Peru Trip Day 14 – Miraflores

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I don’t particularly like Miraflores. It’s too sofisticato, busy and metropolitan. It’s one of the posher parts of Lima that seems to have lost its Peruvian roots apart from a few traditional detached houses amidst the high rise flats. The suburb has lots of swanky bars and restaurants, a huge shopping mall and beach promenade that reminds me of the one in Sliema and St Julian’s in Malta. This is where “Lima’s Finest” walk their designer dogs and nannies take out their employer’s kids to play. A really good spot to spend some time though is where the paragliders take off gliding over the cliffs and sea. Apart from that there isn’t really much else to do apart from visiting Parque del Amor, and observing some tennis practice sessions on one of the 12 courts along the promenade walk.

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The most interesting, and probably only real sight in Miraflores are the Huaca Pucllana Temple Ruins. They date back to the Lima culture and are therefore centuries older than Machu Picchu. The entrance fee costs 12 soles and includes a tour in English or Spanish. We’ve spent a good 90 minutes walking around with the guide. A lot of the wall sections have been restored but there is still some original brickwork visible that the guide will point out during the tour.

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For lunch we went to El Pan de la Chola, a really hip cafe on Av Mariscal La Mar. They home-bake their selection of artesanal breads, have a great selection of sandwich fillings (all fresh and really good quality ingredients), cakes and a few craft beers. Their coffee is supposed to be delicious as well, but we were more interested in the Barbarian brewery beer. The sandwiches we had were absolutely delicious, even though they were just sandwiches. They came with fresh dark ciabatta bread and really good, proper mozzarella. The décor is what I would call rustic, the clientèle pretentious (mostly full-time housewives and mothers catching up for a gossip, but also expats and business people).

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Day 14 also marks my 30th birthday – so after our Miraflores tour I got treated to a 12 course (yes, 12 courses!) taster menu at the famous IK Ivan Kisic restaurant. The food, atmosphere and staff were truly amazing! It is such a special experience and unlike tasting menus in Europe’s top restaurants really affordable.Our medley of courses cost 300 soles per person, so at the current exchange rate it’s just over £60. I’ve never eaten such delicious food, full of flavour and an excellent mixture of texture and scents in my life. The scene is set in the restaurant’s quirky Amazon ambience which fits the menu excellently. The fresh plants draw you right into the jungle. If you’ve got the spare cash on your travels, treat yourself. You really won’t regret it. The experience made me feel extra special on my birthday without being too staged and overly posh. I definitely won’t forget this special dinner! It rounded up my birthday trip perfectly.

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Peru Trip Day 13 – Lima Centro

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Today we headed into Central Lima taking the new express buses. For 4 soles you buy the card which you can top up with however many soles you like. The two of us are travelling on the one card, so you don’t even need to purchase one for each person as long as you’re travelling together. A single trip into Lima costs 2.50 soles and takes around 15 minutes. A taxi would be a lot slower (and a whole lot more expensive)  especially during rush hour. The buses just whiz down the bus lanes on Paseo de la Republica. It’s really simple and safe. Just keep your bags close to your body (just in case).

Following the Lonely Planet walking tour we started on Plaza San Martin, walked from there to Plaza de Armas and as far as China Town. Yes, Lima has a China Town. It’s different to a European China Town in the way that most shop and restaurant staff are Peruvian descendants, but the food and souvenirs (i.e. the gold waving cat) are the same.

We visited La Catedral and the catacombs before stepping out on Plaza de Armas to watch the 12pm change of guards. The change of guards kicks off at around quarter to 12pm every day in front of the presidential palace, lasts a good 45 minutes and is accompanied by a ceremonial brass band. It’s interesting to watch, so hang around if you’re in the area around that time.

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We had a quick lunch at El Cordano, a cafe right next to the presidential palace where nothing has changed since it opened in 1905 (as the pictures on the wall prove). Their staple menu item are their butifarra which are rolls stuffed with Peruvian ham and cheese. I found them to be extremely dry and not overly exciting, and to be honest, wouldn’t haste back. The cafe itself is worth a visit though as it’s a Limenian institution with a long tradition.

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After some unsuccessful souvenir shopping (same tat everywhere offered at prices that range from reasonable to ludicrous), we headed back past Estación Central to Polvos Azules, a huge local market that sells literally everything from electronics to counterfeit handbags. It’s generally advised to keep a very close eye on your pockets and bags, even do the silly look and wear your backpack facing front. We didn’t have any issues, but it wasn’t very busy when we went at around 5pm.

When we got back to Estación Central, it was so busy that we had to join the orderly queue to get on a bus. We did a lot of walking during the day, so decided to have dinner close to the Inka Frog B&B.

Nathano’s Cafe has a few good reviews on Tripadvisor and is like a two minute walk away from Inca Frog. The food was ok, not very exciting and a bit pricey for what it is. The highlight was their lemon pie with piped meringue which was delicious. The oreo cheesecake, on the other hand, tasted off and overstored.

Unfortunately, today wasn’t a day for culinary highlights, but we’ve thoroughly enjoyed Lima Centro and La Catedral. It’s another stunning cathedral and for the 10 soles we paid really worth a visit.

Peru Trip Day 12 – A delayed flight and dinner at Panchita in Miraflores

Before heading to the airport we stocked up on some sweet pastry for the flight. There is a brilliant bakery/café on Av Tullumayo that sells some excellent and cheap pastries such as chocolate croissants, cinnamon buns and cheese empanadas. We then took a taxi from there to the airport for 10 soles.

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Because our flight was delayed by about two hours, we didn’t arrive at the Inka Frog B&B until around 5pm. We then wasted another hour trying to find a cheap laundry service in Miraflores, but in the end decided to just get it done with the B&B for 4 soles per kg.

The dinner place was a recommendation by the receptionist and didn’t disappoint. Panchita is a very modern, warehouse meets elegant yet rustic design kind of restaurant. It’s popular with locals, business folk and tourists alike. The menu is Peruvian (a bit on the expensive side) and very extensive. I went for the clay oven roast chicken with roast potatoes and Brian went for a selection of Peruvian street food meats, i.e. a selection of offal. My chicken was great, but I couldn’t push myself to taste the selection of hearts, kidneys, intestines, liver and sweetbreads. Brian confirmed they were delicious though.

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Peru Trip Day 11 – Cusco Walking Tour

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Checkout completed, we walked the 20 minutes down to Ollantaytambo train station to catch a collectivo back to Cusco. The train station is your best chance to get to Cusco as the collectivos leaving from the market usually just go as far as Urubamba. Once the collectivo was full up, we drove off to Cusco and got there just two hours later. Drivers give you the option to get of at Plaza San Francisco or at Av Grau. San Francisco is a two minute walk away from Plaza de Armas and closer to most of the hostals in the Centro Historico.

A whole lot of stairs and hilly streets later, we arrived at Hostal Qolqampata and got a room right next to the entrance and reception. We should really have asked to be moved to a room upstairs which would have been a lot quieter during the night and the wee morning hours. The room is tiny, and the bathroom not even big enough for a twirl, but the pressure and temperature of the shower are great.

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Not really being able to spend a lot of time in Cusco, we just followed the Lonely Planet’s walking tour around town. The cathedral and churches around Plaza de Armas all charge an entrance fee, so we just gave them a miss considering we’d seen plenty already on our trip that were free. Lunch consisted of some less than mediocre empanadas from a bakery.

The highlight of our tour was definitely Qorikancha which isn’t actually part of the layed out walking tour. The entrance fee is 15 soles and includes the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. A number of guides will offer you their services outside the entrance. However, the descriptions and introductory writings in the first hall are sufficient for information making a guide an unnecessary expense. We visited Monasterio de Santa Katalina straight after and finished our walking tour on Plaza de Armas.

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In need for a drink we headed back up the hill to a place called “Limbus”. It’s a restobar with international food and amazing views. Their local craft beer “Zenithe”, a porter, is only ten soles per large glass. We didn’t try the food as we had already decided to go to “Pachapapa” on Plaza San Blas for dinner in the evening.

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Plaza San Blas is an idyllic, romantic little square – a lot less touristy than Armas. Pachapapa is a cute, charming restaurant with a courtyard on the southside of the square. We both chose dishes prepared in their clay oven. The roast pork I had was delicious. The best and juiciest pork I’ve ate in a long time. Brian’s oxtail stew, a first for both of us, came beautifully presented and tasted just as great.

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Tomorrow we’re getting on a flight to Lima which marks the last destination of our holiday.

Peru Trip Day 10 – Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, Sun Gate

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We made it! We’ve been to Machu Picchu and it’s even more impressive than you could ever imagine. Amazing, how stunning a pile of old rocks can be.

We got up at 3.15am to catch the 5.07 train to Aguas Calientes. It’s the earliest train you can catch from Ollantaytambo. It costs a fortune! We paid £90 each for a return. You can get tickets from Peru Rail ticket office but we booked ours online back in Glasgow. With no direct road access to Aguas Calientes your current options are taking the expensive train, which for locals only costs 10 soles, or get a taxi to the end of the Ollanta road to a power station (hidra eléctrica) and hike from there into Aguas Calientes which we heard takes around 3 hours.

