Air! Wonderful Air! Walking around Arequipa is much easier than walking around the cities that we have been in for a while. Perhaps cities like Cusco could look into this air thing and import some more.

We arrived into Arequipa on the PeruHop bus at 5:30am, however we (and several others) couldn’t check into our hostel until 2pm or so. The person at reception seemed less than impressed at being woken up so early and wasn’t overly forthcoming with information. She did say that we could wait in the common room for a while until the breakfast places opened which would have been nice, except that there was someone sleeping on the couch in the common room. We didn’t want to turn on the lights and wake them up :( Since there wasn’t much else to do, we decided to catch up on some admin tasks, also a mission seeing as none of the power points seemed to like any kind of power plug/adaptor put into them - they either didn’t work or the adaptor fell out of the wall.

Once it was a more reasonable hour, we walked the few blocks to the Plaza de Armas to look for some breakfast. As usual we were harassed by every man and his dog to visit their restaurant; being thrown menus and shouted at along the way. Eventually we chose a restaurant, almost purely based on the fact it was on the second storey of the building, with their balcony overlooking the plaza. Luckily the food turned out to be nice enough, although the coffee was below average… thankfully it wasn’t premade with the half tonne of sugar that seems to be a popular addition in South America.

Arches in the Plaza de Armas

Cathedral of Arequipa

With some caffeine to help us, we decide to explore the city, before the lack of sleep caught up to us. As we were leaving the plaza, we saw something that would turn out to be common in Perú, musical garbage trucks! As a kid you might have heard a certain song in the distance to announce that an ice-cream truck was near, and to harass your parents. Instead of children having icecream, the musical trucks here are to remind you to put your garbage out to be collected.

We spent a few hours wandering around the town, the block surrounding the Plaza de Armas was closed to traffic, housing artisanal shops, tour agencies and restaurants… we stumbled across another pisco museum but decided that we might have a little break from the pisco sours for a little while; albeit delicious they give really bad hangovers. Whilst exploring we thought we might hit up the local markets to find some mystery fruits to try. Unlike home, the fruits in South America are full of flavour and really fresh, and in most cases, have been grown by the vendor at the market. You can generally buy a week’s worth of fruit and vegetables for less than $5aud.

Fruit stalls at the markets

Cuts of pork, in Spanish

Today we didn’t get too adventurous with the fruits, settling on a giant papaya and buying some meat and cheeses to have for dinner. We were happy to see that one of the signs in the market had a picture of a pig and what the different cuts were called in Spanish, thus making it much easier to be able to decipher what kind of mystery meat we were getting in restaurants whilst ordering off the menu. Our pisco hiatus didn’t last too long, especially not when we had a look in the grocery store and were able to buy a bottle for a few dollars. This resulted in us having fruit cocktails, with a few olives, cheese and biscuits for dinner. The hostel we were staying in had a ping-pong table, as well as a pool table, so of course, we ended up attempting drunken pool and ping-pong… thankfully there were no injuries.

The Hangover Begins… with a walking tour

Who knows what time we decided to go to bed, but it wasn’t early enough as Tuesday morning was a little bit of a rough start. We’d decided that we were going to the walking tour of Arequipa; the walking tours have been really helpful in getting a crash course of each city’s history. We needed to meet inside a chocolate/beer/coffee shop just off the Plaza de Armas, as with everything in South America the tour guide was running late, and we weren’t sure if we were in the right place, it was twenty minutes before the guides turned up.

After a brief introduction from the guides, the group split into a larger English group and a smaller Spanish group. We were ready to go, except for one of the American backpackers who had decided that rather than buying water in the 20 minutes she had been standing around, she’d do it just as we were about to leave. We eventually headed off, and walked a hundred meters to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, which takes up an entire city block (around 140m square). The monastery belongs to the Dominican order, and was built in the late 16th century and made larger in the 17th. There are a small number of nuns still living in the convent, but most of the site is over to the public now. It is quite expensive to visit for tourists: S./25 ($10aud) for basic entry, but S./40 ($15) for full access and a guide. Dee is a bit tired of churches and monasteries, and James visited it last time he was in Perú, so we didn’t come back later to look inside.

After a few blocks more walk, we passed the Monasterio de Santa Teresa, and continues along past a collection of churches and other buildings until we arrived at the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. That church is a Jesuit church, the outer façade has a lot of intricate work with many animals shown, reflecting the indigenous community’s input into the design and building of it. As occurs in a number of churches in Perú, the “last supper” painting has a local twist - a round table, guinea pig as the meat, with corn and potatoes served as the meal, chillies on the table, as well as glasses of Chicha (the local fermented-corn drink).

Latin American last supper

We passed the Mercado Central, which is the big local market that we had been to the day prior, but others in the group found out why they should go: mystery foods! And the markets are really cheap, the produce is better than the local supermarkets, and it really is helping out the farmers in the area surrounding Arequipa.

Not far away there was a short passage through the outer section of a building into courtyard inside. At the entrance, there was a woman selling a local Arequipeño specialty, “queso helado”. The name means “frozen cheese” but it not at all like that, instead it is a sort-of icecream made with milk and dried coconut. Everyone had a small try, and several people bought larger quantities, before we headed into the plaza. We decided that ice cream and lactose intolerance shouldn’t be trying to push each other too much, especially given that both of us had been sick in the recent weeks.

Columns in the courtyard

Inside the courtyard, there were intricate carvings of faces, plants and animals surrounding every column in the courtyard. Up the top of the building, we had a fairly decent view of the local volcanos, including El Misti, which is close enough that if it had a major eruption the city would likely be destroyed. El Misti originally had a different name, but after an eruption many centuries ago, the locals started ignoring it in an attempted “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” style belief, hoping it would prevent another eruption. Three hundred years later, no-one actually knew what the volcano’s name was since no-onee ever referred to it. Allegedly, someone from England was exploring there and referred to a “Mister …”, which the locals mis-interpreted and mis-heard and so it became “Misti”.

El Misti

Volcano may be closer than it appears in mirror

On the final leg we walked through one of the streets where many poor people live, and the city council has made an effort to improve lives by making the area well-lit, planting trees and charging the current residences little taxes and rates to live there. The area is very close to the main square, and a rather beautiful one with small apartments lining the streets and flowers in the tiny and scattered public spaces.

The guide also explained to us some of the many reasons why Arequipa is referred to as the “white city”. One reason, a more pleasant one, is that many of the walls are made of “sillar” a white volcanic stone, and more recently others are painted white to blend in. A less pleasant potential reason is an influx of white Europeans, which caused the poorer locals to have to live in villages outside, so parts of the city consisted almost solely of rich white people.

We were supposed to finish the tour at a local bar, with a free pisco sour, and views of the sunset, however the bar was closed (to the surprise of the guide) so everyone just had to head off. We headed back to the hostel to get ready for the early morning start on a trip to the Cañon del Colca. There may have been a short stop at the local craft beer shop for some cancha (like pop corn, but not popped, but cooked - I don’t know how to explain it!), and a few beers.

A bus, a hike and a windy road. What could go wrong?

Since we were being picked up between 3:30 and 3:45am, we needed to be up by 3am if we wanted to have a shower, which was not a fun start to the morning - I am not sure who decides that this a reasonable time of day to be collected/awake/showering. It was made even better by the bus that picked us up not being there until around 4:20am, and then stopped for another twenty minutes looking for one of our guides… our faith in this tour was deteriorating rapidly. A four-hour drive in a minivan with no coffee to help us meant that we weren’t too functional, and we couldn’t see much out the side because it was dark.

Barely in daylight, we stopped in for breakfast somewhere along the way; between the ten of us at the table, we may have drunk the place out of coffee. Not too long after sunrise, we arrived at Cruz del Condor, the main lookout point for people to see condors while driving in the area. For everyone on a day trip (who are crazy) this is most of what you get to see. There were some condors around, but only two or three off in the far distance - hard to see without binoculars and no chance of us taking decent photos with our small cameras. On the plus side, the small cameras are something we have been very thankful for… our little “Dee proof” cameras have held up well so far, getting most of the pictures we want, and surviving the nightmare that is Dee’s handbag.

The next stop on our journey was a hut on the side of the road where we could change, organise our backpacks, use what could loosely be called a toilet, and stock up water. We didn’t get a chance to really chat with our guide for the trip, and both James and I missed his name at the beginning of the trip, so he is now going to be called José (not just a stereotype, about half our guides have actually been named that). José told us about his hiking experiences, why he loved hiking, as well as a little bit of information about the Colca Canyon itself. The Cabanas and Collaguas originially inhabited the Colca Canyon before the Inca Empire took over in 1320 AD. The Spaniards arrived in 1540, and then pushed the Incas our in the 1570s. The Colca Canyon is arguably the word’s deepest canyon (it’s in the 1986 Guinness Book of Records), with a depth of 3270m… but it could also be the second or third deepest, depending on how you define it. Yes, we were descending from the altitude for the first time in a while, and might even be able to breath like normal people!

The canyon, before descent

After learning a little about the canyon, taking a few photos and prepping ourselves for the heat, we were off. It was only going to be a seven hour walk down, totalling 15km of gravel winding down into the canyon, then back up, then back down, and around a few rocks. We started off with around a kilometre of flat walking to get to the edge of the canyon, and a nice view of what we were going to be in for. Unlike the Inca Trail where there was a lot of variety along the hike, going down the side of the canyon and back up looked like it was going to be fairly similar for the two days.

One of the lodges at the bottom

Steep drop

The hike down to the bottom of the canyon took about 4 hours, since the trail has lots of loose stones, but wasn’t too difficult as everyone was taking plenty of breaks for water and photos. At the bottom there was a bridge over the Colca River, and then it was a short 30 minute walk to the restaurant where we were having lunch. Lunch was the usual affair, starting with soup, and then a choice of chicken or fish, along with rice, salad and potatoes.

Enough switch-backs for everyone

Cactus anyone?

After lunch it was another 3-4 hours of undulating trail up and down near the river, past several small farms growing potatoes, avocados, and other fruits. Close to the end of the trail there was a small waterfall we could see on the other side of the canyon, and then we passed almost under a second one. Along the way we chatted with a few different people, finding out about everyone’s travel stories, where they were going, where they’d been, why they were travelling - the standard sort of affair when you’re trying to completely ignore the fact there are massive blisters forming on your toes and sweat in places it shouldn’t be, and of course, the wonderful sock tan you’re developing from your hiking boots.

Fields at the base of the canyon


Around 4:30pm we arrived at the small lodge where we were staying the night. It was fairly basic, with the walls being bamboo, but they had a pool! We had a scissors/paper/rock off to allocate the double rooms as there were only two, and there were three couples; we lost, but on the plus side we had a room with five king single beds.

A few of us went for a swim to cool down (although the water was probably only 18-20 degrees), and everyone had a couple of beers. It was very quiet and relaxing, so every sat around talking about their trips, and game of thrones until dinner-time. Some even attempted the shower, which, we were warned was cold, but in reality was the same temperature as the pool… half the track’s dust was washed off and we could mosey around in our “flip-flops”. Apparently using thongs is not quite right, and socks with thongs is just a complete no-go, although this seems to be becoming the standard winter attire around hostels for Dee.

And dennnn?

Just before dinner, Johnny came down and told Preston and Tim (who he was sharing a room with) that there was going to be a huge surprise waiting for them when they headed to bed. Intrigued as to what it was we all asked, Johnny was not giving in. Now, being from Australia, James and I thought it couldn’t possibly be a spider, as it would have run away with the change of light, along with many other rodents/insects/bugs.

We finished dinner and headed up to our rooms, eventually finding out that the huge surprise, that had freaked Johnny out, was indeed a spider… The “huge” spider was only about 2cm across and harmless, definitely not “huge” by Australian standards, not deadly, not too hairy and (only just) bearable to Dee’s arachnophobia. A shoe may have been thrown, or some spray, there was some attempt to kill it but the spider survived another night in the canyon; we’re not entirely sure if it was inside or outside the room, but it survived nonetheless.

By this point the entire group was exhausted and ready for bed, the following morning was going to be another early start. We needed to leave at 5am on Thursday morning, but luckily we didn’t have to get up earlier since we’d run out of water and we didn’t have big bags to pack. This whole “packing light” thing is actually starting to work… we had a backpack each, with a two litre water pack in it, a first aid kit, clothing and toiletries. Dee’s never packed this light, even for camping!

Oh dear Lord, where is the coffee?

Armed with pretty much nothing, we set off walking at 5:15am, in the dark, sans head torches; we did however have hand torches, which work great with hiking poles (please note, there is a hint of sarcasm in there). Both of us woke up sufficiently snotty, lacking in sleep or any form of orderly breakfast/coffee prior to the three hour hike up the hill. We later discovered that James was coming down with a cold, a giving him a phenergen to try and suss out the snot situation halfway up the hill wasn’t going to cut it. Ascending in altitude and sinuses filled with dirt and other bodily fluids are not an amazing mix for walking up a hill, in the dark, for three hours. After a while the rest of the group continued and James and I walked together in the darkness, leading to the light. Somewhere in the middle of it all we met up with Kate, who we’d met on the way out in the bus briefly, along with another English lady. Chatting and walking, being passed by people on donkeys, and Dee being stood on by a donkey, we made it to the top; surprisingly only 15-20 minutes or so after the rest of the group (we’re not sure if they were just being nice or if it was only that long). We did, however, get to see an amazing sunrise over the hills in the distance and watched the sky turn from it’s murky blackness to orange and eventually blue; we don’t give it much justice through words, but the sunrise was pretty stunning.



And then, there we were, we’d arrived

Round of applause people… we got a round of applause. Less than a week after completing the Inca Trail, legs still not quite recovered and some blisters, which would give some of the ones I’d received in my high-heels in my glamorous days a run for their money, we made it; and our group gave us a round of applause! For those reading at home, my shoes are well worn in, I have blister band-aids, antiseptic creams, decent socks (albeit unattractive); but really, who gets blisters on the tops of their toes and the soles of their feet?? WTF mate? But, anyhoo, we’d made it to the rest of the group and got our picture :)

Everyone got out of the canyon!

It was at the top of the canyon we thought we’d finished, yeah! Another hike, done and dusted! Except for the clamber through a few fields, and over a few walls, that we needed to do before getting to breakfast.

Expecting jam and bread in Cabanaconde, we were greeted with eggs (along with the jam and bread), and COFFEE! Nescafe Blend 43 has never tasted so gooooooood. Reflecting on the previous 24 hours, including showing everyone Dee’s blisters we enjoyed every mouthful of the breakfast. After breakfast, it was time for us to start heading back in our minibus toward Arequipa, with a few sightseeing stops along the way. We stopped along the way to look at some pre-Inca terraces and some of the natural land formations, learning about how the terraces were used and why things are the way they are. This set is one of the larger areas of terraces in Perú, and they don’t fit in a single photo.

Large set of pre-Inca and Inca terraces

Us in front of the terraces

One of the stops we made was completely unintentional; we saw a condor flying above the bus, and around, and then another, and one more. Although the bus was on a schedule, we’d all convinced them that we needed to stop to take a few pictures; especially given that on our first day, from the viewing point, we didn’t see much.

Birds, all of the birds!

Dee isn’t a birdwatcher, but these birds are amazing. Wowzers mate! The Andean Condors are among the largest in the world that can fly, their wingspan can reach up to three metres, and they can grow up to 1.2 metres tall. They nest in stupidly high areas because they don’t have enough wingspan to lift their 11-15kg bodies; relying on the hot air rising and wind to help them fly… the wingspan isn’t enough. They don’t attack live prey, instead, only eating dead animals since they are technically vultures. So realistically, if we don’t die on the buses going through any of the Andes, we are safe. The pictures don’t do these gorgeous birds justice, and neither does the video.

In total we saw eight condors at once, maybe nine? They were all out to play, and these ones weren’t fully grown. The only words to describe these beautiful creatures are gorgeous and huge. Wow doesn’t cover it - go look at the full album (link at the bottom of the post) if you want to see more, here are just a few.

Condor in flight

Condor perched on rocks

Three condors flying overhead

We were apparently taking too long to take photos and shoved back on the bus so we could head to the hot water baths at Yanqui, where we enjoyed a beer in the natural hot water baths. A few of the group were more courageous and jumped into the river, but for us, the warm water was beautiful and very soothing on the sore muscles!

Us in the hot spring

Hot springs

Leaving the baths, we headed into Chivay where we were recommended a place for lunch but wound up at the markets for the cheaper, more traditional fare that Perú is well known for. We clambered back on to the bus, probably late, then headed toward another stop in the middle to get a view of a lot of volcanos in every direction, then another one a short time later to check out a tonne of llamas on the side of the road.

Dee in front of llamas


Volcano with steam

Volcanos and name signs

A few hours later, and probably having a small nap on the bus we arrived back into Arequpa. We said goodbye to our group and wandered down to our hostel; tired, hungry and ready for bed. We decided we should probably have some dinner, settling on a pizza near the main square, coupled with some cheap cocktails and beers; then collapsing into bed.

When you have to do adult type things

We were able to wake up at a reasonable time, though South American hostels don’t seem to know what block out curtains are. Consequently we were awake at 5am, ready to face the world, the world just wasn’t quite ready for us. Earlier in the week we had discovered an amazing little coffee shop down the road called ‘Palacios’, the owner roasts all of the coffee on site and it is delicious; a giant step upward from the instant coffee we’d been experiencing. Unfortunately, for us, the shop wasn’t open when we went to buy coffee at 8:30am, so we headed toward the Plaza de Armas to see if there were better options; there weren’t. Instead we decided that we should probably suss out our money situation, find an ATM and tidy ourselves up to look a little closer to the civilised people.

The ATM went well, there were manicures for $1aud, so that happened; however Dee’s haircut went pear-shaped. Stumbling across hairdresser street in the markets she decided that was the place to go: cheap, quick and eager. Armed with pictures, translations and very specific instructions the hair has gone from nice and long to an uneven mullet-style layer cut. Yay!

After the chaos and crying of the haircut it was decided that an alcoholic beverage was needed. We went to the chocolate beer place from the tour, and then relied on offline Google maps to take us to the other craft brewery in town. After wandering around for what seemed like forever, we found the other craft brewery, downed a few beers and then cruised on home to cook dinner.

Beers and cancha

Unfortunately, cooking dinner in hostels has been a bit of a challenge; generally the kitchen is the size of a one bedroom apartment’s kitchen, but with anywhere between two and fifteen people trying to use it at once. This has turned out to be a massive challenge for us, not that we are particularly messy cooks, but we like good food - ill-equipped, small and herbless/spiceless kitchens have resulted in some random food selections.

