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6 Things Traveling to Peru Taught Us About The World


As an American couple, traveling to Peru gave us an opportunity to experience something we hadn’t before. While Europe and various U.S. locations have provided travel opportunities that are different in many ways from what we’re accustomed to, in many other ways life on these trips is very similar to how it is back home. It’s a modern world, with all the conveniences of a first-world existence that are emblematic of society and the ever-present hum of technology around us. No matter where you are, in one language or another, the news will buzz about you from media outlets the same way in London or Venice as they will in America. While you’ve escaped normality, changed your setting and opened yourself up to experience, in many ways travel can be awkwardly similar to where you came from. Traveling to Peru, however, was a different experience and one that taught us much.

What Tracy and I were looking for while visiting Peru was a reconnective experience, and we found it. Peru is, without question, a gem that needs no polishing, and a location that is undoubtedly unique in a way that is sadly so as a Westerner experiencing it for the first time. Reconnective? Yes. Immersive? Without question. What’s more, however, is how Peru woke us up again from a world that, even while traveling, can sometimes feel all-too-homogenized and anesthetic in the ways that you don’t want it to be. We found ourselves truly experiencing, and in fact learning, in Peru. Here are six things we learned in Peru.

It’s Okay to Disconnect

When traveling in Peru, especially as a Westerner or European, you’re unlikely to be as connected as you are where you’re from or where you’re accustomed to traveling. That’s what you want. There’s nothing wrong with it, and in fact, Peru made us consider the possibility that we’re maybe too connected.

There were moments in Peru destinations that you can’t get in the U.S., or at least easily. Being a country that is formed out of the bare clay of absolutely beautiful nature, natural existence takes center stage. It was refreshing, and even necessary, to have not given a single thought to calling anyone, checking Facebook, texting people or Tweeting while we were there. Peru pulls you away from that, and rightfully so. Without doubt, we are too connected. We look at our phones every five seconds, and rarely out of actual necessity, but rather as an automatic repetition that we’re afraid we’re going to “miss something.” Sometimes, the need is even less poignant, and the distraction is merely that – distraction. Waiting in line at the grocery store? Cell phone. Sitting in traffic? Cell phone. Sometimes your mind just needs to be present, and it’s perfectly okay to let it be so.

It’s easy to forget also that just a mere 15 years ago, most people couldn’t connect this way all the time. No one could call you unless you were at a phone, because no one had a phone. There’s something easily romantic about that now, and something that Peru helped us connect with. Those people that need to text you or call you, sometimes they can wait. Sometimes the world that is there for you through a device can wait.

Sometimes the world in front of you, the one you can touch and see, is the only one you need.

There’s A Lot We Will Never Know

Tracy and I are both history buffs. We love it, we love contemplating where we came from, the history that formed everyone’s current story, and the civilizations that preceded us. That civilization still feels vibrantly alive in Peru.

From Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo, being able to touch the relics from the past is a surreal experience. Additionally, there’s much in the way of how these cultures lived and interacted with the outside world that, while we can hypothesize, we can never be completely sure. That’s one of the great things about a place that has cherished it’s ancestry such as Peru, and one of the things that made us feel so closely related to it.

You can’t possibly look at Machu Picchu and think we know all there is about how these people lived, and why they fled. Their technological capabilities and brilliance were rare for the time, and they succeeded in building some of the most beautiful structures in existence – still. Machu Picchu is brilliant, but the massive stones that hold together Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley are truly mysterious.

It’s okay to accept that there’s much we don’t know, and in fact it’s more enjoyable sometimes to not know. Humans seem to enjoy informational overload, and sometimes it’s better to just marvel and wonder. Sometimes it’s better to just close your eyes, smell the Andes on your breathe and see if you can hear the passage of time in the wind without analyzing everything and needing a definitive answer to who we are and how we got here.

