In This Article
- General Thoughts on Perú
- Lobitos and Chicama
- Chachapoyas (a.k.a. Chacas)
- Pisco/Ballestas Islands
- Huacachina (Ica)
- Colca Canyon
- Tour Bus to Puno
- Machu Picchu
- Border Crossings
- Other Useful Links
General Thoughts on Perú
- Perú is a paradise for those, like myself, who are interested in archaeological sites. Of course, it’s most famous for Machu Picchu, but there are SO many more archaeological sites to visit besides MP and I encourage you to do so.
- Use iPerú, found in many tourist locations. It is a great source of unbiased information, including bus routes and schedules, etc.
- Toilet paper would seem to be a precious metal of sorts in Perú as you can never find any, including in the hostels. I never got a good explanation for this and, although the same problem exists in Bolivia, it doesn’t in any other countries I have visited further North.
- Night buses are a pastime in Perú and often there are no alternatives. To make it worse, they often seem to plan their schedules so you arrive at a ridiculous hour in the middle of the night or early morning. Related to this, you should probably make hostel reservations when taking a night bus so the place will at least know you are arriving early.
- Speaking of buses, their prices seem to vary a great deal. And, Cruz del Sur is the bus company most often recommended to tourists as it is supposedly very high quality and safe. I only took it once and wasn’t too terribly impressed considering how much more expensive it is than all its competitors. Lonely Planet says that locals swear by Oltursa, though I didn’t ever use that company. I took Movil Tours two or three times and found it to be better for less money, though unfortunately it only seems to run routes from Lima north. Some locals I met recommended CIVA but I have yet to try it. I took another company (since forgotten the name) from Arequipa to Cuzco (again night bus) and its cama service was much nicer than the semi-cama for Cruz del Sur AND cost much less. I think that is a general rule, go with any of the cheaper buses if you are traveling cama or semi-cama, the more reputable ones if not.
I stayed in two places in Máncora, the first was pretty awful. It was located directly across from PK’s, a place for which I had received both a positive recommendation and a negative warning. In either case, PK’s was full so I tried the other place, which was cheap and had WiFi but was not well maintained and which had an insanely large number of mosquitoes. The next day I moved down two hostels, to the place right next to California something but whose name I forget. It was quiet, reasonably priced (S/. 20 for a private room with mosquito net and bathroom), and had a small pool, though it didn’t have an Internet connection or hot water (many places don’t have hot water though). I met other travelers staying at the Loki resort/hostel which appears very nice aesthetically but of course is in every way the party hostel that all Loki hostels are, which is either a recommendation or warning depending on your tastes. I did eat there a couple of times and the food was good, if overpriced. The pool was nice and there was WiFi (slow) and the dorms had nice large private lockers with electrical outlets in them. Yet, you don’t receive a towel and the place is expensive (I believe S/. 25 for a dorm room) and though it is quite large I only saw three computers for guests to use. I heard Kokopelli was nice but also overpriced. La Posada was apparently a fine option away from the beach, but nothing too special. I saw The Point, which seemed very nice but is a longish walk along the beach to town.
Máncora is a very popular destination for tourists of international and national varieties so you might think it a larger place. You will be surprised at how small the town is. Apparently the sun shines most of the year and the water is either warm or slightly cold depending on your sensitivity. When renting a surfboard you can get a wetsuit (either full or half) included for the same price (S/. 10 for two hours or S/. 20 for a full day was typical when I was there). The point break gets pretty crowded and it is mostly a rocky bottom so be careful with your feet. At different points during the day (after lunchtime when I was there) the conditions change to favor wind surfing rather than regular surfing so that is a draw for those interested in such things.
Overall, Máncora is a place that people either seem to love or hate, though I personally was actually neutral about it, probably because I like to surf. You might find it interesting to see the movie Máncora before heading there.
Lobitos and Chicama
These two places are supposed to be a great for surfing, though in the end I didn’t go to either so it is merely a recommendation from another surfer I met in Quito.
Chachapoyas (a.k.a. Chacas)
I have forgotten where I stayed, but it was one of the cheaper spots in town a few blocks from the main plaza and nothing special at all.
