Anyone who’s seen me hoist up my 65L backpack at baggage claim could tell you: I’m not the person to go to for “packing light” advice. When it comes to negotiating what to take and what to leave behind, I tend to cut back in all the wrong areas. Example: I packed around a dozen crossword puzzles for Peru— actually taken from newspapers, so each one came with the entire page— but thought eh, who needs a sweater?
That said, I’m a sucker for a good list. Traditionally, I spend the week or so leading up to a trip excitedly writing and rewriting my entire packing list, right down to how many socks I plan on bringing. I even get weirdly into reading other people’s packing lists. I couldn’t tell you why, but I truly love packing. (And yes, I do feel a little #blessed for that.)
August was an incredible month.
I’ve tried to come up with some more writerly adjectives to describe it— awesome, bonkers and dope all come to mind— but nothing else really fits. And for a month that took me from the bottom of the world’s second-deepest canyon to the top of a glacial pass, I think “incredible” is a pretty fitting descriptor. So, after publishing 13 posts covering 11 destinations in Peru, I’m pausing to reflect on a truly incredible month.
After a whirlwind month through southern Peru— and just one day after hiking to Machu Picchu— I was back in Lima, in one of my favorite spots in Peru: the capital’s Barranco district.
While neighboring Miraflores is known for its highrises and shopping centers, Barranco has a reputation as a home for the arts. This district boasts some of Lima’s best street art, restaurants, and more than a few of its most popular museums. So, when I came back here with over a week to spare, I settled right into a routine that almost daily took me past some of Barranco’s best spots.
This is my last post in a three-part series documenting my Salkantay Trek tour, wrapping things up at Machu Picchu. Want to start from the beginning? Head to Part 1 and Part 2. I’ve condensed my tips for the trek into this, my final post on reaching Machu Picchu. If you’re looking for facts and figures, scroll down for my Salkantay Trek packing list, tips, and information on what it costs.
By the end of our fourth day on the Salkantay Trek, we had seen so many beautiful landscapes that I had almost forgotten what lay at the end of the trek. But on the morning of our fifth and final day, that changed. It started to sink in: we were going to Machu Picchu.
Not many things could get me to happily roll out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and spend the next two hours sitting on the sidewalk. But if anything makes that list, it’s Machu Picchu.
After our second day of hiking the Salkantay Trek, we were finally in the jungle. And from Challway, where we started Day 3, it was (almost) all downhill.
The previous two days had taken us from the famous Humantay Lake all the way up to the Salkantay Pass, at a lung-straining 15,200 feet. And on the second day alone, the scenery was enough to make me forget all about Machu Picchu; we had walked from the glacial lake at Salkantay Pass down through the cloud forest and into the jungle at Challway in one, long stretch. By our third morning, we had already seen more than I could’ve imagined– and we still had two days of hiking left.
On the itinerary for Day 3: hike from Challway to Playa Sahuayaco, and then on to our camp near the small town of Santa Teresa.
In my mind, it’s unavoidable: if it’s your first trip to Peru, you go to Machu Picchu. It’s part of why Nick and I chose Peru over any other destination in Latin America, and it’s the reason we traveled in August, at the end of Peru’s high season. (Which, by the by, explains why the weather was so dismal in Lima; high season for hiking is the greyest time of year to visit the coast.)
But, while I was giddy about seeing a wonder of the world, I wasn’t eager to hike the Inca Trail. Instead, I went for an alternative: the Salkantay Trek.
The Salkantay Trek is just one of many that eventually leads to Machu Picchu. I’ll write more in-depth about why we chose it in another post. For now, suffice it to say there were a few benefits: it’s less popular, significantly less expensive, and easier to book than the Inca Trail. And besides all that, it just seemed quieter. I was looking for a challenging trek that would let me marvel at completely new-to-me scenery without the distraction of other tour groups. On that front— on every front— it was a total success.
For as much bad luck as I had in some stretches of my Peru trip, I got really lucky when it came to finding good hostels. I had my share of duds, but for the most part, I lucked out with finding comfortable, clean, and affordable hostels everywhere from Lima to the Colca Canyon. So, as I wrap up writing about my month in Peru, I’m reflecting on some of my favorite hostels from my trip.
The six hostels in this post trace a pretty common path through southern Peru: Lima, Huacachina, Arequipa, and the Colca Canyon. They range from $8 per night to $25, although I found the average cost to be more like $12. And, of course, they’re all clean, comfy, and budget-friendly— with the exception of the $25/night stay, which I think is well worth the splurge.
Hiking the Colca Canyon turned out to be one of the most memorable, challenging things I did in Peru. I passed through landscapes I had never seen before, hiked at an altitude I had never experienced, and stayed in an incredible mini-jungle in Sangalle. All in all, it was one of the coolest hikes I’ve done, and I’m so glad to have done it without a guide— but I could’ve been way more prepared.
As I mentioned in my last post, I found it surprisingly difficult to dig up detailed information about hiking the Colca Canyon online. Presumably, that’s because so many people see it with a tour group, an option that didn’t really appeal to me. It’s totally possible to hike the Colca Canyon independently — provided you take care of the research and preparation up front.
I know I say this about everywhere in Peru, but the Colca Canyon was a stop I was really, really looking forward to. Named for the Colca River in its valley, the canyon is navigable only by foot or mule and takes a minimum of two days to hike. At the top of the canyon you’ve got bone-dry desert; at the bottom, a river that gives life to lush little oases. On the list of things I was excited to do in Peru, I knew this would be one of only a few that I would be really disappointed to miss.
And for a while, it looked like Nick and I might have to skip it. Luckily, we decided to ignore our bodies’ pleas for rest and make the hike, whose difficulty level no one could seem to agree on. I’ll save you the suspense: it was haaard. As the world’s second deepest canyon (it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!), that probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
When I wrote about Arequipa, I sort of ventured away from the more fact-based kind of writing I’ve done about places like Huacachina. Instead, I wrote more about my own experience there, an approach that’s fitting for a blog but that can leave out all kinds of interesting facts. For example, I totally forgot to mention that Arequipa’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or talk about Arequipa’s unique blend of architectural styles. So, as I was sorting through my photos of the Santa Catalina Monastery, I figured this would be a good opportunity to amend that.
The Monastery is a fascinating city-within-a-city. Where else could you find a convent whose atmosphere more resembled that of a 16th century cloistered Peruvian Moulin Rouge than that of a pious religious citadel? That Moulin Rouge comparison might be an exaggeration, but only barely. (Presumably, the nuns at Santa Catalina didn’t enjoy liquor or men— though there are rumors.)