The second half of my journey to South America. Follow me as I climb Machu Picchu and cross the border to Bolivia!
Where I left off: Leaving Ollantaytambo and taking PeruRail to Aguas Calientes.
In case you missed it, read the first half of this journey here
DAY 6. Tuesday, July 19– After 5 hours of sleep, I woke up to my alarm at 3:30 a.m., checked out of the hostel, grabbing a quick breakfast of bread, jam, and juice and hit the road. Literally. I was half asleep, just following the mass crowds until I realized I’m an idiot and they’re on the road to Machu Picchu to climb it and I am taking the bus.
For a second, I debated whether I should just continue on (since I’d already walked for almost a good 10 minutes) and hike up to the entrance instead, but I had already purchased my bus tickets, and I was unsure of how I’d feel hiking so much (especially ever since I got my pacemaker) so I decided to save my energy and legs for the top.
Therefore, by the time I turned back around, I didn’t get in line for the buses until 4:45 am. At this point, there was already a massive line, of course. Finally, around 6 a.m., we reached the entrance to Machu Picchu.
I took the advice of some friends I had made and went to the left upon entering the site. I wanted to get to Sun Gate and reach the top of the mountain first, then make my way down. It was tough, as the temperature was slowly climbing. Most all parts didn’t have railing of any sort. The drop off was steep, and it was stones the whole way. Some slabs were made into steps. I reached the top of Machu Picchu and saw the sun start to come over the mountain.
Being able to witness it spread over the ruins like butter on toast was so neat. Got some great pictures and followed a tour for a bit, which was great since we switched on and off taking photos for each other. I went from the top, to Sun Gate, to more of the ruins- Inca bridge, Temple of the Sun, Temple of Condor, Main Square, etc. Although there was plenty to see, I still finished by 9:30 a.m. I had a granola bar, crackers, and some water and rested, soaking up the sun. I couldn’t believe I was here. These 700+ terraces, these mountain views, this peaceful and sacred feeling…
I decided in the end to walk down. I had the time to kill and was interested in seeing the hiking trail. Plus it was much easier going down than it would be coming up. My knees did hurt though because the gaps between the steps were uneven and quite large. It’s a lot of walking. It took me maybe 45 min. Was a nice walk for a change instead of taking the bus, even though I already paid for it. I felt, in some way, this was being respectful of the people. Ideally, I’d have loved to come in on the Inca trail, but seeing as I had only 9 days total in the country, that wasn’t an option as it takes at least four days.
Once I reached the bottom, I decided to walk further through Aguas Calientes. It’s certainly a small tourist town, but I hadn’t seen much of it at all, so decided to walk to the hot springs and into the main plaza. Stopped at one of the restaurants on the same street as my hostel, and had papa rellena. It’s pictured below- basically a baked potato dough with meat and vegetables and the like inside, then deep fried, served with salsa criolla. I splurged and got chocolate cake for dessert. I mean, after all that hiking, you need to treat yourself.
Warning: Walking down the street, you’ll get so many servers that will try to attract you and lure you into going to their restaurant. It’s just how it is, which is fine, but a word of advice- negotiate before taking a seat. Make sure you tell the server, you do not agree to pay the local service tax. This “consumo” tax can appear on your bill (especially in restaurants near/close to Machu Picchu) and it really does not exist. It’s charged to foreigners. Therefore, communicate with the server beforehand that you do not agree to pay the extra tax, which can be 20%!
After my meal, I returned to the hostel, grabbed my pack, charged my phone, and relaxed until my train came. Think I need to take an allergy pill because my nose is runny and I’ve been sneezing. My knees/legs were also shaking earlier from the hike. On the train, I was seated next to a kind hearted man who lived in Spain. (Hi, Maciek!) We both enjoyed an Inca Kola- a soda pop that tastes and smells like bubblegum and is bright yellow in color. Throughout the ride back to Cusco, we spoke in depth about our countries, writing, languages and love, traveling, things we knew of the world. It ended up coming up in conversation that I was a bit nervous to arrive in Cusco, since our train was arriving to Poroy Station at almost 9 p.m., when it would be dark, and I’d have to take a taxi to the center of the city. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous to take one again, after what happened to me before. I ended up confessing this to Maciek, who was traveling with a group, and he said he’d try to see if I could come on the bus with them.
