You will find yourself praying to Pachamama, the goddess of Earth, when you hike Peru. Especially if you visit during the rainy season when all you want are sunny, blue skies. When you’re drenched head to toe from cold Peruvian showers, you’ll consider afternoon prayer sessions.
Despite the sudden down pours and energy-draining altitude sickness I encountered, Peru is my ‘hiker’s paradise’. From the communal atmosphere to the mountains, which took my breath away (literally), I was left without regret for a single day in Peru.
Here is the best, yet most challenging, Peruvian adventure I encountered during my three-city, three-week, backpacking trip.
I arrived at the Lima airport around midnight, with my best friend Monique and her brother Alex. From the start, it was overwhelming and chaotic. We were surrounded by a cluster of drivers repeatedly yelling “taxi.” We opted for an Uber.
Our Uber arrived but an overly aggressive taxi driver, screaming that Uber is illegal, scared the Uber away. We were pushed into a corner of either attempting to order a second Uber or returning to the reception desk with the hope of negotiating the expensive taxi prices down to a reasonable rate. The reception desk was the final verdict.
Since I was the only one out of the three of us who could speak Spanish, it was up to me. After a somewhat fluid conversation, we loaded our heavy backpacks in the taxi and headed out for our first morning in Peru. If we had to do it over, we would have arranged for the hostel airport pickup, a service which most hostels in Peru provide.
Finally arriving at our hostel, I needed a drink. We headed to our hostel’s bar for Peru’s national drink, The Peruvian Pisco Sour. The drink is a mix of sour, bitter, citrus and sweet. The base liquor, Pisco, comes from Peru.
We spent the following days walking around Lima, seeing what this beautiful beach city had to offer. We were in Peru during the week of the New Year’s holiday. We celebrated the new year hopping from one salsa bar to the next and laying on the warm beaches in the afternoons.
One of the best spots to get away to and relax during Peru’s renowned sunsets is El Parque del Amor. I fell in love with this spot and the gorgeous views of the sunset.
I recommend staying in Lima for three to four days. Any longer and you may be bored and spending unnecessary money. This is especially true for broke college students who know that every penny counts.
-Party Hostel – Pariwana Hostel Lima (Next to the beach; in the main city center)
-Relaxed Vibe Hostel – Barranco Backpackers Inn (Next to the beach; near the bar street)
Cusco was one hell of a roller coaster ride.
We stayed at the Intro Hostel when we arrived in Cusco, where we were greeted by a house cat and a receptionist with the coolest grandpa sweater (You might assume I’m talking about a Peruvian poncho but no, he wore a hand-knitted, white and red sweater made by his wife).
We only spent two days in Cusco exploring the markets and city squares before heading off for the main attraction: Machu Picchu.
We knew we wanted a multiple day trek because we like hiking. We booked the Inka Jungle Four Day Trek, through Loki Travel for $250. Although this may seem expensive, especially for all those budget travelers, we estimated we saved money because all the meals, transportation, and lodging is included in the price. I highly recommend this tour group. Our tour guide, Brosanch was a great guide and a cool guy.
Day 1 – Cusco To Santa Maria
We left Loki Hostel at 6a.m. and began a whirlwind of an adventure.
It was a four-hour drive through the luscious jungles and up the jagged mountains of Peru before we reached our first stop 42,000 meters above sea level, Abra Malaga. The drive was somewhat nerve wracking, our van flew down narrow roads, hitting blind turns and nearly barreling off the mountain.
I had signed a contract with Loki Travel denying them responsibility if something were to happen, like death or serious injury. So, I just prayed to Pachamama and as always, she pulled through.
I thought I was in the clear when we reached the highest point but it was only the beginning. Bone-chilling rain poured down as we strapped on our mountain biking gear to hit the pavement.
Scared does not even begin to describe my array of emotions at that moment.
Next thing I knew, we were flying down the side of the mountain on a one-vehicle wide road attempting to avoid the oncoming traffic. The van was following behind for all the stragglers who crashed or tapped out.
A French couple was the first to crash. They were badly cut up and bleeding when they made their way to the ‘battle wound van.’ Next, one of the Brazilian girls collided with a falling rock, sending her painfully back into the van.
Alex was the next to go. He was driven off the road and hit by one of the crazy Peruvian drivers. He flew over his bike and barely escaped plummeting over the precipice. He was cut up from head to toe and his shoulder separated from the socket. But he took the blow like a champ and climbed aboard the dreaded van.
One by one, we each crashed and burned. Some of us continued biking through the pain, while others traded up for a dry warm seat in the van. I was the luckiest of the group, having only crashed once, and attaining no battle wounds to show it. After three hours and a 2,000-meter descent, we arrived in Santa Maria.
I ate lunch and said my goodbyes to Alex and Monique as they headed to the hospital in Cusco. They urged me to stay and trek on, reassuring me of their return the next day. That night, I stayed with the group in a family-owned, jungle lodge where we patched up our crash wounds, played cards, and prepared for the following day of hiking.
Day 2 – Santa Maria To Santa Teresa
Waking up amid the jungle was encouraging, considering the long trek I had ahead of me that day. After an intense climb to the start of our trek down the Inka Trail, we found ourselves deep in the jungle following alongside the Urubamba River.
Brosanch took the opportunity to show us all the fruits and plants that we were passing. There are coffee bean fields with their array of colors and the coca fields with their luscious bushes, which we picked at for bursts of energy.
