It’s been an incredibly fast 2 weeks here in Peru. Starting things off, I spent a few days to acclimatize to the elevation in Cusco (roughly 11,700 feet). Me and a good buddy explored many of the great things that this fascinating city has to offer.
It is the oldest continually inhabited city in the americas and certainly has its charms. From the cobblestone streets to the beautiful churches to the insistent street vendors, there’s something beautiful about this place. Just don’t climb any stairs too quickly or you’ll find yourself gasping for air.
But of course the biggest reason for this city being so popular today is because of the tourist attractions including Machu Picchu. We decided to take the more difficult route of the Inca Trail for 4 days to see this world wonder, and I’d strongly suggest this route as opposed to the cheaper but less rewarding train option. Being able to learn about Incan methods and ways of life as we best know them was an amazing experience as much as climbing massive Andean mountain passes and trekking through heavy rain in the cloud forest.
The best part about the hiking was the challenge. There is no feeling quite like pushing yourself and both figuratively as well as literally climbing the mountain. If you’ve ever seen the move the shawshank redemption (and if you haven’t I’d strongly recommend it), the moment when Tim Robbins reaches his arms up in exclamation in the rain, summiting a mountain is much like that, with perhaps a less favorable camera angle and lighting. We can’t all be Hollywood famous actors/actresses.
Of course, when you do these sorts of things, bonding with the people you go through these experiences with is quite inevitable. But that is my favorite part! Being able to share experiences, even with people you’ve never known who live half a world away (quite literally!) is something you can’t really buy and it’s why I love traveling. Whether it’s a simple experience like sharing some beers or climbing a mountain, nothing can replace the feeling of sharing it with others.
The next stop in Peru included only more of this as I took a bus to Arequipa. The backdrop of this amazing city is a set of 3 volcanos surrounding the city to the north. I took a walking tour to get to know this fascinating city a bit better and then booked a 3 day tour through the colca canyon. This canyon is apparently the 2nd deepest in the world and is twice the depth of the Grand Canyon! I would need to be convinced that the view was as gorgeous as the Grand Canyon was, but the view was awe inspiring nonetheless.
In descending the canyon, we learned that local people would hike up to the top for over 3000 feet of climbing and then trek the many miles to Cuzco through mountains and passes. And this was all for the sake of trading and selling goods. This was some time ago in history but showed me just how hard people had to work in a day and age that is not too far from our own today.
When we finally reached the bottom several hours later, it was a great feeling. Although climbing down doesn’t have the same metaphorical meaning as climbing up, it is still challenging and rewarding. Particularly when there is a beautiful oasis waiting for you. I must say, swinging in a hammock as the sun sets over canyon walls bending back and forth with a pool ebbing back and forth just beside you is a wonderful sight to see. I’m quite thankful for this because the next day was an even greater challenge to climb over 3,500 feet with a 20+ pound backpack to carry.
We woke up at 5:00am to be able to make this hike up with no sun beating down on us. Starting out I was feeling great and taking each step vigorously. But towards the last third of the hike, my legs became tired and I was moving very slowly. Thankfully, I bumped into a new friend who was having a tough time as well and our conversation carried us the last stretch up to the top of the canyon where our groups were waiting for us. It was once again a great feeling to make it to the top and we took some nice pictures to celebrate. The rest of the trip would be much more relaxed as we took a bus from breakfast to some lookout points of the canyon and then to a hot spring where we recovered from the heavy morning hike. After that, it was one last viewpoint at over 15,000 feet above sea level looking at volcanos in every direction before our final descent back to the city of Arequipa.
It was an amazing time in Peru having seen the beautiful cities of Cusco and Arequipa as well as countless Incan ruins and other picturesque views. There were challenging days and easier days all making for a well rounded experience of seeing a small sliver of what Peru has to offer. I’m glad that I was able to see these things but wish I could have seen even more. I’ve made a list of tips for traveling to Peru which can be found here. It’s a beautiful country and one that I’d urge any of you to choose to visit someday!