A Peruvian love affair

Whenever I tell people I’m travelling for six and a half months with a boyfriend waiting for me at home, the responses vary from ‘that must be difficult’ to ‘you’ll definitely cheat on him’.

I’ve always been adamant that they were wrong – it wasn’t easy, but I could do it, there would never be a temptation strong enough to make me cheat.

Well, for 5 months I managed to stick to that, but I’m ashamed to say that Peru has been my undoing and I now have a new love.

 My two weeks in Peru has been a whirlwind love affair, with this crazy, diverse and amazing country which I’m more than a little sad to be leaving.

For some reason I wasn’t really that excited about coming to Peru. Cuba I’d always wanted to go to, whereas Peru I added into my travel plans purely to do the Inca Trail, which it turned out I couldn’t do because the 500 permit a day limit had been reached months in advance.

I didn’t make any plans in advance, because I had a strong suspicion that my travel agency in England was quoting me prices for tours far higher than I would find once I arrived in the country.

That suspicion was most definitely correct – had I booked with them I would have spent almost £1,000 on tours without things like travel, accommodation between tours and food included. I actually spent about £750 in total during the two weeks – so please never book a tour with STA travel!

After arriving in Lima, my vague plan was to go to Cusco and go to Machu Picchu. I decided to book a 4 day hop on, hop off bus instead of going there direct, and this is when the love started to blossom.

One if the things I’ve been most taken with in a Peru is the diversity of the landscape – it’s like nowhere else I’ve been with big cities surrounded by vast deserts, a stunning coastline, epic mountains and dense jungles

From Lima I travelled to Paracas, a coastal town with the best ceviche, boat trips to ‘the poor man’s Galapagos’ and some amazing native wildlife. Then it was on to Huacachina, a small town built around an oasis in the middle of the desert, where the main activity is sandboarding.

I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy it but it really was incredible fun – first a roller coaster ride on the dune buggies, where it feels like death is only seconds away at any given point, and then throwing yourself head first down the dunes on wooden boards, or attempting to stand if you’re good (or, like me, if you’re not good but don’t mind looking like an idiot).

After that it was on to Cusco, with a quick stop at a Pisco and wine vineyard where a tour included stomping grapes (feels strange but good) and having a few samples for the road.

We’ll gloss over the 24+ hour bus trip and get straight to Cusco, which is most commonly visited as a starting point for treks to Machu Picchu, but is actually worth visiting It’s own right. It’s touristic as hell, but it’s still a cute and friendly town, with a chocolate museum that is reason enough for staying longer in Cusco, as their DIY hot chocolates are out of this world.

I didn’t have to shop around much to find a four day ‘alternative’ trek to Machu Pichu for about a third of the price STA had quoted, leaving the next day – no time to think about how physically unfit I’ve become and how I most likely would struggle with anything more than a 20 degree incline on a mountain.

After a couple hours driving, our group were awake enough to start to get to know each other, and although I didn’t know if then I honestly couldn’t have asked for better people to do the trip with.

The first day we cycled 56km down winding mountain roads, with beautiful views I was far too scared to look at incase I went straight off the edge.    

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I’m not much of a cycler at home, and my housemate will attest to how grumpy I can get when I’m not enjoying it. It was pretty unlikely I would get through 56km with no mishaps, and true to form while going downhill at approximately 45-50kph I squeezed too hard on the front brake mad flipped myself right over the handlebars.

Luckily I was wearing my biking body armour and sustained no serious injuries. I say luckily – perhaps if I had I could have somehow gotten out of the 45 minute serious hike up a mountain which we had to do to reach our accommodation for the evening. Two of the other girls seemed to manage no problem, but I was close to death by the time I reached the top, and utterly convinced I wouldn’t last the four days.

Day two, the all day walking, was actually the easiest day of all, with a beautiful walk along one of the original Inca trails, a huge lunch and a visit to some hot springs. I didn’t injure myself and nothing went wrong – strange

Day three started with zip lining, in constant rain. While the rain was miserable, it did make the zip lines faster and more exciting, but it was actually the climbing back up the hills that was the biggest adrenaline rush, and not in a good way

Every single person said they felt terrified trying to navigate their way up the steep, muddy and wet slopes, and it we thought it was pretty unsafe. Unfortunately we were right, as just one day after we were there, a man actually died after falling from one of the platforms – so while it was enjoyable, I’d recommend going elsewhere if you want to zip line and stay alive.

The walking that day was just along a train track and not that exciting, but it got us to Aguas Calientes, the starting point for our final day at Machu Picchu.

 You can either walk up which takes an hour to an hour and a half, with tonnes of steps, or take a bus. I was realistic about my unfitness and took the bus so I would have enough energy to climb Machu Picchu mountain, and I actually ended up being the only one of my group to do it.

The mountain was to be honest, hell to climb, but with another girl I met along the way we got there, at a slow pace with many rests and it was absolutely worth it. When the clouds cleared the views was amazing, and we both felt pretty proud of making it to the top!

Back in Cusco, I had one day to make last minute plans for the rest of my time in Peru – a bus back to Lima and a flight to Iquitos, a town I reachable by land in the Amazon jungle. I also managed to fit one last night with my crazy new friends – waaaaay too many mojitos, lots of dancing, and no hangover. Perfect!

Once I got to Iquitos, I made another snap decision to join a jungle tour leaving the next morning – completely going against my usual path of indecisiveness.   

 It turned out to be absolutely the right decision – 3 days at a lodge on the river, 3 great guys with me, and amazing wildlife – we saw sloths, monkeys, macaws, lots of other native birds, a caiman, giant bullfrogs, water snakes and both grey and pink river dolphins.

I also got to cuddle two sloths and a baby monkey, and on the way back stopped at a manatee rescue centre to stroke and feed juvenile manatees, so cute!

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So after all that (if you’ve managed to stick with me this far), it’s safe to say Peru is one of the best places I’ve been. I would recommend it to absolutely anyone and I would definitely go back.

I know my boyfriend will be sad not to be my only love anymore, but maybe a three-way with Peru could work?!

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