We are slowly but surely catching up on our blog after being a bit lacking over the last few weeks! I’ll pick up on our Southern Peru adventures starting with our trip to Lima, the capital of Peru.
The pinnacle of our time in Peru was the Inca trek to Machu Picchu so we didn’t do a whole lot except prepare for it and adjust to the altitude but I’ll give a few thoughts on Lima, Cusco and Arequipa.
We arrived in Lima after an 8 hour bus journey from Huarez. We decided to go by day bus as we were sick of the overnight ones! We arrived on a Thursday, stayed for 3 nights before flying to Cusco on the Sunday for the Inca trek the following Wednesday. As it was mid-December, the Christmas spirit was evident even in the hot weather of Lima – though decorations and Christmas trees looked wrong in the middle of summer.
Lima is such a spread out city with lots of different districts and suburbs. We stayed in the Miraflores area and got there using the Metropolitano, a rapid bus transit that has its own dedicated lane and platform for boarding. A special smart card is needed to get through the barrier but we got chatting to a local guy who saw we were a bit lost using the system and he beeped us through on his card and told us to just ask a local to beep us through if using again. He said its not worth the hassle of getting a card if you’re only here for a few days. We squeezed onto the rush hour bus, backpacks and all, and off we went. The guy was a local Liman and was happy to practice his English with us and find out about our trip and about Ireland so sometimes its worth talking to strangers!
Miraflores was a very posh area of the city with lots of bars, restaurants, hostels and parks. Our hostel, the Inkawasi, was near the coast and had great views of the Pacific Ocean. Lima is much more developed for tourists and prices reflect this and were not what we were used to from Northern Peru and Colombia. We had a very average burger and chips that cost 120 Nuevo Soles (about €30) for 2, what you’d expect to pay in Eddie Rockets and nowhere near as nice as Eddie’s. Backpackers can’t be wasting money like that haha!
The centre of Miraflores was Kennedy Park where there were buskers, food stalls and lots of cats! It is said that the cats were brought in to combat rats and now volunteers feed and neuter them and make them available for adoption. They are free to roam around the park and have become a bit of a tourist attraction. We had a few beers and tried to hide our food shopping that attracted loads of them towards us, the last thing we wanted was rabies even if they’d had all their shots.
The next day we walked further down the coast to another suburb, Barranco. The walk along the cliff top is stunning with lots of well manicured parks and even a posh outdoor shopping centre built into the cliff. The apartment blocks were very fancy with big balconies and even security guards that patrol the streets around the complexes. The gap between rich and poor is much more obvious when you see guards and gated communities. There are definitely the ‘have’ and ‘have nots’ in South America.
The central square of Barranco was full of activity with a kids Christmas carol show taking place, again odd in the heat and in Spanish but nice to experience.
Lima city centre is much more chaotic than the suburbs with lots of markets and run down shopping centres. But it does have a nice colonial square with a cathedral and the presidential building where all life congregates on a Saturday afternoon. We got a churro, which is a long deep-fried pastry with chocolate inside and covered in sugar, and sat on the steps and watched the activity. There were tour buses and horse & carts looking for business, locals buying Christmas presents and even a wedding going on. The couple posed for photos on the steps of the cathedral and in the centre of the square and were loving being the centre of attention.
We visited the San Francisco church which is famous for its catacombs and saw lots of bones of deceased Limans stacked up in odd patterns, spooky.
After our short stay in Lima we got a flight to Cusco. The bus to Cusco was 20 hours but a flight was not much more expensive so we went with the 1 hour flight. On our journey to the airport we went through the poorer parts of Lima, such a different world compared to Miraflores. When we arrived in Cusco, we immediately noticed the change in altitude. We had experienced some of this in Huarez so knew what to expect. Cusco, at a height of 3,399m, is the place to book and organise a trip to Machu Picchu.
We had booked the Inca trail months in advance as they only let 500 trekkers on the trail per day. We paid the balance at the office and set off to get all the supplies we needed.
Cusco is a beautiful city besides being the gateway to Machu Picchu and was once the centre of the Inca kingdom. The architecture is a mix between Inca and Spanish conquerors with a lovely main square and surrounding streets. We stayed in a hostel that was down a small lane that had the tiniest path possible to still be called a path, it was a struggle walking down when cars were flying past especially with our big backpacks.
I wrote all about our Machu Picchu trip in a separate blog post so I won’t go into it again!
When we returned to Cusco we stayed for a day and did nothing except go and see the new Star Wars film (priorities!). We managed to get to a showing in English with Spanish subtitles and then got the 10 hour bus to Arequipa where we had booked an Airbnb apartment for 5 days over Christmas.
It was total luxury compared to the hostels and tents we were accustomed to and great to be able to cook your own food instead of eating out every night.
Our host Carolina lived in the upstairs apartment and was really helpful even if her English was patchy and our Spanish pretty bad. She told us that she is going to Dublin for two weeks in August to study English and wanted to stay with us so we will see how that pans out!
It was a very different Christmas than what we usually have in Dublin. There was no 12 pubs, work nights out or the buzz around town on the lead up to Christmas Day but it was ok to miss it for 1 year. Christmas Eve is the main event in South America with presents exchanged and dinner had at midnight. There was also lots of fireworks and cheering on the streets, much more like New Years Eve than Christmas Eve. We had no oven in the apartment but managed to rustle up a Christmas dinner of chicken breast and streaky bacon with lots of vegetables and mashed potatoes.
The Wifi wasn’t the best in the apartment but we found a Starbucks the day before that was open on Christmas Day so we ended up going there and skyping the family back home. As we walked through the town square we saw that there was a big parade and celebration taking place. It was a really colourful event with adults and kids dressed up in traditional clothes and masks and marching behind their group banner around the square. It was very entertaining and something besides the usual selection box and TV soaps on Christmas Day!
After a relaxing and enjoyable few days we were ready to move on so we booked a bus for early on St Stephens Day to leave Arequipa and onto our next destination, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia!