Marvelous Peru…Our first trip to South America – Part 1 (Huaraz and Cusco)

Last post of 2015 and highlight of our year, trip to Peru. Can you believe this year is over…..already??? Hoping next year would be filled with wonderful surprises…here’s to 2016 🙂

I wanted to post all about our Peru trip as soon as possible but at the same time didn’t want to rush into it. I simply wanted to write a post that was short, precise and up to the point but at the same time highlighting our experience and challenges that we faced in a whole new country. Being our very first trip to south america we were nervous and excited all at the same time. We did a lot of research, read a lot of travel blogs and started making notes about all the important stuff. So please bear with me as it is going to be a long post since there are certain things that I just cannot leave out. Alas not a short post that I was hoping for :P.

This post will be divided in two parts, this post (Part 1) will be all about Huaraz and Cusco while the second part will be exclusively dedicated to Machu Picchu in another post :).

Peru is a breathtaking country, blessed with beautiful mountains, natural beauty in every corner and rich with cultural heritage. But what I liked most about Peru was the warm and friendly people that we came across. Almost all the cities in Peru are tourist destinations. So it was difficult for us to narrow down to places that we really wanted to see in our short time there. If you are someone who has ample amount of time or planning a really long vacation, I would say that you could easily spend 3 weeks or up to a month and cover almost all the attractions. However we had only 10 days to spare. 
After a lot of pondering and research we decided to cover Huaraz (3 nights and 4 days), Cusco (2 nights and 3 days) and Machu Picchu (1 night and 2 days). Unfortunately we had to skip some of the must see attractions.
Now before I start writing about our experience and share all the beautiful pics, there are certain things that you should keep in mind before visiting this country. 
High altitude: Peru is situated at a very high altitude. Adjusting to higher altitudes can take some time. I would suggest to take it slow. Plan you trip such that you get accustomed to the higher altitude gradually. Cusco and Puno are the two cities with an altitude which is more than 10,000ft (3300m). Huaraz is also situated at about the same altitude. Machu Picchu is at 8040ft;2450m. There is a possibility of getting altitude sickness if you don’t get acclimatized. Hence it becomes imperative that you move gradually towards higher altitude during your trip. People usually spend few days sight seeing at Lima and then take a bus from Lima to Huaraz. Some suggest that taking a bus is a better idea since you will be slowly moving to higher altitudes which is not the case with flights.  Due to time crunch we skipped Lima and instead only stayed there for a night and flew to Huaraz next morning. Some people may get easily acclimatized to the higher altitude while some may not. It took me 2 complete days to adjust to the higher altitude while hubby was fine after one day. So you see it totally depends upon an individual.

Tips to overcome altitude sickness:
1) Moving from lower altitude to higher altitude: Like I mentioned plan your trip such that you start off at lower altitudes and gradually move towards higher altitudes [Cusco/Puno/Huaraz]. I am not sure how well this works but that is what is suggested by some.
2) Drink plenty of water: Very very important. Tried and tested. The thin and dry air at higher altitudes causes extreme dehydration. When we were in Huaraz we drank around 5 to 6 liters of water everyday. But this helped us tremendously. There were times when I felt like I was going to have a headache, drank loads of water and the headache disappeared.

3) Coca Tea: Coca tea is also highly recommended for altitude sickness. Locals swear by it. It tastes somewhat like green tea. Coca tea will be served to you almost every place you go in Peru, it is easily available and cheap.

4) Do not take altitude sickness pills: Yes you read that right. When researching you will find many websites and blogs that may suggest you to take pills. But trust me, it will only make you feel worse. We heard lot of stories and also saw people getting terribly sick after taking these pills. You really don’t need them. Give yourself a day or two maybe 3 to acclimatize, but don’t take pills it will only make you more sick. Water is what helped me. After spending 4 days at Huaraz, Cusco was so easy and Machhu Picchu was a breeze because I was already acclimatized. But that doesn’t mean you should decrease the amount of water you drink in your entire trip.

5) Eat lots of carbs: Yup you read that right. Worried that you might end up gaining few pounds? Don’t. It will be the other way round. Even merely sitting on a chair at higher altitudes makes you loose calories :P. Because you will be burning a lot of energy while trying to adjust at higher altitudes. Fuel your body with the right carbs, eat lots of food and have fun :).

Travel smart and travel light. Below I have listed some important things to carry. I have also included things that will be needed if you are planning to go on a hike.

