Bienvenidos! Here you’ll find passionate travel guides for Peru and Bolivia, including my personal experience and thoughts on solo travelling as well as volunteering in Lima. First of all, feel free to take a look at my post on preparing a safe and fun backpacking trip, which includes key organisational, packing and safety tips:
BEFORE THE TRIP
I had been taking a few University courses on Latin American history and societies, and I found it crazy that I was born in Brazil and lived there for thirteen years, though I had never been to another South American country. So I decided to travel to South America. As a woman, when I told my family and friends that I would be travelling alone in South America, they all panicked or didn’t know how to react. Obviously, there is a certain danger in travelling through South America, and there is a certain danger in travelling alone. That is why it is important to be prepared and be careful, take safety seriously. But no one should allow these dangers to scare them off, because there is a risk to everything, and at one point we have to decide whether we want to live our lives to the fullest, or simply settle for ‘safe’. So I decided to take precautions, research, prepare my trip well and live this adventure, alone, in South America! I figured now’s the time, and I don’t want to get old and realize I didn’t do what I wanted because people said I shouldn’t. So trust yourself and go, there is a big world out there.
I chose Peru and Bolivia because cultures and indigenous ricness intrigued me, and they are the cheapest countries in South America for backpacking travelers. Also, I speak Spanish, which I found EXTREMELY useful while travelling alone. Speaking of travelling alone, this was my first solo trip and I was kind of nervous about it, so I decided to volunteer in the beginning of the trip to get used to the language, culture and meet people before starting the adventure on my own. This was an AMAZING idea, and I fully recommend the organization IVHQ, (https://www.volunteerhq.org/), which effectively matches international volunteers with local organizations. I did a lot of shopping around regarding volunteering organizations, since I found it more reliable to find an international organization than to contact directly a local one. I highly recommend IVHQ, since it has the best price in the market, many diversified destinations, isn’t the kind of neocolonial international organization that sends you on a humanitarian journey to “teach civilization” to local communities since all it does is to match you with an independent local NGO, and the service was absolutely amazing before as well as during the trip.
To prepare my trip and decide more specifically where I wanted to visit and what I desired to see, I used the information on travel blogs (view my post on organizing a trip) as well as a great guidebook made for Brazilians backpackers travelling in South America, Guia Criativo Para o Viajante Independente na América do Sul. I did a lot of research on where I wanted to visit, but I didn’t really book anything in advance (except for my plane ticket and volunteering program), since I figured it was better to get there and decide how long I would stay in each place and how I would get around. This was a great idea because backpacking in South America can be very unpredictable, so it’s good not to have a fixed itinerary, plus I met so many people along the way who gave me tips and ideas I hadn’t though of, which made me change my mind on some destinations I wanted to visit. A lot of people I met were travelling with a Lonely Planet guidebook and liked it!
Also, it is very important to get a good travel health insurance! I got Manulife; unfortunately I had to use it, and was positively impressed with their service and accessibility.
DURING THE TRIP – RECOMMENDATIONS AND TIPS
When volunteering for two weeks in Lima, I got to live in a typical middle-class Peruvian home in a non-touristy neighborhood of Lima, San Miguel. I got to interact with Peruvians; the family at my homestay as well as the local organization’s coordinators. This was priceless, since I got a taste of the real Peruvian life and got to live a routine there, instead of being simply seen as a tourist by locals and visiting places for short periods of time. I worked at Tarpuy Sonqo, a local NGO that works in partnership with the Peruvian government, running orphanages, special needs homes and transition homes for teenagers in difficult situations. It was such an interesting and enriching experience, and I had a lot of fun and learned a lot, even though it wasn’t always easy; it was perfect to get me immersed in the Peruvian culture and life, preparing me for the actual trip. There, I met so many volunteers from around the world, and got to travel with some of them during the weekends (since we volunteered only on the weekdays) and after the volunteering period. These two weeks in Lima made me confident about going on my own to discover Peru and Bolivia. Of course, travelling alone can get difficult and lonely at times, but most of the time, you meet amazing people from all around the world, do what you want without having to compromise, and have the time of your life! Only a couple of times I felt insecure about being a woman on my own, but nothing bad happened, thanks to the other travelers I met on the way and the fact that I speak Spanish and can “get by well on my own” (honestly, I never quite know how to say this in English, meaning “se débrouiller” in French and “se virar” in Brazilian Portuguese. Please help me out!!).
