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While it’s no secret, people travel thousands of miles across the globe to witness one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in Machu Picchu, the reality is, if you come to Peru, just for that, there’s a multitude of beauty you’ll be missing out on.
Peru is a magnetic and diverse country, full of some of the most kind-hearted and warm-spirited people you’ll ever meet.
As soon as I touched down in Lima’s Airport, I was met with the faces of eager taxi drivers (I’m sure they all just wanted my money ha), nonetheless, their faces were cheery and it hit me that I had finally arrived in the gorgeous country of Peru.
So before I talk logistics, there are some things to know and understand about Peru and Peruvian culture.
First and most importantly, there will come a time when you’re presented with a drink called Pisco Sour. It is both heavenly and sinful in the same breath.
Two cups of this magical sorcery will have you questioning the earth’s orbit and life’s meaning altogether. It’s powerful and amazing. But consider yourself warned.
Secondly, you’ll encounter many slums and regions of extreme poverty while exploring, and according to government statistics, 8 million Peruvians still qualify as poor. So do your best to support the indigenous people who live in the remote and rural areas.
Many times they’ll make their way to the centers of cities to sell little artifacts, so support them where and when you can.
Peru has so much history to it and the indigenous people, despite being amongst the poorest, will be some of the happiest and most helpful people you’ll encounter.
There’s simply no better way to see and explore Peru than the hop-on, hop-off bus company called Peru Hop.
They have over 40 passes to choose from depending on how much time you have and what budget you’re working with.
Comparatively speaking, trying to explore Peru on your own, whether through private transportation or flights, Peru Hop will by far the cheapest way to see as much as possible!
You get so much bang for your buck, because en route to the next stop (which you can choose to stay at or keep riding on to the next destination) you have a local guide who gives you helpful information in both English and Spanish. Plus you’ll get bonus excursions for cheap like a speedboat tour of the Ballestas Islands and riding in a dune buggy to go sandboarding in the Huacachina Desert!
I went with the “Get To Cusco Quick” route because we were a little short on time. I definitely think I have to come back and take the time to explore Arequipa and especially Lake Titicaca (for immature reasons), so sometimes it’s nice not to do everything at once, because it gives you an excuse to come back 😉
The buses were as spacious as the Trip Advisor reviews told me they’d be and then some! If you’re lucky, you’ll even get the buses equipped with USB ports at each seat, which was such an unexpected surprise for the battery-depleted soul within.
The route we chose came with a stop at Pachacamac to see the pre-Inca citadel (Lima’s poor version of Machu Picchu), an exclusive tour of underground slave tunnels in Chincha that were used to traffic slaves in the 17th century (this was really interesting), a pisco vineyard tour to sample more of Peru’s national liquor, a stop at Paracas National Reserve, one of the biggest protected deserts in the Americas, and finally a climb up Nazca Lines Viewing Tower, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
So much Peruvian goodness packed in our four days with Peru Hop. I can’t recommend them enough!
We were surprised to find accommodation reasonably-priced in each stop, even while being there during a national holiday when prices were to supposed to be slightly higher.
If you peruse Hostelworld for places in the stops of Paracas and Huacachina, you’ll find dorm accommodation as cheap as $5/night and private rooms just a few dollars more. Feel free to even “splurge” on hotels in the area for as little as $40/night. God, I love you Peru.
The guides on board will help recommend accommodations and you can ask other passengers on board where they’re staying if you’d like to congregate. More than likely, you’ll all end up drinking at the same bar by the end of the night anyway!
One doesn’t simply visit Peru without splurging on the amazing Peruvian cuisine. While I had no idea how much weight gain would be waiting for me on the other side of this visit, here are the top 3 dishes that you simply must try when in Peru! Food is not only incredibly cheap (large-portioned meals around $5 USD), but it is practically a way to pass time here. Did I mention the multiple Michelin-starred restaurants in this country? Oh, okay. ‘Nuff said.
This national delicacy can be found at any restaurant or small mom and pop shop in Peru. Peru’s coast allows this country to be one of the world’s most bountiful sources of seafood.
Ceviche is just a fancy way of saying raw fish, but it’s marinated in citrus juice which gives it flavor and a sort of chewy consistency. It’s best served with sweet potato and one shouldn’t dare to have it after 4PM, as I’m told it must be served from the fresh fish caught that day.
