Cusco > Puno > Lima. This trip was by far the most stressful, toughest, and yet most rewarding trip I’ve ever been on. Here are some tips & highlights:
- You usually need to fly into Lima before flying into Cusco. I’d recommend one of two options. If you’re pre-booking your flights I’d suggest choosing a REALLY LONG layover to give you more than enough time to make your connecting flight because the Lima airport can get pretty hectic and LAN (airline) is known to have delays/cancelled flights. The other option is to book a flight to Cusco right when you get into Lima.
- Altitude sickness sucks. When people tell you to take it easy when you get into Cusco, LISTEN TO THEM. Taking it easy literally means doing nothing. A simple stroll to the main square or to a nearby cafe for food is probably the most I’d recommend you doing on your first day. We were originally supposed to have 3 days pre-hike, but because of flight delays & issues we only ended up spending 2 days in Cusco before the hike. And we were struck with altitude sickness for the majority of those 2 days, so it didn’t leave us THAT much time to really enjoy Cusco.
- Thinking about hiking the Inca Trail? Which tour company should you choose? There are many to choose from (Llama Path & Peru Treks are two good ones) but we opted for the 4 day Classic Inca Trail hike with Sun Gate Tours. We lucked out with one of the best Inca Trail guides ever. His name is Cesar. If you’ve done the hike and got him as a guide, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
- Depending on your tour company, they recommend for you to bring extra sols with you on the hike for emergency purposes. You’re probably thinking, “Okay what if nothing happens to me? I’m going to end up with lots of extra money!” The extra emergency money can also be used to pay tips for the guide, porters/cooks. Depending on your tour company and how many people are on your group you may need to pay more or less. But I highly recommend bringing lots of SMALL bills with you to make this process easier. (Plus this is also useful if you want to purchase water or Gatorade or snacks along the way on the hike)
- A poncho IS useful. If it rains, it keeps your pack dry as you hike. And you can chuck it out after the hike.
- You’ll be sweating A LOT. Wet wipes saved my life.
- Bring the bug spray. Although they only came out in the evening.
- Bring sunscreen. And make sure you put sunscreen on the back of your ears because that area can get sunburned as well!
- Thinking about going up Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu? Do it! It’s worth it! A few important suggestions:
- Don’t bring your backpack! There is an area near the buses & washrooms at Machu Picchu where you can pay to safely store your backpacks. The only thing you need with you is your passport, camera & water. If you have a small lightweight, non bulky backpack that you can share with someone, sure. But definitely pack light! VERY LIGHT.
- Leave plenty of time for everything. Get the later admission time slot for Huayna Picchu so you can have an adequate amount of time to explore Machu Picchu. And make sure your train departure time at Aguas Calientes is also later in the afternoon so you can have a bit more time to soak in the views on top of Huayna Picchu & also time to poke around Aguas Calientes itself before heading back to Cusco.
- Good places to eat in Cusco: Jack’s Cafe, amazing breakfast/brunch/lunch spot. Limo Restaurant, tried the Cuy – Guinea Pig (tastes like really lean fusion of chicken & duck) and Ceviche here. Pretty good! Inka Grill, tried Alpaca! Tastes like pork.
- Always bargain when you want to buy something. And be careful when choosing your alpaca sweater. Go to an expensive (touristy) store to familiarize yourself with what a real alpaca sweater feels like. And also to get an idea of how much they can cost. I found this video helpful.
- Getting bus tickets from Cusco to Puno can be pretty hectic as well. Even if your hostel sells you pre-booked bus tickets, it is really only a voucher. You still need to fight your way through a non existent line up at the bus company counter inside the Cusco bus station to obtain an actual bus ticket, then line up at another line to pay some kind of government tax, then get your bus ticket validated, then frantically find the correct bus to hop on to!
- Honestly, there really isn’t much to see or do in Puno. If you want to check out Lake Titicaca and the floating islands, I’d recommend taking an overnight bus into Puno, do the half day/full day/over night boat tours, then get out of Puno and head towards your next destination. We opted for a half day tour of Lake Titicaca & Uros Island and were very happy with that option.
- Good places to eat in Puno? Unfortunately, I didn’t find any good place to eat in Puno. There were many pizzerias in Puno, but ask to make sure they will actually be serving pizza!
- Good places to eat in Lima: La Lucha, amazing sandwiches/burgers/fresh fruit juices. We loved it so much, we ate here twice. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to try any seafood in Lima but I’ve only heard good things about the seafood (esp. ceviche) in Lima!
- Inca Cola tastes like cream soda. It just looks like pee.
Would I go back to Puno again and see Lake Titicaca and the floating islands again? Probably not. It felt like it really was just a once in a lifetime experience. Not twice. Would I go back to Lima again? Yes, to try the seafood. But only if I had more time, and if I were going with someone who spoke Spanish or someone more familiar with the city. Would I go back to Cusco again? Possibly. I didn’t get a chance to check out the nearby town of Pisac. I hear their Sunday markets are amazing. Would I hike the Inca Trail again? I don’t know. Maybe with a better camera (I didn’t bring my DSLR). It was definitely an incredible experience. I would go to Machu Picchu again via the train, but to hike it again? It would probably take A LOT of convincing!