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I backpacked across Peru for about two and a half weeks of, and am writing this blog as a guide to other budget travelers in Peru. It give a snapshot of my trip and offers tips and advice for other travelers. 

Two weeks in Peru  – The Itinerary

What can you do with two weeks in Peru? Well, here was my schedule:

  • Lima - 2 Days  Explored Lima with Aaron Morris and Nick Etzel, my travel partners for Peru and Ecuador.
  • Arequipa - 4  Days Took a 19 hour bus to Arequipa, Peru, enjoyed a wonderful 4th of July celebration and trekked for three days through the Canyon del Colca.
  • Cusco and Machu Picchu - 6 days: Caught a 5 hour bus to Cusco, Peru, toured the legendary city of Cusco and trekked for four days to Machu Picchu.
  • Lake Titicaca - 1 day: Rested from the Machu Picchu adventure, and hopped on a short 5 hours to Puno, Peru to visit Lake Titicaca (the world’s largest high-altitude lake).
  • Bus Travel - Lake Titicaca to Ecuador - 2.5 Days Completed a rewarding journey of over 1,770 miles from Puno, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador. This included two overnight busses of 19+ hours. Quite ridiculous.

Peru Travel Tips

Weather: It's winter in the Southern Hemisphere in July, meaning that temperatures drop into the 60's-80's. Pretty comfortable. Actually it was pretty cold in Cuzco and Puno, where the elevation topped 13,000 feet and temperatures were just above freezing during the night. 

Budget : Usually we stayed in hostels priced around $8 a night (with breakfast, wi-fi and hot water included, booked the night before using wifi at a previous hostel), spent $1.50-$4 each for lunch and dinner at local restaurants, and took 20 hour buses for $20.

Tips for Bargaining: Almost everything is up for negotiation. In Cuzco we brought down the price of our meal from $6 apiece to $4, in Lima we lowered a bus ticket from $20 to $15, and so on. Don't go overboard, but speak a little Spanish, be a little reluctant, and the price will drop.  

Food: Lunch and Dinner in Peru is marvelous. Expect two course meals for most dinners; the first a rich vegetable/meat soup, and the second a main dish with rice, vegetables, and meat topped off by a steaming mug of coca tea. Breakfast is been simple but filling: toast with butter and jam, eggs, and more coca tea.

Getting Around: After arriving in Lima, we exclusively traveled by bus. Peru's buses are very safe, offer frequent service, are mostly on time, and are very cheap. Standard price is about $1 per hour of travel. More than half of our bus rides were on night buses, which saved paying for a night at a hostel and opened up the day for activities. (And made the 12hr+ trips much shorter). Usually we purchased tickets 1-2 hours before the trip at the bus station, and looked up bus times either online or at the station (when we arrived on an incoming bus).

Packing: I didn't overthink my packing list, it's not much more complicated than hiking anywhere, and I knew that packing too much would slow me down. I took a small hiking backpack with hiking shoes, a couple pairs of walking pants, a few shirts, a few days worth of socks/underwear, a mini-laptop and basic hygiene products. 

*Special tip*: Don't forget a headlamp, and if you are really hardcore leave the towel behind and learn to "squeegee" water off your your hands (Step 2)

Exotic new fruit, plus some of the best avocados in the world.
Arequipa and Canyon Country

Colca Canyon is the 3rd most visited place in Peru, which makes sense as it is about twice as deep as the Grand Canyon (13,650 feet at the deepest point). It is also home to some of the strongest indigenous groups in Peru, and is the perfect place to escape the rigors of modern life and lose oneself in the beauty of nature and indigenous culture.

We left on July 5th for a three day trekking trip through the canyon, with a group that was essentially a mini United Nations, (with 3 people from the US, 2 from England, 2 from Poland, 2 from Holland, and one from Colombia). We spent the first day trekking for four hours into the depths of the canyon, where we took a break for lunch and an afternoon exploring exotic local fruits.

The next morning we trekked another four hours to a local oasis, where we swam, ate more fruit, and played a friendly game of soccer with our fellow trekkers. Yes, I will admit that we were all bested by Thomas, a 55 year old Polish soccer wizard. After another tasty Peruvian meal, we hit the sheets early and readied for a 4:45am wake-up call. Remember that second deepest canyon in the world we had trekked down into? Now it was time to go back up. Don’t worry, it was a shallow section of the canyon at depths of only 7,000 feet. Two punishing hours of later, we were out of the canyon and on our way back to Arequipa.

Canyon Trek highlights: Exotic Cactus Fruit, New International Friends, and World Class-Trekking

Cusco, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley of the Incas

Quick but substantive backstory: Incan cities, buildings and roads were dismantled by the Spanish during their conquest of the Incan Empire.  This was no easy task, seeing as the Incans had built over 40,000 km of roads in extremely mountainous areas (twice as many as the Romans). Machu Picchu was one of many provincial capitals in the empire, but was left intact because the Spanish never discovered its remote location.

So obviously it wouldn't be a blog about a trip to Peru without a section talking about Machu Picchu. The city is itself a story of Peru’s history and people, both modern and ancient. So here is the story of our four day “Jungle Trek” to Machu Picchu
  • Day 1: Same type of rich group diversity (3 Americans, 1 Chilean, 2 Swedish, 1 British, 2 Dutch, etc.), same flavorful Peruvian food (and was able to eat vegetarian the whole trip), but a whole new adventure. We spent the first part of the day biking 33 miles from glacier laced peaks down to lush rainforest (a drop of over 8,000 feet, and then had an hour and a half of group-bonding through white-water rafting in the Urubamba River (part of the headwaters of the Amazon).
  • Day 2: And then it was time for trekking. Basically we hiked for about 18 kilometers, crossing sections of Inca trail, small coffee plantations, and learning lessons about Incan culture and Peruvian geography.
  • Day 3: And then it was time for more trekking. I hiked for about 18 km, while the other guys ziplined and hiked  about half that distance(when your girlfriend’s Mom works for a zip lining business, it’s not worth the money). By the end of the day we had hiked all the way around Machu Picchu (which we could see perched upon a nearby mountain), and into Machu Picchu town.
  • Day 4: And then it was time for climbing. We woke up at 4:20am, make it to the gate of Machu Picchu (open at 5am) by 4:50am, and were about 100th in line. But a short 45 minute sprint-climb later, we had moved up to second set of gates, and 20th in line. After entering we spent about an hour taking pictures and waiting for the rest of the group, three hours touring Machu Picchu with our guide, and then another 3-4 hours climbing Machu Picchu Mountain.
Machu Picchu Jungle Trek highlights: Whitewater Rafting, Biking, Late Night Card Games, and Making it up the top of Machu Picchu Mountain.

Final thought: Stay as long as possible!

If all you can spare are two weeks, I hope this guide was helpful in planning your trip. If you've got more time I'd recommend staying longer and getting to know some local people. You could easily spend more than a month in Peru getting to know local people and spending more time in each city. Whatever your travel plans, happy adventures! 

Kurt Berning

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