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.  

Chilling in Cusco

Cusco was somewhere that we spent far too much time and money but eventually became very familiar with. Before our Machu Picchu trek we spent 3 nights getting used to the altitude (Cusco is over 3,600 metres above sea level) and then another 6 nights after that because we were too exhausted to move on again. All of this time was spent at the same hostel; Cusco Packers. It was further out of town (about a 20 minute walk) and didn’t have the world’s greatest facilities, but we liked it anyway. One of the main reasons was a guy who works there called Dan who was exceptionally helpful throughout our extended stay in Cusco. Unfortunately, for our first few days in Cusco, Kat was really unwell and we spent lots of time chilling around the hostel. I’ll try to keep this blog as short as possible and only about Cusco. I’ll post a separate blog about the Salkantay trek. 

View of Cusco


We ventured into the Plaza de Armas of Cusco at least once a day while we were there and visited various cafes, restaurants and bars. The plaza itself was very picturesque and constantly buzzing with tourists and people trying to get you to book various tours and treks. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever said ‘No, gracias’ so many times in my life. There are loads of artesenal markets where you can buy anything from tablecloths to woolly hats. We decided to buy a llama key ring each and they are our favourite souvenirs from South America up to this point. One of our favourite places to visit was called Qucharitos – a quirky cafe that makes their own ice-cream and serves paninis and salads. I think we went here at least 4 times during our time in Cusco and I would highly recommend it for cheap and fresh food and desserts. Another recommendation that we have would be Jack’s Cafe for breakfast – well worth the queue out of the door! The portions were enormous and they serve good-quality coffee too. We had eggs, beans, toast, potatoes, bacon and tomatoes it felt very homely. We also visited many different places for coffee and the best 2 places that we found were Museo del Café (not cheap but a great atmosphere, good service and excellent coffees) and La Valeriana (great coffee, empanadas and cupcakes). A good place for drinks atmosphere would be Paddy’s Irish Pub – incidentally the highest Irish-owned pub in the world! I got a free poster from here but I seem to have misplaced it in all the constant moving around. We rented our trekking equipment (sleeping bags, hiking boots, socks, walking poles and a backpack) from a shop called Rosly’s and got a really good deal.
In our time in Cusco, we enjoyed experiencing the buzz of the city and thought it was a worthwhile place to visit even if it is very touristy and expensive. We had intentions of doing the Rainbow Mountain trek but decided that another 3am wake-up after our Salkantay trek was just not for us. Instead, we relaxed and waited to leave on our next night bus to Arequipa. 

A fun cocktail bar


Enjoying Museo del Café


Coffees


Umbrellas in Qucharitos


The next post will be about our incredible 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. 

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!

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…