Stopping at Quellamayo’s famous monkey house after five hours was a blessing in disguise. It was only an hour ‘pit stop’ but it was the break I needed to get off my feet. With my heels blistering and my calves burning, my spirits remained high with all the natural snacks we picked along the way.
We also took this opportunity to destroy my intestines. The group and I took turns passing snake-venom liquor around the table, one-by-one taking shots. It tasted as vile as it sounds.
Icy rain poured during the entire, brutal hike.
After about 10 hours and 18 kilometers later (11 miles), we arrived in Santa Teresa. Before heading to the next lodge for dinner and cards, we stopped at the Santa Taresa Hot Springs. All of the aches of the trail began to fade as I sunk into the steamy waters.
Later that evening, my friends had returned. Alex’s arm was patched up and in a sling. Luckily, it wasn’t broken. With my best friend back by my side and Alex still alive, we celebrated with drinks and bachata.
Day 3 – Santa Teresa To Aguas Calientes
We walked alongside the river and famous Incan train tracks for five hours until we reached the town of Aguas Calientes. Stopping along the way to lounge in hammocks and relax was the highlight of day three. This day was a much needed break. Aquas Calientes is a site to see with it’s warm rapids and colorful buildings.
Day 4 – Aguas Calientes to Machu Pichu
A storm woke us up before our alarms had the chance to. We rolled out of bed at 3:45 a.m. We got ourselves together and made our way to the bus stop.
We had planned on hiking up to Macu Picchu but with persistent brutal weather, we opted for a bus ticket. At this point, not even Pachamama could save the day. It was going to be a wet and wild wonder of the world, so we figured we might as well learn to love the rain.
When we made it to the ruins, we were given a two-hour tour exploring all the hidden gems of this city. I was blown away. It is a mystery how the Incan people created such a place without the help of the wheel, especially thousands and thousands of meters up in the mountains, and how Spain did not discover this majestic town when they came and conquered. None of it made sense but it was real.
After the tour came the good part, inducing altitude sickness of course. We were given the option to hike one of the two famous mountains, Huayana Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Since we heard Machu Picchu mountain was significantly more brutal and excruciatingly hard, we chose the latter.
The swimmers and wrestlers who accompanied us had no problem showing off as they sprinted up the mountain, leaving Monique and I huffing and puffing in a pool of our own sweat. When we made it to the top, the clouds blanketing all of Machu Picchu made it pretty much invisible. So we said a quick prayer to our beloved Pachamama.
On the descent, she did what she does best and saved the day. The atmosphere shifted from rainy and cloudy to sunny and hot. Machu Picchu was gloriously beaming. I had goosebumps as I looked on in awe. Life was good and the bouts of nausea, cramping, and exhaustion from the previous four days were well worth this moment.
When we headed back to Cusco, we spent the remainder of our adventures exploring the markets and eating Cuy, fried or roasted Guinea Pig. Aside from the must-visit Machu Picchu, I recommend spending at least five to seven days exploring the city of Cusco. It’s beautiful and mountainous and I miss it every day.
Party Hostel – Pariwana Hostel Cusco (Around the corner from the city center/ Plaza de Arms)
–Loki Travel Hostel Cusco (5minute walk from Plaza de Armas/ 5minute walk to bar street)
Relaxed Vibe Hostel- Intro Hostel (5minute walk from Plaza de Armas, 5minute walk to bar street)
Remember how I mentioned I’d tell you about the most challenging adventures? Yes, Laguna 69 from start to finish was the hardest mountain I’ve ever climbed. It’s especially difficult for someone who spends every weekend drinking at University. I blame the beer belly. To say the least, it made Machu Picchu seem easy. And if it wasn’t already hard enough, Alex was basically handicapped for the remainder of trip, so, we had to carry all his gear.
(Note to self: don’t drink all your water on the bus ride before you hike 4,600 meters.)
By hour two of the hike, my body was beginning to ache from minimal water intake and lack of oxygen. It wasn’t until we sat down to rest and snack on some fruits that I realized how much pain my body was in. My legs were cramping and my joints were burning. I felt tricked by my friend who recommended this hike, claiming it “wasn’t too hard.”
When hour three hit, I was spiraling downhill fast. My nose was bleeding from the altitude and I had already vomited once. All self-motivation had disappeared and if it weren’t for the amazing guide who kicked my butt the rest of the way, I probably wouldn’t have made it.
I was practically crawling and gasping for air when I finally reached the jaw-dropping beautiful glacier lake. It was so blue and cold and flat. I had to take a dip, even if it meant hypothermia.
Since we took so long to ascend to mountain, we had less time to chill in the frigid glacier lake. At least the hike down though wasn’t as rough. It only took about half the time and significantly less energy. I think I slept for two days straight after this trek.
As excruciating of a hike as it was, I would still highly recommend it to all those adventurers out there. Learn from my mistakes and you’ll love this climb probably even more than I did.
I’d like to note here that Huaraz does not have any party hostels. Instead, these hostels aim to accommodate climbers, trekkers and adventure travelers. Backpackers looking for a party should travel elsewhere.
–La Casa De Zarela (10minute walk from Plaza de Armas, 10 minute walk to bus station)
–Akilpo Hostel (5minute walk from Plaza de Armas, 5minute to bus station)
–Monkeywasi (10minute walk from Plaza de Armas, 10minute walk to bus station)
If you ever considered booking a flight to Peru and exploring all the natural beauty it has to offer, do it. Peru will forever remain my hiker’s paradise and by far one of my favorite countries I’ve visited.
Originally published June 25, 2017 at www.sunflowergypsy.com.