Our first trek to South America was Peru in September 2014. Both of us had been to Europe before, in college and together in 2012 and 2013, and while those trips had their highlights (Oktoberfest two years in a row!), we were ready for something different. We each put together a 30-Before-30 list, which included things like scuba diving (Laura did in Belize 2013), run a half marathon (Vesper did his first one in 2013), and brew a good beer (both the mango wheat and VIIIRIS were amazing). When we were considering what to do next, we kept going back to hiking the Inca Trail, a top item on both of our lists. Neither of us had done anything this physically challenging as a “vacation,” and we were ready to do something beyond the churches, squares, and museums that largely characterized our European trips. We started planning the spring of 2014. We knew a few people who had done the trail already, so with their information, we selected a tour company, accommodations, and booked our flights.
We arrived in Lima around midnight and took a taxi into Miraflores, a touristy section in Lima. There were pretty parks along the ocean, but we were itching for something more than our overpriced pisco sours. The historic city center was beautiful and had some interesting sites, particularly the catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco where an estimated 25 thousand bodies are laid to rest.
When we flew to Cusco, that’s when we knew we were hooked on South America. Sure the main square was pretty touristy, but the surrounding scenery, the amazing people, and oh-my-god the food made it awesome. We stayed in a quaint little hotel a few blocks away from the main square, where we took advantage of the free breakfast and awesome hosts who provided all types of recommendations (both great perks when traveling). Whenever we describe our time in Cusco, it seems to be romanticized since everything went (more or less) perfectly. Even when we may have gotten a bit ripped off for a horseback tour, afterwards we stumbled into a “free” back entrance of an archaeological site that probably would have cost us an overpriced ticket had we gone through the main entrance.
The Inca Trail
The Inca Trail was the ultimate highlight of the trip:
- Our guide Rojo instilled in us a fascination with Inca and Quechua culture and history that still lasts today.
- The porters had our utmost respect as they carried the group’s belongings, tents, food, etc. in sandals as we all struggled along in our hiking boots and day packs gasping for air at the high altitude.
- The group of hikers with us were so diverse, kind, and supportive of each other. We are still in touch with a few today, and hope to keep those friendships for life.
- The food prepared on the trail was incredible. Vesper ate by far the most, including anyone else’s leftovers (it was that good). On our last night, Vesper had to learn some Spanish so he could tell the chef, “Su comida es la mejor en Perú.”
- The scenery was beyond compare. We kept saying to each other, “oh my god this is so beautiful,” and then we’d round another bend in the valley and our jaws would somehow manage to drop even farther. The Andes now have a special place in our hearts.
- Waking up at 3 am to hike to Machu Picchu may not have been our cup of tea as we are decidedly not morning people, but the hike was the most peaceful one of the four day trek. It was a cloud-free morning, perfect to watch the sun rise as we climbed up the Monkey Ladder and got to the Sun Gate right as the light came through onto Machu Picchu. It was a magical experience that we can’t wait to find again. We were now completely hooked on getting out there, trying new and challenging feats, and immersing ourselves in any culture possible.
The Food Festival
The final icing on the cake of our Peru trip was an 8 hour layover we had in Lima on our way back from Cusco to the US. We had checked our luggage at the airport and were in a cab back to the historic downtown to wander for our last few hours, when our driver mentioned a food festival. Um, yes please? We asked him to turn around and drop us off at Mistura, which happened to be the largest food festival in South America. Amazing! We couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend our last few hours in Peru, and we can’t wait to go back.