Winging our way through the kitchen situation again, we decided we should probably pack before our bus in the morning; we don’t quite have enough space to just jam things in and run, though we’ve gotten the time it takes for us to pack down quite substantially. We were ready for another ridiculous o’clock start, with a tiny bit of sleep in: 5:30am bus… ready to cruise our way into Huacachina!

Go see all the photos from Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

Puno, Peru… the capital of the state, 3,830 metres above sea level, bordered by Lake Titicaca and an annual average temperature of 8.4 degrees Celsius.

Sleep deprived and braving the sunlight at 5am we were dragged off the bus for breakfast. Because it was so early, and not having much access to the bathroom for ten hours, we needed to wait on the side of the road until the restaurant opened. While waiting, we admired the local transport (tuk-tuks), and their creativity with the designs, and horns. There were flashing disco lights, various shades of paint and horns ranging from the air-in-a-can variety to something you would hear from a semi-trailer.

After sitting in the cold, for what seemed a lifetime, we were taken to ‘Ruth Fanny’, just around the corner for breakfast. It wasn’t until later in our stay in Puno that we’d realised the name of the restaurant and had a little giggle, sorry Ruthy (mum!). We’d had our favourite type of instant coffee, a plate of what could loosely be described as eggs, bread and jam, but needed to hurry back to the bus so it could depart to it’s next destination. Our bus had a large group of tourists who had booked part of the bus trip with the hop on/hop off company we were with, and another part of their trip with a different company… consequently we sat on the side of the road again, waiting for them to organise with our tour guide where they needed to go. While hurrying up, and waiting, we met Suze, another Aussie on the road and chatted about all the stuff we’d seen so far. We were then quickly shoved into a van and taken on a quick tour around to drop everyone off to their accommodation, and then to our hostel.

Ruth Fanny

Dee literally walked into the door of the hostel, then waited for a bit until the doorbell was answered for us to check-in. Our room had it’s own private lounge room, complete with 1970’s décor, and our shower even had a shower curtain! After settling into our accommodation, and waiting until what was a more reasonable time to venture out, we headed down toward the main square of Puno to check out what this little city had to offer.

Like most cities in Peru, the early Europeans have very heavily influenced Puno; it was established in 1668 by the Spaniards and like many of the cities in South America the name of the city has been shortened. The city was originally called San Juan Bautista de Puno, and then later changed to San Carlos de Puno. Puno is the capital of it’s state and has a relatively small population to other cities we’ve been in with around 150 000 people. The economy relies primarily on black market goods smuggled in from Bolivia, as well as agriculture and livestock.

Heading toward the main square we were greeted with music and another explosion of colour… surprise, there was a parade happening. This particular parade was celebrating the farmers and agricultural unions of the area. Many of the locals were in very traditional dress, followed by uniformed band members, all marching around the small square which is towered by the city’s cathedral. Heading down the pedestrian mall we were accosted by people shoving menus at us, while others tried to sell us art pieces, key rings and knick-knacks made from reeds from the nearby floating islands… we’re sure quarantine would have a field day with those!

Looking around we settled on a place for dinner, deciding that Puno would be the place to have a try of guinea pig. For the South Americans, cuy, or guinea pig as we know it, is a delicacy and not a pet. The locals eat it at special events and festivals but many of the restaurants along the gringo trail in Peru have it on the menu for the tourists. The restaurant we had settled on had a large wood fired oven at the back of it, and a chef off the side making the pizza bases from scratch - we were quite surprised to see this, as pre-packaged food in some areas of Peru has been common. We tucked into the cuy and salad along with a few beers and were involuntarily entertained by a local band who we had to pay for at the end. The cuy was surprisingly delicious, it’s taste and texture similar to that of a rabbit… we’re sorry to anyone reading who has guinea pigs as pets, we promise when we’re home that we wont try to barbecue and eat them! (well Dee promises that).


After dinner we thought we’d check out a bar called Pacha Mixology across the pedestrian mall, intrigued by its signs suggesting they used nitrogen in their cocktails. Although the cocktails weren’t particularly cheap we decided that we needed to try them, starting with Ocho Orgasmos for Dee - eight spherical chocolate balls mixed in a glass of coffee liqueur, Bailey’s, whiskey, Amoretto and chocolate, topped with a liquid nitrogen. James decided that he was going to get the Mojitos Encapsulados, bubbles of the delicious cocktail, including the mint, served on spoons in perfect spheres that explode in your mouth.

Aguaymanto spheres

Dee enjoying Ocho Orgasmos

The way this works is quite cool, and it’s been done a few times on MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules. There are two chemicals (safe to consume) which when mixed form a gel, and one is mixed into the cocktail. You put the other into a bowl, and carefully drop small amounts of the cocktail into the bowl - when the chemical comes into contact with the one in the bowl, it forms the gel. Because of the gel coating, the inside of the ball of cocktail doesn’t touch the chemical in the bowl, and stays liquid. You can carefully scoop them out and into the drink. Needless to say the experience at this bar was pretty cool, although their safety precautions probably defy every OH&S law in Australia.

Ready to go

Making spheres

The Peru Hop buses have a list of tours and optional activities that you can book, making it easier to avoid the onslaught of locals trying to sell tours off the shore of Titicaca. One of the optional tours included a trip our to the Uros floating islands, and an overnight homestay on Amantani Island. Early Friday morning we were picked up from our hostel and taken down to the jetty where we were shoved onto a boat with a bunch of other travellers, most of who couldn’t quite get themselves sorted out to sit on the boat in an orderly fashion.

Our first stop for the day was at Urus Islands, a collection of reed islands just off the shoreline of Puno. The reeds are taken from the shore, including the roots in the soil (they’re about a metre long), they are then tied together to make the base of the island. After that, the roots of more reeds are cut off, and the stems are stacked on top of the base; when completed the island is around two or three metres deep. Shelters and water towers are then built on top of the islands so that they can be lived on. Over time, they rot and sink a bit, so the residents need to keep cutting fresh reeds to put down on the “floor”.

How they make the islands

View of the islands

Whilst on one of the more touristy islands we were given a demonstration of how the islands are built, and then had the locals try to convince us to buy all of their knick-knacks and handicrafts, most of which are made from reeds. We were dragged into one of the huts by the president’s wife, and made to dress up in some of the traditional attire. Instead of being elected as president, each male in the community takes turns, however a “mayor” governs all of the islands - we’re not quite sure what the election process is to become mayor. As well as making the islands, the locals make boats out of the reeds as well. The boats contain plastic water bottles to keep them afloat, and then the reeds are tied around the bottles to hold everything together, some of the boats are double storey and painted in bright colours to transport the tourists around, others are more practical and are used by the locals for fishing and transport between the islands.

Us dressed up

After leaving the first island, we drove onto a second island where snacks and water were sold, then onto Amantani. Piling off the boat we were walked up the hill to a handful of ladies in traditional dress who were waiting to find out which of the gringos they were going to have living with them for the night. There are twelve communities on the island and each community takes it in turns to host homestays. Each family who opts to host the homestays have tourists stay with them once or twice a week within the month that their community has its turn. The homestays provide the community with a little extra money to survive, many of the men work on the mainland for months at a time, and then return to their home to see their family. The people on the islands don’t speak Spanish, Quechua or English as their first language, they speak Ayamara. We’d learnt some basic phrases before we’d left Puno (enough to say please, thank you and ask for the bathroom); however these phrases were much more difficult to remember than Spanish as none of the words are remotely similar.

Along the trip over we chatted to Suze, we realised on the boat that we may have been the only three people who spoke English. We weren’t sure how the group was being divided and allocated; after finding out that we had the option of pairs or threes we shot-gunned a home that could take three of us. Our host mum, Bacilia, took us up the hill, offering to carry our bags, on top of already carrying her child on her back. We, of course, carried our own bags and attempted to thank her in Ayamara but failed… we were very thankful to learn that Bacilia spoke Spanish. Bacilia guided us up the hill and around a few winding paths to her adobe (mud brick) house that her and her husband had built.

Their farm

Not quite sure what to expect from the accommodation, we were greeted with very clean rooms that overlooked the lake from the second storey of the house. We settled in for an hour or so, taking photos and chatting until lunch was ready. Bacilia really knew how to cook! We were served up soup with quinoa, which they had grown themselves, and spaghetti with homemade tomato sauce. After lunch we were taken to the main square to meet with the rest of the group so that we could hike up the hill to two Incan sites. Following a slight misunderstanding and following the Bacilia’s father up the hill, Bacilia came chasing after us with her son swung across her back yelling to stop. After apologising profusely we kept walking to the square and were given a little bit of information about the island, the families, the culture and the walk we were embarking on.

Quinoa they grew

Long walks at altitude are not always easy… we were told it was only an hour maximum to get up to the top of the hill, and then we’d be greeted by an amazing sunset. On the way up the hill we were offered many things to buy, including ceramics, llama key rings, drinks, horse rides and lollies. Resisting the temptation for a rest stop we eventually made it to the split in the path that lead to two mountain peaks: Pachamama (Mother Earth), and Pachatata (Father Earth) both of which have Incan and Tiwanaku ruins on the top. The side of the hills are terraced and are used for farming potatoes, quinoa and wheat. After making it to the top, aching legs and a little puffed, we walked around the ruins for a while and then settled in to watch the sunset, which was simply stunning.