It worked out! To this day, I am so grateful for his kindness. The drive in the bus was long, through hills, and it was so cold and dark out. I couldn’t imagine going alone…or walking! I seriously could’ve cried I was so thankful. I can’t imagine the alternative. They didn’t even make me pay. Once in the center of town, I walked a short distance to my hostel from their hotel. It was past Plaza de Armas, which was incredible lit up! And I finally saw a better part of Cusco. The walk was all uphill on narrow cobblestone streets. There were stores everywhere! And lots of people still out and about. Once inside the hostel, I fell fast asleep with my jacket and boots on, I was that cold and exhausted.
Notice anything in this picture? Up on the hill? Remember it- we’ll get to that.
DAY 7. Wednesday, July 20- That sleep was much needed. I didn’t get out of bed until 8 a.m., had lemon sugar crepe for breakfast, and planned my day. The hostel I stayed at was also a creperia, lucky me 🙂
One of the three showers had hot water, and I took full advantage. Then I cleaned up, repacked again, braided my hair, and headed out. I walked to Saksaywaman, the ruin above Cusco. It was huge and spread out.
He’s bigger than she is!
Ended up walking down to take a picture with some alpacas and met a guy, Alejandro, from Houston.
We ended up walking to see Cristo Blanco together. (Remember the white spot on the hill in that last picture? That was this statue!) From there, we headed back into town to the Plaza de Armas and the San Pedro market. We also had lunch together- sampling one of Peru’s most famous dishes. Yep, you guessed it- guinea pig! Cuy, as it is called, is served in the most unappetizing way (see below). However, Alejandro ordered only half, and it came out looking like harmless chicken wings. I was glad I tried it, but can probably say that I won’t be rushing back to eat it again anytime soon. But I tried chicha morada, a drink made from purple corn, and I liked it a lot!
Alejandro bought chocolates for his family and I got coca candy to help with the altitude. Although I had yet to get sick , the next stop on my trip was to Lake Titicaca, which was at a higher elevation than Cusco. Alejandro and I said our goodbyes and I returned to the hostel to wait for my taxi, which would take me to Peru Hop, so I could begin my journey from Cusco to Copacabana, Bolivia!
The mural on this wall is an illustration of the city’s history. So amazing!
DAY 8. Thursday, July 21– I safely got on the bus after 10 p.m. and settled into sleep. We would be arriving in Puno at 5 a.m. I met two girls from the States but they’re staying in Puno for a night, where I’m continuing on to Copacabana. When we got here, we had breakfast at this small place-scrambled eggs, some bread and jam and juice.
Then we went to the boat to do the tour of the floating islands. The sunrise was incredible. We took the boat out, it was SO cold. Stopped at one of the islands, there’s 90 of them and over 2,000 inhabitants. It was weird walking on the reeds, kind of spongy. We saw the inside of a house, which contained only one bed and had enough room for just six of us to pile into. The woman explained that’s where her husband, baby, and her sleep. I couldn’t imagine- it was so tiny! They cook on a concrete slab (otherwise, the island would catch fire). The islands are anchored down. When we first arrived, they demonstrated how the islands were made. Pretty incredible, and I’m still not sure I completely understand. We took a ride in a gondola across the lake for five soles. It was freezing. Very neat to see though. We are now back on the bus, waiting to leave to cross the border from Peru to Bolivia.
Walking to the boat.
A model of the island and everything on it.
6pm update- sitting in a restaurant waiting for food for the first time today since breakfast at 5 am. I had a package of crackers, but that’s it! Finally crossed the border, the guides helped me because I was the only American and the process is much more complicated.
If you’re an American citizen, you DO need a visa to get into the country. Also, the cost is $160, since that is what it would cost for a Bolivian to get into America, it’s reciprocated.
