What Travel Taught Me in 2019

I’d like to continue my tradition of re-capping my travels for the year and note all of the things I learned while I was traveling. As great as my travels were in 2018, I think they were topped in 2019. It was a truly wonderful year for travel for me, for which I am so grateful to have experienced. My family and I visited so many incredible places in just one year and it was a wild ride! Let’s begin! Grab a coffee or glass of wine first, because this one is going to take a while.

In February, we visited two islands in Hawaii, Kauai and Oahu. I had been to Kauai before but I still learned some things there. I learned how drastically different vacations to the same place can be given a person’s circumstances. When my family and I last went to Kauai, my daughter was not quite two years old. Our days were spent lazing around the pool and beaches with our daughter and my in-laws. My husband and I went hiking a couple of times while our daughter stayed back in the room with my in-laws.

Hawaii 2007 320
My family in Kauai the first time we went…

Fast-forward to this year, where it was my husband and I along with our 13-year-old daughter and it was quite a different experience for all of us. We went zip-lining, snorkeling, and the three of us went hiking several times together. This was a much more active vacation and I saw a different side of Kauai than the previous one I saw 11 years ago. I also discovered shave ice for the first time, thanks for my daughter asking for it. Holy crap is that stuff good! I thought it would just be regular snow cones before I bit into it, but it was nothing like that. We learned to ask for our shave ice with sweet cream over and macadamia nut ice cream under. So, so good! My post on Kauai is here.

20190302_161007_001-ANIMATION
My daughter zip lining in Kauai this time we went.

I also learned a few things on the island of Oahu. Previously, I hadn’t wanted to go to Oahu because I had heard how crowded Waikiki and Honolulu are. When I pictured Oahu, all I could see was the big city of Honolulu and crowded beaches of Waikiki. A co-worker of mine has been to Oahu several times and has always raved about it, so I decided to give it a try. Yes, Oahu has some definite crowded places, like Diamond Head State Monument and of course Honolulu is crowded, but Oahu is so much more than those places. By the way, I recommend still going to Diamond Head State Monument despite the crowds because you get some tremendous views of the area from the top.

We stayed on the east side of Oahu on a bay and it was absolutely perfect. Not only was it not crowded like other parts of Oahu, it was close enough that we could drive to most places within a reasonable drive. This was a valuable thing to learn about Oahu:  you don’t have to stay in the crowded parts of the island. I also learned how to standup paddle board for the first time at the gorgeous Airbnb property where we stayed in Oahu. I learned I’m actually pretty good at SUP and since that vacation I have had so much fun paddle boarding at other places on our travels like Hilton Head Island and Wyoming but also back home on a lake near where I live. It’s become one of my favorite activities along with running, cycling, and hiking. You can find all of the details about my time in Oahu here.

20190306_121921
Paddleboarding in Oahu was so much fun!

In May, we took a short vacation to Delaware. This was my first time visiting Delaware and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had been to states all around Delaware but honestly didn’t know much about Delaware. We were in the Rehoboth Beach area and I learned that it is so much cheaper to visit this area in May than during the summer months, plus it’s much less crowded. Although it wasn’t warm enough to get in the ocean, it was nice enough to walk along the beaches and also walk the trails at Cape Henlopen State Park. I learned there are several great restaurants and shopping in this area. Lewes, the first town in the first state in the United States, has some unique shops and restaurants as well.

IMG_2043
Cape Henlopen State Park in Delaware

While I was in Delaware, I also discovered a float tank a.k.a. sensory deprivation tank, which I used for the first time ever, and you can read all about here. I learned that I absolutely loved how I felt afterwards and it wasn’t nearly as claustrophobic or strange as I thought it might be. While I was in Delaware, I told myself I would look for float tanks when I travel again because even though there’s a place with float tanks sort of close to where I live, it wouldn’t be convenient for me to go there, but I haven’t followed through with that. I really need to get better about that because I felt like my recovery time from my half marathon in Delaware was quicker and I just felt great all over afterwards.

