…is entirely possible!
(This post is written as part one of my three-episode #PeruMarathonSeries🇵🇪 in the spirit of Peru’s 99th independence day on the upcoming July 28th.)
It has also been sitting in my draft posts ever since I came back from the trip in September 2017, and I just never really had the chance to finish it. But now that Peru will be celebrating its 99th independence day next week, I thought what would be a better occasion to wrap up the post and publish it?
Of course with the pandemic and quarantine mode still being around, it may not be the perfect timing to plan another trip. But I hope at least this post might help ignite the wanderlust inside us all to be hopeful for our next travel plans – whenever it may be. Also, if you ever plan to visit Peru, you can always bookmark this post so you know what to prepare once we’re allowed to roam around the globe again!
The round-trip flight ticket from your home country to LIM is unfortunately not included in the USD 650 budget. For me, I got lucky because it only costs me about USD 350 (~CAD 500) at that time from Calgary to Lima, when it should normally cost twice at the very least. But for everything else including the flights to and from Cusco which is the main hub for Peruvian most famous world-class tourist destinations, it’s totally feasible because this was exactly what I was doing!
And it was hassle-free as well. I did not live the backpacking kind of life since I literally brought along a suitcase, but I still managed to pull an affordable, non-fancy, yet wholesome vacation. And it was still very much comfortable. It basically just felt like my casual daily life but full of new experiences about Inca ruins, Spanish-speaking locals, llamas, and many other awesome stuff to observe and explore.
So, here goes the breakdown of my itineraries.
Day 1: Arrival in CUZ (transferred from LIM)
I left Lima, the capital of Peru, as my last destination since I was thinking to do all the outdoorsy and adventurous parts first and then enjoy the laid-back, slow living kind of life at the beaches of Lima to relax and unwind by the end of the trip. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t manage to go to the beach because my flight changed its departure time after I booked them, so unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go to the beach.) While it made sense, it might not be a very good idea to some of you because if you head directly to Cusco, you might suffer what is called by acute mountain sickness (AMS) due to the altitude of Cusco city.
Cusco itself is one heaven of a historical and touristy city in Peru. It is basically the city hub if you want to visit Machu Picchu, or many world-famous Inca ruins such as Sacred Valley. Hence, it is impossible to leave this heaven out of your itineraries. But with the altitude being around 3,400 masl, it is not uncommon for tourists to experience dizziness, nausea, stomachache, short breath, and many other symptoms of the sickness. Lucky for me, I didn’t seem to suffer any of these issues considerably even though I did feel that I got exhausted much faster than I normally did when I was walking around the city.
However again, lucky for us, one of the Peruvian traditional drinks which is the coca tea would be a great help to cure these symptoms. Another Peruvian tea, which is the muna tea, would work as well and most of the accommodations in Cusco would normally serve them for free at the front desk for all guests.
Upon your arrival, it’s a good idea to ask your accommodation to provide these for you. Muna tea would be a better option if you arrive in the evening because it helped you to sleep well too. I myself arrived at night so there wasn’t much to do except having dinner before heading to bed.
Luckily, there are many great and affordable restaurants in Cusco that serves local menus and opens late. But if you feel that you’re too tired after super long flights from the other side of the world hence you’re not up for trying new dishes that may not always agree with your tastebuds just yet, say no more. Cusco is blessed with many comfort food restaurants that offer classic American, Asian, and European diner, with vegetarian and vegan options as well. Trip Advisor would be the best source to help you find the cheapest restaurants, or you could just head out, browse around, and read the menu in front of every restaurant before deciding where to dine in.
Pro tip: Have your hostels arranged a taxi pickup for you from the airport. This is especially useful when you’re not a fluent Spanish speaker because you clearly don’t want to be tricked into an insanely expensive fare when you normally could pay for just S/20 at most. Your accommodation usually would offer you one in advance, but if they don’t, just email them to let them know that you would like to inquire about a pickup.
Cost of the round-trip flight from LIM to CUZ: $80, could be reportedly as low as $30
Cost of taxi from the airport to your accommodation: S/20 or $6, could be cheaper
Cost of staying at a shared one-gender hostel dorm in Cusco for the upcoming 4 nights (breakfast included): $40. I stayed in Hostal Mallqui. Free if you do Couchsurfing.