GENERAL TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Health and Safety in Peru and Bolivia
–Vaccinations people usually take when going there (but you should visit a travel clinic and make sure): Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever, Tetanus, Hepatitis. Medication to take there (prescribed by your doctor or the one at the travel clinic): Malaria pills, altitude medication, mountain sickness medication (in case the altitude gets you really sick), pediatric electrolyte (in case of dehydration or traveler’s diarrhea).
-The altitude can be very high in some parts of those countries, so be prepared to feel a few of the following symptoms: headache, dizziness, lack of appetite, stomach ache, breathlessness. I felt every one of those at some point, but I think the altitude medicine I took helped a lot. Another thing that helps is the coca leaf tea (mate de coca), which is not a drug at all, even though cocaine is derived from it. It also helps a lot to take things slow; if you’re arriving in altitude, take at least one or two days to relax and settle before start visiting, walking or hiking.
–Water is essential for your health, and if you’re in high altitude, you should drink twice of what you would normally drink. Don’t trust the tap water in South America, buy bottles at any local store or market. Yes, it will be weird to have to pay for water all the time (if you’re from North America or Europe), but believe me it’s worth it.
–Weather variations: temperature varies a lot if you travel there in the winter. In Cusco for example, it can be 25 degrees Celsius and sunny during the day, then it drops to -5 at night. The hostels often lack heating and sometimes hot water, so dress accordingly. In the Uyuni desert, south of Bolivia, where a lot of people camp in the salt flats, it can get to -20 Celsius at night, so it’s quite important to do a bit of research before packing and going.
-ALWAYS carry water and snacks (especially if you have food restrictions), since travelling can be unpredictable in South America.
-You should keep your backpack in a safe locker at the hostel when you leave for the day, even if people there seem friendly and all. When you’re travelling by bus or plane, you should keep locked padlocks on your backpack and always keep an eye on it when possible. During the day, I locked my valuables (documents and cash) in my backpack and locked my backpack inside the hostel’s locker. But when travelling from place to place, I used a secret pouch bag around my waist with my passport, credit cards and cash in it. Fortunately, none of my things got stolen, but I met a few people who did get stolen, so be careful and always pay attention to your belongings, even when you’re with other travelers.
-A personal tip: If travelling alone, I don’t go out alone or drink with people I just met. Even if they’re travelers and seem nice, be careful not to trust them 100%, since you don’t really know them, even if you end up travelling with them… That’s the thing about travelling alone; since you meet a lot of amazing people and make great connections along the way, you have to keep reminding yourself you don’t really know them and in the end of the day, you are travelling on your own (which is also amazing, since you can go off on your own and do whatever you want, be free!).
Food in Peru and Bolivia
In regular restaurants, the cost of a good meal may vary between 7-25 nuevo soles in Peru (around 3-9 US$ in July 2016), and 5-35 bolivianos in Bolivia (around 1-6 US$ in July 2016). However, there are touristy restaurants which can be expensive, and there are the local markets (comedores populares) which cost almost nothing.
Breakfast (desayuno) usually consists of eggs, bread and butter, although it depends on where you’re staying; it’s often included at the hostel. Lunch (almuerzo) and dinner (cena/comida) can be quinoa (quinua), avocado (palta), potato (papa), corn (maiz/choclo), cassova/manioc (yuka), cheese (queso) and meats (carnes), trout (trucha) or chicken (pollo). They eat a lot of pollo con papas in the cities, and trucha in the regions next to the Lake Titicaca. There are some amazing local foods I recommend, which you can find at each city’s section.
On restrictions: If you’re vegetarian, it’s pretty easy to get around, just make sure to explain that you don’t eat meat, chicken or fish, since not everyone will understand when you just say vegetarian and they may serve you chicken. If you’re vegan, it’s a whole other story; you might have to judge for yourself if a dish is vegan or not, and most of them aren’t. I honestly recommend you to be flexible on that during your trip, not because of difficulty purposes but also a respect for local cultures to a certain extent. If you’re gluten intolerant, you can get around pretty well if you stay at homestays or airbnb’s, where you can cook your own food. But at restaurants, stick to what you know is gluten-free; rice, quinoa, beans, potatoes, other vegetables, fruits, and meat (if you’re not vegetarian). If you’re seriously allergic to something or have celiac disease, bring all your food or don’t go or take a huge risk. They can almost never guarantee there was no contact with a certain food, and you might not have a lot of options. Personally, I am lactose intolerant and vegetarian, and honestly it was pretty hard to find food without having to take my Lactaid pills. Fortunately, I had packed cereal and protein bars, which were extremely useful at times, especially at full-day hikes where we had to bring our own food (last-minute improvised sandwiches will do, too). You can find cereal bars to buy at almost any Peruvian market, but you can’t find cereal bars at all in Bolivia, though you can easily find peanut bags (maní) and vegan snacks made of corn almost everywhere.
