Peru was the perfect launching point for my journey, yes, because of the not-so-metaphorical Inca Trail journey to Machu Picchu, but more importantly, because I quickly gained the confidence that I actually can do all of this traveling on my own… or will be able to. Beyond my ability to complete this year-long venture, it's knowing that along the way I will meet incredible, amazing people that will make the journey so much more than a collection of sites, that will be my travel companions, my confidents, and my friends.
While plenty of people told me not to give Lima the time of day and head straight to Cusco, Lima was a wonderful starting point. I stayed at a wonderful hostel - Pariwana - which, yes, had a bit of a party atmosphere, but moreso allowed me to quickly meet interesting travelers that I clicked with instantly. The first of these was Dafna, an Israeli girl wrapping up 5 months of solo travel around South America. We were inseparable during our time in Lima, exploring the Larco Museum, sampling Peruvian cuisine - from a crevice restaurant to the various samplings at the local market in Miraflores (which I highly recommend if you're in the area!), exploring a set of Incan ruins smack in the middle of the city, and even getting out for a night at a local bar with a handful of English gentlemen and local Peruvians. While in Lima I pretty much stuck to Miraflores (with the exception of the Larco Museum, which I also recommend), even making it over to the coastal area to a posh new mall built into the cliffside to visit CrossFit Miraflores (thus far my only venture into a CrossFit gym abroad). The one site I didn't visit, which I hear is worth the trip, was a "water park" of sorts uptown - and when I say water park, I mean more "Bellagio fountain" and less "slip n' slide" - where they even go so far as to project lights and images onto the fountains at night.
|Exploring the Miraflores market with Dafna.|
Cusco was exactly what was promised - a beautiful colonial town, relatively clean, with cobblestone streets, and a thriving tourism industry. I again stayed at Pariwana - less party atmosphere at this one, but no less energetic, this one included a beautiful central open-air patio complete with beanbag chairs to relax during the day - and ran into a number of folks who had also stayed in the Lima version. I didn't fly to Cusco, but rather took a 20 hour bus ride on the "luxury" Cruz del Sur line - roughly $60 for an overnight stay (on the bus…), including lunch and a sparse breakfast. Surprisingly, the 20 hours went by relatively quickly. If you have the time in your schedule, I also recommend the bus option as an easy money-saver! As I've learned through the rest of the trip, buses are a cheap, easy, and convenient (if not exactly efficient) form of transportation around the continent, and for a few extra dollars, security and comfort are relatively easy to come by.
But back to Cusco… I've already written about my amazing experience with the cooking class in town, but another couple of great options are the free walking tours. One meets in the main plaza at 12:15 daily, the other meets in a small plaza close by at 11:50. I never made it to the latter, but the 12:15 option included a 3 hour detailed tour of the history of the city, complete with stops at various museums and panoramic overlooks of Cusco, and finishing up with a Pisco Sour lesson. The tour was fantastic, and I wound up enjoying a cheap and delicious meal afterwards with our guides, a handful of Americans (who I would run into throughout the Inca Trail), and a couple of Germans. And though I've already mentioned it, a trip to the Saqsayhuaman ruins and the white Jesus atop the city is well worth it, especially before a trip to Machu Picchu.
|Panoramic view of Cusco during our city tour.|
|Unique pizza at La Bodega 138.|
From Peru, I've made my way now to Bolivia (via bus, of course) - a country that wasn't even on my original itinerary, but has proven itself to be at once charming, beautiful, gritty, and cheap. I've met a number of incredible new travel partners, and I'm greatly enjoying my time thus far. I'll be sure to include much more detail on my time in Bolivia soon!