Cost of dinner: $6, could be cheaper
Day 2: Free Walking Tour and City Tour
Now that you’ve had some rest, it’s time to explore around! The green-vest-wearing guys from Free Walking Tour offers a free walking tour (obviously, duh) every morning at 10:30 AM starting at Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is basically the city centre, and in all Peruvian cities from the capital city to the smallest towns, they always have this type of city centre with a park for people to gather around, a cathedral for people to pray, and a governmental building. What’s neat from Cusco’s Plaza De Armas is that this spot offers a really nice view of the vibrant part of Cusco with the background of highlands that have a gigantic cross and Jesus’ sculpture on top of them, just like in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro.
The Free Walking Tour is actually a pretty great opportunity to really be immersed with locals and also fellow tourists who share the same aspiration of learning about new culture and everything Peruvians. However, walking around the city by yourself is also definitely another good way to connect with your surroundings.
If you’re a solo traveller, grab your selfie stick or tripod so you could take pictures with the ladies wearing traditional Peruvian dresses who carry baby llamas (don’t forget to pay for only S/1!). Practice Spanish with locals, buy souvenirs from street vendors (I always try to buy more from them rather than the bigger stores to support locals), or go to random bakeries and buy those S/1 Peruvian pastels with colourful sprinkles on top. Be creative with your walking trip!
And don’t forget to head to a local restaurant to eat your first Peruvian dish. Many restaurants offer a menu-of-the-day that includes soup, main course, and a drink which most often includes quinoa soup, Alpaca grill, and chicha morada, and they could be some perfect options for your first Peruvian lunch tasting.
Many of the city tours start around 1:15 PM but you need to book them in advance. The tour that was offered by my hostel costs me $13 excluding the entrance tickets, and it covers all the most important ruins around the city. I believe many of the tours could actually go as low as $10, but I’d rather pay for extra $3 just to save myself from the hassles of browsing around for other agencies.
I personally think that joining a guided tour is the best way for you to wander around, not only because you actually get to really learn new things since the guide will be explaining everything for you, but also because it’s unbelievably a lot cheaper and more comfortable than if you try to go by yourself. Their buses or minivans are clean and sturdy, the drivers do their jobs reasonably well, the guides spoke pretty clearly (with a bonus of some cute Spanish accents), and you will have a chance to strike up a conversation with fellow tourists from around the globe as well. You’ll get some free time during the trip, and for me, those times were more than sufficient for me to walk around, have a quality time with myself around the sites, while taking some photographs, all at my own pace.
With this city tour, normally you’ll have the opportunities to visit the Catedral del Cuzco, Qorikancha, Saqsaywaman, Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay. Separate tickets are required to enter Catedral del Cuzco and Qorikancha, and you’ll get a discount if you have the International Student Identity Card if you are a student, which you could buy online if you haven’t got one right now.
Saqsaywaman is the spot where you could get close to the giant cross and Jesus statue on top of the hills that are visible from Plaza De Armas, and also my favourite ruin in the city because you’ll also get to see the whole Cusco from the highest altitude in town. You could also take pictures with Peruvian native ladies wearing the traditional dress who brings along llamas and alpacas. Puca Pucara offers almost 360 degrees view of an amazing sunset in the highlands, while Tambomachay and Q’enqo both give mystical vibes as those sites used to be utilized for death rituals and sacrifice during the Inca times.
Cost of the city tour: $13, could be slightly cheaper
Cost of the entrance tickets: S/70 or $22 for the Boleto Turistico if you have the ISIC card, S/12.5 or $4 for the cathedral if you have the card as well, and S/8 or $3 for the Qorikancha with the card too.
Cost of lunch and dinner: $12, could be cheaper
Day 3: Moray and Maras Tour
Moray is an Inca site located in Maras, built as terraces that are mostly used for vegetation and plantation purpose back in the day. Their unique shapes and also the beautiful background of Andes mountain extending all the way from Cusco are definitely something you don’t want to miss out. Another site that you need to visit on this third day is Salineras de Maras, which is a salt mine not far from Moray. You might think that a salt mine doesn’t sound like something interesting to look at, let alone as a tourist destination, but once you get there you’ll see why this place is one of tourists’ most favourite. It’s just super beautiful, and again, the view of the mountain range in the background is just wonderful.
The tour that was offered by my hostel costs me $15. I believe that if you look around, you’ll likely to get some offer of only $10. The ticket to both are included in the Boleto Turistico that you already have from the trip from the previous day, so there will be no additional fees to this one. Normally, the trip begins in the morning and finish by noon so you’ll get to enjoy the lunch and dinner in Cusco.
Cost of the tour: $15, could be slightly cheaper
Cost of lunch and dinner: $12, could be cheaper
Day 4: South Valley Tour
What’s included in this tour is a visit to Tipon, Pikillacta, and Andahuaylillas. The first two are personally my favourite destinations of all ruins in the entire Cusco (after Machu Picchu for sure!), because the surrounding landscapes are insanely breathtaking and there’s just so much to explore in each site. Meanwhile, Andahuaylillas is a local community site where you could go to the local museum or church to learn more about the people’s history, culture, common myths, and much other interesting knowledge.
The tour that is again offered by my hostel costs me $15, and it uses the same Boleto Turistico. Just like the previous tour, normally this tour starts in the morning and you’ll be back in the city by afternoon so there’s much time to do lunch and dinner in Cusco.
Cost of the tour: $15, could be slightly cheaper
Cost of lunch and dinner: $12, could be cheaper
Day 5: Sacred Valley Tour and Departure to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu)
My hostel also offers a Sacred Valley tour which begins early in the morning and ends at the evening. I did not choose this option just because I wanted to add Awanakancha to the trip and I wanted to stay in the town of Ollantaytambo longer. And luckily, this Taxi Datum website offers very convenient taxi booking where you could opt for the tour from your hostel in Cusco to Ollantaytambo, with added stops such as Pisac Ruins, Pisac Market, Awanakancha, and even an animal sanctuary which I forget the name. So, it’s all set up! I chose this taxi tour, but if you don’t mind not going to Awanakancha, you could opt for the other tour and ask the driver to drop you off in Ollantaytambo.
Whichever types of transportation you eventually decide, normally this tour includes a visit to Pisac Ruins, Pisac Market, a stop at Urubamba to take a very beautiful picture of Sacred Valley, and then Ollantaytambo Ruins. In my case, I added Awanakancha which is a farm of many species of llamas and alpacas as well as a showcase of local community’s works such as weavings and many other art pieces handcrafted by local artisans. It isn’t a huge spot so you’re not going to feel like missing out if you decide to just skip this place. But since there is no entrance fee, if you do come, there’s no disadvantage as well.
Upon my arrival in Ollantaytambo, I left my stuff in a hostel room so that I could explore the city and take a shower before heading to the next town. Ollantaytambo has one major touristic site, and also many other beautiful ruins that I sadly did not have the chance to visit because I turned out getting so exhausted. I decided to just play with the llamas in the small farm across my hostel, and then headed back to my hostel before dark.
By evening, I had dinner near the station and proceeded to take the Inca Rail train departing to Aguas Calientes (where Machu Picchu is). The hostel’s receptionist’s husband booked me a local “taxi” which is more like a bajaj in Indonesia. The station was very close from the hostel so the fees were almost negligible that I didn’t remember to write it down. There are two train companies which provide transfer to Machu Picchu, Inca Rail and Peru Rail. I chose Inca Rail simply because their departure and arrival schedules fit my preferences better, but you can definitely compare for yourself.
I then spent the rest of the night in my new accommodation in the town of Aguas Calientes. After making sure that I had all the proper documents to go to Machu Picchu (the ticket and my passport) and met with my tour guides that I have booked online before to set up the time to meet in the next morning, it’s finally time to have proper sleep before the major adventure awaits: a visit to Machu Picchu!
Cost of the tour: $30 with guided tour, or $60 with private taxi via Awanakancha
Cost of a hostel in Ollantaytambo if you want to keep your stuff safe while out enjoying the city until your train’s departure: $10, could be slightly cheaper. I stayed in this Casa Quechua Hostel Camping. Free if you do Couchsurfing.
Cost of the train to Aguas Calientes: $68
Cost of lunch and dinner: $12, could be cheaper
Day 6: Machu Picchu
I spent the whole day at Machu Picchu, which I will elaborate more at a later post because it’s very important to really prepare so that you get to enjoy the best out of Machu Picchu. If you’re feeling sporty, you could hike up to the site for approximately one and a half up to two hours and walk down on your way back to town to waive the $24 bus fare. But I did not, simply because I wasn’t feeling like it. Besides, the entire view was just some tropical woodlands most of the time, and once you get to the Machu Picchu site you’ll get to see an even better landscape in panoramic view.