Chachapoyas is a quaint little city and was perhaps my favorite spot in Perú. Why? Because few other tourists bother to go, because the people were the friendliest I met since Colombia (perhaps because there is less tourism?) and because there are some great nearby archaeological sites and hikes. Of special note is the relatively recently discovered ruins of Kuélap and the world’s third largest waterfall (Catarata de Gocta). I ended up spending less time than I would have preferred here and missed a couple of things, including some smaller archaeological sites, a chance to visit Tarapoto, and some impressive multi-day hiking options. So, if you have plenty of time, plan to spend a bit of it here.
I am not much of a foody, but I will say that the Lonely Planet recommended La Tushpa did indeed offer a very nice and inexpensive steak. I could have eaten there every night! There was also a fairly good (unusual for Perú) bakery between my hostel (yes, the one I can’t recall) and the plaza.
Catarata de Gocta
I stayed at Hostal la Victoria (Izaga 933; phone 74-225642) due to a recommendation from a friend and found it a nice place, though more a hotel than a hostel so not so great if you want to meet other travelers. I don’t think many foreigners go there so it’s a pretty good place to practice your Spanish. I was originally planning to stay at Hospedaje San Lucas (Aguirre 412), and two Dutch guys I met on the bus and ended up traveling with for a while stayed there. I never saw the rooms, but overall got a good impression of the place and found that the staff was friendly and helpful.
Chiclayo seems to be a place many backpackers skip or use merely to switch buses, but it is not a bad little city and is the base for exploring the tombs of the Lords of Sipán and Sicán as well as the pyramids of Túcume.
Note that Chiclayo has the distinction of being the place where I witnessed a purse snatching. I was on a colectivo (mini-bus) heading for the Museo Tumbas Reales de Sípan in nearby Lambayeque when someone darted into the open door, snatched a woman’s purse, and ran off into traffic. Once “safely” across the street he handed it off to an accomplice. Truthfully, it happened so quickly I didn’t realize what was happening at first. While running away he almost got hit by a car – too bad he didn’t! The victim took it very unemotionally, I suspect a reflection on the sad fact of how common such occurrences are.
I stayed in Huanchaco at La Casa Suiza (Los Pinos 308), which I found to be very nice. I had heard good reviews about Lili’s, especially for surfers, but when I visited it didn’t impress me that much. The other place I have heard get consistently good reviews is Hostal Naylamp.
Many (most?) backpackers stay in Huanchaco and just do a day visit to Trujillo, which is home to a very lovely main plaza de armas and I think this is a good idea. Besides enjoying seaside living and surfing (if you can brave the ridiculously cold water temps), you can visit the Chimú adobe metropolis at Chan Chan, located between Trujillo and Huanchaco. It only costs 1 sol for a colectivo but you get dropped off the highway and must walk 1-2km to get to the entrance. Before doing so you will receive a hard-sell from the loitering taxis, offering to take you in to the entrance and then drive you to several other sites. I declined and was never able to ask anyone who took up the offer but when I investigated the places the taxis would visit and the pretty high price they were asking, I concluded it wasn’t worth it.
The other big archaeological site to visit is Huaca de La Luna. Again you can go by colectivo (1 sol to Trujillo and then another 1.50 to the entrance) but you might have to wait a bit for the colectivo to the site entrance. Since I went with two others we just got a taxi from Trujillo and it wasn’t too much more. You might hear or read about Huaca del Sol as well and that is the complex directly next to Huaca de la Luna, but it has yet to be excavated and probably won’t be for at least 20 years since all money and resources are being dedicated to Huaca de la Luna.
In Casa Suiza there is a Spanish teacher named Manuel. My friend Sam took his classes and highly recommended him. I had planned to do a week of review classes with him but ended up changing my plans. Also a few doors down the street from Casa Suiza, going toward the beach on Los Pinos is a friendly eatery with good breakfasts. The owner is German I believe and my Dutch friends and I were able to learn that he has a source for dark German bread but doesn’t normally offer it on the menu. When we assured him that there would be three takers, he made it available and it was such a nice thing to have after so much lousy bread in Ecuador and Perú! Further down is the hostel/restaurant Menuland. The food is highly recommended but we had a mixed experience there and terribly slow service. Might have just been a bad day for them. On the other hand, I had a fantastic experience at the vegetarian restaurant Otra Cosa and highly recommend it even for you fellow meat lovers.
Huaca de la Luna
Multiple fellow travelers mentioned loving this little place but unfortunately I skipped it so can’t comment with firsthand knowledge.
