Tips & Tricks to help you plan your next adventure
From Cusco we headed north west towards Ica, and the desert oasis of Huacachina.
We caught a 16 hour bus to Ica with Cruz del Sur, and from Ica caught a 5-10 minute taxi to Huacachina.
The town of Huacachina (I’m not sure it actually constitutes as a town) is tiny, and famous for 2 things… dune buggy rides and sand boarding. And we did neither… oops. Oh and it's obviously well known for the fact that it's an oasis....
On our first morning there we went in to town to find somewhere for Sean to have a skate, and as we searched he managed to step on a collapsed part of the gutter and cut the bottom of his foot. Not super badly, but bad enough that we didn’t want to risk it getting infected and sore before we headed further north to surf... And thus, we avoided the sand boarding… Which we’d already done in Floripa, so we weren’t too worried about.
We stayed at a place called Carola del Sur, which was nice enough but the guy that was on the front desk had a little attitude... (and tried to overcharge us when we left saying they had upgraded our room without telling us...) however they also had a pet tortoise, so that kind of made up for it.. maybe.
During our 2 days there we had a cruise around the town, climbed up the sand dunes, lay by the pool and ate plenty of hummus, guacamole and pita bread (Check out Bamboo Cafe if you go).
2 days was more than enough, but also a well needed rest for us after our crazy time in Cusco.
Next stop, Punta Hermosa, Lima and then the north coast of Peru for surfing, swimming and just all round fun in the sun.
Before our arrival in Cusco we had already decided we were going to go and check out the Choco Museo, and hopefully do a chocolate making course. We’d heard rave reviews and decided even if it was a little more expensive we’d do it, where else were we gonna make chocolate?
We dropped by the museum on our second day in Cusco and booked in for the afternoon class. It cost 70 Soles, which isn’t cheap, especially by Peruvian standards, however it was worth every penny.
The class was led by a super happy guy called Pedro. He wore a Choco apron, a matching chef’s hat and the worlds cheekiest grin.
The 2 hour course begun with history of cacao, and how we actually get chocolate. We learnt about the 3 different kinds of Cacao fruits and the countries that produce and also eat the most chocolate.
FUN FACT: Switzerland eats the most chocolate per year, at a whopping 119 100g bars per person!! Wow!
(Australia was 59 bars per person, still a staggering amount!)
Also the Ivory Coast produces roughly a third of the whole worlds cacao per year, but this is arguably of a lower quality than that produced in the americas where the cacao plant is native to.
After learning about the history we headed over to the work bench and begun by tasting some of the raw cacao beans. They are very bitter, and as such is why dark chocolate had a more bitter flavour, it has a higher concentration of cacao beans (and less sugar etc..).
We then roasted some beans and then peeled them, before crushing them with a mortar and pestle to make a paste.
The peel of our beans was used to make a delicious chocolatey smelling, cacao tea. It seriously smells just like rich buttery chocolate, but with a very mild flavour.
Our paste was then used to create 2 delicious hot chocolate drinks!
The first drink was Kawaka, a hot chocolate drink enjoyed by the Mayan’s. The ingredients were ground cacao beans, chilli powder, honey and hot water. It was super spicy and chocolatey, and was delicious, albeit a little hot. The Mayans also used to add blood to their hot chocolate. A luxury we decided against.
The next drink was European hot chocolate, consisting of again ground cacao beans, sugar, cloves, cinnamon sticks and milk. Again it was delicious. Pedro cheekily also nearly tricked us into thinking we were drinking Cuy (guinea pig) milk in the hot chocolate. But seriously, imagine milking all those tinny little critters… Anyway.
After enjoying the drinks we moved on to the best stage, preparing our own chocolates.
As it takes around 24 hours to mix chocolate until there is the right moisture content for a bar to set, obviously we didn’t follow the same mix all the way through. However we were explained the next steps and were shown some chocolate mixing before being given a “here’s one we prepared earlier” batch.
We each got to choose a mould to make our chocolates in and were given more than 20 different ingredients we could add to our chocolates.
I opted for a mould with 16 small chocolates on it so that I could make a variety of flavours. To spice up my chocolates I made some with marshmallows, coconut, m & m’s, cinnamon, almonds, raisins, 100’s & 1000’s , quinoa and more. Not all in the one chocolate might I add.
We each completed our trays, poured our desired chocolate over the top (milk or dark) and set them in the fridge to cool. We had to come back an hour after the class to pick them up.
We had an awesome class and the chocolates were (and are) delicious, I’m eating some now.
We would HIGHLY recommend splurging and doing the chocolate workshop. Pedro made it lots of fun and the fact that you get to take home a lot of chocolate only sweetens the deal.
Next we’re heading to the Sacred Valley to visit various ruins and a few little towns!