2. Lomo Saltado
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve ordered this dish, because it’s simply the perfect blend of Chinese and Peruvian cuisine.
Blame my love of Asian food, but back when Chinese immigrants first arrived in Peru looking for work, it’s said that they added to Peru’s cuisine with this stir-fry nature of beef, tomatoes, peppers, and onions that are served in this dish, accompanied by white rice. You simply can’t go wrong.
Getting to Machu Picchu:
Though Peru Hop has an amazing page on their site outlining different ways to get to Machu Picchu from Cusco depending on your time frame and budget, here’s exactly how we did it, for those who loved our journey on Snapchat and wanted to do the exact route.
STEP 1: Get to Cusco. Cusco is the closest major city to Machu Picchu with multiple offices where you can both book your journey to Machu Picchu and then your actual ticket into Machu Picchu (126 Peruvian Soles or around $37 USD).
STEP 2: Visit a Peru Rail office. There’s a couple around Cusco, but we went to the one in Plaza de Armas, as it was the most central to our hotel.
If you’re short on time, I would opt for this luxury train to Aguas Calientes (another name for the small town of Machu Picchu) as this is the quickest way, albeit most expensive, too.
You’re given a light snack en route, there’s an announcer giving real-time facts as you pass certain areas, and it is so freakin’ scenic!
By visiting their office in person, they will likely have a promotion going on. Train tickets each way can be as cheap as $60 or as much as $300. It really depends on the day of the week, timing, and whether or not it’s high season.
STEP 3: Book your train ticket at the Peru Rail office from Poroy Station (25 minute taxi ride from Cusco) to your arrival station which will be called Machu Picchu/Aguas Calientes.
Machu Picchu is actually a really cute little town and it’s worth staying a night the day you arrive and then embarking on the hike/bus trip up to Machu Picchu the next morning.
STEP 4: Pack all the bug spray and mosquito repellant you can! People who did the Inca Trail looked like they were eaten alive. Despite being so high up in the air, mosquitoes will be out in full force.
They’re the silent kind too. You don’t really hear or even see them. Just the million bites that appear on your arm the next day.
STEP 5: Wake up at 4:30AM the day you want to visit the actual site of Machu Picchu and wait in line for the bus up the mountain (about a 30-minute ride).
If you decide to walk/hike it, BRING WATER and SNACKS! I can’t stress that enough, and perhaps it’s obvious, but man, it is steep and you will need to rehydrate.
Besides staring death in the face on multiple occasions, the hike will be pretty standard. It’ll suck, ha. It’ll take you roughly an hour and a half to get to the entrance of Machu Picchu from the start in Aguas Calientes.
When you finally get to the top to enter, you’ll see 4-5 lines. Just jump to the one that looks the shortest. There are multiple officers checking passports (which you can get stamped) and letting you in, so don’t let the big, jumbled crowd confuse you.
STEP 6: For the best photos, don’t just stop at the first platform once you get to the top. Keep going upwards and to the right. You’ll see a little house perched on the top, and you’ll also find llamas that’ll be roaming free!
We got to the top around 6:15AM (entrance opens at 6AM), and it was nothing but grey, foggy clouds. Of course, in anticipation of the great Inca trail and then being greeted with this, you saw the collective confusion. Where the hell are those glorious green and stone trails I paid all this money to see?
Worry not. Perch yourself onto a ledge and eat some of the snacks you brought as you wait for the clouds to pass. Because when that glorious moment comes and you find yourself in tears, it makes the anticipation worth every initial expletive blurted — from others of course.
Unless you’ve booked tickets up Wayna Picchu (I’ve been told these sell out up to 4 months in advance), just enjoy exploring the ruins at your own pace.
Walk up to the Sun Gate if you’re up for another
stab at death hour hike, or hire one of the local guides to give you some more in-depth information on the current state of the trail and lesser-known history.
While this magical experience will go down in my book as one of the best experiences of my life, I can’t stress how much adequate planning is required to make sure you get the most of this experience.
Machu Picchu is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to see it up close at least once in your lifetime.
A big thanks to Peru Hop for helping us with this incredible experience! Don’t forget to use them to see the best Peru has to offer! I’m still riding my Machu Picchu high.