Later in May, I went to Peru and had one of the best vacations of my life. Our vacation started in Lima, where we flew into and took a taxi from the airport to a hotel for the night and spent a few hours walking around until we had to head back to the hotel for our quick flight to Cusco. That all worked out well, but I learned that one’s experiences in Lima (and really any city) can vary vastly depending on one single person- your taxi driver. So we flew from Lima to Cusco then Cusco to Arequipa and back to Lima (over a couple of week’s time). On our return to Lima the second time, our plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the Miraflores section, which is where we spent the night upon arrival in Peru, and by the way I had read this was the “best” and “safest” part of Lima. Our plan was to spend a few hours in this area having dinner and walking around the shops and neighborhood before we took another taxi back to the airport and fly back home. However, our taxi driver was a dishonest man and told us several lies during that drive to Miraflores. Long story short (you can read the full story here), the taxi driver tried to mislead us into paying him more money than what we had agreed to before getting into his cab (yep, no meters here) and at one point I was starting to fear for my life and wonder if we were going to have to jump out of the car before he kidnapped us.

20190518_123214
One of the main squares in Cusco, Peru

Fortunately, the rest of Peru was amazing. I learned some things when we were in Cusco, the first of which is that when everyone says to allow a few days for your body to acclimatize to the higher altitude, you really need to listen and do that. I had planned on just taking it easy for our first 2 or 3 days in Cusco and didn’t plan anything for us to do those days. This turned out to be perfect for us and by the third day we were feeling so good we decided to go for a hike to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. Cusco is a city where you can easily just hang out and take in the sights and not overly exert yourself. That being said, I learned Cusco is crazy hilly and if you stay up at the top of the hill like we did, you’ll get out of breath just walking up the hill and going up all of those what feel like a million steps! It’s definitely easier to stay at the bottom of the hill, where the main square is, but it’s also more crowded and noisier down there. Pick which you’d rather have, peace and quiet or easier physically.

Another thing I learned in Cusco is taking a day trip to Rainbow Mountain is worth it and although it’s not quite a picture-perfect as some of the photos online, it’s still a colorful, unique area. This is a place where it pays to have acclimatized to the altitude first before coming here since the peak is at 17,060 feet. I also learned it’s a good idea to pay the extra admission to the adjacent Red Valley, which is every bit as beautiful as Rainbow Mountain but not as crowded.

20190524_105413-PANO
Rainbow Mountain in Peru

More things I learned about Cusco:  the heating systems aren’t like what we’re used to in the United States. The hotels and hostels may claim to have heated rooms, but I read online hotel reviews over and over about how the rooms were cold, especially at night, and we experienced this ourselves as well. We did at least have hot water, so that was extra nice. Also, there are a crazy amount of not just good but GREAT restaurants in Cusco. Before going there, I didn’t know Peru is such a foodie country, but at least in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa, we came upon so many restaurants with not only some of the best-tasting food but also such beautiful presentations of the food! A final thing I discovered on our last day in Cusco was Avenida el Sol, a part of Cusco that I absolutely loved and wished I had known about sooner. It was full of cute shops, restaurants, and hotels and seemed like a place I would have liked to have stayed in. My post on Cusco is here.

20190520_125406
One of so many beautiful views from our trek to Machu Picchu

From Cusco, we took a trek with Alpaca Expeditions and some of their incredible staff along with a family of four from Connecticut, where we camped in tents and ultimately ended up at Machu Picchu on the fourth day. Along the way, we met with and talked to some local families and school children, went to a local market, got to walk around the Salinas salt ponds, soaked in the Lares Hot Springs, saw alpacas and llamas up-close, and saw some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen in my life. This trek really emphasized to me that sometimes the journey is more important than the destination. OK, maybe not “more important,” but certainly as important in this case. You can read about my Lares Trek to Machu Picchu here: Day One, Day Two and Day Three.

