After my breathtaking trip into the Atacama Desert I crossed the border from Chile to Peru to go to Tacna. The border it self is in the middle of the desert and I took a cab for the 50 kilometres from Arica (Chile) to Tacna. There are several taxi drivers fighting over tourist in Arica to take them over the boarder. So don't worry, somebody will drive you. The ride was cheap as chips. I think it was about 15 Euro and the taxi driver took care of everything. Tacna is the first small town you reach entering Peru on the southern border. There is pretty much nothing but a big bus station in this little town. You can reach every big city in Peru from this bus station and I decided to go to Arequipa first. Since I was taking a bus to go all the way from Santiago de Chile up north which took me over 4 days, 6 hours busride from Tacna to Arequipa sounded like a walk in the park.
arequipa - on the foot of el misti
The city is located at an average elevation of 2,300 meters. Its skyline is dominated by series of volcanic cones. With its seasonally snow-capped, symmetrical cone, El Misti is by far the most impressive one. I loved Arequipa, the city is the perfect start for your Peru adventure. The Plaza de Armas (literally weapons square) invites you to linger the whole day. I recommend having lunch in one of the small restaurants located on the balconies on that square. Peruvian cuisine consists corn, potatoes an a lot of local meat such as pork, beef, alpaca & llama. It was in Arequipa where I tasted "cuy" for the first time. A chilean friend I met at the boarder, ordered the guinea pig which costs three times as much as a regular meal, so I think this is more like a tourist thing. I've not seen any peruvian eating a cuy. Actually it was not really good!
After having lunch you should definitely visit the Basilica Catédral di Santa María & Monasterio de Santa Catalina. For both locations you can get an english tour guide. Watch kids go crazy on Plaza de Armas, feeding hundreds of doves with popcorn and don't miss out on the San Camilo Market as well, where you can try tons of exotic fruits and buy a lot of beautiful handmade crafts.
on hell of a ride - bustrip arequipa to cusco
I did a lot of long distance bus trips but this was by far the craziest one. Before you get on the bus there is a crew member taping you on a little camcorder: "Tell me your name, which country you are from and show your passport to the camera!" "Why? I asked. "So we can tell your relatives, that you where on that bus if the bus crashes!" the little peruvian guy answered. That sounds soothing!
Riding through the Andes in the middle of the night is an experiance it self. If you open the bus curtains on the way to Cusco you'll get a little shocked. The busdriver is speeding on a road you don't even wanna walk, right next to cliffs. You actually see some crashed and burnt out busses on the side of the road or even down the cliffs on the way. I decided to just close my eyes and hope for the best. 11 hours later I arrived in Cusco and was pretty happy to reach my hostel in the centre of town safe and sound.
what to expact in cusco
To find a place to stay in Cusco is easy. There are tons of hostels and hotels and since the majority of visitors are backpackers, the prices are really low. I found a nice little place next to San Pedro Market which is about 500 meters from Plaza de Armas. The internet connection in all of Cusco is pretty shitty, so make sure to download all the stuff you need before you arrive. There are some wifi spots at the Plaza de Armas and that's about it.
The Plaza de Armas is where all the city life is happing in Cusco. You'll find some nice cafes and restaurants around the square with its huge golden statue of the Inca king "Pachacútec Yupanqui". Some believe that Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca king back in 1450 to lay the foundations for the expansion of the mighty Inca empire. So as you can see, you can already feel the spirit of Machu Picchu in Cusco.
Things you also don't wanna miss in Cusco are for example the famous Inca walls in Hatunrumiyoq street (these walls are pure perfection of architecture), a tasty "menu touristico" at La Feria with a wonderful view over town or visit the huge "Church of the society of Jesus" directly at Plaza de Armas.
time to find the perfect way to machu picchu
There are several ways to get to the old Inca ruins. For the real hiking fans there is the famous "Inca Trail". It's a 4 day, 55 kilometers long hike from Cusco all the way up to Machu Picchu. On the way you already pass some old Inca ruins such as Winay Wayna. People who did it rave about it, it is a once in a lifetime experiance. Since I'm a lazy ass bastard this was not the type of path I was looking for.
Second option is to take a 5 hour bus ride from Cusco to an old power plant called "Hidroelectrica". This plant is right next to some old train trecks leading directly to Aguas Calientes (the small town on the foot of Machu Picchu). I think I remember that this walk is about 11 kilometers.
After thinking this over and over again, I decited to take the easiest way. A bustrip from Cusco which took about 2 hours to a place called Ollantaytambo where you hop on a scenic train ride all the way to Aquas Calientes.
tickets for machu picchu and the way to aquas calientes
It might be clever if you already have your ticket for Machu Picchu while in Cusco. You don't want to be finally at the gates of the Inca ruins and they tell you, you can't get in. You can get day tickets in Calle Garcilaso 225, 2 blocks away from the Plaza de Armas. If you decided to take the train ride, you can also purchase the train tickets in Cusco before you start your trip. I recommend booking at least 2 nights in Aquas Calientes, so you have enough time for Machu Picchu and the beautiful area around it.
The bus trip from to Ollantaytambo early in the morning through all the small villages around Cusco is beautiful. After about 2 hours you'll arrive in Ollantaytambo. There are tons of people there, locals try to sell there handmade craft and Peru-Ride employees running around trying to get everone on the train.
I did some wonderful train rides in Sri Lanka but the trip to Machu Picchu is by far my favorite. Words can't express the feeling you get while riding through the sacred valley of the Incas right next to Rio Urubamba. The windows on in the roof of the train gives you a stunning 360 degree view you'll never forget.
finally at machu picchu
You definitly want get up early the day you visit the Inca ruins. I got up at 4 am and took the bus up serpentine route. There are so much people waiting at the entrance already in the morning. Backpackers arriving from the "Inca Trail", tourists from all over the world and all you see is happy and exciting faces. I have to say, eversince I planed my trip to South America, I have been waiting on this moment. Like I said, there are tons of people but as soon you enter the UNESCO world heritage site the crowd dissolves. The areal is unbelievable huge. Already at the entrance you can see the tip of Huayna Picchu.
There are several tour guides trying to persuade you to book a day tour. I recommend to safe the money. As soon as you want to know something about a particular corner on Machu Picchu, just walk over to a guided tour and listen.
You immediately want to grab your cellphone or camera and get as much pictures as possible. But take your time! Sit down and enjoy the fact that you made it up here. The good thing about this place is, it is impossible to do bad pictures, so just wait until the crowd dissolves a bit and get your perfect shot. The llamas and alpacas are really tame so you'll have no problem getting a shot with one or even two of them in front and the beautiful mountains that surround Machu Picchu in the back.
There are 5 things you want to bring when going Machu Picchu. A fully charged camera, water, suntan lotion, some travel spirit and a lot of time. I spent 11 hours at Machu Picchu and trust me I didn't even want to leave. A lot of people say: "It's to crowded", "it's not worth going there" and "this is a "touri-thing"" - don't listen! This trip will always be something special to me, one of my best travel experiances I did so far. I highly recommend everyone goint to Machu Picchu when in Peru, you won't regret a second of the 2-3 day journey.
5 things you don't wanna miss
- Meet wonderful new people in the small village of Aquas Calientes.
- Get into your travel flow in Cusco and find someone for your journey to Machu Picchu
- Explore the Machu Picchu Museum in Cusco
- Find out about the architecture of the Incas at the Inca walls
- Get a once in a lifetime experience by visiting the UNESCO world heritage site Machu Picchu