Stone arch

Pachamama altar

Terraces and stone fences

After seeing Mother Nature in all her glory, we headed back toward town where Bacilia met us and took us back home for dinner. When we arrived back at her house we met Elias, our host dad, who sat with us and told us funny stories of other tourists they’d had stay with them. Including tourists expecting to have internet and full electricity, not being able to speak any Spanish at all (including basic greetings), expecting the host family to wait on them hand and foot and the general cultural misunderstandings that happen time to time when travelling. We also learnt that the two of them (like most of the locals) had built their own house from scratch, with help from friends. Thankfully, Elias and Bacilia seemed to like us and were very appreciative that we were able to talk with them.

Sun setting

Clouds at sunset

As part of the home stay experience, the community holds a dance in the local hall, and all the tourists are given traditional clothes to wear. After getting dressed up, with help from Elias and Bacilia, we toddled off down the dark path in the cold with Elias leading the way, while Bacilia stayed at home to look after their child. After about 15 minutes walk we made it to the hall, without falling over once in the dark! We were shepherded into the middle to form small circles holding hands, and went around in circles until dizzy and then changed direction. After a while the small circles joined up into one big circle, which was harder to do but made us less dizzy. After being dragged around in circles and laughing at our ridiculous dancing we decided to call it a night. The walk back to the house was pitch black except for the torchlight, and some amazing views of the stars.

Dressed up for the dance


Saturday morning arrived and after a very decent night sleep we were summoned downstairs for breakfast. Bacilia is a really, really good cook - all of the food she has made us has been amazing and really tasty. The morning’s breakfast was no different with quinoa pancakes, jam and coffee.

Bacilia seeing us off

After breakfast we headed down to the boat ramp, with Bacilia seeing us off. The next stop was Taquile Island, and a decent walk up the hill to the settlement. The town is another small rural one (around 2000 people on the island), however it houses a knitting and craft co-operative, that produces some of the best hand-crafted textiles in Peru. The products looked great, but we don’t have space to buy them for ourselves and shipping to send any back home is crazily expensive. There is a clear division of labour producing the items - the women do all the spinning and dying, and the men do the knitting (learning around 8 years old).

There were some quite nice views of the island and lake from the town, and even a sign telling us that it was a mere 13027km to Sydney! After about half an hour, it was time to go for a walk from the square to our lunch spot on the other side of the island. The walk was supposed to take an hour or so, but that’s obviously for slow people (and we had some with us) - the three of us made it there in less than 40 minutes. Lunch was the standard fare for the region, fried fish with rice and chips, but luckily had some delicious hot sauce to go with it. After the food, it was time to board the boat and head back to Puno.

View from the high points

Distance to Sydney

Suze was leaving Puno that night, so we shared a few drinks and dinner with her. Dee had mentioned the crazy cocktails to her, so we headed there for a short time and then tried to find somewhere for dinner. We had recently enjoyed good pizza in the Andes and Suze felt like some, so we went to a nearby pizza place (in Pizza restaurant street obviously, there were about 10 close to each other). We had some delicious pizzas, although Suze’s had the quite interesting name of “Willy Pizza”.

Sunday morning was time to check out, so the early morning was spent packing our bags. We knew that there was a big condor statue up on the hill, we decided that there couldn’t be anything better to do at 3830m above sea level than walking up even more steps! There aren’t just a few steps to walk up, there are around 650 of them, but we did get quite a few nice photos of the city and lake from up the top.

Steps up the hill

View over puno

Dee and the statue

James and the statue

The rest of the day was relatively quiet, we wandered around looking at a few thing we hadn’t seen yet, taking our photo of the local parliament and finally headed to a restaurant for dinner and their free music and dance show. Once it rolled around to 9:30pm, it was time to board the overnight bus to Arequipa.

Cups with noses, and Dee

Go see all the photos from Puno and Lake Titicaca

Cusco, the second time around. Filled with amazing buildings, lots of potatoes and corn, and lots of tourists either arriving or departing their journey to Macchu Pichu.

After the antics of the night before and slightly exhausted from our hike, we decided to have a fairly chilled out day in Cusco. Sundays in South America thus far have been very quiet in each of the cities we’ve been in - except for the 6am church bells. We farewelled most of the group from our tour and then set off into town to explore what else Cusco had to offer.

We’d been told about the artesenal markets not too far away from our hostel and decided we might give them a try; although most of the stuff we could buy at the markets would either be taken by quarantine when we eventually get back home, or not fit into our backpacks. On the way to the markets we stopped to take a few photos of the monuments and city art that fills the streets.

Art on a wall

We wandered our way through aisles and aisles of ponchos, shirts, key-rings and knick-knacks before realising that it was past lunch time and we were both starving. On our first visit to Cusco we’d read about an amazing seafood restaurant that dished up Peruvian cuisine, however both times we’d tried to visit it had been closed; we later found out that the restaurant was only open for lunch service. Luck was on our side when we walked past though; El Paisa was very much open and very much willing to take a couple of Gringos in off the street. We sat down to a shared entrée (which easily was the same size as a main meal), and then two plates of seafood, overflowing off the sides. We also might have snuck in a couple of beers while watching the live music and dancing show.

James' lunch

Dee's lunch

The show

Barely managing to finish our meals we rolled back to our hotel, succumbing to the food comas and food babies that had taken residence in our stomachs. After a few hours of rest, a little bit of admin time and a couple of games of cards, we got talking to a few ladies staying at our hostel from the UK, Farzina and Tahsin. They’d also been part of the other tour group but weren’t able to come on the Inca Trail, instead completing the Quarry Trail.

We decided to head to dinner with Farzina and Tahsin, looking for a Peruvian restaurant that sold Alpaca for less than an arm and a leg. We settled on a quiet upstairs restaurant just off the Plaza de Armas that had multiple options of Alpaca, cuy (guinea pig) and less exotic meats. Sharing stories of our journeys so far and our experiences from the four-day hike, we tucked into our Pisco Sours and Alpaca, which kind of tastes a bit like pork.

James' dinner

Dee's dinner

By the end of the meal we were all ready to call it a night; we were a little more party-animalesque in our bedtime this evening, making it to 9pm before passing out.

There are so many things to do in Cusco and it’s surrounds, unfortunately for both of us, the lack of sleep in the last week resulted in us being very worn out and trying to fight off sickness. We’d decided that there was a reasonable possibility that we’d be returning to South America and able to do a few of the other treks around Cusco upon our return; for this part of our journey, it was time to take some care of ourselves and not subject ourselves to negative temperatures in tents until we were completely recovered. Instead we decided we’d take a tour around Cusco and get to know a little more of it’s history and the story behind the architecture of it’s beautiful buildings. Of course our first stop didn’t really involve either of these, as we’d wound up at the chocolate museum (surprise! It’s not beer).

Being led into a 2x2m room we were given a ten-minute rundown of the history of chocolate, where the cacao grows, and who eats the most. Surprisingly Australia was seventh on the list, consuming approximately 5kg per person per year… Ummm that’s a lot of chocolate! After letting this sink in we decided we might just help this statistic along a little bit and try some of the chocolate. The first of our tastings was a tea made from cacao nibs, having had cacao nibs raw before and not being the greatest of fans, we were a little dubious about how this was going to turn out. The tea was unexpectedly delicious, although it could well have been from the few kilograms of sugar they added to the concoction to make it taste better. Next was a taste test of the different flavours and darkness of chocolates, equally as delicious as the tea, with half the sugar, we’d struck a winner. Whilst deciding whether we needed to buy any of the 80% cacao chocolate, our “guide” decided it was time to hit the hard stuff and introduce us to the world of chocolate flavoured pisco. Now for the lactose intolerant of the crowd (whether one chooses to acknowledge it or not), the chocolate flavoured pisco sounded like a great idea - it was dairy free! Needless to say after tasting the maracuya, coffee, white chocolate, chilli, strawberry, pineapple, whisky and golden berry chocolate flavoured piscos, we were feeling pretty jovial, and were easily convinced into buying a small bottle. Coffee flavoured chocolate pisco at 9:30am? ¿Por qué no?

Feeling a little bad about not buying anything except alcohol from the museum, and not requiring to tip our guide… as well as being very obviously worried about the amount of calories consumed and the amount of dairy in the food, we decided that we needed to buy one of the amazing looking chocolate brownies. To counteract the sweetness we paired the brownie with beers, because well… beer. Trying a new variety of craft beer from the Nuevo Mundo brewery we settled in with a Pampa porter, and a Barihuait (pronounced Barry White) Barley Wine.

Craft beers

Somewhere along this trip James has convinced Dee that the craft beers are much nicer than commercial beer; this has resulted in both of us now needing to try all of the craft beers we can find. Unfortunately, the craft beers aren’t the cheapest, but they are much, much more delicious than the local cat pee beers that seem to be floating through Peru.

We’d decided earlier in the morning that we wanted to go on one of the free walking tours of the city. Many of the cities we have travelled through have offered “free” walking tours (they run on a tip-only basis); these tours have been really useful in learning about the city and finding out where a lot of things are when you don’t have a map of the touristy things to see. Realising that we probably needed to get going for the walking tour we headed toward the meeting point at the Plaza de Armas and stumbled across a craft beer bar. We all know where this is leading to, right? We had half an hour to spare so we decided to try more beer, this time a Maqta IPA for James and a Kapún Belgian Brown for Dee. Very satisfied, and maybe a little wobbly on our feet, we made it to the Plaza de Armas for our walking tour at 12pm.