Other useful tips
-Pack lightly! (Check out my sample packing list here: https://thinkmoveeat.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/important-travelling-tips/). Don’t worry, you’ll find great and cheap laundry places (lavanderias) in any Peruvian and Bolivian city or town.
-Wifi isn’t always the best in South America. Personally, I depended on the wifi since I didn’t buy a local SIM card or used my phone in roaming, and it was pretty hard at times. Especially if you’re, like me, buying your bus tickets and booking your hostels along the way, it can be very frustrating. It can take one hour to do something you could do in fifteen minutes if you had good wifi, so breathe and stay calm, and keep trying until it works. A lot of people I met had bought a local SIM card and found it was worth it, especially in Bolivia, to have cell service and access to internet whenever they needed.
-When you want to buy something, you have to bargain. Whether it’s fruit and vegetables at the local market or souvenirs and gifts, there’s always a way to take the price down, and they’ll automatically charge you double if you’re a tourist who doesn’t speak Spanish and doesn’t try to negotiate.
-I booked my buses and flights and hostels little by little, as I talked to other travelers and researched about the places I anted to visit. This was the best choice ever, since when I got sick I didn’t have to change bus/flight dates, etc., I simply had to delay my plans. However, it’s best to book buses and hostels a little ahead of time, at least 2-3 days before, and if you want to book specific tours sometimes it’s best to book it days or weeks in advance, especially touristy tours such as Machu Picchu treks which have limited space. Also, it’s better to book your next few days when you’re at a bigger city or town, since you can easily go to the agency (oficina) when the website or wifi isn’t working as expected, which happens too often.
–Transportation in Peru: I found it was amazing to travel between cities by bus, especially with the company Cruz del Sur. It’s not extremely cheap but it’s accessible, and it’s very comfortable (though not always very clean), the service is fine, and the food is good if you’re not gluten intolerant (they even had a vegetarian option). It’s usually 80 soles (20 US $) to go somewhere if it takes you 8 hours, and their website has a few problems so I advise you buy your tickets one by one or go to a certified store or counter. The longest bus ride I took was nine hours, but I met people who traveled longer distances with this company and had to trouble whatsoever. Alternatively, I took a Peruvian Airlines flight from Lima to Cusco (because it’s quite a long ride by bus and I wanted to get there faster), and it was great though it cost 60 US$ (LAN/LATSM has the same flight). Within each city, be careful while getting around; buses are rarely official, and in order to figure out which one you have to take and when it will pass, you simply have to ask around and talk to the drivers. It was okay to get around by bus in Lima, Cusco and Arequipa, but once you get to smaller cities I preferred to walk around or get taxis. Regarding taxis, the official ones will be yellow, black or white, and they have yellow and black banners on the side as well as numbers. Before hopping on a taxi, ask the driver how much it will cost depending on where you are going, negotiate the price, then if you get a good price, for security reasons ask the driver’s name and take a picture of the plate before entering.
–Transportation in Bolivia: As everyone knows, the Bolivian roads really aren’t the safest, and they’re often blocked by workers’ strikes. Therefore, I took Transtiticaca buses between cities for shorter distances (really cheap like 5 $ for a four-hour ride), but I mostly took flights within the country. They’re a lot more expensive than buses, but if you’re willing to pay it’s really worth it, because you save a lot of time and it’s less stressful (for example, it cost 40 US$ Sucre-Santa Cruz). However, the Bolivian airline companies aren’t nearly as good as the Peruvian ones, meaning they’re unpredictable though quite safe, I believe. I flew with Amaszonas there, which was a pretty small plane but okay, except once when my flight from La Paz to Rurrenabaque got delayed for four hours then cancelled (When that happens, you can ask for a refund, but it takes time). Within each city, be careful while getting around; buses are rarely official, and in order to figure out which one you have to take and when it will pass, you simply have to ask around and talk to the drivers. Personally, I found them a bit sketchy and chaotic, so I preferred to walk around or get taxis, except in some situations which I’ll explain in the cities’ sections. Regarding taxis, the official ones have yellow and black banners on the side as well as numbers. But even then, be careful and try not to take taxis when alone. Before hopping on a taxi, ask the driver how much it will cost depending on where you are going, negotiate the price, then if you get a good price, for security reasons ask the driver’s name and take a picture of the plate before entering.