Still traveling with some Dutch friends, we visited several places. One that had been recommended was Andes Camp Hostel, but I wasn’t too terribly impressed with it. Two possibly good choices that we didn’t get to were Casa Zarela, which a friend really liked but is slightly more expensive and Caroline Lodging, another personal recommendation I received. We ended up at the popular Jo’s Place (Villaizán 278), which wasn’t special but was comfortable and which I did quite like in the end. Jo himself is a real character and, to hear him tell it, one of the pioneering explorers of the area trails. He is full of useful local hiking info, but beware that to him, any person alive can pretty much do the most difficult hike by themselves with nothing more than flip-flops (OK, that’s an exaggeration but you get the idea).
Huaraz (specifically the Cordillera Blanca and the Corillera Huayhuash around it) is a hiker’s paradise with tons of day and multi-day hikes on offer, breathtaking beauty all around, and with 22 summits over 6,000 meters it is the highest mountain range aside from the Himalayas. Unfortunately, I arrived in rainy season. I had a bit of luck because the dry season was running a bit late so I did have some nice days. Still, I should have tried to do a good multi-day hike first instead of last. Also, I wasn’t keen on doing a multi-day hike by myself and I found it difficult to find others to hike with during low season. Morale of the story: this is one place where you want to go in high season.
Having said that, the day hikes I did were great, with by far my favorite being the Laguna 69 hike. I also really enjoyed visiting Hatun Mach’ay, a fairly unknown place mostly attracting climbers (as opposed to hikers) but which has a couple of nice hikes, a rock forest, and is a good place for acclimatization.
The most serious hike on offer is the Huayhuash Circuit hike. Most people who do this either go on a tour (only available in high season) or are serious hikers who go with topo maps. I’d love to return and do it one day. The most popular hike is the 4-day Santa Cruz trek (around 250-320 soles). Note that you can do this in two directions, starting/ending in Vaqueria or Cashapampa. Ask your agency (if you go with one) about the advantages of each.
The main travel agency in town is Galaxia Expeditions and everyone I met who used them said they had a great experience on the Santa Cruz trek. I personally had a bad experience getting information in their office so was set against using them. Maybe just one bad guy on a bad day? Anyway, I did discover an agency I was really happy with, Andean Kingdom, run by an Argentine couple who are into climbing. In fact, Hatun Mach’ay is their baby, and as I understand it they built the lodge there with permission of the local village and donate the profits from running it to the surrounding community. I believe you can arrange a visit to Hatun Mach’ay through other agencies, but I recommend the folks at this agency instead. What I really liked about them, besides their friendly nature, was that they were full of useful information without trying to sell me anything. That might have been partially because it was no longer high season and they were winding down. But, they were quick to point out hikes I could do independently instead of paying for a guided expedition. I had also hoped to summit a 6,000m mountain (Vallanaraju) that they recommended as being possible that late in the season (others were too dangerous) but was unable to find someone to share the experience/costs with.
An alternative to an agency is to get in touch with local guía de montaña Wilder Yanac. I never met him personally, but my two Dutch friends who were hiking and camping on their own found him and told me how incredibly helpful he was. He didn’t try to sell them his services but did explain a lot of options for them. He even gave them the idea to hike across the cordillera negra toward the sea and set them up with a night’s stay with his sister. Sounds like a good guy to me.
Another activity I did around Huaraz was visiting the archaeological site Chavín de Huántar. I am a ruins junky so this was good, but I am not sure I can really recommend it for a simple reason: it is a long day tour (best to go with a tour group) and most of it is spent in the bus. I think when they finally finish all the roadwork along the way it might be a much faster trip and then would definitely be worthwhile. But, for now, only true aficionados need go.
I don’t have great food recommendations though a friend did recommend the set menú (only for lunch) at El Rinconcito Minero and I did find it quite good and affordable (though their a la carte prices were a bit high). The most popular place for western food and coffee is Cafe Andino. It also has the distinction of having a map room with maps of the entire area. You can also buy detailed maps and related books there. If you plan to spend a while in the area they also have a huge library for lending (they have a much smaller book exchange as well). Finally they have a bulletin board where you can post notes, which I did to try and find hiking partners. A friend also recommended getting a beer at 13 búhos. Apparently Lucho the owner is great and their cerveza de coca is very good, but I never went.