20190521_115705
One of my favorite photos from our trek to Machu Picchu

That’s not to imply that Machu Picchu wasn’t every bit as wonderful and awe-inspiring as you might think it is if you’ve never been, because it was every bit that and more. I learned that Machu Picchu is pretty much exactly what I had in my head as to what it would look like. What I was surprised by is Huayna Picchu, the mountain that towers behind the ruins of Machu Picchu. We had decided to pay a little extra to climb up Huayna Picchu, and I was terrified going into it, to be perfectly honest. I had read that some of the stairs are crumbling and parts of it aren’t safe to climb, which is perhaps true. What I learned first hand, however, is there are cables to hold onto for some parts of the climb, which makes it a bit easier, BUT these cables stop just where you really need them in my opinion, at the very last part of the climb. I had to channel my inner strength for this part of the climb in particular to help overcome my intense fear of heights, and I learned that some of the stuff I had learned about overcoming fears really does work, like focusing on the task at hand. Let me tell you, I focused on climbing those steps up Huayna Picchu like nothing I’ve ever focused on before and I was able to get to the top without breaking down or just giving up (which has happened before to me when hiking in the mountains). I was so proud of myself and going back down seemed like a piece of cake after going through what I did to reach the top. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.

20190523_104007
On top of the world after climbing Huayna Picchu

When we went to Arequipa after we left Cusco, I learned an important lesson. If you have a limited amount of time in a place and have your heart set on doing a specific trek or visiting a specific place, make reservations in advance. I thought it would be best to wait to make reservations for Colca Canyon, the big reason why many people visit Arequipa in the first place, until we got there, but due to multiple reasons, we were unable to visit Colca Canyon. Of course I was disappointed, but we found plenty of other things to do in Arequipa and it ended up being even better than I thought it could have been. Still, I wish I had pre-booked the overnight trek to Colca Canyon. You can read all about Arequipa here.

20190526_094624
Lovely Arequipa

Some final thoughts on Peru in general:  traffic in Peru is some of the most insane I’ve ever seen anywhere. Don’t even think about renting a car here. I wouldn’t recommend renting a motorbike or scooter either because the traffic is so crazy. Dress in layers as the temperatures can and do vary throughout the day. Learn some Spanish before you go and I mean learn as much as you possibly can because many people don’t speak English at all and you may not have cellular coverage or Wi-fi to use Google translate.

In July, we went to Wyoming, starting in Thayne where I ran a half marathon and moved on to Jackson for a few days and eventually to Yellowstone National Park, where we spent several days. One thing I learned is that the Jackson Hole area is worth spending more than just a couple of days or especially just a day trip from Yellowstone like some people do. Grand Teton National Park is NOT part of Yellowstone National Park but in fact a separate entity and should be treated as such. I learned you really should take at least 3-4 days to enjoy Grand Teton National Park, and 4-5 would be even better if you like to hike. I also learned that it’s worth renting a paddle board to do stand up paddle boarding on String Lake and Jenny Lake in the park for the day if you’re into SUP like me. My post on Grand Teton National Park is here and water activities (including rafting down the river, which I highly recommend) here.

IMG_2555
One of my favorite photos from Grand Teton National Park

I learned there’s no possible way to see all of Yellowstone National Park if you’re only going to be there a week or less, so you might as well not even try. It’s an enormous park so the best way to see it is to choose a part of the park for a day and focus your time there, then choose another part of the park and spend a day there, and so on, otherwise you’ll spend half of your day driving from one part to the next. I learned Yellowstone gets crowded during the summer months so it’s best to get an early start in the morning to see the geysers, hot springs, pools, and canyon. It’s also best to make reservations for a hotel within the park as early in advance as you possibly can, because the rooms fill up months out. I also learned it’s possible to get away from the crowds, just by going on some of the trails that are a bit farther from the most popular areas like Old Faithful and Grand Prismatic. I have two posts on Yellowstone, one on general info and learning your way around and another with more specific tips.

