The Princess Backpacker in Peru - Part 3

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Cusco, the Sun Festival, and the Inca Trail


Yep, so to keep this one short. . . well, as short as I get for this type of thing. Don’t blame me; I’m wordy. Loquacious even. Descriptive, one could say:

1. Cu-sco! Boom Baby!

Go around June/July. It is filled with heritage, surrounded by incredible ruins and has really great shopping for art and alpaca-y things. Hello, it’s a world heritage site!!! Yep, the whole, entire town.

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a. Check out the Sacred Valley. You can book tours from your hotel/hostel/AirB&B when there.

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b. If you go around this time (or any other), it is bloody freezing (or much colder than the rest of Peru), being very high in the mountains. Plan to buy alpaca gloves, hats, scarves from locals the first day. We had matching ones and looked cool beyond words!
c. If you need a distinctly European food change for a night (we just had to have pasta/pizza when we got back from the Inca Trail), go to La Cantina Vino Italiano.
The place is small, the food is superb and actually run by an Italian.
d. You best be eating some of the street food. It is verrry tasty.

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e. If you want to go finer dining one night, visit: Cicciolina. Worth the cost, great atmosphere.

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f. We did an Air B&B there, and it was fantastic - Homestay Carlos y Jackie. Remember though, most local houses don’t seem to have a concept of central heating.
g. Buy some decently priced art.

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2. Inti Raymi

(June 24th) – Is one of the more amazing things I’ve ever
been a part of. It is a festival for the winter solstice, one of the biggest in South America, and filled with a week-long celebration of color, parades, dancing, really drunk Peruvians from every tribe in the country (but the nicest people I’ve ever experienced when drinking), sharing food, and culminating in a big theatrical spectacular where “sacrifices” are made. You want to feel a part of something; this is where and when to be.

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a. Don’t you dare buy a seat to view the main Inti Raymi spectacle (unless you have children or have health problems). Hike up the mountain like a boss and sit with all the locals. Much more intimate. Bring sunscreen. Get a place at least an hour before.

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b. Don’t expect to sleep if you are staying remotely near the central plaza. Bring ear-plugs. Parties, dancing and fireworks go on till 4am the couple of nights before Inti Raymi.

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c. For more Peruvian dancing, and some ok food, head to: La Cusqueinita. Eat with locals and have a free show. You need to do this!

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3. The Inca Trail

Is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. If you have any desire to see things only a limited number of people in the world do, and have a bit of an adventure, this is your best bet. Get your groove on like an Incan priest. It was startlingly beautiful and a proper challenge.

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a. Beware: this does mean camping, or more like glamping, for 4 days.

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b. Not all companies are created equal. Go with LlamaPath. They are the best, and treat their guides and porters really well. With some of the other companies, we actually saw the porters hiking in sandals, with feet bleeding.

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c. This is not a cheap endeavor, and you have to book waaaayyyy in advance. They only allow a certain number of people on the trail at a time.
d. You will eat like kings, whether you feel like it or not. 3 courses for lunch and dinner. We had a trained chef in our guides, and the food was excellent.

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e. Stay in Cusco at least 3 days before the hike to acclimatize. Hello, altitude sickness! One of my best friends got really sick the first day in Cusco, and I got really sick (like vomiting, with trouble breathing) our most strenuous hike day. You NEED to buy altitude sickness pills from a pharmacy in Cusco, drink coca tea like mad, and chew the leaves. None of these are guarantees you won’t be affected, though it often only lasts a day. Many people had no problems at all. I hated them vehemently as I was making multiple offerings to the mountain gods. Yes, someone was kind enough to capture it on picture.

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f. You won’t shower for 4 days, so don’t expect this to be a romantic outing if you go with a partner. Plus, after 8-10 hrs of hiking you are too tired to move and fall asleep at like 8pm.

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g. This is all coming from a relatively inexperienced hiker, but decently fit, adventurous person. You need to train some before (i.e. walk lots of hills on the treadmill) if you are not a big hiker. It will be a lot more enjoyable.

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h. You will see things of incredible beauty. Machu Picchu was actually a bit of a let down to me after all we had seen with almost no one around. I felt like I had suddenly gotten to the Parthenon or Disneyland with 2,500 tourists pressing in around me.

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i. Get ready to be super bitchy to all the perfumed, wedge-wearing people at the MP holy site. When you have hiked to get there, you will look down on those who took the train.

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j. It is fine to take the train, and still an amazing thing to do. Just ignore the glares a certain set of smelly, worn out (we got up at 3am to see the sun rise over MP, dammit!) hikers.

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k. Feel free to clap at our monumental endeavor! I nearly cried when some people did. Alright, I did cry. In a Laura Croft, sexy, amazing hiker sort of way. Hopefully.
l. Shout out to Travel Fashion Girl. Amazing blog, great packing advice!
m. Fun fact: Most hikers take around 3 days to do the full hike, but the record, set by a local guide (one of our guides holds the 2nd best time!) is 3 hrs. 23 minutes. They run it.
n. You must have a group hiking name. Hello, like a requirement. Our group was known now and forever as the Sexy Llamas.

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All in all, do everything on this page. I can’t recommend it enough. I saw llama parents and their llama baby skipping around ruins in the middle of nowhere in the mountains, that I had worked my butt off (literally!) to get to. Life made.

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