Something else I didn’t do was stay at The Way Inn though everyone I met who did so raved about it. It’s a bit pricey by Peruvian standards (S/. 30 for a dorm, including a great breakfast, S/. 15 for lunch, S/. 30 for a three course dinner, though you can pay less for only soup or 2 courses) but overall a good value. Apparently the great meals are even better when four or more are staying there because they bring in a cook. There is ready access to some good hikes, and apparently it has great beds. An expat from the U.S. that I met in Huaraz also highly recommended the Llanganuco Lodge. These are not really alternatives for places to stay in town but rather nice getaways to really enjoy the natural beauty of the area and relax/hike. I believe the former can only be reached by taxi or private transport and the latter by colectivos.
This is high elevation territory, so do try and take it easy until acclimatized.
Chavín de Huántar
Huaraz and Yungay
- How to Survive Trips to High Elevations
- Wilderness Medical Society Consensus Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Altitude Illness
- summitpost.org – Huaraz, Peru
- 5 wonders of South America That Can’t Be Missed in Your Travel List
There are a lot of mixed reviews for most of the hostels in Lima so it can be a bit difficult to decide based on those. I think most choose to stay in the trendy Miraflores area or nearby Barranco but a friend recommended, and I stayed, at the Malka Hostel in San Isidro (Los lirios 165, a la altura delante cuadra 4 de Javier Prado este). It was nice and the owner is helpful and speaks good English if that is important, though if I recall correctly there were no lockers, always a disappointment. San Isidro is located between Miraflores and the centro and is quiet. Getting on a bus or colectivo on the main street running between the two is easily accomplished so it isn’t really an inconvenience, unless perhaps you want to party late at night in Miraflores (I didn’t).
I mostly did the guidebook attractions. The Museo del Convento de San Francisco (S/. 7) includes catacombs and an old library and I think was worthwhile. Nearby is the very nice Plaza de Armas, where I caught the changing of the guard which takes place at noon each day at the Palacio de Gobierno. Of course, I went to see the bluffs of Miraflores and the lovely ocean views from them. As a ruins fan, I went to Huaca Pucllana (Templo de Adoradores del Mar, S/. 10 entrance includes a guide), which is walking distance from the Miraflores area, and was the center of religious and administrative power for the Lima culture around 200 A.D. Finally, I went to the Parque de la Reserva (a.k.a. Circuito Magico del Agua or Parque de las Aguas) which is a lovely park open only in the late afternoon and evening and includes a lot of water fountains and two nightly light shows.
Circuito Magico del Agua
At first I intended to make a dedicated stop in Pisco to visit Islas Ballestas (the “poor man’s Galapagos”) but I talked with a few folks who basically told me Pisco isn’t that great and that I could do a tour of the islands from Ica and/or Huacachina (see below).
I stayed at Hospedaje del Barco, which was fine, though hardly special. Hotel El Huacachinero is a popular backpacker haunt but it gets very mixed reviews as does the similar, though I believe cheaper Casa de Arena hostal. Desert Nights also gets mixed reviews (except for their restaurant which is usually praised), though that one does have WiFi so if that is super important to you it might be a better option than where I stayed.
Staying in Huacachina is good for a couple of reasons and terrible for one specific reason. You should stay in Huacachina because of the incredibly beautiful area. It is literally an oasis surrounded by enormous sand dunes. Being a short, inexpensive (S/. 5) taxi ride from Ica, it is a much nicer alternative. It is also a good base for making a day trip to Islas Ballestas and, of course, the primary attraction (as far as I and most I have met are concerned) is the dune buggy (carros tubulares) and sandboarding tour! Typically you will do a two hour outing (S/. 40) that includes both (though to use a true snowboard usually will be a small extra fee). This doesn’t include a S/. 3.60 fee you pay to the municipality of Ica. This inexpensive activity was one of the more fun things I have done in a long while and I truly recommend it.
Now, the reason you may NOT want to stay in Huacahina is also a reason most DO want to stay there – the crazy nightlife. The place is so tiny that you are likely to hear the disco beats late at night wherever you stay so sleeping isn’t that easy. Since the Islas Ballestas tour leaves early (06:30) this was an inconvenience. On the other hand, if you like parties… Speaking of the Islas Ballestas tour, I not only recommend it, I recommend an organized tour instead of going on your own as it will actually be cheaper and easier.
