You really really want to see South America. It's been your dream for the last two years or so, and Machu Picchu is on your bucket list. So is being able to speak Spanish. All your friends either have no money, other commitments, 'real jobs', or no balls to join you on the insanely cool adventure you know South America will be. Your parents aren't that keen on you traveling to what they perceive to be the daughter napping drug capital of the world, and your friends tell you there is no way in hell they would go there alone...
|Sitting on the edge of the Colca Canyon|
Now you have two options:
1 - Politely tell everyone to grow a pair, and book your flights to South America.
2 - Take the obviously 'well educated' advice from the people who have *cough* never been to South America, and choose to stay home or go somewhere 'safer'.
If you have wisely chosen option one, you may continue reading. Those who have chickened out and decided on option two, I'm awfully sorry but this is where the story ends for you.
So, option 1 peeps - Congratulations! You will have an amazing life should you continue following your heart, and fulfilling your hopes and dreams - this is when life really gets interesting! I'm going to share my story about exploring the gorgeous country that is Peru.
My desire to explore South America began in 2010, after meeting some wicked SA travelers while I was backpacking alone in Italy. After saving some money when I got home, I started talking about my plans to my parents... who were quite disapproving of me traveling to South America alone - Which is of course totally understandable. So in an attempt to make them more comfortable, I randomly booked a Contiki tour that started in Lima on the 3rd of November 2012 - The Inca Panorama tour. I booked it a year in advance, as these type of tours are extremely popular... so if you are going to choose this option, make sure to give yourself plenty of time.
|The map of the Inca Panorama Tour (From Contiki)|
|My Peruvian family out for lunch in|
Miraflores, Ana and Luana
If you want to see the country with no stresses or worries, the Contiki tour I booked was also pretty good. The only con was that for 11 days $1900 was really expensive for me... considering I had arrived in Canada 6 months prior with only $3,500 in my bank account, and still had almost all of that remaining even after 6 months... Soooo, to be completely honest I probably won't ever do another group tour again. But it is another good option for those who are still finding their feet.
We got to see some amazing things on the tour that I may not have seen otherwise, and aside from the obvious highlight of Machu Picchu, I highly recommend the following places/things to do:
- Colca Canyon and watching the amazing Condors fly just meters from you.
- The Uros Islands and Lake Titicaca.
- Seeing Vicuna in the wild
- Chewing cocoa leaves or drinking cocoa tea
- Drinking papaya smoothies in the morning
- Try Ceviche at a restaurant - I have fallen in love with it!
|Being greeted by the colourful Lake Titicaca families|
Hostels/Hotels I stayed at:Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to try out many hostels, but here are my opinions of the few I did.
Ecopackers Hostel, Cusco.. AWESOME hostel, 10/10.
Pariwana Hostel, Lima.. Ok.. cramped rooms but good place to meet people 5/10.
MamaSara Hotel, Cusco (Contiki) - Lovely hotel, great service, ok location 6/10.
Tupac Yupanqui Palace, Cusco (Contiki) - Loved the architecture, pretty good breakfast, good location 7/10.
Hotel Girasoles, Miraflores, Lima (Contiki) - Good breakfast, 8min walk into central Miraflores. 6/10.
If I was to go back, I would really like to check out the Red Psycho Llama Hostel in Miraflores, from the reviews I've read it really sounds great!
|The Contiki gang|
To get from Cusco to Lima, I travelled with Cruz del Sur, a highly reputable bus company. It took 13 hours to get from A to B, but these buses are absolutely amazing. Reclining leather chairs, meals provided, I think they had TV's too. It was extremely affordable too as compared to flying. The only downfall is the fact you have to sit down for so long!