  • Running or trekking shoes and an extra pair of shoe
  • Long sleeve and high collar shirts (higher altitude means you will be more prone to sun burns)
  • Ponchos
  • Fleece/jackets
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun Hats
  • Sun glasses
  • Toilet paper/wet papers
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Torch
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, soap, shampoo, toothpaste) soap and shampoo only if you are planning to stay at Llanganuco Mountain Lodge 
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Compass (if you are planning to hike)
  • Printouts of all the hotel bookings and flight bookings
  • Backpack reservoir/Hydration Pack (very important if you are planning on hiking)
  • Warm socks
  • Camera (DSLR & waterproof)
  • First aid kit

Some other helpful tips:

1) Carry change and enough cash: Carry bills and coins of smaller denominations. Apart from hotels and restaurants in the cities, you will find very few places that accept credit cards. Hence carry enough cash (soles) whenever you are out for sight seeing or shopping at local markets.

2) Be informed: Collect as much information as much as possible. For eg: Taxi fare from point A to point B. When we first arrived at Cusco airport, we ended up paying double the amount on taxi. From there on we made sure that we knew the expected amount of taxi fare. Just ask the person at the hotel reception and they will be more than happy to help you.

2) Learn some basic Spanish: Not mandatory but helpful. Although most of the hotel and restaurant staff speak English, locals rarely do. Find some time to learn the basics before you plan your vacation, it will make your trip more fun and memorable.

3) Do not flush toilet papers. Instead throw it in the dustbin.

4) Carry toilet papers and hand sanitizers: Many local restrooms/washrooms may not have toilet papers so do carry some with you when traveling.

5) Drink only bottled water: Drink water only from bottled water. It is not recommended to drink water directly from the tap unless you are planning to get sick :P. And carry bottled water at all times with you to avoid dehydration.

6) Be aware and be safe: We found Peru rather safe but when you are visiting a new country it is always better to take some precautions. Carry your passport with you at all times, do not flaunt too much cash or wear flashy jewelry or do anything that might catch unwanted attention. 

Now that I have taken care of some of the important pointers lets move on to the fun part.

HUARAZ

Our first stop was Huaraz. This place is a hidden gem of Peru. Surrounded by mountains from all the sides, Huaraz is a dream destination for people seeking solace in the lap of nature. A perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungles, pollution and the one thing that keeps us away from the outer world “Technology” or should I simply say social media :P.
We were totally off the grid for 4 days. And boyyyyy it was amazing. But make sure to inform you loved ones that you will be unable contact them when visiting this place. 

On our way to the Llanganuco Mountain Lodge

Llanganuco Moutain Lodge:

One look at the photos online and we were in love with this place. We just couldn’t give this a skip. Nestled among huge mountains, you will fall in love with this place if you are a true nature lover. We zeroed down this specific lodge since we wanted a place away from Huaraz city and convenient for hiking. Location is a plus as it is near to all the hiking trails. The lodge is beautiful, rooms are neat and clean with a big cozy bed, a fire place and hot water shower in the bath. Two magnificent mountains surround this lodge. On one side, you will see Cordillera Blanca (Blanca is White in Spanish) and on the other side you will see Cordillera Negra (Negra is Black in Spanish). Our hosts Chris and Stephanie were absolutely lovely and took very good care of us (especially when I got altitude sickness) and guided us in all possible ways. Breakfast and lunch were simple but dinners were extravagant and delicious. I would highly recommend this place. Just be aware that you will be off the grid when here, if that is not your cuppa tea you should checkout other accommodations in Huaraz city.
The Llanganuco Moutain Lodge

Made some friends at the lodge 😛
Huaraz is a paradise for hikers with many hiking trails. Day 1 was pretty much a rest day and a small walk along small lake situated near the lodge. Day 2 we did the small trail of Llanganuco lake and hubby continued on his way to another hike while I came back to the lodge.

Lake Llanganuco if simply put is just breathtaking. I have never seen such a beautiful place ever (till now). The glistening turquoise blue color of the water and the never ending majestic mountains simply didn’t look like they belonged to this world. Ok well… I might be exaggerating a bit 😛 but trust me I was at complete awe. Mother nature certainly has her way of surprising us. My altitude sickness just disappeared because I was transported to another world altogether. The lake is all glacial water and hence the beautiful color. 