When I first thought of visiting South America, I thought I would like to visit the famous Nazca lines by plane. However, when I was in Colombia I heard stories of recent plane crashes and then as time went on learned that due to safety issues the agencies offering flights had been reduced (to only two I believe) and thus the prices had gone up significantly and it was becoming common to get “bumped” from a scheduled and paid-for flight. Apparently it is a very short and bumpy flight and not as impressive as one usually hopes/expects. For a fairly low price I was still willing to chance my life, but for a much higher one I decided to skip it.
A friend recommended Los Andes Bed & Breakfast to me and I decided to stay there. As I was arriving early from a night bus I made a reservation which was good as the place was fully booked, even though it was low season. In fact, I didn’t specify the number of nights so they assumed just one and reserved my room for someone else the following night. Los Andes is just a block away from the Plaza and is clean, quiet and cheap. A single without bathroom runs S/. 22 and with bath S/. 30 or S/. 37 (not sure the difference). All rooms include a basic, but nice breakfast (Americano, consisting of juice, coffee/tea, bread, butter and jam). I heard Home Sweet Home was a decent place to stay and offers cheaper dorm options and I heard that Arequipay Backpackers is super nice, though located in the suburbs rather than close to the plaza and a bit pricier (dorm S/. 30 with private bathroom or S/. 25 for dorm with shared bathroom). El Caminante Class (Santa Catalina 207A) also seemed nice.
I don’t know why it is such a problem in Arequipa and not in the rest of Perú but apparently there are criminals operating fake taxis in the city. According to the folks at Los Andes the problem persists though has improved recently. iPerú even has a sheet of recommendations for taking taxis in the city, which basically comes down to making sure you use a legitimate service by calling ahead, taking an authorized taxi in either of the terminals (Terrestre and Terrapuerto), getting the police on the street to help you find a legitimate taxi and verifying ID when getting in a taxi. For reference, a taxi from the terminal to the plaza typically costs 4 or 5 soles, regardless of number of passengers.
As for attractions, I mostly did the guidebook options, including Museo Sanctuarios Andinos (to see “Juanita , the Ice Princess” mummy), Iglesia La Compañia, and Museo de Arte Virreinal de Santa Teresa (note that although Lonely Planet says to show up just before noon to hear nuns ‘sing’ their prayers in the closed chapel, this no longer happens or you can’t hear them, I’m not sure which). I also took LP’s advice and walked to the suburb of Yanahuara and enjoyed the arches as well as the Iglesia San Juan Batista found there (and had a lovely conversation with a gentleman visiting from Lima).
I would have liked to climb the local volcanoes El Misti and/or Chachani but skipped town too quickly. I also skipped the Monasterio Santa Catalina because it seemed pricey for just a monastery. Since then however, I have come to regret that choice as many told me it was worth the price.
Where you stay during your visit to Colca depends on whether you do a multi-day hike, whether you go with an organized tour, etc. In Cabanaconde I stayed at Pachamama which is a good choice in that the owners are super friendly and provide great hiking information. The restaurant they run is also very good, though the prices are high. The room rates are reasonable and include a good breakfast, but do consider that the restaurant and bar are fairly popular even amongst those not staying at the hostel so noise can be an issue. There are also goats or some similar animal next door that make a bit of noise and can be annoying in the mornings. The bed I stayed in was also uncomfortably hard. Also, though in theory there is Internet (a cellular modem that you can borrow), the owners readily admit it is such a poor connection as to not be worth the bother, though this is a problem for the entire town not just the hostel. All in all, the pluses (e.g., good hot shower) definitely outweigh the negatives for Pachamama.
Colca Canyon is the world’s second deepest canyon and about 6 hours from Arequipa. There are many 2, 3, and 4 day tours from Arequipa (I saw price quotes for 3 day tours of between 130 and 150 soles). I went with someone I met on the bus without a tour and for those wishing to do the same the starting point is the town of Cabanaconde. You must pass through the town of Chivay en route and apparently there are hot springs there but I didn’t bother to visit those or stay in Chivay. To Cabanaconde is about 6 hours (though it took our slow bus 6 1/2) and the following is a schedule of times and bus lines to and from Arequipa:
Arequipa –> Cabanaconde
Cabanaconde –> Arequipa
To do any hiking in Colca you must pay a S/. 35 park fee to authorities with AutoColca. When my bus arrived in Chivay for a short break someone from AutoColca was there to sell the certificate though you can purchase one at the beginning of your trek in Cabanaconde if you miss the opportunity in Chivay. I did have the certificate checked twice during my hike, both times on the most popular route through the canyon but not on the less popular hikes.