Getting from the airport to your accommodation:
I would strongly advise to book accommodation for the first few days prior to arriving in Peru - ask your hotel/hostel of the best way to get to them and how much it will be. In my case, Peruwayna booked and organised a taxi with a reputable company. The taxi picked me up from the airport and dropped me right to my Peruvian family's doorstep.
|Finally seeing Machu Picchu after a tough hike|
Now, to clear up the excuses society provides you with to put you off a solo visit to Peru:Issue #1 'Pickpockets'
I never had an issue. Not once! I had a small shoulder bag, and a tiny wallet that I secured in a pocket inside the bag so it would be difficult for someone to steal anyway. If I was in a large crowd I would make sure the bag was slung around the front of me. The only thing I would stress to fellow travellers, and that my Peruvian family strongly advised - was to avoid answering your phone on the street. If you need to answer it, even just to text someone, duck into a shop and do it. Phone theft is high, and iphones are a rarity there. The best advice I can give is just use common sense, be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut feeling.
Issue #2 'Lone blonde girl travelling in South America vs South American men'I really stood out in Peru - Amongst a sea of short, brown eyed, black haired people, my long blonde hair and blue eyes did attract a little bit of unwanted attention, but no where near as much as I was expecting from stories I had heard. During the month I stayed there, I only got a few whistles from passing cars, and the odd uncomfortable stare while walking along the street which I all ignored - and I walked the streets every day. I made sure I was home before nightfall, but there were a few occasions I had to walk home after class in the dark, and never had an issue. There are police patrolling majority of the streets in Miraflores, and I felt really safe there. If I really wanted to go unnoticed I'd wear a hoodie, put my 'don't F&*^$K with me' expression on walk with a purpose. I was never bothered.
|Peru has some amazing wildlife|
Issue #3 'Taxi's!'In Peru, you have to agree on your price for a taxi with the driver BEFORE you get in! To give you an idea of costs, one of my trips was from Miraflores to Central Lima (roughly 13kms - 20mins drive), and only cost 13 sol, or $5AUS... and that was split between 4 people! Im pretty sure there are more taxi's then people, so you will never have a problem hailing one or bargaining for a good fare. If the driver thinks the price is too high just start looking for another taxi, they will literally line up for you on the street in competition for your business!
Issue #4 'Foooooood and H2O'
The variety of food in Peru is amazing, the markets are eye-opening, but there are a few things to watch out for. Tap water is not drinkable - you HAVE to buy bottled water. This also means your tummy won't appreciate any fruit or veggies/salads washed in tap water - so choose your restaurants wisely or from recommendation. The locals know the good places to eat, so ask! Boil your water or wash your fruit with bottled water. I ate an apple that I polished on my jumper thinking I would have got rid of any nasties, and although I didn't end up attached to the toilet (THANK GOD), it felt like my insides had transformed to a theme park and my stomach had taken up the challenge to ride every single roller coaster a hundred times all through the night. The easiest way to avoid marrying a toilet is to buy cooked food on the street. I did get sick with a stomach infection while on my Contiki, which wasn't much fun either, but luckily doctors are extremely cheap in Peru, so just be careful about what you eat.
|About to ride in Tuktuks in Chivay|
Issue #5 'Other noteworthy tips'Be aware that there are a few significant cultural differences... make sure you don't flush your toilet paper, put it in the bin provided or otherwise spend the next half hour trying to unblock the toilet. It's NOT fun!
- Learn basic Spanish before or while you are travelling, and show respect by trying to speak the language - not many people speak English, so you will need a basic understanding.
- Make sure you get the specific immunisations/injections needed for the places you will be visiting, and a travel doctor can provide you with a self medication pack if you do have an instance of food poisoning.
- Even if you are an unplanned traveller like myself, you must have a flight out of Peru booked otherwise you wont gain entry.
- If you are travelling to the USA after you have visited Peru, ENSURE you have organised your specific visa (in my case it was through the Visa Waiver Program) and have an ESTA number prior to arriving at the airport.
- Always give way to cars - they won't stop for you on crossings, and the last thing you need is to be hit by some maniac taxi driver.
- There will be a multitude of people you will come across that will ask you for money in Peru. Don't give into beggars, it's the easiest way to get yourself into trouble. I just ignored them or said 'no thankyou'.