CITY BY CITY: TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
I was volunteering in Lima, so I stayed at a homestay in the non-touristy middle-class neighborhood of San Miguel. There, I explored the Plaza San Miguel, which is a large American-style shopping mall where you can find almost anything; I indeed found gluten-free pasta and other things in the supermarket Wong. There, you can also find a cinema, safe banks to take out money, exchange places, an official store of the bus company Cruz del Sur, and much more. Also, I got to visit the Mercado Inka, which is a large market where you can find typical Peruvian clothes and other stuff as souvenirs, though it isn’t nearly as good as the markets in Cusco.
If you wish to visit a local food market, the Minka is an amazing place! It’s huge and you can find absolutely anything there, from fruits and vegetables to meats and local foods and dishes you can eat on the spot.
The neighborhood of Miraflores is the safest, most modern, urban and touristy one. Many backpackers stay at hostels there, such as the Flying Dog and Dragonfly, which are both well recommended. If you’re not staying there though, it’s quite easy to get there by bus. It’s a nice walk around the neighborhood, going through the Parque Central (a.k.a. Cat Park, since there are so many cats sitting around just waiting to be petted!) and the Av. José Larco until you get to the shore, where you’ll find the beautiful Parque del Amor. It’s such a cute and romantic place, where you have a nice view of the sea.
When in Lima, you should definitely visit the historical center, where you can find many attractions. first, the small but interesting Museo Afroperuano is worth the visit. Then, the famous Iglesia y convent San Francisco is known for its creepy but entertaining Catacumbas made of human bones. There’s the Casa de Literatura, an old train station (Estación Desamparados), as well as the MALI (Museo de Arte de Lima), which couldn’t visit since I was there on a Monday and it was closed, but have heard great things about. Also, the Plaza Mayor is a pretty nice place, surrounded by the government buildings, where you can see the Cambio de Guardas every day at 11:30. I found this historical center welcoming and safe, though I recommend you take a taxi there, since I went by bus but on my way back it was impossible to find the right bus.
Another neighborhood that’s pretty modern and touristy is Barranco, next to Miraflores. It’s a cool place to walk around, take pictures of the street art, visit the Plaza de Armas and the chill parks. I liked to visit the Mirador Catalina Recavarren, where there’s a nice view, as well as the fancy restaurant (for backpacker standards) where I had dinner, Muya, and they have the best fried yuka I have ever eaten! But the highlight for me was simply walking around there, and stopping at every store or boutique, since they are all pretty cool.
If you’re looking for an entertaining or romantic night activity, you’ll enjoy the Circuito Magico del Agua in the Parque de la Reserva. There are twelve very large water fountains that get illuminated for a big show every night!
In sum, the capital of Peru is a big city with lots to see and do, but it really wasn’t my favorite. I mostly liked the experience of volunteering there, and living in a Peruvian neighborhood among local people. If you’re just visiting, I recommend spending only three days there, then moving on to other amazing spots Peru has to offer.
Huaraz + Huascarán, Peru
Huaraz is a city in Peru mostly used as a transition for people who want to get to the famous National Park Huascarán, where hiking, camping and picture-taking are the main attractions. The city itself is small and chaotic, full of small markets and hawkers and peddlers. Huaraz is high in altitude and pretty dry, so take your time to get used to it, and buy 2 L water bottles in order to always have water available.
I stayed at Akilpo hostel, which was cheap, clean, had good wifi and the staff was very nice! It’s also where I booked the bus to Parque Nacional Huascarán, where I did the hiking to the Laguna 69, which cost 33 soles for the 6-hour bus (round-trip) and guide, plus the 10 soles entrance to the park including the 6-hour hike (round) to the Laguna. This hike is AMAZING, the view is breathtaking and the effort you put in the 3-hour hike up is completely worth it when you get to 4700 m above sea level, at the Laguna 69. The way back down is pretty hard, but the view is completely incredible and it’s so peaceful, especially if you decide to hike on your own. Don’t forget to take a 2.5 L water bottle, your own lunch and snacks, wear thermal socks if it’s the winter and bring a jacket and scarf (when you leave for the hike at 4 am if will most likely be around -5 C), also bug spray / repellent, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat (when you get up there it’ll be warm and the sun burns a lot when you’re in altitude).