Lima Is Bigger Than You Think…

While not nearly as big as the United States, traveling to Lima definitely reminds you that it’s a big city. In fact, the population of Lima exceeds the combined populations of Los Angeles and Buenos Aires by nearly one million people! You can feel this when you drive through Lima, or when you get transportation from the Lima airport to Miraflores. Buildings are everywhere, people are everywhere, and in many ways you get the feeling that it dwarfs New York City. Then you realize that Lima is bigger than New York City by more than 400,000 people!

Some people avoid traveling to South America because they don’t have in mind the “big cities” of the world like New York, London, Paris or Tokyo, but South America has plenty of major locations. Lima happens to be one of the most populous cities in South America, next only to Sao Paulo, Brazil. While many areas in Lima aren’t recommended for enjoyable tourism, there are large areas such as Miraflores which are as nice, quaint, beautiful and cultured as anything you could dream staying in.

But, So Is Peru

Peru, while not classically big in the way that Russia, Canada, China, and the U.S. are, is a bigger country than most realize. By land mass, Peru is the 20th largest country in the world – more than double the size of France and nearly three-times the size of Spain. As big as Peru is, it’s also diverse. Coastal cities and beautiful vistas of the ocean? Check. Mountaintop wonders? Got it. Jungles? The biggest. Arrid plains and dry deserts? Check, check. The only thing we regret is not being able to see were more of the destinations Peru has to offer, as each area offers different cuisines and different social morays, all of which add to our fascination with Peru.

Don’t take the size of Peru for granted – it’s a big boy. One of the biggest, and the variety of things to do in Peru exemplify that size and variety. In fact, don’t even be sold on simply going to Machu Picchu every time – drive around. See the coast. Edge up next to the jungle. It is all incredible.

You Can’t Describe Machu Picchu

After we traveled to Machu Picchu, the invariable question asked by everyone was “how was it?”

Let me say this – nothing you will say, no matter how many times you go or how closely you rehearse what to say about Machu Picchu, will ever describe it. I’ve never found myself at a loss for describing a place, but words fail when it comes to Machu Picchu. It’s too grand. It’s too old. It’s too important. The enjoyment of Machu Picchu, in part, is being dumbfounded. Enjoy that, and when people come back simply tell them as you sigh, “you simply have to see it for yourself.”

There’s More To See

Visiting Peru is a symbol of the possibilities that exist when you travel. No matter how much of the world you have seen, and no matter how many flights you’ve taken, there is always more. More you haven’t touched, more you haven’t seen, more you haven’t experience, and there just might be another Machu Picchu out there.

Peru, and Machu Picchu, will always be our travel “unicorn”, I suppose. We’re constantly looking for the thing to top it, or to at least make us stop and consider “is this close?” We leave for the Yucatan Peninsula in two days, and I can promise you my thoughts have been absorbed with the hope that I’ll be as overcome with awe as I was at Machu Picchu.

Then again, that’s why we travel, isn’t it? That’s why you should visit Peru and why you absolutely have to travel to Machu Picchu. Make it happen, and let it inspire you to make even more happen. Any avid traveler will agree that traveling is a drug they don’t mind being addicted to. The more you get, the more you want, and you’ll do anything to travel more with the ones you love once you’ve had a taste of it.

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Travel Peru: Machu Picchu and More


There is much to be said for utilizing American holidays for certain excursions, especially south of the Equator, where during North America’s wintertime it is quite appealing. Additionally, since no one besides the continental United States celebrates Labor Day or Thanksgiving, the travel prices are less expensive, yet the weather is perfect in places like Peru. We spent 9 days in this amazing country, and to be honest, I would take their ceviche over traditional turkey and stuffing any day! Easily, Peru is one of the best places to see in South America, and late November is one of the best times of year to go.

Our experience was definitely one of my overall favorites of all the excursions we’ve experienced. Using Best Peru Tours, an all-inclusive organizer of guided tours throughout Peru, we were able to book a stay that had us beginning our journey in Lima and flying to Cusco before making the trek to Machu Picchu, then returning for two nights in Lima. If you’re wondering how to get from Machu Picchu to Lima, your escorted touring group will take care of that as well!