From Puno we headed to Arequipa, the 2nd largest city in Peru.
Arequipa is known as the white city as many of it’s colonial buildings are built from local volcanic rock and sparkle in the sun.
The city is beautiful and on a clear day from the roof top of our hostel, Mercarderes Backpackers, we could see 2 volcanoes near town. Pretty amazing view for eating breakfast.
On our first day we did a free walking tour. We got taken around the city, shown the sites and given few tasty testers of the local cuisine. Specialties include chichi, pisco sours, fried fish with chilli sauce and queso helado (cheese ice-cream). Yes that’s right, cheese ice-cream. HOWEVER, it’s important for me to note here that there is no cheese in said ice-cream, it’s cinnamon, sugar, milk, etc.. and delicious. It purely has the name because it LOOKS like cheese.
6 hours outside of Arequipa is the Colca Canyon and valley, arguably the worlds 2nd deepest canyon (depending on where you get your information from).This was the main reason we came to visit this city.
Now we were faced with an important decision to make, would we trek the Colca Canyon by ourselves (and save some $$$’s) or take the easy way out and do a tour?
We eventually decided on doing a tour, for no reason other than when we worked it our money wise it wasn’t going to be super different and we wouldn’t have to organise our own transport, accommodation and meals. So it was easier. I’m not saying this is what everyone should do but we were all happy with the decision and since doing the trek, we’ve still got no regrets.
We did a 2 day,1 night trek with Peru Schweiz. The tour cost 120 Peruvian nuevo soles (roughly $50 AUD) and included meals, accommodation and transport to and from the canyon. All we had to do was walk, at whatever pace we wanted.
Here is a super QUICK overview of of 2 day Colca Canyon trek. Read on for more information.
3:30 a.m. Hostel pick up and leave for Chivay.
6:30 a.m. Arrive to Chivay and have breakfast.
8:30 a.m. Arrive at Cruz del Condor (the Condor Cross) to observe canyon and hopefully condors
10:00 a.m. Arrive at San Miguel and start our descent into the canyon.
1:00 p.m. Arrive at San Juan de Chuccho for lunch and a break
2:30 p.m. Continue the walk via villages of Cosñirhua and Malata before beginning descent to Sangalle known as the Oasis.
5:00 p.m. We arrive to the Oasis, swim (if sun and group makes it in time) and settle in to accommodation
7:30 p.m. Dinner and overnight.
5:00 a.m. We ascend the canyon from the oasis to Cabanaconde.
8:30 am Breakfast and rest legs in Cabanaconde before heading off for rest of days activities in the van.
- Hot springs
- Lunch (buffet)
- View point
- National Reserve
6:00 pm Arrive back in Arequipa ready to sleep forever
We were picked up at 3:30am from our hostel and taken to Chivay for breakfast. From here we headed on to Cruz del Condor. WHERE WE ACTUALLY SAW A CONDOR! It was beautiful.. and huge! With a wingspan of 3m it is one of the largest flying birds in the world. As it’s the wet season in this part of Peru currently we were not expecting to see anything as they’re known to hide during rain and cloudy conditions. However luckily for us hit was a beautiful day, and we got to see a huge andean condor fly right over our heads several times, and land on a rocky outcrop for some awesome photo opportunities.
From here we continued on in the van to San Miguel, where we were dropped off to begin our trek.
Day 1 consisted of 19 kilometres of walking. A tough on the knees 5km downhill start to the bottom of the canyon, followed by roughly 14km of up, down and flat terrain. Whilst it sounds like a lot, there was plenty of time for breaks and snacks along the way.
After the first downhill section we crossed a bridge at the bottom of the canyon and headed upward for roughly 20 minutes before stopping for lunch in San Juan de Chuccho. After a break and a tasty meal - alpaca, salad and rice - we headed onwards to Sangalle where we would spend the night at a well known hostel, The Oasis.
The Oasis is a series of small shacks with beds surrounding a much needed and refreshing pool. We had dinner and a couple of cheap mojitios before passing out early, ready for our pre 5am wake up.
We got up before dawn for a planned 5am start to trek up out of the Canyon to Cabanaconde. We got up in the dark and set off with out breakfast. We only needed torches for the first 20 minutes or so before first light, and the rest of the time we could just concentrate on walking
I’m not going to lie - the walk was hard. Not the toughest thing I have ever done, but far from the easiest. We climbed from about 2200m altitude at the base of the canyon to 3300m altitude at the top in just under 2 hours. However the scenery was absolutely amazing the entire time, and when we reached the top drenched in sweat just after the sun peaked over the horizon, we were treated to one of the most memorable views I have seen in my entire life. We got to hang around at the top for around an hour waiting for the rest of our group to complete the trek, and eating our own weight in bananas for sale by the lady at the edge of the canyon.
