Saturday, 22 October 2016

My Peru Diary

12 - 21 September

South America. Vibrant cultures, awesome scenery and high octane travel. We found it all in 11 days in Peru!

We arrive in Lima, having watched 5 movies, eaten 3 meals and gone for about 4 leg stretching loo breaks. We were tired but excited as we reached arrivals and looked for the man with or name. After about 10 minutes we realised he wasn't there. A quick call the hotel and soon enough someone appeared with our name and we were on our way.

Lima is an enormous and gregarious city. About 40 mins from the airport we arrived at our hotel, Casa Cielo in Miraflores, opposite a chocolate museum (was I dreaming?).

Soon enough I was, wrapped up in the down duvet and silky alpaca wool blanket, until the jet lag caught up with me at about 5am.

I could hear a chirping outside my window coming from the tree opposite our balcony. Once the sun had risen, I peeked out and saw a hummingbird fluttering around the flowers in the tree. I couldn't believe it; I was in Peru!


Our friendly driver was a local tour guide and introduced us to the city as we made the short drive to our hotel in Cusco from the airport the following morning.

Eager to explore the city we headed to Placa de Armas, the centre of the historic city centre. The 2 churches dominate the square on the north and easterly side, and a fountain in the centre drew the crowds. The evening sun was illuminating the city in a terracotta glow; this was what we came for!

Placa de Armas, Cusco

Cusco was a pleasure, with friendly people, excellent food and a wonderful vibe. Its old town is small but perfectly formed and there's charm around every corner.

Our hotel, Rumi Punku, was a beautiful mix of a Balinese home stay and a Moroccan riad, with decorated courtyards and balconied room emerging from the walls. Our family sized room came with a spa bath, views of the hillside and 3 beds!

Whilst in Cusco we spent our days acclimatizing, exploring the Sacred Valley and rafting on the Urumbamba river. Before we knew it we were at our briefing for the Inca trail, which would start with a 4am wake up call ahead of 4 days of hiking to the iconic Machu Picchu inca site; the reason we'd come.


After the Inca Trail (and a well earned shower) we returned to Lima for a few days R&R.

With a bit of time in Lima, we were happy to explore the city at a snails pace, and whilst we didn't venture beyond the suburb or Miraflores, I think it had everything we needed.

Our first stop was Parc del Amor, adorned with an enormous statue of 2 lovers embrace, gaudi-esque mosaic terraces and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Couples were everywhere; their names carved into the trees, written into the tiles and their padlocks on the fencing. It was a small but beautiful place which offered much needed calmness in the busy city.

The following day we drove through the port town of Callao then to Palomino Islands by boat for a spot of wildlife spotting. We weren't disappointed, getting to see Pelicans, Blue-footed Boobys, Humboldt Penguins and Sea lions; which we even got a chance to swim with!

Much of the rest of our time was spent eating at the likes of Panchita, and Hencho en Casa, with a drink or two at La Emolienteria.

On our final day we indulged in a chocolate ganache and truffle making class at Choco Museum. In just 2 hours we learnt the art of tempering chocolate, how to create ganache and decorate truffles. Plus, we got to take away 12  chocolates handmade by us each!

Then all of a sudden our bags were packed and it was time to go home. Another trip ticked off the bucket list; another country to scratch off the map. Peru had been as colourful, mysterious and energetic as I hoped it would be. I'm not sure life will ever be the same!

Hasta luego!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru

We will get to the packing lists and how to prepare blogs on the Inca Trail in good time, but for now I'm just going to tell you, without giving too much away, my experience of the Inca Trail.

You might be reading this because you're thinking of doing the Inca Trail, or just because you're interested in hearing about it, but here's the honest truth.

The Inca trail is hard

Waking up before 6am and walking for 5+ hours isn't many people's idea of a holiday, and it's hard work to get yourself up, prepared and motivated each morning. If you're coming from the UK you have jet lag on your side, so take my advice and keep waking up at 5am before you start the trail.

The Inca trail is longer than it sounds

26 miles does not seem long - its a 30 minute drive. People run marathons in a matter of hours! Wrong. You tackle these 26 miles at a fraction of the speed you might normally. The combination of altitude, incline, the bag on your back and the prospect of 4 more days of the same mean you need to pace yourself, and if that means going 2mph - so be it. Enjoy the scenery, stop to breathe it in, then carry on putting one foot in front of the other.

The Inca trail is beautiful

Possibly never again will you feel like or be, just a tiny speck of a person in the middle of enormous mountains and deep valleys. The wildlife, the flowers, and clouds even are all the motivation you will need and with every meter gained or lost, your whole environment will change. From clouds and rock to humidity and orchids; it's a beautiful trail.

The Inca trail is major bragging rights

Nothing will make you feel more smug than reaching the outskirts of Machu Picchu and hearing the day trippers coughing and spluttering over the few steps they've climbed to reach the perfect selfie spot. Like the marathon runners finishing alongside the 5k runners, you admire the fact they've made the trip, but there's something extraordinary about the physical and emotional journey you've been on.

The Inca trail is worth it

It's so worth it. The biggest fear I had on the Inca Trail was that once I reached the end, it would be an anticlimax. But on that morning, after the 3am wake up call, the queuing, and the final hike, reaching Machu Picchu and seeing it emerge from the clouds, as we emerged from the trail, it all came together. The challenges of the trail are worth it, and the journey is the destination.

Watch our story of the trail below.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Wildlife Spotting and Sea Lion Swimming at Palomino Island, Lima

Lima is a big city, and if spending hours in traffic trying to get to museums isn't your thing, getting out of the city could be one way to spend a day.

We did just this when we booked a half day tour of Palomino Island, a short boat ride from the port suburb of Callao. The drive itself was insightful as we passed so many old and dilapidated colonial buildings as we passed through the old port town of Lima.

Shortly after we were en route to the islands; a sort of mini Galapagos in Peru. Take a closer look at the beautiful animals we saw and see our top tips for a pleasant trip below.

Blue footed booby
Blue footed booby

Humboldt penguins
Humboldt Penguins

Inca tern
Inca Tern


Sea lions
Sea lions

Top tips for your Palomino Island tour

We booked our tour through Viator, and would recommend it to anyone looking for an up-close experience with Sea lions. Here's some other tips from us:
  1. Be prepared: The area where the Sea lions nest is exactly that - their home - and there's a stink you won't be able to forget for a while. This also means the water isn't as crystal clear as you might like. Try not to get any in your mouth when you jump in.
  2. Take a snack and water: We were lucky enough to get some juice and crisps (chips) for the return journey, but just in case this isn't on offer, we'd recommend bringing a small snack to help you deal the bad taste that might be left in your mouth after your swim.
  3. Enjoy it: There's not many opportunities to have real life encounters with animals in their natural habitat, so make the most of it, and enjoy that these animals are happy and curious about you and not stuck in a zoo doing tricks for food. 

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Sacred Valley, Peru

Exploring the Sacred Valley is top of many people's lists when visiting Cusco, or Peru in general. The valley is home to many ancient sites built by the Inca's, the people who lived in the area immediately before, and slightly after the arrival of the Spanish.

A short Inca history lesson

Incan tribes had been living in the Cusco area since the 12th Century, but the Incan empire existed formally from 1438 - 1533 and stretched along the western ridge of South America, centering in the Peruvian Andes. Patchacuti is thought to be responsible for the rapid expansion of the empire, and commissioned the building of sites such as Machu Picchu.

When Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador (am I in an Indiana Jones movie?), arrived from Panama in 1529 he returned to Spain to received royal approval to conquer the region and be its viceroy, then captured the Inca King Atahualpa and used him to demand gold as ransom from the Inca's, before killing him.

The Inca's were eventually wiped out, their history and traditions with them, in 1572 when Tupac Amaru was killed following 36 years of Neo-Incan survival in the mountains.

With no written language, there's very little in terms of historical proof to help us understand the purpose of some of the ancient sites in the sacred valley. Many have been lost to the mountains, and more are still being excavated as we speak.


Your first stop on a tour of the Sacred Valley from Cusco is likely to be Pisac. From Cusco you will climb through the mountains and stunning scenery before reaching the valley. The Inca site had been build into the hillside and in framed by terraces. It's these terraces which you'll see time and time again in the Sacred Valley.

It's a windy road to the city, but once there you're treated to breathtaking views and a chance to explore the pathways. The burial chambers in Pisac are of particular note, and I recommend making the walk to the "city centre" on the far side.

Pisac is also home to a market with lots of souvenirs available, however these are no different to the items you will find in Cusco or any other market in the Sacred Valley. There's lots to tempt you, and it's certainly worth picking up a gift or two, but don't be disheartened if you don't have time - enjoy seeing the sites and shop back in Cusco.


Next on your Sacred Valley tour will be Ollantaytambo. This ancient city is still active and a real treat to explore if you have the time. Unlike other Inca sites, in Ollantaytambo the city was built in the valley - thanks to a pre-existing community when the Incas arrived - so the mountians were dedicated to the building of temples. The steep stairs take you to the temple of the sun and some stunning examples in Inca architecture.

Keep an eye out got the watchtowers on the neighbouring hills. Ollantaytambo was well guarded and it's believed the face of god can be seen in the mountain opposite the temple.

Quechua girls in Ollantaytambo - by @clairemgale on Instagram

In the town below the ancient site, you'll find Inca streets, with their channels of running water, and quint squares in the colonial style brought by the Spanish.

Many people stay in Ollantaytambo before starting the Inca Trail and it's on the train line to Machu Picchu, so if you've an evening to spare, I'd recommend staying the night and soaking up the atmosphere.

Other places of interest

In addition to the cities of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, a typical tour of the Sacred Valley may also include a trip to the salt mines at Maras, the Inca site as Moray, meeting typical Quechua weavers at a women's co-operative, a visit to a llama farm and Chinchero.

We booked our Sacred Valley tour with Viator - check it out!

Below: Patchacuti statue at Aguas Calientes, greeting people on their way to Machu Picchu