The gorgeous lake Llanganuco 
Simple amazing
Strange and interesting looking tree
It keeps getting better and better

Now how could we miss a boat ride with all this beauty surrounding us. 
Coca Tea 
The next day that is day 3 hubby went on for the very popular hike, Laguna 69 but unfortunately I had to stay back since I was not totally up for hiking due to the altitude sickness. And moreover it was for the best since we still had to see Cusco as well. Anyhow, long story short hubby could not complete the long hike to Laguna 69. He could have but instead he listened to his body and decided to walk back. Well you see its not for everybody but he gave his best shot. No regrets whatsoever. 

Important Note for Hikers: When at higher altitudes do not try to walk at a faster pace or even try to run. Take small steps and take it easy. We heard stories about how a couple ran all the way up to Laguna 69 so that they could finish the long hike at a short time. Later both of them were throwing up the entire night. So don’t hesitate to take baby steps while hiking. Let all the people pass you by, but trust me at the end of it you will be glad that you did.

CUSCO
First day at Cusco (Day 4) was again a relaxing day. We arrived at the hotel (Teirra Viva Cusco Saphi) at around noon. This hotel is very conveniently located at a walkable distance from Plaza De Aramas. Beautiful and clean rooms with a very helpful staff. We were welcomed with some Coca tea and the receptionist gave us a map and pointed out some nearby places to hangout and some good places to eat. Breakfast starts very early in the morning at 5am at the hotel and they provide very good wide variety of options. The early morning breakfast is definitely a plus if you have to catch an early morning train or a bus for site seeing as you can grab a bite or pack some too.

The Hotel – Tierra Viva Cusco Saphi

Plaza de Aramas

Plaza de Aramas 

Being a foodie, the first thing the both of us did was look for some delicious food :D. We actually did some research while planning our trip on good restaurants at Cusco. Finally zeroed down on Cicciolina. The food here was so delicious that we came in again after our trip to Machu Picchu. A must visit restaurant indeed.

The awesome food that we had at Cicciolina

There are a lot of places for site seeing in and around Cusco. The popular ones being Centro Historico de Cusco also known as Plaza de Armas, Sacsayhuaman (historical ruins), Inca trail, Sacred Valley, Tambomachay, Qorikancha and many more. The best part is once you reach Cusco you will find many private tours and travels operating at every nook and cranny. We opted for a half day tour the next day since we had Machhu Picchu planned the day after and hence had to skip few of the popular attractions.

Plaza de Aramas

For our half day site seeing we selected the Maras Moray tour. The first stop was a local village where the village folks demonstrated some amazing skills. Things like how they procure wool, how they clean them using all natural and organic soap, how the wool is colored using natural colors etc. It was indeed very informative and entertaining at the same time.

Second stop was Salinas de maras or Salt mines. Situated at an elevation of 3380 in Urumbamba valley outside of Cusco, Peru, is a network of around 300 salt pans/pools which are filled by a hypersaline underground spring water believed to be developed in the pre Inca times. Very unique and one of a kind. It is definitely a sight to behold.

Salinas de Maras

Salinas de Maras
Third and last stop Moray. Moray is the name of the Inca ruins situated west to the village of Maras. The ruins consists of terraced circular depressions. It is believed that these were used by the Inca to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. 

Our half day tour ended at around 2:30pm and later that evening we started preparing for our trip to Machu Picchu the next morning. The hotel staff were kind enough to hold our luggage until our return. So that was definitely a plus, no hassle of carrying all the luggage with us. 
Once back from Machu Picchu, we decided to visit the local market and then do some shopping at the Plaza. I personally enjoyed the vibrant and colorful market a lot. Highly recommend it. We both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and overall we both had a really wonderful experience in Huaraz and Cusco. 

 Hope you enjoyed this post. Check out Marvelous Peru – Part 2 Machu Picchu here. 🙂 

Thank you so much for stopping by and thanks a ton to all my followers for all the lovely comments and encouragement. 

HAPPY NEW YEAR 2016 EVERYONE. STAY HAPPY AND STAY BLESSED.

0 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Breathtaking pictures! I would love to go there one day but not for hike:)
    This post will be very helpful for my husband. He and his friends are planning Macha Pechu hike in September 2016. They did West coast trail (near Victoria BC) last year and are excited to do one every year. So how many days it takes to complete the whole trip?

  2. Thank you so much Balvinder. We were in Peru for 10 days. 10 days can be a tight squeeze considering there is so much to see and so much to do in Peru. We were in Machu Picchu only for 2 days. Did you checkout the post Marvelous Peru – Part 2 Machu Picchu? I have included some information in that post as well. Please feel free to comment in case you need more information. Thank you so much stopping by 🙂

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