When the remainder of the group made it to the top, we set off again for another 20 minutes to a local restaurant in Cabanaconde for some well deserved breakkie. Plain scrambled eggs and nescafe had never tasted so good.
The rest of the day consisted of a visit to Chacapi thermal baths, a stop off at a national reserve to see some cheeky llamas and vicunas and lots of sleeping on the bus.
We got back to our hostel exhausted, bed at 8pm? Yes please.
We’ve got a few more days in Arequipa before we head onwards to Cusco where we’ll spend about a week before we do our Inca trail to Macchu Piccu!
After a 3 hour bus from Copacabana we arrived in Puno, Peru, still situated on Lake Titicaca.
We were staying in San Antonio Suites, a hotel pretty close to the Plaza de Armas and the centre of town. The first night we got in pretty late, so we just went for a walk around town and (somehow) managed avoiding being attacked by all the maniac kids in the streets with carnival silly string. We got a tasty dinner and a free pisco sour each and had a relatively early night.
The next morning we got picked up at about 6:30am for a tour to the Uros floating islands and Tacquile Island on the lake.
The Uros floating islands are completely made from the totora reeds and their roots, which grow in the lake around Puno. The islands are literally floating (we got shown the anchor ropes). The Uru people have been living on the lake as fisherman and hunters since before the time of the Incas, and their lives completely revolve around the totora reeds. They use the reeds to make a new island every 25 or so years, but as the islands are compressed by foot traffic they are constantly being added to. The reeds are also eaten, used as fuel for cooking stoves and turned into boats.
The islands each house about 3 families. Before visiting we had heard that some islands exist only for tourists. And that some of their “inhabitants” live in Puno for most of the week. However the island we visited was obviously lived on, and as we were invited into their homes we noticed many similarities to lived in bedroom's at home, such as dirty clothes and kids drawings. The houses were tiny (maybe 3 x 2 metres) and were home to anything from 2 to 5 people.
100 years ago the Uru people would have made absolutely everything from the reeds, including huts on the floating islands. Everything else that they needed (clothes etc) would have been traded with other civilisations and then the Incas. Nowadays due to the influx of tourism dollars and the close proximity of the large city of Puno, they have access to plenty of other cheap and light building materials such as corrugated tin to make more watertight houses from. They can also buy small dinghies with outboard motors to get around on the lake - much easier than rowing a totora reed boat. There are also 2 floating primary schools on the lake so that young children can easily attend school without having to travel into Puno. Many islands also have solar panels and satellite dishes so that they can watch TV or power some lights at night.
Whilst the influx of tourism dollars here has certainly changed their lifestyle somewhat, it is still worth a visit to the floating islands to have a look at a different way of life and to see how the Uru people are moving into the 21st century.
Next stop - Taquile Island.
The Taquile people live primarily as farmers growing maize, beans and other crops on the island, as well as farming sheep and cattle. The men in the community also have an interesting history as knitters. Everyone on the island always wears traditional colonial dress, with the men’s clothes kind of making them look like matadors and the women wearing multiple skirts and long black shawls over their heads.
Their clothing and it’s decoration also represents their marital status - men wear different coloured hats and women have different sized and coloured pompoms on their shawls depending if they are married or single. They also sell plenty of these awesome coloured hats, scarves and belts at a communal store set up on the Plaza de Armas in the centre of the island.
We got a delicious trout lunch on Tacquile and went for a walk around the beautiful island for an hour or so before getting on the boat back to Puno.
It was an interesting day out on the lake and certainly worth the stop at both places if you are in Puno.
The next morning we checked out and got on a 6 hour bus to the next stop - Arequipa and the Colca Cañon.
We've booked our Inca Trail trek for early March 2015.
We were deciding between Peru Treks and Llama Path as we know people that have been with, and enjoyed both tour companies. Also both companies had been named in the "Top 5 Inca Trail operators" on numerous websites.
From the million and one reviews we've read both these companies seem to treat (and pay) their staff the best. The way the staff are treated and paid is really important to us when booking a company, both from a selfish point of view and a humane view. If the staff are paid and treated well they are more likely to treat us well, and give us a thorough and safe experience. It is also nice to know that the locals putting in the hard work on the ground are being paid adequately and not being ripped off by their managers. Many tour agencies can be run by foreigners who take a large amount of the profit and do not pay the local staff sufficiently.
In the end, after much deliberation we decided to go with Peru Treks, however that being said we would have happily gone with either company.
Stay tuned for our review of Machu Picchu and The Inca Trail, we cannot wait!
At the time of writing this post Peru Trek's cost $595US per person for the 4 day, 3 night Inca trail trek all inclusive.
We got it for $585 per person as you get a $10 discount per person when booking in a group of 4+.
An Aussie who loves travelling, hiking, trail running and pretty much any activity you can do outdoors.