot in – the tiny kitchen was in someone’s bedroom, there was a shop at the entrance of the hostel, the bedding was filthy, the bathroom was disgusting and the mattresses were wafer-thin. The killer for us though was that there were bed bugs all over some of the beds. It was this that made us leave the hostel without staying a night. So the two of us and another girl left to find a new place to stay for the night. We found one very quickly with 3 single beds and a hot shower for the same price! Safe to say we had a much more comfortable night than we would have done in the previous hostel.

The next day was amazing. We’d booked a tour to visit Isla de la Plata and go whale-watching. We set off with our group at around 10am on a boat to the island. On the way we saw some whales in the distance doing all sorts of somersaults. Unfortunately, something happened to our boat and we had to climb onto another. On the second boat we saw more whales, closer this time, but found it hard to see due to all the people. When we reached Isla de la Plata we saw sea turtles all around the boat which was incredible. We then set off on a 2 hour hike around the island and saw blue-footed boobies, lizards and other cool birds. 

Whales in the distance


Blue-footed boobies

After the trek we were able to go snorkelling, This was the first time that I’d ever been snorkelling and I loved it. The fish were the brightest I’ve ever seen and I loved swimming amongst them. It took some convincing for Kat to get it but she eventually did and loved it too! Then we got back on the boat and headed back to Puerto Lopez. The best part of the day was on this journey. We saw a baby whale and its mother swimming along with us. The captain of the boat got so close to the whales that we could see their sheer size. It was literally breath-taking and one of the best experiences of my life. When we reached Puerto Lopez again we were absolutely buzzing.

Dory?

Snorkelling

Whale hello there!

 

We decided to head to Montanita next and spent 2 nights there. We spent our only full day exploring the streets lined with market stalls, enjoying delicious food from the restaurants and drinking all day. I was a little tipsy by the time we got back to our hostel and opted for an early night. Next would be our journey to Vilcabamba, including a quick stop-over in Cuenca.

Chasing tail in Mindo

Following our time in Cotopaxi, we spent one more night in Quito before moving on again the next day. One taxi and two long buses got us to the town of Mindo within a few hours. Mindo is a small place in Ecuador, located in a valley surrounded by dense forests. We arrived to find a tiny and very quiet place. Our guesthouse was small and a bit strange – we were essentially staying in the home of an older couple. 

After checking in and unpacking, we found a small restaurant nearby for lunch. We shared salad and chips and were pleased to discover that it was both cheap and delicious – our favourite combination. I enjoyed a large beer (which, incidentally, is VERY cheap in Ecuador) and Kat ordered her new favourite drink – limonada natural. 

When we were suitably full, we went off to find some coffee. We’d read that one of the best places in Mindo was called El Quetzal so that’s where we headed. In actual fact, the coffee wasn’t great but we did enjoy the brownie – probably because El Quetzal doubles as a chocolate museum. This convinced us to book onto the last chocolate tour of the day. It was a great decision. We saw where the chocolate is grown, how it is made and got to try A LOT of it. We had coffee chocolate, chilli chocolate, dark chocolate, almond chocolate, etc, etc. They even let us try their home-brewed ginger beer. Safe to say, we were suitably stuffed with chocolate and left in very high spirits. That night we had another run-in with very loud and inconsiderate people in the guesthouse. It turns out that not everyone is willing to go to bed at 10pm. 

The next day we decided to check out the local hummingbird garden. We saw loads of varieties of hummingbirds and a few other species of birds. We watched them for a while and could have watched them all day. Kat was sad because she didn’t see a toucan so we had to add that to our to-do list. We had lunch in a lovely place with an American chef and ended up booking ourselves onto a night walk having bumped into the guide. It left at 8pm, so obviously we needed a nap to prepare ourselves fully. The walk itself was in the surrounding forest and we saw frogs, beetles, bugs, spiders and even an incredibly rare kinkajou. I have no photos from this walk because the only device we had with us decided to run out of memory. However, I promise that it was really fun and I would recommend it to anyone who visits Mindo. 


Hummingbirds


Now, back to those toucans. Kat wouldn’t let it rest that we hadn’t seen one yet, so we woke up at 5am the following morning to go birdwatching. There were 4 of us and the guide on the tour and we had one telescope between us. At times it was difficult to see the birds before they disappeared. However, we did see a very rare quetzal bird, woodpeckers, parrots and more hummingbirds. And of course, most importantly, we saw 4 different types of toucans. Kat was very happy. By the time we got back, we were shattered so caught up on our lost sleep with a nap and then went out for dinner.

Quetzal

Toucan


We rather enjoyed our time in Mindo but were ready to move on. Unfortunately, we were overcharged when we checked out of the guesthouse so this left a bit of a sour taste to our visit. Still, we were very excited for our next trip to Puerto Lopez. We were off to find some whales!

The middle of the world (ish) in Quito

After a long time travelling to reach Ecuador, we were absolutely delighted to finally reach our hostel in Quito. We had booked 3 nights in Hostel Revolution – one of many recommendations from the blog ‘Two wandering soles‘. We’d been told lots of mixed reviews about the capital of Ecuador and left still unsure of our own opinion.

As soon as we had checked in we walked straight to the supermarket. Having lived almost solely on a diet of instant noodles for a while, we decided to splash out on dinner and bought rice and fresh vegetables. It was one of the most nutritious meals eaten in the last few weeks! We then more than enjoyed the hostel happy hour(s) – $1.50 for a large ice-cold beer or a rum and coke. Much needed after the long boarder crossing. The people we met in the hostel were lovely and we played cards with some of them before heading to bed feeling much more relaxed. 

Our first day in Quito started with a blissful lie-in – the first morning in 4 days we didn’t have to get up early. We decided that we would go on the hunt for some walking boots as we were (and still are) exceptionally under-prepared for our upcoming hike to Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, every pair we found was far too expensive and we decided renting them was probably a much cheaper option. On the way back we ate lunch in one of many KFCs in Quito. As it turned out, KFCs were one of the most common sites – one particular stretch of road had SIX. Still, set least it was cheap and safe. We then found a local market and bought a lovely hand-painted tray as a souvenir (this now has to be carried around for 2 more months in South America and then 9 in Australia…). Our next stop was the busy central market selling all sorts of fresh fruit, vegetables and indeterminable meats. We bought some fruit and headed off in search of coffee. A place called El Duche in the old town was in the Tripadvisor top 10 and rightly so as we found out. We had a delicious iced coffee and iced tea and watched as the bakers prepared cakes and bread in front of us. It was fascinating and really set this cafe apart from others we’d been to. After a long day out, we ate leftovers from the night before back at the hostel, watched films in bed and had an early night. 


On our last day in Quito we walked back to El Duche for our coffee fix and then visited the beautiful La Basilica church (avoiding the political protest in the main square). It turned out that you can actually climb the church towers all the way to the top for a small fee. Rickety ladders, steep stairs and wooden draw bridges lead to some heart-in-mouth moments but it was worth it in the end. The view from the top of the church was incredible and we were really glad we made it to the very top. After getting the lift back down most of the way (lazy, I know), we set off to Mitad del Mundo (where the equator supposedly lies). I was really excited to see this as I thought it would be a great story to tell in future – I’ve stood on the equator. Unfortunately, the 3 hour one-way journey on 2 busses was not worth it and I later found out that Mitad del Mundo is not even the real equator – how gutting! That night we stayed in again and packed in preparation for our next adventure in The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi…