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!

From Vilcabamba to Lima in 2 days…

It turns out that border crossings don’t get any easier the more you do them. The next stage of our journey involved getting from Vilcabamba to Piura in Peru (and then on to Lima). A bus from Vilcabamba to Loja, a bus from Loja to Piura. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong. A top tip: if you are ever travelling on buses in South America at the weekend, book in advance! We were informed by our hostel in the afternoon before we were due to leave for Loja that every ticket on our second bus at 11pm was booked. Our only hope was to leave straight away and try to get on the only other alternative; a second bus at 12am. In a panic, we immediately left Vilcabamba and caught the first bus to Loja. We arrived just before 5pm and quickly booked 2 of the last few tickets for the next bus. Unfortunately, we were 7 hours early and were forced to hang around in a packed bus terminal. We played a riveting game of scrabble, ate a questionable dinner in a fast-food chicken restaurant, bought what we thought was fudge but turned out not to be and spoke to lots of Ecuadorean families who were very surprised that we were on our way to Peru. 

When we finally got on our bus we were surrounded by locals and Peruvians on their way home. Only 2 other tourists boarded the bus with us. It certainly wasn’t luxurious but between us we managed a few naps until we reached the border. At the border we had to get off the bus and queue to be stamped out of Ecuador by a not-so-friendly woman behind the counter. Then we walked across the border and joined the queue to be stamped into Peru. Even at 3am the whole process took almost an hour. I dread to think how long it takes in peak times. Once we were stamped we boarded the bus again and carried on our journey to Piura. At around 7am we arrived at the bus terminal in Piura, sleep-deprived and hungry. Perhaps stupidly, we’d made the decision to make the 16 hour bus journey to Lima that same day and had to wait around for the next stage of our epic journey at 3pm. 

Piura turned out to be nicer than we expected and we actually enjoyed the half-day we spent there. We went for breakfast, visited a brand-new shopping centre, travelled in a tuk-tuk, enjoyed coffee and quiche for lunch and wandered around the town. When the time finally arrived for our overnight bus to Lima, we were in high spirits, refreshed and full. I’m pleased to say that Cruz del Sur delivered the best bus journey we have been on in South America and our journey to Lima was completely seamless (for once!). We had leg rests, cup holders, tray tables, a tasty meal, reclineable seats and  loads of leg room (all of which seemed like the height of luxury for us). At 10pm we settled into our makeshift beds and slept. We didn’t wake up until 6am; 20 minutes before we reached Lima. I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed being on a bus so much and a free night’s accommodation is always a plus! Our adventures would continue in Lima; the capital city of Peru.

Sorry for the lack of photos – there was nothing particularly interesting to take them of!

Vilcabamba’s very best. 

After Montanita, we made our way to Vilcabamba with a quick overnight stop in Cuenca. We had to get the bus from Montanita to Guayaquil and then another bus to Cuenca. Both journeys were relatively painless despite stopping many times on route (incredibly frustrating) and we arrived at our hostel in Cuenca in good time.

We stayed at Mallki hostel for one night in a very cramped and basic 8 bed dorm room. The bunk beds were so wobbly that we thought they might collapse – both of us were on top bunks. We ventured into the centre shortly after checking in and found a lovely coffee shop before exploring the beautiful colonial buildings. Then we stumbled across a lovely little Italian restaurant and enjoyed some wine, beer and pasta. The following day we went back for more coffee and ate burritos for lunch before catching our bus to Vilcabamba.

Cuenca’s colonial buildings


The journey to Vilcabamba took about 5 hours and we reached Hostel Izhcayluma at 6pm on the dot (typical German efficiency). The luxury we found at this beautiful ‘hostel’ was unlike anything we’d had on our travels to date. It was more like a hotel. We had an enormous dorm room with single beds, a massive stone shower, a stunning view from the restaurant and an amazing natural water swimming pool. No meals were included in our stay but the restaurant food was reasonable, huge and delicious. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all great. We only left the hostel twice; once to head into town to grab some essentials and another when we checked out. We spent hours reading in hammocks, chilling around the pool and just enjoying the relaxing experience for 4 days. Kat also went to a free yoga class every morning which was a great addition. On our final night we splashed out on a double room but actually found we preferred the dorm room (a bargain at $9.50 per bed).

Hammock time

Views from the restaurant

Enjoying the pool


Vilcabamba itself was also very relaxing and is somewhat of a Mecca for expats – particularly from the US. We found quaint, little artesenal shops, smoothie cafes and a quirky, colourful church in the main square. But the main reason we loved Vilcabamba so much was the relaxing time we spent at Izhcayluma. If you are ever looking for somewhere to experience budget luxury when travelling South America and want to feel completely at ease, then this is the place to go. We both felt completely refreshed and calm after our time here and consider it one of our favourite places to date – we probably should have stayed even longer. Maybe this travelling lark isn’t all that bad…

Feeling relaxed and refreshed

Vilcabamba’s main square

Colourful church

 

Unfortunately our time in Vilcabamba came to an end and we had to make our way to Peru. We had such fantastic experiences in Ecuador and loved the country but were ready for our next adventure – albeit after another dramatic and LONG border crossing. Read all about it in the next blog…

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!