Obviously it would have been ideal to get a visa beforehand, but as I booked this trip a week before I left, there was no way I could have sent in my passport and had it back in time. So, I got it at the border.
Here’s what was required:
-$160 cash (no ink marks or tears on the bills)
-a valid passport
-two copies of your passport
-signed application form
-bank account statement
-full color photo
-itinerary while in Bolivia
-proof of exit out of country (airfare receipt, train ticket, etc.)
I had done a lot of research on this, as they’re very strict, and made multiple copies of each item. I had also got my yellow fever vaccine, although it is no longer a requirement, but recommended.
The guide on the bus basically checked all my documents twice and then took me to the front of the long line of people waiting. He said, “This is your window. Sit and wait to be called.” All in all, it was painless. I was worried about the dollar bills… I rarely carry cash on me, so I didn’t take the $160 out until right when I left Cusco, but almost every single bill had an ink mark on it! Luckily, it turned out okay and the bills were accepted. Then we got back on the bus, it was so hot. Pulled up to Copacabana and I swear I’m the only one that’s staying here, everyone else is moving on to La Paz. I also asked the guide where Hostel Sonia was and he said it was a 10 min walk uphill. So I got off the bus and started hiking up the hill. I couldn’t find it to save my life and kept backtracking. Even after asking people. I finally took the road behind the church and found it. The sun was scorching, and my back ached from the weight of my pack. I was also starving, but didn’t have time to eat anything because I needed to be at the white anchor meeting point to leave for Isla del Sol at 2:15 pm. Got my room, put my bag down and basically ran back out. Got on the boat, sat up top and talked to some others. It was freezing. In my haste, plus being hot and sweaty and late, I didn’t bring a jacket. Isla del Sol was pretty. We hiked up past the temple and then to the top, then down the side through the town. Seeing the snow-capped Andes in the distance was unbelievable. After returning to Copacabana, I inhaled a pizza in a nearby restaurant. I came back to the hostel and facetimed with JJ, buried under all the blankets I had.
Made it to Bolivia!
DAY 9. Friday, July 22– Can’t believe it’s Friday! I woke up at 7ish but didn’t have breakfast until about 8:45. I am back in my room, showering, and repacking my bag. I have started to form a blister on my right foot, the third toe in. It hurts so bad. Today, I plan on just walking around and exploring until I catch my bus at 5 pm. I left the hostel and walked around the church square a bit, then down the road to the sparking blue water, cutting across and walking all along the beach.
Basilica of Our Lady of Copacabana.
The colorful streets of Copacabana.
Coca candy is surprisingly good, and also a lifesaver.
Island of the Sun, Island of the Moon.
There were tents, trampolines, kids playing games and learning to ride bikes, and of course, several dogs. I sat next to a tree and had some coca candy. The candy is really good! I want to take some back to the States but I also don’t want to get arrested or fined or detained at the border. I’m trying to make it back to the States without any issue. Soooo, yeah. After my walk along the gorgeous lake, I stopped at a restaurant to refuel. I got the lunch menu- quinoa soup, they also served bread with a spicy salsa. I ordered a pineapple juice drink. Then the main course was chicken, with rice and some type of carrot and potato casserole. It was all delicious! Dessert was sliced bananas in a cup with chocolate syrup over it. I charged my phone and took off my socks and boots, it felt SO good to get out of them. I could feel my skin getting hot in the bright sun.
Some much needed R&R.
After, I went to the hostel and grabbed my backpack, then hopped back on the bus. Left Bolivia, then had to cross back into Peru. No issues with either borders.
Back in Peru!
We stop in Puno for dinner, then get in to Cusco at 6 AM. I can’t believe that I’ll leave for the States in just two days. It’s unreal to me that I’ve been here. That I AM here. I still don’t think it has sunk in yet.