There are quite a few options for hiking in Colca Canyon, including day treks or multi-day treks. Even a multi-day trek doesn’t require camping equipment as there are lodges and hostels along the way where you can stay inexpensively (typically 10 soles a night), but do be aware that the prices for drinks and snacks is ridiculously inflated (S/. 5 for a small bottle of water or coca cola). The meals you can find along the way aren’t so overpriced for some reason (typical 8-10 soles). As for my choice of treks, a friend I made on the bus and I joined up with three girls at Pachamama and decided to do a two night, three day hike.
We started day one with the most popular route, stopping in San Juan for lunch and ending up at San Galle (also known as the Oasis), where we spent the first night. That day’s hike was about six hours. In San Galle, we stayed at the Paraiso lodge which was nice. We were told at Pachamama that all the lodges were decent choices but to avoid the one that actually said Oasis as the owners aren’t nice people. Coincidentally, that lodge is one of the first you come to, next to Eden, and has signs saying Oasis Paraiso which confused us a bit as we were looking for Paraiso.
On day two we walked to Llahuar where there are some hot springs. That was about a four and half hour hike and there are two lodging options, the first one being the the something or other lodge (the tourist map says Colca Lodge but I noticed another name which I can’t recall), owned by Claudio and Yola. This is the option you first encounter from the trail and the place that actually runs the hot springs. A night’s stay there is typically S/. 15 and includes the bed and the use of the hot springs. The other lodging option is just about 10 meters away, around the corner from the entrance to the lodge and is run by a woman named Virginia. Apparently she is very sweet though we only encountered her daughter. Because they don’t have the hot springs to offer they charge much less, S/. 5 a night so that you can pay S/. 10 to just use the hot springs and the price will work out the same. As we were a group of five and actually indicated we wanted to see Virginia’s place, Claudio offered us a reduced price of S/. 10 each. I will note that his lodge is slightly nicer, and even having electricity. To avoid having all our money go to just one operation, we purchased our drinks with Virginia .
On day three we made short hour and a half hike to Soro, which isn’t really a town so much as a place where a road ends. A truck makes a run between Soro and Cabanaconde twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. We were just lucky with timing to be able to end up in Soro on a Friday morning otherwise this trek wouldn’t have been a realistic option.
Besides the places we saw, two other very popular options are a visit to the town of Tapay, where apparently one should stay in the home of Maruja. This village is uphill from San Juan and would make a good place to stay for a first night starting from town or a last night before returning to town. The other popular option is a visit to the waterfall, uphill from Llahuar.
I had heard some not so stellar first-hand reports of hostels in Cuzco and ended up going without a single recommendation (since then I have heard a good report about Home Sweet Home and Ecopackers). A fellow traveler I met in Lima had done research and read good things about Backpacker Bright Hostel, but my own research didn’t show such favorable reviews. In the end, I read a ton of glowing reviews about El Tuco Hotel and its owners Coco and Ana Maria so I decided to give it a go. Good decision as the place does seem to deserve all those glowing reviews. It is a beautiful large home with hardwood floors and big, comfortable rooms, each with a private bathroom (no dorms in the place however). The water is hot (a common complaint I heard about Cuzco hostels). There was no problem with noise, either from other guests/rooms or from the neighborhood/roads. There is a good kitchen and a basic breakfast (rolls, butter, marmalade, tea/coffee) is included. Free Internet/WiFi. And the owners are easily two of the nicest and most helpful I have come across. They also run the place themselves rather than hiring staff. And, on occasion, Coco will open up a small bar/entertainment room he has (next to but separate from the main building) and make what he claims to be the world’s best pisco sour for the guests for free. Also, they maintain a good balance of being willing to engage in conversation but also leaving you in peace if that is what you prefer. Coco also speaks pretty decent English for those worried about that.