IMG_2713
There are so many colorful pools like this one at Yellowstone National Park

In August, I visited Hilton Head Island in South Carolina, which was a return visit for me but I still learned some things. As I mentioned with Hawaii how it was a return visit but we had very different experiences because our daughter was so young the first time, Hilton Head Island was the same for us. The first time we went, our daughter was young, so we mostly hung out at the beaches, did some shopping, and went to the lighthouse. However, this time when we went, we rented bikes and rode them all over the island, my daughter and I ran, my husband and I rented stand up paddle boards, and we still visited the white sand beaches of course. I learned that Hilton Head Island is another place where you can have anything from a relaxing, laid-back vacation to a more active vacation, depending on your current lifestyle and choices. You can read about my family’s adventures in Hilton Head Island here.

20190812_082815
The beaches on Hilton Head Island are so gorgeous

Our final vacation of the year was in a place I had heard good things about from a couple of people I know but it’s far from what I’d call a popular vacation spot, Omaha, Nebraska. I chose to run the Hot Cider Hustle Half Marathon in Omaha for my half marathon in Nebraska, which was in October. This turned out to be a fantastic time of year to visit the area because of the autumn leaves and it was still warm enough (most of the time anyway) to comfortably walk around and visit the cute shopping/restaurant area called Old Market. I learned Omaha, Nebraska has a surprisingly large number of good restaurants and unique shops, along with some fun museums and a great botanical garden. We especially liked the Durham Museum, the Joselyn Art Museum, and Lauritzen Gardens, which you can read all about plus much more here. I learned that Nebraska may be listed as a “flyover” state, and while I can only speak from my experience in Omaha, it’s a place I would definitely return to, given the opportunity.

IMG_2765
Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, Nebraska was full of so many pretty flowers and trees

So, this has been my longest blog post yet, but it was undoubtedly one of the most action-packed travel years for me to date. Honestly, 2020 will pale in comparison, but I know every year can’t be like this one. Besides, it’s not like a contest where we have to go to “bigger” and “better” destinations to top the previous ones. We just happened to have a year crammed full of some amazing destinations. As I stated earlier, I’m so grateful to have been able to go to these places with my husband and daughter. I feel like I learned so much from our travels in 2019 and that is truly priceless.

Where did you travel to this year? What were some of your favorite places? Tell me about them!

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

First-Time Lessons Learned by an American in Peru

After I visit a new country, I always like to reflect on what I learned during that visit. Inevitably there are things I should have done differently, things that surprised me about the people or places, and things that I can say I would never do again but I learned something from the experience. Peru is no different and here I would like to share some of the things I learned while I was there.

During the two weeks I recently spent in Peru, I found myself surprised on many occasions. This wasn’t my first time to South America, but it was my first time in Peru. I’ll share some of the things I learned in this beautiful country so that you can learn from some of my mistakes or just be wiser than I was and be better prepared. Peru was undoubtedly the hardest vacation to plan for of all the places my family and I have been, although we have never been to Asia or Africa and I imagine those places would also take a lot of planning by an American. I wrote up a post while I was in the midst of planning, which you can read here Planning a Trip to Machu Picchu in Peru.

20190522_085710
We saw so many llamas and alpacas in Peru- I loved it!

Here are just some of the things I learned while in Peru:

Peru is an extremely poor country so don’t expect your accommodations to be like what you typically find in the United States. That being said, there is a range of accommodations from hostels for just a few dollars per night to hotels that cost a few hundred dollars per night. The accommodations also vary widely based on what city you’re in.

Machu Picchu is every bit as stunning and special of a place as you have in your head from all of the photos we all see online. However, it does get crowded, especially as the day goes on, even with the recent restrictions on daily admissions. Get there as early as you possibly can, which you’ll likely do anyway if you’re traveling with a tour group. Pay the extra admission to climb Huayna Picchu. It’s worth every penny and every second of the elevated heartbeat that you will have climbing it. My post on Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu is here.