Craft beers

We were taken around the square and learnt about the Catholic Cathedral, the Church of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuit Cathedral), and why Cusco was in the shape of a Puma. In many of the main squares we have visited the Catholic Cathedral is on one side of the Plaza de Armas, and the Jesuit Cathedral is on the other. In this case, the Church of the Society of Jesus was to the left of the Catholic Cathedral, and built on the site of an old Incan Palace. Unlike the other cathedral, this building has more of the Andean-Baroque style architecture - the detail in the stonework is absolutely amazing.


The city of Cusco is in the shape of a Puma; the head is the fortress of Sacsahuaman (a rough way to pronounce it would be “sexywoman”) which is located high up on the hill. The Tulumayo and Huatanay Rivers, which join together to form the tail, shape the body of the Puma, with the heart of the puma being Huacapata (the Temple of the Sun). This brief explanation doesn’t do the history of the city much justice - it is really worth doing the research and learning about the Spanish invasion, the destruction and the rebuilding of the city… unfortunately, if we were to write it all here you’d be reading for weeks.

City in the shape of a Puma

After wandering around the plaza, we were taken up the hill of one of the side streets near the Catholic Cathedral, learning about the Incan construction and Spanish influence along the way. Up a few narrow cobble-stoned streets, we were guided into a herbal shop that has “cures” for every ailment you can think of including cancer, diabetes and arthritis; however, their herbs, spices and lemonades may also be dandy tonics for scurvy. They’ll cure all of your symptoms, including, but not limited to: gradual weakening, aching muscles, sunken eyes, painful gums, ashen skin, loss of teeth, internal bleeding, the reopening of old wounds, diarrhoea, kidney failure, fainting and death… unfortunately they may not be able to cure evil pirate curses, but some of them may have a refreshing citrus flavour, with no unpleasant aftertaste. There is also a fair chance that the concoctions at this place may cure allergies to tortoise penises, fingernail clippings and 387 year old chairs made from avocado plants. A few of the believers on the tour decided they were coming back the following day to find cures for their ailments… their sore feet and sunburn could probably be fixed by not walking for days outside on end, or crazily, having a little bit of rest.


After experiencing the wonderful world of powders made from everything imaginable we walked along to a viewpoint to look out over the city. Cusco looks surprisingly spread-out from above; however, every rooftop is the same colour: mud-brick brown.

Roofs of the city

Selfie time!

We headed back down into town, finishing our walking tour and surprisingly ended up in a pub. This one had a slight bit of difference; it was a gringo pub offering craft beers at non-gringo prices.

Sunset over the hill

For those reading this an unaware of the term ‘gringo’, it’s pretty much used for everyone that isn’t South American… we’re not sure whether to be offended by this term or not, but you’ve really got to just roll with it. During the time we were in the plaza there was probably another parade, we’d seen at least four during our time in Cusco; celebrating religious things, graduations and anything really that could justify closing down the streets and the main square. Peru really seems to enjoy a parade at any opportunity possible.

On our way back to our hostel we stopped off for some mystery meat barbecue (probably beef kidney) on the side of the road. The lady with the barbecue had a crowd of people standing around and an enormous amount of skewers cooking, the supply and demand were pretty even so we felt the risk of food poisoning would be minimal… thankfully we were right! This was on our way back to the cheap chicken place across the road from our hostel for dinner. By the end of it all we were chockers full and had spent less than $10aud.

Street food

After having been in Cusco for a number of days, we were starting to wonder what we could do that still didn’t involve hiking, long bus trips and shopping. For those who know James well, shopping is not something he enjoys doing in any form, or wandering aimlessly along streets without a purpose and just looking. We decided to have a bit of a chill for the morning and play cards before going back to the San Pedro market for a proper walk around and look. Aside from the market shed, which has a large variety of fruit, vegetables, meat and food stalls; the surrounding streets are also jam packed with locals trying to get a bargain and all of the produce you could imagine. There are more than 4000 varieties of potatoes in Peru, and 55 varieties of corn that comes in lots of different sizes and colours.

Many varieties of corn

Along with all of the corn and the potatoes we also saw a huge amount of chicken, fish, pork and bovine… just sitting around, unrefrigerated and not always in the shade.

Meat for sale

Fish for sale

It is a wonder that we haven’t been sick since being here - we have, however, tried to buy meat from the supermarket where possible, mostly because it’s refrigerated there, but they also label the cuts. After wandering for a few hours and coming across a lot of new fruits and vegetables, it was time for another market lunch, this time we had mystery soup. We think the meat may have been lamb in one and beef in the other, but we can’t really be sure. The soup was really, really delicious and filling; along with the mystery meat it had potatoes (of course), carrot, some kind of stock, black beans, onion, herbs, rice and was accompanied by a jar at the table filled with salsa. ¡Muy delicioso!

James eating soup at the market

Soup close up

Moving on from the markets, we decided we should at least see inside one of the churches in Cusco, since every other city we’d been to so far we’d been toured through the church. We headed into the Jesuit Cathedral (as the Catholic Cathedral was much more expensive to enter), we paid our $2aud to get in and then nearly got accosted by the “free” tour guide. Avoiding the tour guide, we looked around the church, climbed up the bell tower’s steep, low and narrow staircase, and then headed back out into the square. The inside of the church was about as exciting as the inside of a church can get. We’ve lost count of how many churches we’ve visited, the altar and the statues inside were beautiful; however we’d seen nicer.

The view from the bell tower

After the church we came across the llama ladies again, narrowly avoiding another photo, found a square with a guy singing in it, and surprisingly, a couple of large llamas. I really don’t think we were allowed to take photos with the llamas without paying, but we squeezed one in, right before the llama nearly bit Dee on the face.

Local dressed up in indigenous costume

Llama time!

At this point, James didn’t want to walk aimlessly looking for nothing around in the street and decided to go for a wander on his own and get a massage. For Dee, whose legs were still a bit too sore to have somebody touch them, it was time to maybe have some quiet time… with a beer. The Norton Pub had a decent selection on tap, and for research sake, they all needed to be tried. While sitting balcony and enjoying the people watching opportunity across the square, a commotion started next door outside of the Jesuit Cathedral, and a few SWAT-type cars arrived. People evacuated the church and were led across the square, a restricted area was set up and a large number of armed people were blocking access.

Problems in the square

In control of the square

Dee wasn’t allowed to exit the pub, so whilst enjoying another beer and watching the commotion, it was discovered that there was a suspicious backpack left unattended outside the church, and it was suspected to be a bomb. In a matter of twenty minutes, everything was cleared out and the backpack was dragged out and inspected… It was all a false alarm and everything returned to normal.

Well as normal as things can be in Cusco...

Well as normal as things can be in Cusco…

James returned after all of the excitement had finished, completely oblivious to the apparent bomb. Though; we were now both sitting in the pub, Dee had made some friends with another Aussie couple, so it was necessary for James to do a little beer taste-testing as well. At some stage during the evening we had accumulated a few people including a Dutch-American lady, a New Zealander, and a few Aussies around the table, with a lot of beer. Things were rowdy and fun; I believe we may have been the noisiest table in the pub… nothing unusual there.

The hangover Wednesday morning was not a nice one, and it was packing day. We needed to be checked out by 10am, and we hadn’t even contemplated getting out of bed until 8:30. Our belongings were not in any kind of orderly fashion, and unfortunately we didn’t really have the space in our bags to just shove it in and away we go. Eventually, after showering, eating and arguing about who was packing what, we were done; we only had ten hours to wait for our bus. A decent, non-instant coffee was in order to try and get both of us to a more functional level so that we could have half an attempt at being human for the day. The main square was once again full of commotion, this time coupled with some very loud thumping music and a lot of extremely excited children. We’d stumbled across another parade, celebrating one of the local school’s anniversaries and it was all a little bit of a sensory overload for that hour of the morning.



After demolishing coffee we headed back into the markets to have a second breakfast/early lunch and some juice to try and recuperate from the previous night’s efforts. We decided to hit up another of the busy local stalls inside the market who offered a menu del dia of Chuño Sacta soup (neither of us knows exactly what was in it, chuño is a special dried potato, but it was delicious), and a choice of a few meats with rice and salad, we chose trout and ribs. Satisfied with our choice of hangover foods, we had quickly recovered from the deathly state we were in and felt we should probably make the most of the sunshine. We spent a few hours checking out the last of the sights close-by, sneaking in a quick recovery drink in the Pisco Museum and again, narrowly avoiding the llama ladies.

Menu at the market

Market lunch

Dee down a side-alley

Statue of an Inca emperor

Map of the Puna shape of the city

Llama ladies conning someone else

Pisco museum drinks

After a few hours of people watching and chilling out we headed back toward the hostel to grab some dinner before going to the bus station for our next round of overnight buses. We settled on a Chifa restaurant for dinner, this was not one of our greatest decisions. We’d both been wanting some decent Eastern-style food for a while and were in desperate need of some vegetables… Chifa/Choufa is Chinese food with a Peruvian twist… better known as a whole bottle of soy and oyster sauce, mixed with rice, snap peas, lettuce and meats. Unfortunately it was not the quality of the food down the road from us in Fortitude Valley.