Everyone goes to Cuzco to visit Machu Picchu. But, it is also one of the prettiest cities in Perú and there are quite a few interesting archaeological sites in the surrounding area. To visit most of these you will need to purchase a Boleto Turístico, which costs S/. 130 (S/. 70 for students). This ticket provides entrance to the following:
- Monument to Pachakuteq
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- Museum of Regional History
- Museum of Popular Art
- Qorikancha Site Museum
- Oosqo Center of Native Art (this is more of a nightly performance of traditional dance than an actual museum)
- Puka Pukara
Most of the museums are small and can be done together in a few hours. I did all of the archaeological sites except for Pikillaqta and as a fan of such sites I found each worthwhile, though for those with a more limited time I would most recommend Pisaq (amazingly large), Saqsaywaman (you can walk there directly from town), and Ollantaytambo. I believe you can purchase a one-day boleto for S/. 70 if that is something you prefer. I also heard that it might be possible at some sites to pay a basic entrance fee instead of needing a boleto, but I never verified that as true.
A question that will arise is whether you should visit some of the archaeological sites on a tour or not. Some of the sites closest to Cuzco are included in the popular city tour and that isn’t too expensive so might be worthwhile, though I personally just took a bus to the farthest site and slowly walked back to the city visiting the various sites along the way. Likewise, I found it easy to visit Ollantaytambo and other sites on my own using public transportation. However, unless you are in a group, it will probably be cheaper to visit Moray and Salineras de Maras on a tour as public buses will only drop you at a junction point where you will need to get a fairly expensive taxi for the rest of the way (or be up for a lot of hiking, which could be an option). Note that in either case, the Salineras are not included in the boleto turístico.
Salineras de Maras
- Wandering and Eating in Cusco, Peru
- Places of Interest Near Cuzco
- Cusco Beyond Machu Picchu
- Best Places to Eat in Cusco
- Archaeological sites around Cuzco
- Via Ferrata & zip-line
Tour Bus to Puno
I was debating between going to Puno at all or just going directly to Copacabana in Bolivia. Working off old information that said I could save $35 on my visa cost by getting it in Puno, along with a basic interest in visiting the floating islands (islas flotantes), I decided to go to Puno. Anna Maria, the owner of El Tuco where I was staying, knew my interest in archaeological sites and museums based on my having done so much of the boleto turistico so she recommended I consider doing a tour bus to Puno. These buses, which cost US$35-45 depending on the company, include a buffet lunch at Sicuani and visit four tourist spots en route to Puno:
See my post, The Poor Man’s Route to Machu Picchu.
At a friend’s recommendation I stayed at the Manco Capac Inn (Jr. Tacna 277) which was fine (convenient, clean, reasonably priced and with WiFi) though not special. I did meet a couple of other travelers there, but it isn’t really the kind of place that fosters interaction amongst the guests.
Puno isn’t such a bad place really, though it sometimes gets a bad reputation. Most people come just to visit the islas flotantes or as a stopover on the way to/from Bolivia, but I found the city itself worth wandering. Still, a trip to the islas flotantes is the highlight.
See my post, Travel Tips: Ecuador for thoughts on the border crossing via Tumbes. I didn’t cross the border with Chile so cannot discuss that. As for crossing from Puno to Bolivia, Lonely Planet mentions two options, but I have only met travelers who go via Yuyungo, stopping at Copacapana as either their destination or their transit point to La Paz. To go that route via Puno there are only two buses daily, one early in the morning (07:30) and another in the early afternoon (13:00 or 14:00, I forgot which). One warning though. The bus will stop at an official looking money exchange center shortly before the border and suggest you do your exchanges there. The rates are horrible and it must be some cooperative setup with the bus companies. On the border a few minutes later you will find a little old lady also changing money and with a much better rate. Wait until then.
For those who somehow don’t know, US citizens need a visa to enter and it costs US$135. Old information on the Internet says that you can save $35 by getting your visa in Puno but that is no longer true. It still might be worthwhile getting it there if you have time to make sure you have no problems at the border. In my case, I went to the immigration office in Puno but the person in charge wasn’t there. I was told to come back at noon but he still wasn’t there. Then they just told me to take all my documents to the border instead since he wasn’t likely to return before my bus left. Do your research beforehand so you make sure you have everything they require. I have forgotten exactly, but I believe it is at least one passport photo, a copy of your passport, vaccination documentation, proof of a place to stay in Bolivia (e.g., hotel reservation confirmation), and proof of exit of the country. In place of the latter I believe you can write out your planned itinerary in Bolivia.
A friend of mine recommended I check out Sonqo, although little Spanish is spoken there. She read about it in a book called The Hold Life Has, for one of her classes and said it seems like an interesting place.
I believe you an get a free, or if not free, very cheap yellow fever vaccination in Puno so if you don’t already have one this might be the place to get it before entering Bolivia.