20190523_104007
At the top of Huayna Picchu overlooking Machu Picchu

Take a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu. My family and I took the 4 Day Lares Trek with Alpaca Expeditions, which I highly recommend but there are other treks of varying degrees of difficulty and length. Meeting and interacting with the Peruvian school children and families is something so priceless it’s difficult to convey to others. The views along the trek are like scenes from some of the most epic movies you’ve ever seen, and completely incomprehensible until you’ve experienced them. Just go. Don’t worry if you’re not a “camper” or you don’t think you can do it (unless you have valid health reasons. Talk to your doctor first). You can find my posts on the Lares Trek here: Day OneDay TwoDay Three.

Areas in the Highlands region including Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Ollantaytambo (all of which many people pass through one or more nights on their way to Machu Picchu) are cold at night and in the mornings. Depending on the time of year, they are also often rainy. There is usually no central heat in the hotels and hostels in this region either (despite what they might tell you at the front desk), so bring warm sleeping attire. I wore long-sleeve wool thermal underwear and wool socks to sleep in every night while I was in the Highlands (yes, even in my hotel room).

Temperatures and climate in Peru can vary widely depending on what part(s) you’re in so wearing layers is always advisable. Arequipa is a much warmer city than Cusco and much drier so (at least where we stayed) it was noticeably warmer than where stayed in Cusco. More information about Cusco plus climbing the famous Rainbow Mountain is here. Arequipa has a European feel to it and is a beautiful city with white stone buildings.  There is a huge range of accommodations in Arequipa just like any other city. My post on Arequipa is here.

20190526_094624
One of the plazas in Arequipa

Traffic in Peru is more chaotic than any other city I’ve ever been to, which includes Greece, Italy, Chile, and other areas known to have aggressive drivers. Drivers are so aggressive especially in Lima and Arequipa they make New York City drivers look laid-back. I wouldn’t recommend driving in Peru, pretty much anywhere at all. From all of the research I conducted, I read over and over that cars are sometimes stopped by robbers especially at night and even buses can get robbed like this. I’m sure plenty of people take buses all over Peru and are fine but we chose to fly over large distances between cities. We did take some buses with the tours we took, but the longest bus ride was 3 hours and most were during the day. Flights within Peru are very affordable and efficient (although some airlines more so than others).

Peruvians are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, especially in the Highlands areas like Cusco and the surrounding rural areas. One evening in Cusco, we went into a small store to buy bottled water and the man working there ended up asking us where we were from, showed us his drawings, and told us he was glad we stopped by as he shook our hands in a friendly way. This was all in our broken Spanish since he spoke no English. Another woman that owned a small restaurant chatted with us while we waited for our take-away food and gave me 2 bags of tea for free to help with my stuffy sinuses, a bag full of extra bread, and an extra container of soup (she also spoke no English). There were many other warm and kind people we met along the way as well.

Unless you travel to Peru with a travel group, you really should have at least a decent grasp of Spanish. We found very few people who spoke English fluently even in hospitality sectors like hotels and restaurants and even on tours where the guide supposedly spoke English. It was far more common for the people we met to speak no English at all, regardless of their age or city. There is always Google translate when you’re really stuck but I wouldn’t rely solely on that.

20190524_105413-PANO
Rainbow Mountain

The toilets in the rural areas are usually a hole in the ground that you have to squat over but in bigger cities you can find actual toilet seats. However, bring a roll of toilet paper and a small bottle of hand sanitizer with you at all times because there often isn’t toilet paper or soap. When there is a sink, it’s almost always just cold water (no hot water). However, we always had hot water in our showers at hotels everywhere we stayed, which was a welcome relief.

I would stay away from venturing out in Lima. We had a couple of bad experiences the second time we were there and we were told by someone who used to live in Lima and moved to Arequipa that it’s extremely unsafe and to stay away from the city. If you have to fly through Lima to get somewhere else, just spend that time at the airport. There are plenty of shops and restaurants at the airport where you can easily spend hours. Although you may have a perfectly good experience, you just never know and it’s not worth risking it in the city. My post on Lima is here.