From the train station it’s a really short walk to the bus stop. You need to buy your bus ticket before boarding from two little kiosks. A single costs around 38 soles for adults at the moment, a return 76 soles. We purchased two singles in case we wanted to hike the way back from Machu Picchu. If you don’t want to take the bus, you can walk drom Aguas Calientes following the road the bus takes until after the bridge. From there you take the “stairs” up to Machu Picchu. The sign indicates a 60 minute walk. However, the group of university students we met the previous day said it took around 90 minutes.

The serpentine road up to the wonder is the only road in Aguas Calientes and the bus ride is scary. I thought the drivers in the Colca Canyon were crazy. Well, those tourist bus drivers are even worse and so is the road. Completely unpaved, narrow with no real road barriers, it really only is wide enough for one vehicle at a time. At least we made it up in one piece. Tickets and passports at the ready we made it in without queuing.

Instead of entering the ruins straight away, we headed up to the Sun Gate. From the entrance of Machu Picchu it took us a good hour to get there. I am not very fit and had to stop a few times to catch my breath, so you can probably do it quicker if you’re fit and don’t struggle walking uphill. One American woman we met back in Puno said it took her around 90 minutes, so our 60 minutes really aren’t too bad.

The trail steadily takes you higher and higher and is relatively easy up until half way when you reach a set of ruins. After that the path becomes gradually steeper and narrower. I made a point of almost clinging on to the rocks on my right-hand side as I didn’t particulary feel confident with the drop on my left and the open views into the valley. I’d say wearing hiking boots or shoes for a good grip is essential.

Sun Gate is a fantastic alternative to climbing either of the two mountains – it’s free and not limited to a certain number of people per day. The views back over to Machu Picchu, the mountains and the valley are magnificent!

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We stayed for around half an hour taking in the views and munching our breakfast and left just before it got mega busy at around 9.15am. Another half hour later we were back at the ruins. We took our time walking around, reading pieces of information from the Lonely Planet and taking photographs from the various view points – including the famous postcard view.

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There are hundreds of large tour groups, so it took us until around 12pm to make our way around. Not fancying paying another 40 odd soles for the bus ride from hell, we decided to head down the path from the wonder. Just as we left, it started pouring down, so we got soaked on the way down but at least we had decent weather whilst up on the mountain. After 45 minutes, including a few stops to straighten out shaky legs, we reached the bottom of the hill. Add on an extra 20 minutes and you’re back in central Aguas Calientes.

Everyone had warned us about the midges and mosquitoes. Following the general advice we wore long trousers and sleeves and covered ourselves in jungle formula. It got really warm on the way to Sun Gate, so I took of my jacket, but miraculously neither Brian nor I have any bites. Hooray! We’ve seen people covered in them – legs, arms and faces. They look really nasty!

Back in Aguas Calientes we had a couple of beers, went to La Boulangerie (which bakes really tasty pain au chocolat, danish pastries and more for little money) to stock up on food for the train back. We boarded the train around 3pm and left bang on 3.22pm. Easy peasy! It wasn’t until we got back into Ollantaytambo that Brian realised, I had left behind my tripod in Aguas Calientes. Hopefully, I won’t miss it for the last leg of the journey.

We ate dinner in a place called Puka Rumi. Both our dishes, Lomo Saltado (yes, again) and the chef’s recommendation of beef cooked in a creamy garlic sauce, were very tasty. It’s a nice restaurant, but the atmosphere was spoiled by some noisy Americans who thought it’s appropriate to play board games, cheer out loud and do little victory dances around the table.

On the way back to the hostel, we came across this little Simpson’s gem.

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We’ve really had a great day and the holiday is passing way too quickly. We’re back to Cusco tomorrow for an overnight stay before we reach the last destination of our journey – Lima.

Peru Trip Day 9 – Cusco to Ollantaytambo

After the worst breakfast so far we headed down to Av Grau to catch a collectivo to Ollantaytambo. We got one straight away, waited for it to fill up and off we went. It really is dead easy and there is no need to get a private hire. Also, the trip only costs 10 soles per person. The transit van was relatively new and our bags were strapped onto the roof securely. We arrived in Ollantaytambo after a two hour drive at around 12pm and walked up to our hostel Mama Simona.

The hostel is right next to a stream and in a beautiful location. It has a great clean kitchen and communal area. The room is spacious and has a good sized bathroom as well. After locking up our bags we went back into the centre of Ollantaytambo and started looking for a place for lunch. There are a few restaurants around the main square all serving similar dishes and pizza (literally everywhere you go has pizzas). Just a two minute walk away from the main square towards the market is a small, local restaurant that “only” serves Peruvian dishes and a lunch menu.

