Inca Indians, women in colourful chola dresses and funny bowler hats, kids with snotty noses and sunburned faces, breathtaking sceneries and snow clad mountains, the world’s largest salt flats, a lake at 3800 meters above sea level, dinosaur tracks, the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, llamas, fried guinea pig for dinner, breathing problems at 5400 meter, biking the world's most dangerous road…join me in this trip to Bolivia and Peru in South America!
A short summary
The report is more or less chronological and this part of the report will focus on the visit to Peru and Machu Picchu. Click here if you want to read about the trip to Bolivia.
Going to Peru from Bolivia – destination Machu
At first we were hoping to take a flight from La Paz to Cuzco, but the only route was via Lima in Peru, hence we went for the bus option. So on Friday 20th of September at 7.30 AM we made our way to the bus station in La Paz. The weather was beautiful but the air was crisp and it was freezing. We got some snacks and drinks before we got on the Litoral bus. It was freezing cold inside the bus as well. The last one on board was a guy with a leather jacket carrying a long box (which turned out to be for music instrument). I mention this because we would end up meeting him at all sort of strange places…we nicknamed him “Mr. Rock n’ Roll”.
If you want to take the bus from La Paz to Cusco, the price is around 30$ one way. The bus warmed up eventually as the bus pulled us up the steep hills leading out of Lap Paz. We even got a snack pack and hot cinnamon tea from the bus company. The bus trip from La Paz to Cuzco takes 12-13 hours, so we had a long journey in front of us. After a couple of hours we came to the border between Bolivia and Peru and the area was pretty chaotic. The road was narrow, people were walking over the border, there were small street cafes, etc. We all had to get out of the bus to punch out of Bolivia. We were told to stand in different lines, but it was not very easy to know what to do. Finally we got to stamp out of Bolivia, walk across the border, and then stamp into Peru…which is also a new time zone :-)
We continued the bus ride in a blazing speed through pretty deserted mountain areas, and we only had one stop from the border to Cuzco. Luckily there was a toilet in the back of the bus…primarily meant for peeing :-) As the hours went by, the valleys got greener and greener as we were driving to lower altitudes and Cuzco.
Arriving in Cuzco – eating cuy
We didn’t spend much time at the hotel. After a Pizco sour drink in the bar we went off to check the town. We got a taxi to take us to Plaza de Armas. This square marks the center of town and home of La Cathedral. This cathedral was built in 1559 (well, it took a few years to build it :-). We were hungry after the long bus trip, and we finally ended up eating at El Mesón de los Espaderos, located at the west corner of the square. The restaurant specializes in steaks, and we had all sorts of things. Some of us had alpaca meat, I had beef heart for starters…and I guess I topped it all of with ordering cuy for the main meal. Cuy is an Andean specialty…fried guinea pig! The cuy was OK in my opinion. There was not that much meat on it and the meat was darker than of a chicken. But it was an experience :-) It was an outstanding night. We had a lot of fun, and the other guests in the restaurants must have wondered what was so funny. I guess we were just high on the fact that we were finally in Peru and ready to see Machu Picchu. Well, perhaps the red wine and the Cusqueña beer also helped :-) The bill was about 500 Peruvian nuevos soles (about 150 US $) for the 5 of us.
Of to Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu
The train ride took close to 4 hours. We followed the valley and had great view to the surrounding mountain tops through the partial glass ceiling in the train cars. When you take the train to Aguas Calientes you go to a lower altitude and we came into areas that were green and lush. Towards the end, I got a “Lost World” feeling as it seemed like we were taking the train into the rain forest. Aguas Calientes is a small town, and it was a short walk from the train station to our hotel, Machu Picchu Inn. Since we had a guide to catch up with, we had to rush back to the assembly point. We were transported up to Machu Picchu by small modern minibuses. The price was 11 US $ for a round trip, and the entrance fee to Machu Picchu itself was 30 US $. Of course, both these fees were included in our package as well.