Beautiful Machu Picchu

While in Lima, you’ll want to stay in downtown Miraflores, which is about an hour from the airport. After your arrival in Cusco, the Inca Rail (a national train liner that goes between Cusco and Machu Picchu) is about a 2.5 hour trip, and brings you to the base of Machu Picchu to experience the real splendor of the location. If you use a company such as Best Peru Tours, the booking of the individual legs becomes rather easy, as they handle this and the hotel booking for you.

Your choice is either to stay some time in Machu Picchu and truly experience Cusco, or perhaps enjoy a rather elaborate day trip from Lima if your time is limited. Along the way, you’ll experience Ollantaytambo and have a chance to see the beautiful Sacred Valley – one of our favorite scenes along the trip. Not only is the Sacred Valley visually enchanting, but its ideal as a places for couples to travel as it doubles as incredibly romantic.

Sacred Valley is another one of Peru’s magnificent experiences.

 

The bus ride up the mountain to Machu Picchu is daunting and thrilling at the same time. Try not to freak out as you look out the nearest window displaying a free falling, tree-lined and rocky mountain face as you wind at nearly 180-degree angles up a dirt road! Oh, there are buses passing you on their way down as well, but from our experience, they are definitely professionals!

(Side note – we didn’t know it was pronounced “Macch-you PEEK-shoo” until we got there! Apparently “PEE-shoo” means, uh, male member, so just a quick FYI, haha!).

In addition to Machu Picchu, a tour to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo is a must. The Pisac Market is so peaceful, and the local silver jewelers will show you how they create their beautiful pieces by hand in their workshop. The cost of their pieces is unbelievably cheap compared to US pricing for silver, and there are day trips that frequent the area from Cusco regularly.

Before and after your tours, you’ll stay in the city of Cusco. It is unlike anything we’d experienced before – wild, warm, welcoming, and a lot of wandering (well fed and super friendly) dogs, which we loved! The locals in Cusco, at the base of the beautiful landscape, only require you to speak broken Spanish to get around – because most locals understand basic English – which is embarrassing to any native English speaker from the U.S.

The people are warm and accommodating, used to tourists but not at all resentful of the intrusion on their natural habitat. The tourists that frequent Peru from other destinations leave almost no footprint behind, and instead, a lot of love and appreciation.

Things of note regarding travel in Peru:

YOU CANNOT DRINK THE TAP WATER, but bottled water is inexpensive, and in certain locations can be refilled into your bottles. The environmental concerns regarding plastic waste have to be suspended for personal health reasons, but the walkability of any area and public transportation probably balances it out.

DO NOT FLUSH TOILET PAPER down any of the toilets. The reason for this rule (which is posted in all hotel rooms and public toilets) does not have to do with hygiene, it has to do with the original city planning – the sewer pipes were built too small! They are the size of a small orange in diameter as opposed to what we are used to in the States. You’ll need to place all paper waste into the trash can, which every establishment provides. It’s standard practice, just be respectful and dispose of your full trash bag if necessary!

MOST HOTELS IN CUSCO DO NOT PROVIDE DOUBLE/QUEEN BEDS, which we actually liked, to be honest! After days and days of travel in those full size beds, where we were restless and rolling over each other, we were given 2 separate, soft beds in a clean room which were absolutely perfect. I call them the “Avoid Snoring and Shuffling” travel convenience beds. Well worth it, and the room was so cozy!

Must Do In Cusco

Visit the downtown area and walk around the Plaza de Armas! There are many great restaurants and shops, as well as the impressive Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, also known as Cusco Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage site was completed after almost a century of construction in 1654. Within its walls are housed myriad artifacts and relics from the area itself.

Cusco Cathedral is beyond impressive.

The San Pedro marketplace in Cusco is also not to be missed, open from 9am to 6pm, and less than a ten minute walk from the Plaza. It’s a bustling array of great sights, sounds and smells, where you might find local performances in the square, an area surrounded by food and juice carts as well as souvenirs. Across from the square is another large part of the market where you can get freshly prepared food from locals and spend hours wandering around! If you do buy from any one of the endless souvenir stands in the market, feel free to offer a price you feel is reasonable if their initial price is too high.

After walking around the expanse, you might get a little hungry! Try a plate of lomo saltado (stir fried beef), and a big glass of steamed milk, both delicious. The local people here are very friendly and welcoming to tourists, so try something new! We spent quite a bit of time here in this area wandering around for the day.

Quick tip #1: If you do partake in the local juice, make sure to verify that it’s been made with bottled water as the local water is not potable!

Quick tip #2: The “toilets” in the market area are built into the floors in the public areas and manned by locals who charge for toilet paper, and, there are no sinks. Bring a pack of sanitary hand wipes as well as some tissue before you head over.

Must do in Lively Lima

While much of Lima is highly congested and not ideal for tourist, staying in the Miraflores district was an absolute delight. Clean and modern, yet still containing the cultural flair that is uniquely Peru, Miraflores represents the best of Lima.

We stayed at the El Tambo II Hotel, located in central Miraflores near excellent restaurants and prime shopping markets, most of which featured locally made clothes, bags and other goods. Walking out from the El Tambo was a peaceful stroll, along the main thoroughfare in the morning and stopping for a light desayuno and coffee.

The food, no matter where we ate, was incredible. Given Lima’s location as a coastal city along the rough waters of the Pacific, fresh fish was ample. With that in mind, our first dinner stop was El Pez On, a thriving seafood restaurant that provided us with free pisco sour as we waiting for a table under the shimmering Peruvian sun. The setting was incredible, the service was even better, and the ceviche was the best we’ve ever had.

El Pez On – the perfect place to start your stay in Lima.

There were numerous other activities in the downtown streets, as we walked to nearby Parque Kennedy. The small park was idyllically situated along a small section of hostels and restaurants, where we had a glass of wine or two and a few appetizers. After, we walked to the benches and fed some of the cats who frequented Parque Kennedy (also known as Parque Gato!).

You won’t be the only one hanging out at Parque Kennedy!

For calmer fair, Miraflores provided unlimited small cafes and beautiful sitting areas to simply watch the day pass. However, nighttime brings a different vibe. The streets fill with locals and tourists alike soaking in the perfect weather and delicious drinks, often making a stop at one of the local casinos for a draw or two on the slot machine. We stopped in as well, as stopped after our third “pull” paid for a few drinks and a modest meal!

Miraflores truly is a beautiful city to simply walk, as we experienced during our nighttime walking tour of the city, purchased through Viator for only $8 per person. The tour was casual and informative, and truly helped us feel like we knew the city, though the truth was that we had much to learn. If walking isn’t your interest, and perhaps you prefer a bike ride, you can also check out the Urban Bike Ride Tour that goes from Miraflores to San Isidro. It’s a beautiful ride that allows you to view a larger section of Lima, all within view of the rolling Pacific waters.

The Heights of Machu Picchu

The truly glory of Peru, however, is and will always be Machu Picchu. Arriving at the base of this beautiful time capsule was the culmination of a life-long interest we’ve both had, from our early days as a couple talking about the poem by Pablo Neruda to the time spend leering at travel articles and dreaming about the day we would finally see the ancient city.

Standing atop Machu Picchu, walking through it and touching the centuries-old structures truly sends the chill of time through your bones. The wind seemingly blows history through you, and you realize you’re truly in the presence of something grand. Machu Picchu was the ultimate culmination to a trip truly built for a crescendo, and we were provided that.

If you haven’t been to Peru, and more specifically Machu Picchu, you simply must go. The people, the food, the culture and the permeating history make it life-changing experience for any traveler looking for something transcendental.