Chifa dinner

We apparently needed instructions on how to use the toilet here though

We apparently needed instructions on how to use the toilet here though.

We finished half our meal then headed to the Peru Hop bus station on the other side of town, settled into our seats and tried to get some rest before our next destination: Puno. Although the tourist population in Cusco is huge, we’re definitely going back to attempt a few of the other hikes and natural sights in the area.

Go see all the photos from Cusco

Mountains and rocks and stairs, oh my! No lions, tigers or bears.

¡Hola, Stupid o’clock in the morning! Up and barely awake for our first day of driving and hiking the Inca Trail. We were piled into a bus with a bunch of sleepy travellers, ready to start the couple of hour drive to Ollantaytanbo. Eager to get going (or sleep on the bus, as it were) we needed to hurry up and wait; four of us had asked for poles and sleeping bags, which were supposed to be collected from the warehouse the night before, but hadn’t, and it was half an hour away.

After waking up a little bit, we got chatting to the rest of our tour group on the bus. There was another Australian couple, Brendan and Tess, who were only doing the Inca Trail part of the tour like us, and the rest of the group, Weng-Si, Bridget, Sam, Hannah, Jacqui and Mel who were doing the hike as part of a larger tour of Peru. Arriving off the bus to the Ollantaytanbo we stocked up on last minute supplies including a new beanie and gloves for Dee, and a half-decent cup of coffee before heading into the wilderness. José and Katie, our guides, then took us through to our first checkpoint at Piscacucho to get our permits and passports checked, and then and sent us on our way for our first full day of hiking.

Group at the Piscacucho contol point

Map of the mountain

During the morning, we started following the Urubamba River and staying fairly flat with some slight uphill bits. We stopped fairly regularly for quick water (and breathing) breaks, and José talked a bit about the trail and showed us what Cochineal beetles were by giving two of the girls some red “war paint” stripes.

The valley and mountains

The trail

After a couple of hours, a snack break and a couple of toilet breaks we stopped in for lunch, where the porters had set up a tent for us, tables, chairs and even a little portable potty – much more than what we’d expected! Sitting down for lunch thinking we might get a quick sandwich and a piece of fruit, we were rather surprised to be receiving a three-course meal of asparagus soup, salad, which included avocados picked fresh from one of the trees on the trail, and fresh bread, topped off with tea and coffee. It appeared we were going to be five-star camping on this trek.


Walking a lot further along the trail, we passed some more local villages on the path, in case we wanted to buy anything (at crazy prices) we had forgotten. The last part of the trail started to rise and we were having to work much harder to get up the hills. We made it to our camp spot for the evening, at Hatunchaca, 10km along the trail and uphill from where we’d started in the morning. Our wonderful porters had made it to the camp before us, set up tents and blow up mattresses for us, had tea and coffee with popcorn ready for our afternoon snack and warm water outside our tents so that we could have a birdy bath. These guys were absolute legends! Also at our campsite was a local lady from a community close by, who bought us cold drinks and beers to buy. This camping thing was really working for us. After sorting ourselves out and getting our things ready for an early start the following morning, we sat down to dinner to share our stories for the day. Our three-course meal was delicious soup, trout and steamed vegetables, followed by flambéed bananas in chocolate sauce, tea and coffee. It was barely 7:30pm when we all decided to call it a night – the sun had barely set. José had also reminded us that we needed to be up and out of camp before sunrise the following morning; it was going to be cold!

Us at the camp site

Being served dinner

Waking up at 4:45am in a tangle of thermals, a sleeping bag liner and a sleeping bag in a tent that would barely have been 1.5m wide (James thinks it was a normal size tent) was pretty interesting. Trying not to get too cold we attempted to pack up our belongings and get changed in the dark – prior to the first coffee of the morning, the head was not working. This was the moment that our wonderful porters came and “knocked” on our tent door, asking whether we’d like any coca tea and offering us warm water to have a birdy bath. Coca tea is made from coca leaves, which are supposed to help with the altitude by numbing the senses slightly. Whether it worked or not, who knows, being greeted before 5am with a hot drink and warm water made the morning much more bearable. Once packed, we stumbled up to the breakfast tent, expecting a little bit of cereal and maybe some toast. We should have known that our chef (yes, we had a chef on our hike) had much grander plans for us. There was toast, jam, coffee, porridge, an omelette and more coffee.

Water bottles filled and sunscreen on José called for us to VAMOS! Unfortunately one of the ladies in the group needed to head back down to Ollantaytanbo with Katie, our other guide… poor José was stuck by himself with a bunch of over-excited, tired tourists with varying levels of Spanglish. Thankfully for us, he spoke fluent English and was able to tell us a myriad of interesting facts, as well as patiently answering all of our questions. Leaving the camp we headed uphill on rocky stairs, stopping every 10-15 minutes or so to catch our breath. Not too long in, we passed Wayllabamba, the last village on the Inca Trail, and several locals with their donkeys.

Mountain and valley


Hiking up the trail

Streams down the hill

After a couple of hours, and after being overtaken by every porter on the track, we eventually made it to Dead Woman’s Pass. Along the way we’d seen donkeys, rainforest, dogs, horses, children and a few locals… then all of the sudden it was open space and just the crazy tourists who’d paid a fortune to hike for a few days. Settling in for morning tea and becoming one with nature (and the umm natural “toilets”), we climbed up a rock behind the 4215m above sea-level sign and listened to José’s words of wisdom. It was here that the trip we had embarked on really sunk in. We were reminded that no matter how difficult things might seem in life, there is always time to stop and see the beauty in everything, not to be so stressed all of the time, and to take advantage of opportunities. José had hit the nail on the head with his words…

Us before the sun hits

People on the hill

Trail by the ravine

Group at the peak marker

Snow-capped mountain in the distance

Trail back down

Refreshed from our rest, with the help of the few inspirational words on top of the rock, we were ready to head downhill. Dee decided that she was going to face a fear and run this section of the walk, uneven ground, stairs and big drop-offs from the side of the track… what could go wrong? For those reading this and unaware, Dee is pretty terrified of heights, has the ability to trip over nothing, and hates running – this was going to be interesting to watch. For James he took it easy and was the trip photographer for this part of the trek. The downhill section was supposed to take about an hour and a half; Dee made it in thirty minutes knees intact and without falling off the side of the trail, while the rest of the group came in at around the hour mark. Each time we would arrive into our campsite or lunch spot, we were given a huge round of applause from our porters, then handed a cold mystery fruit drink and told to sit and rest.

Us in front of the mountains

So I heard you like steps

Girls leading the pack

In total we had fifteen porters and two chefs, a lot for a group of nine tourists. These men were just incredible! All of the porters are from small villages in the local area, they run their own farms growing mostly potato and corn. Most of them have families with young children whom they leave behind when they come to the Inca Trail. For our tour group, the porters give their availability around their planting and harvesting time, and then are called upon to do the trek. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons (as it is with most people in the farming industry) the farms aren’t generating enough income to sustain the communities this men were from, their second job is working as a porter. These men aren’t given any training before they start working on the Inca Trail, they are handed a 20kg pack and told to go… Our group started to realise the enormity of their task, especially when we were struggling with packs less than a 5kg trying to do this hike. When we’d leave our rest stops, the porters would pack everything down, run past us on the trail, and have everything set up and finished before we’d get to our next rest stop. The strength, determination and fitness of these guys was astounding. The company we’d booked our tour through works with the communities to help ensure their survival – a percentage of our tour cost is given to the villages. In short our porters were absolute legends!

Our group with the porters

It seems when we arrive into our rest stops that we should be giving our porters a round of applause and the mystery fruit drink, not the other way around. The place we’d stopped to have lunch, Pacaymayu, is the campsite for many other groups as it is the largest one on the trail – we were informed at the beginning that we would have two long days of walking, and on our third day we’d only have a few hours before having a chilled out afternoon. For the other groups, their second day was the short day, and their third day involved a lot more hiking and hills. Finishing our lunch of soup, chicken, vegetables, salad and fresh breadrolls, it was time to head back off again for another four hours. Mel and Dee walked together for this section of the hike and were given very specific directions from José, who opted to walk at the back of the group to make sure we were all safe.

Path next to a valley

Cloud forest

Along the way we stopped in at some ruins call Runkurakay that were almost certainly a “Tambo”, a rest stop of the messengers of the Inca empire called Chasquis. Since the Incas did not have writing, messages were passed along by oral communication and specially knotted ropes. A Chasqui would run along the trails from one Tambo to the next, where they would pass the information along to a rested Chasqui there, would then go to the next Tambo, and form allow messages to be sent more than 200km in day.



The Incan Empire was quite large, and they were extraordinarily organised. At it’s height before the Spanish arrived, it covered Peru, half of Bolivia, half of Ecuador (north to Quito), half of Chile and a bit of Argentina – 20 million people in 2 million square kilometres (that’s 80% of Australia’s population in 70% of it’s size).

Shortly after, we crossed the second highest pass on the trail at 3950 meters. Very exhausted at this point we knew we were close to the end of the days’ walk, José had mentioned another set of ruins called Sayaqmarka toward the end of the track that were up a very narrow 100 step staircase. It was an optional extra to the track, we’d spent much of the walk to the bottom of the stairs wondering whether we should attempt the climb up it… of course we went up them – you can’t do the Inca Trail and miss half the fun stuff along the way! It was definitely worth the shaking leg, hand and knee climb up the stairs – aside from the beautiful view at the top, we were also spoilt with a really cool set of ruins. The architecture of the ruins was just amazing, and this set was huge! From the top we could also see our campsite… we were told that it was around a fifteen-minute downhill walk from the bottom of the staircase, from where we were it most certainly didn’t look downhill.