DAY 10. Saturday, July 23– Last night was rough. We went to a pizza place for dinner (put in our orders on the bus) and she read mine wrong so ordered me carbonara pasta instead. I ate it because it would take too much time to remake, plus I’m not a picky eater at all and didn’t mind. But for some reason, it didn’t make me feel good. Then, I wanted to sleep but couldn’t get comfortable, even though this bus was even bigger and had foot rests. Then someone threw up on the back of the bus and we had to stop. It was awful. Got in around 5:30 AM, I was the last to be dropped off in the taxi, and we hit road blocks (police by the plaza and a car down the other way) so I didn’t get in until after 6:30. And they don’t have a room ready for me, so I’m currently sitting out in the main lobby where it’s 33 degrees. Yes, you read that right. My feet hurt from my boots.
I finally went to the reception area again around 9:15 am and was told that the room now wouldn’t be available until 11 am. So I put my backpack in storage, and headed up to the ruins again to see if I could find the other two I missed. I did find them….after what seemed like forever! The first one, Qenqo (or Q’inqu) is believed to be where sacrifices and mummification took place. On the other side of the ruin, at the exit, I asked the girl and she said it’s possible to walk to the next. So I headed up, even though another had instructed me to take the bus. But why pay when I can walk, right? Boy was I in for a surprise. The girl had told me it was easy, possible, and about 10 minutes. I don’t know how long it took me, but it was not ten minutes. All uphill, around curves and bends. It was rough, and I kept thinking that I was getting closer only to look at Google maps and realize how long I still had. I saw a sign that said it was 5 more kilometers. 3 miles more! After already hiking for almost an hour. I had already come that far…I might as well continue. Besides, what else did I have to do today? So I finally made it to the next ruins- Puca Pucara and Tambomachay. After exploring, I took the city bus down and got off by where Qenqo was and walked back to the hostel from there. I checked in, plugged in my phone, kicked off my boots and drifted in and out of sleep. Anyway, I decided around 2 pm (after an hour here) to head back out. I went to the Peru Hop office and thanked them. The guide from yesterday, Alex, was there, and they gave me a free shirt and we chatted for a while. And then I separated from them and went to the market, got a juice drink (it definitely is worth the hype- so much better in the market than anywhere else!) Then I stumbled upon a restaurant called Norton’s Pub where you could sit outside in the sun and look over the plaza. I made friends from Argentina and they were talking to me for a while about Cusco and travel and etc and I helped them out with what I could. Then, I gave in to the tourist trap of taking a picture with a Quechua woman and baby lamb. Checked in for my flights, and getting as much sleep as I can before my long day of travel tomorrow!
Cool spot in Qenqo.
Finally made it to Puca Pucara!
The one time in my life I felt tall. And how cute are these little guys!
DAY 11. Sunday, July 24– Another thing about Cusco- they love their fireworks! Managed to get decent sleep, got up this morning, had breakfast, and finalized packing. Starting to not feel good so had some coca tea and coca candy. After a quick taxi ride to the extremely small airport, and an easy flight from Cusco to Lima, I got my pack when I landed about 2:30 pm and went to find the Spirit counter, apparently it doesn’t open until 8 pm. My flight is at 10 pm. And the wonderful thing *sarcasm* about the Lima airport is that it only offers free wifi for ten minutes. Needless to say, I couldn’t be without it for my 8 hour wait.
I was sitting here and a Peruvian woman came over asking for help. At first I thought she was asking for money or something. It turns out it was her English homework and she was trying to translate. So I agreed and helped her. She was very sweet, had an 11 year old that loved English and was learning, she was a teacher and needed to improve her English to help her students. At the end, she asked how much she owed me. I assured her it was nothing. We talked more of Peru, the English language, and life. She gave me her email and contact info, and a kiss on the cheek and a hug. She was so nice and so sweet! Basically told me if I came back to Peru, to look her up and she’d help me. It really just goes to show how amazing the world can be when you put your phone down and make a real connection.
Got through security, inhaled Chinese food, and charged my phone. Can’t believe I’m headed home.
And 12 hours later, look who I see waiting for me at the airport!
Reunited with my wonderful parents!
It’s surreal to me that this adventure is over, and even more so that it even happened in the first place! I’m grateful for the friends and memories I made along the way, the opportunity to see seven cities and two countries, and for a safe return home. I hope you enjoyed following along with me!