If you wish to really see the town of Huaraz, three hours are enough. It is nice to walk around the Avenues Luzuriaga and Raymondi, where you can find local foods and handicraft, and the small Plaza de Armas is quite pleasant though I felt as if I was the only tourist there. The Jirón José Olaya, known among tourists, isn’t all that, and frankly I didn’t feel exactly safe as I was walking there alone. This was also the case when I visited Huaraz’ Mirador Rataquenua, where the view is nice but I wouldn’t recommend it, since the way up there has to be done by car or taxi, it’s dangerous, long and the place itself is completely isolated. My favorite places in Huaraz were where I felt safe and surrounded by people; Parque de Periodistas, a place where there are restaurants (I ate at Trivio and it was great!) and craftwork, as well as California Cafe (Av. 21 de Julio), a simple and cozy international cafe full of tourists and travel guidebooks for borrowing, that serves great food and coffee!
Overall, Huaraz is worth it not necessarily for the town itself, but for the national park, hiking and view!
This tiny town is a tourist destination because of its beautiful desert, oasis and activities such as wine-tasting and sand-boarding. It was an amazing week-end trip, though I have to stay I was glad to be travelling with people I had met in Lima, since usually the tours and activities there are booked by groups of ten, though solo travelers might be able to become part of a group. When you get there by bus, be careful at the terminal and when taking a taxi for about twenty minute until the town of Huacachina, since it isn’t such a safe spot.
We stayed at the hostel Huacachina Sunset, which wasn’t very clean but it was well-located and had a good price. As a recommendation, people who stayed at the hostel Desert Night had great things to say about it. The latter also has a great non-expensive restaurant (with lots of vegan and gluten-free options) in front of the oasis, where we went to eat twice.
We took a great and inexpensive tour with José Tours, a guide who organizes tourist activities in the surroundings of Huacachina. It was 55 soles per person and included a full day with transportation, sand-boarding, dune buggy, visiting vineyards (bodegas) and wine and pisco tasting! We started by visiting the beautiful Bodega El Catador, where we got a tour of the place and tasted different wines and kinds of pisco. Then, we visited the Bodega Tacama, where the view wasn’t as appealing but the wine was sweeter. Then, we took a break for lunch and continued with sand-boarding and dune buggy, which was sooo much fun!
This little town and its surroundings are worth it, and it’s on the way to Arequipa so if you’re travelling there, spend two days at Huacachina and you won’t regret it! Overall, it was cheap, amusing and the weather was warm and dry.
Arequipa is known as the white city, La Ciudad Blanca, because it was highly colonized and its population used to consist only of Spaniards, so everyone was white. But it’s also because of its houses, buildings and monuments, mostly made of the Arequipeña volcanic white stone. The city is an economic an industrial center of Peru, yet I found it very charming and easy to get around.
I stayed at the hostel Mango B&B, which has a great location and staff, and offers good wifi and laundry service. Since I didn’t have a lot of time there, I took the Free Walking Tour of two and a half hours, which gives an overview of the city’s history, current activities and attractions. I actually learned a lot in this tour, though I personally think we spent too much time in the main church, Basilica Catedral de Arequipa, but it was indeed beautiful and full of history. The Plaza de Armas is a very pleasant place, and it was full of people since I was there during the Festival de la Chicha Morada, which is the traditional drink made of corn (don’t be scared to try it; it’s sweet and delicious); the main square was full of Picantería kiosks, the typical restaurants of the city.
I liked to visit the huge market San Camilo / Mercado Central, and I found some great places to eat in Arequipa: vegetarian/vegan restaurant Mandala (C. Jerusalen); restaurant with homemade beer Las Gringas (C. Santa Catalina), on the second floor of the artisanal chocolate factory Chaqchao (they offer a 2-hour class on the history of cacao and how to make chocolate! I would have loved to take this class if I had had more time); and Capriccio (close to the Plaza de Armas, it’s delicious and has many vegetarian and vegan options, and some gluten-free ones).
I would have loved to hike at the Cañon del Colca, the region’s main attraction, but I needed at least one or two full days there for that, which I didn’t have… I met people who hiked there and enjoyed it, and I met people who took a full day tour of the Canyon but didn’t hike, and loved it as well. Since I didn’t have enough time for that, I took a Tour Campiña (by shopping around the main square) which is a tour of the surroundings of the city, where it’s too far to walk and costs a lot by taxi. It cost me 40 soles and included the transportation by bus and interesting guided tours to: Mirador Yanahuara, Mirador Carmen Alto, the beautiful Molino de Sabandia.
I loved to walked around the city, and a bit north of the center there is the peaceful Plaza San Francisco and the interesting Museo Historico Municipal, close to the neighborhood of San Lázaro, which is very cute, with all its narrow streets and small houses. There, I found a great vegan and gluten-free place, La Casita de Merche (Pasaje Los cristales).
I would recommend staying at least four days in Arequipa, since I have heard great things about the two-day trek in the Colca Canyon, and my two days there definitely were not enough!
Cusco + Machu Picchu, Peru
Cusco has a special place in my heart. I absolutely loved the personality of the city, despite its touristy character, and the extensive history of its surroundings.
I stayed at two different places (the second one was my favorite): Dragonly hostel (the vibe was good, it was clean and welcoming, but the bathroom was shared with too many people and it was very cold in the rooms) and Hitchhikers Backpackers hostel (same price as Dragonfly, but cleaner, warmer, better bathroom, more professional staff, though the travelers didn’t really chill together).
Restaurants I recommend in Cusco: Green Point Vegan Restaurant (Just great), Bagdad Café (in the main square, fair price and good food, nice view), Vegetarian Restaurant El Encuentro (Loved it!), and Capriccio (diversified restaurant with a lot of vegetarian and vegan options, and a few gluten-free ones).
I loved walking around the city center; it has a huge and beautiful Plaza de Armas, the Museo Inka is super interesting, the Plaza Regocijo is super cute, and the Plaza San Francisco becomes a diversified, original and generally inexpensive market of handicraft and souvenirs). There’s also the large Mercado de San Pedro, which seems to always be full and is a good place to be immersed in the market culture of Cusco residents.
Cusco’s highlight for me was the neighborhood of San Blás. I recommend leaving the hostel or the main square around 9 am, walking up the Calle Hatunrumiyoc, where the stores will most likely still be closed and there won’t be many people walking there, until you get to San Blás. It’s quite small, but very pleasant. I sat at the Plazoletta for an hour or so, drinking coffee, enjoying the sun, people-watching and dog-watching. I recommend the Coca Museum of the Plazoletta, quite small but very instructive, where you can find an extensive variety of coca products. The little streets of the charming neighborhood are full of cafés, restaurants, hostels and houses, so I felt quite safe walking around on my own. I found a café with good wifi and vegan options, L’Atelier Café Concept, and spent some time there as well. Then, I walked back down to the city center through the same Calle Hatunrumiyoc, which was then full of tourists and stores of Alpaca jackets, artwork and other Peruvian objects. You can really see the mixture between the Indigenous and Spanish cultures in this tiny famous street, it’s truly lovely.
I would have liked to spend more time in Cusco, in order to visit the Inka ruins close to the city and hike the Rainbow Mountain… But overall I loved it, and want to go back for sure!!!
Now, Machu Picchu is the most famous attraction in Peru, and I expected it to be too touristy and deceiving, but it’s one of the most beautiful and intriguing places I’ve been to. It’s definitely worth the trip.
To get there, I traveled with the company American Inca Trail, and took the Inca Jungle Trek, which included ziplining, rafting, hiking, biking, and Machu. The agency had a bit of a logistical issue, but when it got settled the trip was amazing! I heard great things about Loki Tours as well, but most people just shop around Cusco’s Plaza de Armas to find a good deal to Machu’s trek. If you’re travelling to Machu Picchu and wish to trek your way there, expect to pay at least 200 US$ (but there’s a great discount if you have the International Student Card), though you can do it outside of an organized tour and pay less, but I wished to be part of a group for this part of the trip, and it was totally worth it. After a few days of activities and trekking, we finally got to Machu Picchu, which included hiking from the town of Hidroelectrica until the town of Aguas Calientes, sleeping in Aguas Calientes, and starting the hike to Machu Picchu at 4 am. It was pretty hard, but took us less time than expected, and once we got there for the sunrise, it was all worth it. However, there is the lazy option of taking a train from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes, then taking the bus up from there to the Machu Picchu, though I’m sure it’s not as rewarding once you get there!
There are multiple things to do once you get up there; though I was informed that as of 2017 tourists will only be able to spend half a day at Machu Picchu. I walked through the Inka city, learned from the guides that were there talking to groups, took pictures, and hiked up to the Inka gate (which is free and only 30 minutes). Though I didn’t hike up to the Sungate (which is free but is another hour up). People who buy their tickets in advance and pay a few dollars more are able to hike to another mountain (Machu Picchu mountain), and those who buy the tickets months in advance are able to get to the Huayna Picchu (the big mountain we see and take pictures of from Machu Picchu).
You should take a lunch and snacks up there, as well as a plastic bag for trash, and a 2 L water bottle if you’re hiking. One of the best moments I had there is of us just sitting down, eating and enjoying life on top of the mountain with the amazing weather and breathtaking view. Indeed, Cusco and Machu are a must-see.
Lago Titicaca: Copacabana, Bolivia + Isla del Sol, Bolivia
The tricky thing about visiting the gorgeous Lake Titicaca is crossing over from Peru to Bolivia. I took a bus from Puno to Copacabana, which was pretty chaotic and unsafe, but I survived! The town of Copacabana is tiny and unorganized, so I was happy to stay outside the town, at the Ecolodge; it’s a proper hotel (I needed a break from hostels!) owned by a friendly Belgian: a peaceful place in front of the lake (though the water was freezing).
It’s nice to walk around the city, and the big Av. 6 de Agosto is full of peddlers and Cholitas, as well as touristy good restaurants and travel agencies. It’s worth to walk up the Cerro Calvário, a mountain and mirador. The view is beautiful, since you can see the lake on one side and the town on the other.
The highlight of Copacabana, though, is the Lake Titicaca. I absolutely fell in love with the Isla del Sol, where I spent one short day. The boat of the agency Andes Amazonas left at 8:30 am and cost 30 bolivianos (and make sure to take liquid cash in bolivianos to the island, since many fees must be paid at stop points, which ended up being 30 bolivianos in total). The boat stops at the north coast of the island, in the zone of the Pueblo Challampa, where the guide explained a few things, then we hiked to the Roca Sagrada (Wirarocha), where the view is incredible. Then, we hiked to the Chicana Laberinto, which are interesting Indigenous ruins. Some people who were going to spend a night on the island (there are hostels, restaurants and everything) calmly made their way to the south, but those who, like me, had to catch the boat back to Copacabana, had to hurry to the south of the island (Pueblo Yumani), where the last boat leaves at 3:30 pm. It’s a nice hike but we really had to hurry, and didn’t have time to stop and eat or relax and enjoy the view, so I recommend you spend a night at the island. Plus, we didn’t have time to visit the Escalineta de Yumani or the Templo del Sol…
I definitely want to go back there, especially Isla del Sol; it’s paradise on earth.
La Paz, Bolivia
The city itself is full of people and very chaotic, but it has a familiar vibe to me and I liked it. I stayed at the hostel Wild Rover, which was simply the BEST HOSTEL I have ever stayed at; it’s super clean, organized, the staff is great, and the price is great, but the wifi isn’t very good, though that’s normal in Bolivia. (If you take the bus from Copacabana to La Paz, be careful with your belongings when you have to leave the bus to cross the river, and keep an eye on the bus to make sure you don’t miss it once it has crossed.)
Restaurants I recommend in La Paz: Vegetarian/Vegan restaurant Namas Té (close to Plaza San Pedro, the food is absolutely amazing and it has great wifi), La Cueva Mexican Restaurant (on the Calle Tarija, where there are many more good restaurants), Café Vida (C. Saganarga).
To visit the city, I did the Red Cap Walking Tour, which costs 20 bolivianos and is super entertaining and informative! We started in the Plaza San Pedro, passed the famous prison, walked through the Plaza Murillo, the presidential palace and famous cathedral. We went to the Mercado de las Brujas, where urban legends still live and llama fetuses hang in front of the stores. We visited the huge Mercado Lanza, and got to drink great juices made with mineral water and local fruits. I recommend visiting the Museo Nacional de Etnografía y Folklore!
I had very low expectations of La Paz since every traveler I had met told me it’s super chaotic and there’s nothing to do there, but honestly I was positively surprised with the city! I wouldn’t spend more than three days there, but I liked it while it lasted. Also, it’s the central point of many tours (to Rurrenabaque, Uyuni, etc.), airlines and agencies, so it might me worth it to take a look into that.
Sucre is my absolute favorite destination in Bolivia! Of course I haven’t been everywhere, but this city for me is simply a Coup de Coeur! It’s a city yet it isn’t full of people, it’s modern yet it takes you back in time… The vegetarian restaurants are amazing and it isn’t high in altitude! I’m telling you, I’m in love with it.
If you get there by plane, take a bus (microbus) from the airport to the city center (8 bolivianos, 40 minutes), since a taxi will be very expensive. I stayed at hostel Kultur Berlin, and it was my second favorite hostel ever; clean, well-located, organized, big (it had a garden and a restaurant), they had activities every night (such as salsa classes, which was a lot of fun), and travelers there came from all around the world!
Restaurants I recommend in Sucre: El Germen (c. San Alberto, amazing vegetarian gluten-free options; I went there twice), and Condor Café (vegetarian restaurant, inexpensive and absolutely delicious day menus; I went there three times).
It is such a charming city, I loved to simply walk around and sit for a while in the Plaza 25 de Mayo, where Pokemon Go was clearly a big deal among young people. There’s the cathedral, the government’s palace, and many chocolate stores around the Plaza, the most famous one being Chocolates Para Ti. The museum Casa de la Libertad, also around the Plaza, is very instructive and taught me a lot about Sucre and Bolivia’s history. It’s completely worth the visit, and it’s even better in a guided tour.
If you have an extra afternoon in Sucre, it is a nice walk up to the Recoleta, where you can sit in the Mirador Café and enjoy the view. At night, there is an interesting show in Sucre’s Espacio Cultural Origenes, showing Bolivian dances, costumes and music. Even though it’s a bit pricey (ask for student discount) and touristy, I found it very fun and entertaining!
There are also things to see and do around Sucre, such as the Siete Cascadas (the seven waterfalls). It isn’t recommended to go there alone (I went with friends from the hostel), and to get there you have to take the bus 12, close to the central market, get out at the last stop then ask for directions. Then, you hike for about one hour and you get to the paradise! It was winter when I went, the dry season, so there wasn’t much water, but still, it was basically a paradise in the Bolivian mountains. We swam, hiked and climbed rocks; it’s best to go there in the morning and spend a few hours.
Also close to Sucre, there is the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in the world; the Parque Cretácico Cal Orck’o. To get there, I took a tourist bus in front of the cathedral on the Plaza (14 bolivianos round-trip, leaves at 11 am), then I took the guided tour of the park (30 bolivianos for entrance, tour included). It was truly impressive to see the footprints and learn about how they were made and discovered!
I recommend spending at least three days in Sucre, and I would have stayed even longer! The city is also known for its great Spanish schools, so if you’re looking for a nice spot to learn Spanish for a few weeks or months, you found it.
Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia
Santa Cruz is the business center of Bolivia, so not surprisingly, tourist activities aren’t its forte. Also, I didn’t feel as safe as in other Bolivian cities there. Hostel recommendation for Santa Cruz: Jodanga Backpackers. Chill and clean, there’s even a pool! Also, I went to a great vegan restaurant on C. Sarmiento (15 minute-walk from the center), Casa Vegana. It’s nice to walk on the Plaza 24 de Septiembre and visit the Casa de Literatura and cathedral, though as I said they aren’t as great as in other places. I enjoyed walking in the Parque El Arenal, though it isn’t really a park, and shopping for souvenirs in the cute Paseo Artesanal La Recova.
I only stayed a full day in Santa Cruz and quite frankly I was tired and getting sick, so this wasn’t my favorite place. Also, there are less things to see and do there, since it’s more of a “real” city where people live and work, rather than a destination for tourists.
In sum, I absolutely loved this trip, and even though it wasn’t always easy to get by on my own, be social and be far from my family and friends, it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Last tip: Don’t be afraid to travel alone, follow your dreams and live life to the fullest! Peru and Bolivia are amazing places to do so, especially if you like to travel lightly and simply.
But there is so much to see in this region, I couldn’t see it all… So next time, I wish to visit the north of Peru (and its famous beaches) which I didn’t have time to visit, as well as the south of Bolivia (the mines and salt flats). According to what I’ve read and tellings of other travelers, if you have time you should visit:
PERU: Chiclayo, Trujillo, Huanchaco, Iquitos, Puerto Maldonado, Huancayo, Ayacucho.
BOLIVIA: Rurrenabaque, Cochabamba (Parque nacional Torotoro), Oruro, Potosi, Salar de Uyuni.