IMG_2249
Machu Picchu

Finally, the food all over Peru exceeded my expectations as far as taste and presentation. Who knew Peru was such a foodie country? Everywhere we went, the food was exceptional and beautifully presented. Try a Maracuyá Sour, which is made with passion fruit and is a delicious variation on the pisco sour. Other Peruvian foods I really enjoyed are ceviche, Lomo Saltado (stir-fried beef), Aji de Gallina (creamy chicken), Causa Limeña (potato casserole), and Pollo a la Brasa (roasted chicken).

Have you been to Peru? If so, where did you go and what was your experience like?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

Cusco, Peru- Things to Do and Places to Eat Plus a Day-Trip to Famous Rainbow Mountain

Many people go through Cusco on their way to Machu Picchu. My family and I were in Cusco for 3 days/3 nights before our trek to Machu Picchu (which deserves separate entries that I’ll post later) to help acclimatize to the high elevation and for another 2 days/2 nights after Machu Picchu before we flew to Arequipa. My immediate reaction when we were flying into Cusco was surprise at how much bigger it was than I thought it would be. There are just over 400,000 people in this city that sits at 11,152 feet above sea level.

On our first day in Cusco, my husband wasn’t adjusting well to the elevation, but he also had stopped drinking coffee cold-turkey so who knows how much of his reaction was to caffeine withdrawals. We just walked around the city and took in the sights before he asked to go back to our room to rest, where he did so for several hours then woke up feeling much better. My daughter and I both had headaches that first day but they were manageable and we adjusted pretty quickly to the elevation.

20190518_123214
Plaza de Armas in Cusco

We ventured out on our second day in Cusco and saw a parade going on at Plaza de Armas so we watched some of that (we had also seen a parade the evening before while we were at dinner). We did some shopping at the many markets and took a ton of photos. I found Cusco to be a beautiful city full of friendly people and on more than one occasion the locals started conversations with us (completely in Spanish). They weren’t trying to sell us things either, but they were being genuinely friendly.

On our third day in Cusco we were feeling pretty adventurous and decided to walk to Sacsayhuaman and the nearby Statue of Christ. The Statue of Christ is large but don’t expect it to be on par with Christ the Redeemer in Rio. However, the views of Cusco are amazing from here and worth going just for that. It’s about a 10-minute walk to Sacsayhuaman from the Statue of Christ, which is the real reason to come to this part of Cusco. These ruins are impressive and you can spend hours walking around and exploring. We walked here from the main section of Cusco, up what felt like a million stairs straight up through various neighborhoods. On the way back we smartly took a taxi which was worth every Sol.

20190519_143314
Sacsayhuaman ruins in Cusco

The evening of our third night in Cusco, we met with Alpaca Expeditions where we paid the remainder due for our trek to Machu Picchu, met with the family of four that would be joining us, met our guide, received instructions for the next day, and received the duffel bag that would remain with us for the trek although carried by porters during the day. We were all looking forward to the trek and ultimately to seeing Machu Picchu.

After we returned to Cusco from our Lares Trek to Machu Picchu, we went to hike the famous Rainbow Mountain, or locally known as Montaña de Siete Colores (aka Vinicunca). This was the one specific thing my daughter requested (insisted) we do in Cusco, although I was a bit skeptical after reading some of the reviews and blog posts about it. We booked our tour locally rather than online from the US and saved a ton of money by doing that; however, we didn’t do much research and just randomly chose a tour company, which maybe wasn’t the best idea (our so-called English-speaking guide barely spoke English but luckily we spoke enough Spanish to be fine).

Rainbow Mountain, while definitely worth doing, wasn’t even the best part of the day, in my opinion, but I’ll back up before I go there. We had yet another early morning wake-up (a consistent theme for us in Peru) in order to be picked up by the driver at 4:30 am and after driving around for another hour to pick up the other people (so much for a “guaranteed” small group) we finally began the drive to Rainbow Mountain.