Ruins in the clouds




The last stretch of the walk on the second day was heading into “cloud forest”, and it definitely deserved it’s name, with the clouds covering the mountains, and there being a lot more trees.

Trail in the cloud forest

Dee on the trail

We eventually made it to the campsite at Chaquiqocha and had a chat with two of the porters while we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. All of the porters speak Quechua as their first language, and some speak a small amount of Spanish. Quechua isn’t like Portuguese where most of the words are similar with different pronunciation – Quechua is completely different. Communication wasn’t a strong point here! We arrived into camp and spoilt again with warm water to tidy ourselves up with, our porta-pottie and afternoon tea of popcorn, tea and coffee. We had a little bit of free time then sat down for another delicious dinner of quinoa soup, chicken and pasta followed by crepes for dessert. In the morning José had suggested we all put in five pesos and share a bottle of rum… best idea ever! After dinner we had rum and tea, then rum and hot chocolate, the rum with hot chocolate and coffee.

Campsite at sunset


José chatted with us; sharing stories from the times he’d completed the trail as a guide, and as a porter. He’d begun pottering when he was sixteen, and then put himself through university to become a tour leader… José is a very inspirational man. Porters are only allowed to carry 20kg each now, but it was not always like that. When James did the Inca Trail in 2010 it was 25kg each, and when José started as a porter there was no limit as such, so they would often carry 40-45kg each.

Filled with delicious food and warmed by the rum, it was time for us to head to bed, us party animals just barely made it to 8pm. We’d walked 15km, starting at around 2950m above sea level, going up to 4215m, back down to 3500m, back up to 3950m , down to 3475m ending with our campsite at 3680m. 3.1km of altitude change in one day is hard work!

Friday morning rolls around and we were allowed to sleep in! It was 6am when we had to get up; the porters greeted us with coffee and coca tea. This morning coffee in bed service is something Dee could get used to… hint, hint James! The mornings have been rather cold; Dee decided that she was going to attempt to change out of her thermals and into her hiking pants inside the multi-layered sleeping bag. This resulted in her getting stuck inside the sleeping bag, whilst James was in fits of laughter. This happened just before trying to put sunscreen on her face, but putting hand sanitiser on instead.

The sunscreen got sorted out, we managed to get ourselves packed and fed with a delicious feed of pancakes with dulce de leche (caramelised condensed milk), and of course some more coffee to get the head working. After we’d finished breakfast we gathered around with the porters and learnt a little about them and their families. I know we’ve said it a few times in this post, but these guys are absolutely amazing! After watching the sun pop up over the mountains, hitting the snowcaps on the other side of the valley, it was time for us to leave. The hike was only a short one but filled with so many things to see. Our entire group was pretty exhausted, and although we kept pushing on, each hill we needed to climb was frustrating us. The view from the top would be amazing, but after each crest, there was a realisation that there was more to climb. Stopping for morning tea we enjoyed the view then pushed on to get to our campsite and relax - we only had to walk until lunchtime.

Amazing scenery

Dee entering the tunnel

Getting a little ahead of the group Mel and Dee stuck together and chatted about the general kind of life things that you would obviously chat about when you’re hiking the Inca Trail. Along the way they’d run into a herd of llamas that were blocking the track, for us, not knowing much about llamas it was interesting to try and get past. Armed with the hiking poles to try and avoid being kicked or spat at we got past, and had the obligatory llama selfie on the way.

Dee's llama selfie

James with a llama

Steps upward

On the descent down we could see multiple sets of ruins and terraces, we were excited about what was to come. We’d rounded a corner, past the electricity tower, and all of the sudden we were greeted with a grand view of the valley and greenery as far as you could see. We’d arrived at Phuyupatamarka and it was just beautiful! I could go on and on about how gorgeous the view was, the pictures don’t do this place justice, but just look!

Phuyupatamarka terraces

Sitting on the edge

In the air

Many Inca sites contain a lot of land terraces, with rock retaining walls to hold the soil in. The Incas were quite smart, and they aren’t solely to provide ground to plan on – they are carefully oriented so that they receive more sunlight. The rocks in the wall heat up during the day and then prevent the soil from getting as cold overnight, so the plants grow better. There is a site at Moray, which we didn’t visit, where they have constructed many terraces in a specific pattern, so that the different sections result in different soil temperatures. This let them experiment to find out how different varieties of crops could handle different weather and climates, and plant the best ones in the right locations.


Our guide taking some photos for us

Dee going down steep steps

We could see our campsite from the ruins and we were really excited about being able to sit and relax! Our lunch was much bigger than it had been on previous days but so delicious! Soup, salad, vegetables and sandwiches – these guys really know how to put on a good feed. In the afternoon most of the group had a nanny nap while we decided to play a game of cards with Mel to pass the time before dinner. Two of the porters came to join us halfway through our first game, and after the second game we offered for them to join us. James did what he could to explain the very basic rules in Spanish to one of the porters, who translated it to Quechua for the other porter, and then they played. Both rounds of cards they played, the porters won.

Later in the afternoon José offered to take us to another set of ruins called Wiñaywayna very close by, for Dee, the knees weren’t coping so well with the downhill walking from earlier and the tired/crankies were coming out – she opted to stay at the campsite and rest. James went to the ruins with Sam, Mel and Hannah guided by a very tired José. He’d completed the Inca Trail the day before we started our trek… The man deserved a break! Looking forward to another early night, and hoping it wasn’t going to get too cold we sat down for dinner and Peruvian corn cake, then climbed into bed – not overly excited by the 3:45am wakeup that was going to greet us the following morning.


Yes, you did read that correctly… 3:45am. The checkpoint to go to Intipunku, the Sungate, was only a few hundred metres from our campsite, and we wanted to be the first there to get our spot so we could see the sunrise. Unfortunately, it took the whole group a little time to get going – all of the groups line up at the checkpoint for when it opens at 5am. We farewelled the porters, then managed to get ourselves lined up, but we were however, the second last group to arrive. We sat on the side of the track for around an hour, nibbling on the bits and pieces of food we’d been given in our snack bags. Once the checkpoint had opened we were busting to get going. The walk for the morning was only a couple of kilometres and we were full steam ahead. We eventually rounded a corner and were faced with a set of stairs, nicknamed ‘The Monkey Stairs’, and for good reason, hands and knee climbing was possibly the easiest way to get up.

Monkey stairs

We’d arrived at the Sungate, ready to see the beautiful view of Machu Picchu. For those reading our blog, you may have noticed that we’d not been having very good luck with sightseeing big things. There have been a few issues with the weather along the way, and of course, that morning was not going to be any different. The fundamental difference between the Inca Trail and many of the other treks that go to Macchu Pichu, is that the end of the trek is the only one that enters through the Sungate and leads down to the ruins – the view is supposed to be spectacular. Obviously this was not meant to be.

The sun gate overrun with tourists

Cloudy Macchu Pichu

Macchu Pichu

The sun gate was the main entrance to the site, via the “royal road” from Cusco, part of which is the Inca trail we hiked. While it is physically only a stone wall with an gateway, it was an important control point in the time of the Incas. The temple of the sun in the site is very carefully placed in relation to the sun gate and the surrounding mountains.

On the morning of the summer solstice, the sun rises directly in line with the sun gate, so that the first rays of light pass through the sun gate and into the temple via one window. On the morning of the winter solstice, the sun rises directly over the Huayna Picchu mountain and the light comes through the other window in the sun temple and on to the ceremonial stone.

Imperial stonework

Wide view of the site

After waiting quite a while in the hope the clouds would burn off, we decided that it was time to head down to Macchu Pichu and get ourselves some photos, whilst learning about the ruins and the Incan Empire. José toured us around the ruins, teaching us so much about the life of the Incas and the significance of some of the buildings. Albeit tired and struggling to take in information we learnt so much!

Classic shot of the site

Wide view of the site

After walking around for a few hours and taking a million photos it was time for us to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes (now called “Macchu Picchu Pueblo”, since the hot water springs are no longer hot) for lunch, and then the train back to Ollantaytambo. The lunch in Aguas Calientes may have involved a few beers and cocktails…so much that our entire group nearly missed the train.

Dee in front of Macchu Pichu

James in front of Macchu Pichu

After a long train and bus ride back to Cusco, we headed off to a group dinner at a quite touristy restaurant. After ordering, we had a Pisco Sour making demonstation, although this may not have been as useful for us as others, since we have made many before (just ask Dee’s phone what they taste like).

After dinner, most of us headed out for drinks, but Dee headed home to get some rest. We were led by our guide down several side streets, and into a small door that led down to a nightclub. There were quite a few drinks had, some bad dancing, and trying and failing to talk over the music before everyone headed home around 2 or 3am.

Go see all the photos from The Inca Trail and Macchu Pichu. There are a lot of them!

After crossing the land border into Peru we changed buses and were now travelling with Peru Hop. Our first stop for the evening was Puno, about five hours after crossing the border. Here we were guided to a restaurant for a delicious meal of lomo alpaca (grilled alpaca steak) and for James quinoa chaufa – the Peruvian version of fried rice. Jumping back onto the bus it was sleep time, the rest of the adventure would be awaiting us at an ungodly hour the next morning in Cusco.