If you really want to learn about the history of the site, you should definitely book a guided tour. I personally booked one online, but I believe you could book one from any tour agency in Cusco as well. You could also hire a guide once you’re at the site, but the advantage of booking one beforehand is that they’ll meet you the night before to make sure you know everything essentials before starting the trip. And it should be so much cheaper as well than the ones on site.
Cost of two-nights stay at shared single-gender dorm (breakfast included): $25, could be cheaper. I stayed in this Casa Machu Picchu Hostel. Free if you do Couchsurfing.
Cost of the entrance ticket: $47 (basic, no hiking options to either Waynapicchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. But you still get access to The Sun Gate, The Inca Bridge, and every single ruin that you could see in the typical Machu Picchu picture.)
Cost of the round-trip bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu site: $24
Cost of the guide: $30, could possibly be slightly cheaper
Cost of the lunch and dinner: $12, could be slightly cheaper
Day 7: Lima
This was a long day as I kept changing transportation modes to get back to Lima. Early in the morning, I took the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo using Peru Rail, not the Inca Rail that I used to get to Aguas Calientes because of the scheduling reason, then continued by taking the taxi (even though I was originally planning to take the colectivo) to Cusco airport before flying to Lima. It’s actually most economic to use colectivo, which was a shared, cheap minibus that is almost like “angkot” in Indonesia, even though you’ll then have to take a connecting taxi to the airport.
In my case, I got very lucky because out of nowhere, I got a seat next to an Indonesian from San Diego on the train. To have stayed in Peru for six days and never even encountered a Malay or brown face, and suddenly sat next to a person from the same hometown in Indonesia as well… What are the odds, right? We then agreed to share a taxi from the train station to Cusco where at the end he paid for all the cost. Grateful!
Also, you don’t have to buy a round-trip flight ticket from LIM to CUZ or even your home country to LIM in advance if you prefer, since the Cusco local agencies would likely be able to find you a better deal. Your flight ticket back to LIM from CUZ could be as low as $30 while I got it for $80 because I bought it online in advance.
This was indeed my ultimate lucky day because in Lima, I stayed at a friend’s place (that I had never actually met in person before, lol) and his family was extremely nice to me. He went to the same university with me in the previous year as an exchange student, and we had a few mutual friends which introduced us to each other. His family paid for my lunch which was the best Peruvian dishes I tried, took me for a full-day and night trip to downtown Lima and paid for all the cost, and even paid for my haircut as well! (It’s super expensive to get a haircut in Canada so I had to wait until I actually travel to somewhere cheap to get a new haircut, and his Mom kindly arranged an appointment with a hairdresser for me and even paid for it!) I just can’t thank them enough for their kindness and sincerity. Thank you, Dilmer and family!
I personally would recommend staying in Lima for at least two nights because Lima is such a vibrant, spiritually-infused touristy city with so much to explore even though it might not particularly sound like such before you’re actually getting there. However, since I had to go back to university and thesis life, I was only able to spend one night there and I had to depart with a morning flight the next day. I got lucky though, because there was a religious festival occurring on the day I was there hence the city seemed so alive and I got to see Lima at its finest!
Cost of the train to Ollantaytambo: $68
Cost of the transportation from Ollantaytambo to Cusco: S/10 or $3 if using colectivo plus S/20 or $6 for the connecting taxi to the airport, S/80 or $25 if using taxi straight from the station to the airport, but free in my case
Cost of the stay in Lima: free if you do Couchsurfing
Cost of lunch and dinner: $30, could be cheaper or even free in my case
Additional costs to be aware of:
- Tip for your tour guides: $10
- Souvenirs: $10 for keychains, stickers, and postcards
- Snacks and food other than primary breakfast, lunch, and dinner: $10
- Urgent needs (for instance, I accidentally short-circuited my travel adapter hence needed to buy a new one, and then I left my tripod in the Machu Picchu office storage hence I needed a local staff to carry them all the way from up there to the town and I had to politely tip them. You never know, right?): $20
Total for me: USD 646! Remember that most of those things above could be cheaper if you have more time to browse around and use Couchsurfing and possibly book flights to Lima or even your home country from any local agents in Cusco. Even if you’re not that lucky to be on the same train with a person from your home country who paid your taxi fee like I was, who knows after striking up some conversation with other tourists and introducing yourself as a (broke) student like me would end up getting your taxi paid as well, lol.
But even if you don’t, rest assured that all that is written above should cover the average relatively cheap price to make the best out of your six days in Peru.
Until next post on my three-part #PeruMarathonSeries🇵🇪 this month!