After an hour and a half we stopped for “breakfast” at a roadside restaurant that didn’t have heat where they sat us (and was freezing at the early morning hour) and we had what amounted to about a half an egg, some bread with jam, and tea. Good thing our hotel packed a breakfast for us to take with us when we left that morning! We drove another hour and a half and reached Rainbow Mountain. We were given a wooden pole (better than nothing but by no means a walking pole) by our guide and were told to be sure to be back at the van in four hours at 1 pm. There was no commentary about the area, no information given, nothing other than I’ll see you later!

20190524_105413-PANO
Rainbow Mountain

I’ll tell you something about Rainbow Mountain you may already suspect- it’s extremely crowded. The majority of the walk there was pretty easy although it was at 17,060 feet at the peak (starting altitude is 14,189 feet), that is, until the final 400 meters, where it went straight up and I was huffing and puffing to get my breath. One of the women from our group wasn’t acclimated to the elevation and was having a really difficult time before she even reached the climax of the climb. There are horses there you can pay to take you up the mountain to the base of the final steep point, however, and many people were taking part in that.

We chose to pay the extra admission fee to Red Valley, which is adjacent to Rainbow Mountain, and I liked that even more than Rainbow Mountain. When you’re walking through Red Valley, you can see all of the colors of the earth one at a time as you walk along, including black, white, red, brown, green, white, and purple. It may sound easy to hike back down the mountain, but I actually found that part even more difficult than going up. You pretty much slide down the mountainside, trying not to fall (although many people around me fell multiple times) while you “walk” down loose rocks and/or sand. On the way back to Cusco, we stopped at the same place where we stopped for breakfast for lunch that consisted of mediocre soup, baked chicken on skewers, salad, bread, red jello (really?), and some vegetables. Our guide also gave us a very brief talk about Rainbow Mountain that didn’t contain any information I didn’t already know.

On our final day in Cusco we discovered what I wish we had known about for the first part of our time in Cusco:  Avenida el Sol. This part of Cusco had a very different feel from the rest of the city to me. It felt more modern, cleaner, with more locals and less tourists. In addition to the shops, restaurants, cafes, and hotels, there is a nice mural and a large market where you can buy local items (sweaters and other clothing, jewelry, artwork, etc.). Maybe the best part is there were no baby alpacas on leashes held captive all day by women sitting around who want you to take their picture for a fee (absolutely horrible and illegal although it still happens).

20190525_121036-EFFECTS
Some cool artwork on Avenida el Sol in Cusco

A note about the temperature in Cusco in relation to hotels and hostels. Cusco is quite chilly at night and in the mornings so if you go be sure to dress in layers. I wore a light down jacket and gloves at night and early mornings when we were out and was comfortable but would have been cold in anything less. The hotels and hostels also often don’t have heating on par with what you’d find in the United States. I found our hotel room, which was the basement of the building to be downright freezing and the space heater they gave us was useless. Although our accommodation had two-bedrooms, two bathrooms with kitchen and sitting area for only $60/night, I “down-graded” us to a one-room, one-bathroom accommodation for $55/night that was higher up in the building in hopes that it would be warmer for our return stay after our trek to Machu Picchu. It was warmer but still not what I would consider warm, just tolerable. It’s not just me, either, I read review after review of multiple hotels where people said their room was too cold.

Some of our favorite restaurants in Cusco include La Bodega 138 (get the wood-fired pizza), Cafe Balkon Azul (phenomenal service and food), El Paisa (great seafood, huge portions, and good drinks), and Deli Monasterio. Nuna Raymi was good but the server was too pushy with the drinks, appetizers, and desserts and it was very loud when we were there (I realize this isn’t always going to be the case). View House Restobar has amazing views of the city but the service is notoriously horrible if you’re going for food (I heard nearby Limbus Restobar is great but they were closed when we went there).

If you want to book a trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu, I highly recommend going with Alpaca Expeditions. There are literally hundreds of options but I found Alpaca to far exceed my expectations, which were set pretty high.

Have you been to Cusco, Peru? If so, what did you think of the city and its people? Were you as surprised as I was to see how big of a city it is?

Happy travels!

Donna