Our guided tour of Machu Picchu lasted for about 2 hours and was OK. Our guide was struggling with his English, and he sometimes had a hard time explaining everything to us. But walking up the rock stairs and seeing Machu Picchu for the first time was breathtaking. In front of me was the lost city of the Incas just like I have seen on so many pictures. Just amazing! Yes, there were a few other tourists there, but I don’t feel that this ruined the experience when it comes to the view. It was still amazing to see the steep terraces on the sides of the city, llamas walking around grassing; it was amazing to see some of the walls where the rocks have been put together in such a way that they looked like they are glued to each other. We must have snapped hundreds of pictures while we were there…it seemed like no one got tired of the views and the opportunity of taking another picture :-)
We started at the hut of the caretaker of the Funerary rock. This is where you can get the classical view of Machu Picchu as you see on many pictures. This is also where the Inca trail comes into Machu Picchu and we even saw some Norwegians coming this way in the afternoon. From the hut of the caretaker we moved through the ruins looking at the royal palace, the sacred plaza, temple of the sun etc. The mountain top next to Machu Picchu, called Huayna Picchu, has a restriction on the number of people that can go up there each day, and that quota was already filled for that day :-( .Eventually we had to get some lunch. There were a couple of places to eat near the entrance. There was an expensive buffet, and a cheap burger/fast food joint. We went for the last option so that we could re-enter Machu Picchu. After 2-3 PM the number of people at the ruins was reduced dramatically. And all of a sudden we also got great weather. It was awesome to just sit back and look out over the ruins.
Eventually we had to leave too. The last bus returns to Aguas Calientes around 5 PM. As we drove off, a young boy started to run down the stairs that are built from the bottom of the valley. He timed it perfectly and he waved at us and screamed “hellllloooo” every time we passed him. At the foot of the mountain he was allowed to come into the bus. He played dead tired, shouted “Gooodbyyyye” and then he walked around collection money :-) I guess he deserved a reward for all the running.
We checked into Hotel Machu Picchu Inn, and Olav and I shared a room. The room was pretty naked, but we had a couple of beds, a small TV with 4 channels and a small bathroom. The room was tiled with rust red tiles and the bathroom had white tiles. There was a shower in the bathroom with a shower curtain. We didn’t stop long at the hotel. Aguas Calientes means warm water and the town is named after the hot springs in town. It is only a couple of hundred meters up stream, and it took us just a few minutes to get there. The entrance fee to the hot spring bath is 10 Peruvian nuevos soles (about 3 US $). There was a small change room, but no showers. A sign said something about that you had to take a shower before entering the pools, but the only available showers were the ones that we ice cold! Well, getting into the hot bath after that was nice :-).
There are quite a lot of places to eat at Aguas Calientes, and we found a small place that focused on Italian food. We had a few laughs there as well, especially when two of the waitresses concluded that Ben Tore looked like Jesus Christ :-). The gang was pretty tired after the very early start we’d had that day, so already at 9 PM Svein and Ben Tore went to the hotel. We walked around a bit and I did find an internet café near the square that was OK. At least I was able to update my blog.
Back to Cuzco
We had dinner at a restaurant called Plaza Restaurant Parri with an overview of the plaza. Compared to Norwegian standard the food was cheap. I think the chicken soup I had for starters was about 12 Peruvian nuevos soles (about 4 US $). We paid about 240 Peruvian nuevos soles (about 75 US $) for the 5 of us. Our bus back to La Paz left at 10 PM. I figured that I would have a problem sleeping on the bus as I had been sleeping all day. And I was also a bit worried when I saw our tired bus driver chewing coca leaves like his life depended on it…we also looked at him and tried to figure out if he was the same guy that took us to Cuzco. But I guess I must have been exhausted because I fell asleep on the bus and when I woke up I saw a lake and we had already reached Lake Titicaca. “Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll” caught the same as we did, but he jumped off in Puno near Titicaca. But the story doesn’t end there. When we were back in La Paz we were standing at an intersection and this small minibus drives past us. And all of a sudden we see a familiar face…once again we had run into "Mr. Rock ‘n’ Roll" and we all smiled and waived at him and he waived back :-)
Back to the border between Peru and Bolivia; we reached the border at about 7 AM but it didn’t open until 8 AM. While waiting, we bought some salteñas (pastry filled with various meats and vegetables) from a street vendor, and relaxed. Soon we were back in La Paz once again.
Some useful tips: