The last steps: hiking through Peru and Ecuador (part 1)

Peru and Ecuador are the last two countries I covered in South America. When I entered Peru, I had almost 40 days to cover both countries. This is pretty quick considering the size, sights and activities it has to offer. With the time almost equally divided between Peru and Ecuador, I knew Peru would be the most exhausting part. But in the end, seeing these natural and man-made wonders, it was more than worth it.

 

Salkantay trek

After leaving Bolivia behind, I took a night bus from Copacabana (Bolivia) to Cuzco (Peru). I never slept much on night buses and this one wasn’t an exception. Arriving in Cuzco around six in the morning, I was very tired. Luckily I could enter the bed and breakfast, but as the room was still occupied, I couldn’t sleep right away. That’s when I decided to go out and explore the city and take a free walking tour. Cuzco is very touristic for a reason. Not only has it to offer a beautiful big colonial center, the surroundings can keep you occupied for two weeks as well. Like I said, I didn’t had that much time in my favor. But one thing I really wanted to do is the Salkantay trek. This is a three- to five-day trek ranging from 1500 to 4600 meters above sea level with all different types of vegetation. On top of that, you will finish in Machu Picchu (mostly regarded as the highlight of South America). I wasn’t planning on visiting Machu Picchu at first. But combining it with such a trek seemed like I can appreciate it a little better. Still being the first day in Cuzco, I organized to do the Salkantay trek the very next day.

Waking up very early again, I left with the group around five in the morning to arrive six hours later at the starting point. Here, we were already at almost 3900 meters above sea level. After some instructions we headed to a lake and made a climb of about 400 meters. Hiking the way up was much tougher than I expected on forehand. Luckily this small hike was the only exercise of the day and a preparation for the next, and also toughest, day. From the lake we made our way back to the basecamp and slept at 4000 meters above sea level. I had somewhat more trouble sleeping here, as I could already felt that breathing on this altitude was bit more difficult than I expected.

The next day we would walk up to 4600 meters and then decent to 3000 meters, ending up in the high jungle. The night was less cold than expected, and although there was some ice forming on our way up, it wasn’t too slippery. Once on top, we got really close to the snowed mountain peaks. And luck was on our side as we had a clear view and no clouds were blocking our view. After the highest point was reached, we would mostly go down for the rest of the trek. Behind this mountain, also the high jungle started and mosquito repellent became necessary. Mosquitoes are only active during the day, because at this altitude the temperature will still decrease quite much during the night. The drier drastic mountain landscapes made room for the high jungle, where the whole surrounding became more and more green, fully grown with plants.

On the third day we hiked down to 1500 meters and could eat some local fruits. This was also the first time I tried ‘granadilla’, which would become my favorite fruit in the remaining part of my trip. On the fourth day we had the option to do ziplining (the biggest one in Peru) and make our way along the train rails from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes. This is for almost every traveler the base point to get to Machu Picchu.

So the final day is for us to get up early and make our way up to Machu Picchu. Therefore, we had to climb 400 meters. Because of the many tourist daily arrive, I didn’t want to visit Machu Picchu at first. After I visited it, I was actually quite pleased. Yes it was very touristic indeed. But there is still a mystic feeling hanging around with the ruins still being intact. And it is also very rewarding to finish a five-day trek at such a place.

 

Colca Canyon

After the trek I spent one more day in Cuzco before heading to Arequipa. With 2300 meters altitude, Arequipa is located much lower than Cuzco. Arequipa is also called ‘the white city’ as the historic center is mostly made from sillar, a kind of white volcanic stone. Even though Arequipa is a very beautiful city to visit, the Colca Canyon is the main reason for me to visit.

With a bus I took off to Cabanaconde in the early morning (3am). I didn’t expect it to get that cold, literally freezing. Sitting all the way in the back with no heating and going over a nearly 5000 meter pass, I couldn’t enjoy the ride so much. But around 8am we arrived at the place where the condors would lift up with the hot air. It was a magnificent view (although also very touristic) to see the condors fly over very close. After this view we arrived in Cabanaconde.

From here, I would start the hike. There are several hikes to take in the Colca Canyon. I did the most popular two-day hike. Many people chose the option to hike in a guided group, but this trek is very easy to do it yourself as well. And that’s also what I did, because I actually enjoy non-guided treks the most. The first day started off by descending to the valley at 10am, which is about 1000 meters lower. After this descent I needed to walk almost halfway up again to cross several villages before arriving in Oasis de Sangalle at 15:00. Oasis de Sangalle can be seen as literally an oasis in the dry canyon. It is a small green spot where you can enjoy one of the several pools after a long day hiking. The following day I needed to make a steep climb of 1000 meters up again. It was still dark as I started around 5am, but could enjoy the sunrise from above almost 2 hours later.

Because I didn’t want to take the bus directly back again, I planned an extra day in Cabanaconde. I was glad with this decision. Canabaconde is a very tranquil town and with a full day ahead, I took my time and explored the surroundings. The following day I would head back to Arequipa and took the same night a bus to Paracas, where I will celebrate my birthday.

 

Peruvian coast; Paracas, Lima and Huanchaco

After Arequipa I stayed on the coast in Peru. This meant that I would be altitude free for the coming ten days. Because it was planned to celebrate my birthday in Paracas, Danick and I decided to be a bit more luxurious and rent a little home on the beach. Fairly said, Paracas was a bit less attractive than I had imagined. Mainly because there are many big fishing industries located here. But after Valparaíso I hadn’t reached the coast anymore. So spending some days in a small fishing village also had it advantages. I didn’t do basically any tourist attractions here. I mostly took it easy and enjoyed the great food, in restaurants as well as home-made. And of course a special birthday dinner Danick and I were preparing most of the day.

 

The next place I visited would be Lima. A city where Danick studied for six months and was eager to show me around here favorite and most memorable places. And I didn’t had to take a night bus for a change! From Paracas to Lima took only about four hours by bus. There was one thing very clear directly once we entered Lima besides its huge size. It is overall a very grey city. Clouds cover the sky most of the year. The only way I knew the sun still existed, was that the clouds got a little less thick so it became a little more bright. In Lima, I stayed in probably the best neighborhood; Barranco. This cozy bohemian area is an opposite compared to the rest of the city (except perhaps Miraflores). With hip bars, restaurants and galleries it is not only a nice, but also a safe place to hang around. I found via Airbnb a nice private room. From here Danick took me to the place where she had studied and lived. Seeing these places with my own eyes gave me a much better understanding of her time here.

 

The final stop in Peru was Huanchaco. This is a small fishers village close to the bigger city of Trujillo. I read online that Huanchaco is much more attractive to stay than Trujillo. So I did. It definitely didn’t disappoint. At the place I stayed, I met a nice couple temporary running a local guesthouse who helped me out with basically anything. By booking three nights, you got the fourth for free (easy choice)! Huanchaco is known for its traditional straw boats, surfing and the pre-Inca temples of Chan Chan nearby. Like Lima, most days on the coast were covered with clouds, but it never actually rains. Besides visiting the impressive adobe ruins of Chan Chan made by the Chimu tribe, I also tried to surf. I knew the water here can be quite cold as it comes from the South Pole, but had the expectation the wetsuit would protect me from it. Well you can guess it didn’t and it took me a few hours to recover from the cold that struck me. After spending here four relaxing days, it was time to move. I would take another, and most uncomfortable, night bus and make my way into Ecuador!

 

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