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The Trucha Frito and Lomo Saltado only cost 27 soles together and Chicha Morada is free for everyone. The portions are huge and the food really delicious.

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After lunch we walked the short distance to the Ollantaytambo ruins and market. The entrance fee for the ruins is 70 soles. We didn’t really fancy paying that so went back across to the other side of town to the Pinkulluna ruins which are free to visit. You also get a great view over the valley and towards the Ollantaytambo ruins. The climb is quite steep and there a few sheer drops. From the bottom of the hill you can reach the ruins in around 15 minutes. The path splits after around 5 minutes and there are ruins on either side.

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Back on the square we discovered a little cafe that has beers from the Sacred Valley brewery on draught (16 soles). They’ve got an IPA, coffee stout and maracuja saison flavoured lager. Needless to say we tried them all – the coffee one probably being our favourite.

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Before going back to Mama Simona, we made a pit stop at Ganso – a really cool psychedelic bar that the Flaming Lips would probably feel at home at. They even have a fireman’s pole you can slide down at the end of your drinking sesssion.

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Tomorrow is the big day; we’re off to Machu Picchu!

Peru Trip Day 8 – From Puno to Cusco

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To get to Cusco from Puno we took the 8am Cruz del Sur bus. The trip takes around 7 hours, is safe and comfortable (especially compared to our terrible experience with American Airlines and US Airways) with lots of leg room and reclining seats that even have leg support. Included in the price of 55 soles is also one meal and onboard entertainment (films, nothing dodgy) as well as Wifi (only if the bus attendant actually knows the correct password which she didn’t in our case). The 7 hours seemed to pass really quick and once again we saw how beautiful the Peruvian landscape is.

From the Cruz del Sur terminal in Cusco we took a taxi (15 soles) up to our Hotel “Casa de Campo”. The hotel is set on a hill past the historic centre, overlooking the valley and Cusco. I am pretty sure the view is what you pay for and whilst the hotel buildings are really quite quirky, the room is very basic yet clean. The Wifi works intermittently which helped us locate the collectivo station that runs a direct service between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. There are a few companies based on Av Grau all charging around 10 soles per person for the two hour trip. You can also take a local bus, but will have to change in Urubamba as there are at the moment no direct connections.

After we ensured that the collectivo services still run, we headed back to the historic part of Cusco. Cusco, apart from the historic centre, is quite heavily polluted due to all the car traffic… Something my lungs and throat weren’t used to having arrived from more rural places with a lot less traffic. A quick stop at the pharmacy, lots of gesturing and mimicking and 10 pills later, my voice is back and my throat is a lot less sore.

We are leaving most of Cusco’s sights until we come back from Ollantaytambo, but we did stop at Iglesia de Santa Domingo which is adjacent to Qurikancha. The church only gets a few lines of text in the Lonely Planet but really is worth a visit, especially if you appreciate wood craft work. The altar is entirely carved of wood and looks truly magnificent. It really makes a change to the opulent gold leaf plated altars we’ve seen in Arequipa. If you look up, you’ll see some interesting paintings of Peruvian children portrayed as archangels dressed in folkore as well as more casual clothes.

We ate dinner at Trujillo, a Peruvian restaurant with specialities from the North as well as the local region. I had a Ceviche which was really good, Brian went for a creamy chicken, potatoe and rice dich which looked and tasted very much like an Indian Korma.

After dinner we coincidentally walked passed Museo del Pisco and simply had to sample a Pisco or two. The bar is owned by an expat who really has done a great job. The bar looks great, really modern and chique. The walls are decorated with drawings of the Pisco making process and the history of Peru.

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Even though we didn’t go for any of the cocktails, the ones that were brought to other guests looked fantastic. The bar prices are a bit more expensive, but I’d say you get a top quality product for your money. The only obvious downside to the place is that it’s part of walking tours. When we were there two groups of about 20 people each overtook the place taking away what before had been quite an intimate an personal atmosphere. One group didn’t even bother finishing their sample Piscos. Disgraceful!

Brian and I went for flavour infused Piscos – Brian had Eucalyptus, I went for Chichuhuasi (Amazonian root with medicinal properties). They came with a warning that the shots are really strong. Well, if you’re used to drinking a dram or two you won’t have any issues. Although the alcohol stinge does linger in your throat. They were both good though. I think they’re worth the 18 soles we paid each.

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After the shots we climbed up the hill back to the hotel and enjoyed the scenic night view over Cusco. Tomorrow morning we’re taking the collectivo to Ollantaytambo.