- Be really really sun-smart while travelling Peru. The sun is extremely powerful, and you burn without knowing it.
|Me and our Contiki mascot 'Wooly'|
Altitude sickness you say?I definitely noticed the altitude. It was the strangest sensation. I'd take 5 steps and my lungs made out as if I had of sprinted around a football oval. It also gave me a weird headache every now and then. I noticed the altitude a little while trekking Machu Picchu, however it was nowhere near as bad as when we were exploring Puno and Lake Titicaca, which were roughly 3,800m above sea level. I used preventative methods to avoid altitude sickness, which were advised by my Peruvian family. 'Soroche' pills where what I used, which you can get from any chemist. They seemed to work. I also drank cocoa tea and chewed cocoa leaves which is a more traditional method. Many of the others on my tour didn't bother and never had an issue. Travelling in a bus for majority of our trip allowed us to acclimatise fairly well. If you are feeling sick definitely see a doctor as it can easily be fatal and therefore not something to mess around with.
You can avoid Altitude Sickness with the following steps:
- Aclimatize by climbing slowly
- Avoid physical activity the first few days
- Stay hydrated: About 3 litres of water each day
- Don't carry too much weight around
- Eat 'light', and small amounts. You will feel really sick if you try to eat a normal sized 'heavy' meal.
- Try to avoid drinking alcohol, it doesn't mix well with high altitude!
|Somewhere between Puno and Chivay|
the view from the bus
My most dangerous experience in Peru:For those curious to know my worst experience while travelling in Peru, I figured it might be useful to briefly share.. I travelled to Central Lima with 3 other fellow Peruwayna students. It was the first time I had explored with other backpackers in South America, as I've always preferred travelling alone -believe it or not - for my own safety. We had been walking around Central Lima taking in the sights for about an hour. I was with a guy from Switzerland and two girls from Germany. Casually exploring we ended up beginning to walk down a fairly open street. Looking at the street from a distance my instant gut feeling was that it was the last place I wanted to venture. I always listen to my gut feeling and have found the more I trust my instincts the safer I am - they are very rarely wrong, hence why I prefer travelling alone. My three companions had wandered halfway down this street, with me reluctantly following and becoming more and more aware of the increasing danger of our surroundings. The people looked at us differently, their expressions clearly saying 'you shouldn't be here'. I don't know how the other travellers didn't pick up the vibe, it was SOOO STRONG and I don't know why I didn't just say 'let's not go down this street' when the unwanted and dangerous feeling first hit me. I guess the fact I was with 3 other people tipped the safety scales in the opposite direction. Anyway, we had reached the end of the street, and the others were deciding where to go next, and they had decided it would be an awesome idea to head deeper into the ghetto. We were nearly about to continue and cross the road when a local man stopped us in a huff explaining in Spanish that where we were headed was very very dangerous and that we should turn around instantly. Shortly after he left a woman in a uniform approached us, giving us a map and showing us where we 'should' be. I was so extremely relived, but angry at myself for not speaking up. It was definitely a life lesson I will never forget, even though nothing bad happened. So there you go - it was hardly even worthy of a mention but if it helps give you potential travellers some confidence, better I share it. Just make sure you are always aware of your surroundings and trust yourself!
|Ruins on the Inca Trek|
The best experience I had in Peru:To balance things up a bit, I better let you in on my most memorable experience. I had finished my tour and was staying at a hostel in Cusco and absolutely loving it. I only had a few more days left and figured I better start looking for some little presents for friends and family back home. I wandered into a jewellery store and finally began using the Spanish I had learnt at Peruwayna. I befriended a little shop assistant by the name of Teo, and ended up talking to him for 2 hours in Spanish, which was absolutely amazing! He ended up giving me a tour of Cusco and the local market, we went out for coffee, and he even jumped in a taxi with me to make sure I got to the bus station safe, and without being ripped off by the taxi driver. It just goes to show if you put a little effort in, show some interest in people's lives and respect the culture of the places you visit, people will go to extreme lengths to make your adventure so much better. It makes me smile to think that after all the crazy and beautiful things I did on my Contiki tour - a little jewellery shop keeper's kindness outweighed a $2,000 tour! I love immersing myself in the culture though, so perhaps that's why that particular experience has stuck with me. I hope that one day I could provide the same kindness to a fellow traveller.
|Teo and I - I still have no idea why he wanted a |
photo in the deli section of the supermarket haha!