We arrived into Cusco rather early, somewhere close to 6am. One of the advantages of the bus company we chose, was that they’d drop us to the door of our hostel – though this was two blocks from where the bus had stopped, and we waited half an hour for a taxi as they refused to let us walk there. The hostel we stayed in was the accommodation recommended by Gecko (our travel group for the Inca Trail); thankfully when we’d arrived we were able to check in straight away and were immediately offered coca tea from the owner.

Once we’d settled into our room we headed out for breakfast. When James was in Cusco previously, there was a café run by an Aussie expat, who had things like vegemite toast on their menu. We were excited by the prospect of having some Aussie breakfast and a real flat white… unfortunately it appeared the owner had changed, or at least the menu, and we were greeted with a very busy, very American restaurant; there was a lot of disappointment. Instead we headed around the corner and found a small café with real coffee and a relatively cheap menu.

Plaza de Armas

The rest of the morning was spent wandering around the main plaza in Cusco. Along with the Cathedral and the Basilica, the plaza is lined with restaurants and cafes, as well as a strip of tour companies and massage places. Walking around we had menus jammed in our faces, brochures from tour companies and ladies yelling at us for a massage; having little to no sleep from the bus it was quite overwhelming. We wandered through the alleyways around the two churches and checked out the intricate detail of the buildings.

Cusco Cathedral

Jesuit Cathedral

Based at one end of the square is a giant cathedral, after having spent many years studying religion (not sure if this is a good thing or not), Dee has been somewhat confused about the cathedrals in the cities we’ve visited. Mainly because in Australia, the cathedral is the head of the church for that jurisdiction, but here, there are many cathedrals in the same town, all belonging to the same jurisdiction – not really sure what the go is. In saying that these buildings have been absolute masterpieces, the cathedral in Cusco is no different. It was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983, only a mere 329 years after it had finished being built.

After a few hours of wandering we started to get hungry and tired, deciding that it was time to see what crazy Peruvian food we could find. It is difficult to look at the menu outside a restaurant, because, before you’ve had a chance to even consider what you might want your having the whole menu either read to your, or your arm grabbed and dragged into the restaurant – the locals over here seem to have no awareness of personal space. Whilst trying to decide we were accosted and dragged into a restaurant that offered a menu del dia for 13soles ($5aud). The menu offered quinoa soup, lomo alpaca and ice cream for dessert, including a drink of chicha morada (purple corn juice). Chicha morada has a very interesting taste, being South America it most certainly had at least a cup of sugar in each glass so it was very sweet, and didn’t really taste like corn.

Deciding to see what other interesting things we could find outside of the main square we continued to wander. Along the way we though it may be wise to attempt some laundry, we found a place that would do it very cheap and have it back to us in the afternoon. We’ve considered doing our own washing in sinks at the hostels, many of them have big signs asking you not to, and although we were willing to ignore them, the water situation hasn’t always been fantastic. We have not been so lucky to get a happy combination of hot water, good water pressure and a shower that’s bigger than one of our feet. The bathroom sink is usually barely big enough to put one hand into and the water, if there is any, is a dribble at most. The joys of staying in hostels! You know you’ve hit the jackpot when there is hot water, a shower curtain, a toilet seat… and you’ve really nailed it when there is a shower mat! Hair washing has been a struggle.

Whilst we’ve been in South America, finding banks that don’t charge exorbitant fees has also been a little difficult. Like home, there are lot of different banks to choose from, however, most of them haven’t been fond of Australian bankcards. Much of the afternoon was spent trying to find an ATM that would let us withdraw money, we’d changed currencies, there weren’t the same banks as there were in Bolivia, and for Dee it was all a bit too confusing. This, my friends, is why James looks after the finances.

What seemed like three hours later we found a bank and headed back to the hostel to start getting a list together of things we needed to buy for the Inca trail. All of the companies give you a massive packing list but then tell you that you can have a tiny duffle bag that can weigh no more than 5kg including your 2kg sleeping bag. What’s a girl going to fit into 3kg??

While wandering around during the day, we stumbled across the Cusco Pisco Museum and decided this was a place that we definitely needed to return to. A little less museum-like and a lot more of a bar, we settled in for a few drinks and a little bit of food. The wall behind the bar had every type of pisco imaginable, as well as some house made flavoured pisco in large demijohns. The menu has a decent selection of cocktails to choose from, as well as the option to concoct your own drink. Needless to say, there were a few drinks there, including the Pisco version of an espresso martini… Dee was very happy sitting in her element. As well as the delicious pisco, there was a small food menu (probably just to make sure that people don’t get too drunk), we decided it might be a sensible idea to have a little bite to eat so we could stumble our way home. Settling on a mixture of tapas, we were very satisfied! Cheesey eggplant bites, bacon and prawn skewers, beef skewers, alpaca pancetta crustinis, delicious salsas, and of course, the obligatory potatoes – we were surprised not to find rice on the plate as well. Sufficiently full of alcohol and food, it was time to stumble back to our hostel and roll into bed.

Pisco "Museum"

Us at the bar

Delicious foods!

Waking up in the morning wasn’t a joyful experience, although we weren’t too hung-over, our hostel was on a very busy road. In South America it is common to use the horn in your car CONSTANTLY, it’s not just a quick “toot, I’m here”, it’s “I like the sound of my car horn and I’m going to keep beeping it so that everyone knows I have a horn on my car”. Along with the horns, there are car alarms going off every few minutes – all of the cars have exactly the same alarm, regardless of the brand or which country we are in. Both of us have just about memorised the car alarm song.

We spent the morning back around the main square in Cusco looking for a new pair of hiking pants for Dee. The few weeks of drinks and delicious food had caught up, and the pants from home were becoming very snug. After wandering around for a few hours, and having people trying to sell every known knick-knack under the sun, we eventually found a second-hand store and the pants situation got sorted out. We checked out a few of the side streets and took a lot of photos of the old buildings around the town – the mixture of Inca and Spanish influence has resulted in some pretty impressive architecture. While wandering around we managed to get ourselves severely ripped off by ladies with baby llamas. We walked along the street and all of the sudden there was a llama jammed into Dee’s hands and we needed to take a photo – we paid one of the ladies, but were then told that it was the wrong lady and she wouldn’t give our money back, so we paid the other lady but it apparently wasn’t enough and she wasn’t going to leave us alone until we paid… the llama photo cost 20soles ($8aud), the ladies didn’t even smile.

Expensive llama photo

It was time to escape the llama ladies and keep exploring the beauty that is Cusco. We’d heard about some markets close by and decided we would give them a try. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, the markets can always be a little hit and miss, and usually when locals talk to you about markets they expect that you don’t want fruit and veggies, but the artisanal knick-knacks, llama jumpers and souvenirs. Thankfully, this one had a combination of everything, mostly fruit, vegetables and meat. Overwhelmed with the amount of stuff for sale, food stalls and the variety of fruits, we decided to take a break and buy a smoothie from one of the juice ladies. We ordered a smoothie each for $1aud and were given three glasses of the most delicious fruit juice ever. South America has so much fruit that we don’t have at home, and the fruits that we do have in common are much larger and much, much, much more delicious. The avocados are the size of your hand, the strawberries are so juicy and sweet, the oranges have no bitterness in them at all and the bananas are full of flavour. Unlike the cold-store and gas-ripening that happens to a lot of our fruit and vegetables at home, the ladies here grow all of their own produce, pick it when it’s ripe, then bring it to the market for sale. One of the many fruits we tried was a Cherimoya, or what we call at home, a custard apple. Talk about delicious! The lady at the stall found a small one for us to share, cut it in half and then told us to eat. We had juice dripping down our chins and off our hands; the fruit was juicier than our mangos back home! Muy delicioso.

Lunch area of the market


After the markets, we headed back to the Plaza de Armas for a coffee/beer. While sitting on the second floor of a cafe, we noticed a commotion starting in the plaza - there was some kind of parade starting. Peru love parades, especially in Cusco - they have several a week, for any reason at all. We think this one for was the 50th anniversary of a local school, and there were lots of people dancing along the street.

School parade

Arriving back to the hostel in the afternoon we were quickly alerted that we were supposed to meet our tour group for introductions and to make sure we had everything ready to go. This meeting was originally supposed to happen at 6pm, it was 2pm and we got into a little trouble because we hadn’t read the note that was apparently put into our room. Not given much information we left the hostel again and headed back into town to grab the last bits and pieces we needed, as well as the last minute packing before heading on our tour the following morning. During our packing we discovered that we had a few more items missing from our laundry. We probably have packed too many shirts and pants; however the underwear situation is looking pretty grim. Out of the last two lots of laundry we’ve lost five pairs of underwear between us… Free balling might not be a great idea in the cooler weather.

After finally getting our bags packed and ready for the morning we met up with Kristy and headed across the road for a cheap dinner – meat, chips and vegetables in quantities that were far too much for one person. The menu listed meats at less than $2, but didn’t have any suggestion that a side might accompany them, we decided to order a salad to make sure we got our veggie intake for the day (or potato and rice intake). Little did we know the side salad was almost the same size as the meal…and that the meal would come with chips and vegetables. We’d found a bargain.

After a couple of big days we were ready and probably a little over-excited for our tour. Four days of hiking, no showers and no barbecue… bring it on!

Go see all the photos from Cusco