23/09/2019

From Lima to Cuzco: a gradual ascent between ocean and desert

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Because a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a short video summary of our two weeks in Peru!

2 September 2019, 10:30 am: here we are! After a year of intense preparations, we are flying to the first stage of our world tour: Lima, the capital of Peru! It marks the beginning of a three-month journey in South America, during which we will travel through Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Brazil.

Practical information: getting around Peru

There are different ways to get around Peru:

The plane

If you are short of time, internal flights will allow you to move quickly between the three main cities of the country: Lima, Arequipa and Cuzco.

The most

With its 1.3 million square kilometres, Peru is twice the size of France. Add to this the mountainous terrain and variable road conditions, and this may seem the easiest option for visiting the main sites during a short stay

Minus

Beware of acclimatization! When you land in Cuzco, you find yourself at an altitude of 3,400 metres (2,300 metres for Arequipa)... Adaptation can be difficult and you may be confronted with altitude sickness, so it's best to plan a day without any activities to get used to it. On the other hand, the Peruvian landscapes are sublime: the road is an excellent way to discover them in all their diversity! Finally, the carbon footprint... But we won't teach you anything about that.

The car

Faster than the bus, it allows you to enjoy the landscapes while saving time. On the other hand, renting a car is not recommended in Peru... And we understand why!

  • First of all, a car rented in Peru must be returned to Peru: if you want to cross the Bolivian border for example, you will have to return your car in a big city near the border and finish by bus... Not necessarily very practical,
  • But above all: Peruvian roads are extremely dangerous for someone who doesn't know them! Apart from the main roads, the quality of the roads is very variable and the signposting is not always up to scratch... Not to mention the Peruvian driving style, which doesn't seem to obey any precise rules from the outside and the resulting traffic jams... We really don't recommend it!
The bus

For us, the ideal way to travel in Peru! If the journeys are rather long, the tourist companies propose to travel in comfortable conditions which allow you to appreciate serenely the landscapes and to optimize certain portions of the journeys by travelling at night. Many local companies also offer trips for much lower prices, but the comfort conditions are not the same!

So we chose to travel with Peru Hop, an Irish company that offers a hop-on / hop-off service: buses cross Peru at regular intervals, you take your first bus to the stop that suits you and then you decide when you want to take the next bus... Very good for a semi-customised trip! For 228 USD per person, we were able to travel from Lima to La Paz with stops in eight cities (see our itinerary below).

The most

The numerous stages in the route allow you to discover the variety of Peruvian landscapes, from the desert coasts to Lake Titicaca, passing through the jungle of Cuzco and the volcanoes of Arequipa...

All this in comfortable buses, in complete safety and with the teams always ready to help.

The ticket also includes various excursions along the route and provides discounts on others, as well as on some restaurants and accommodation. Trips from the hotels to the bus departure points are usually organised and included in the ticket price.

For night trips, double-decker buses are available: be sure to get on the lower deck early, the seats are much more comfortable and you'll have no trouble getting a good night's sleep (first come, first served)!

Finally, Peru Hop has created a bi-national company: if you wish to cross into Bolivia after your trip to Peru, a Bolivia Hop bus will be waiting for you at the border with a team that supervises the passage through customs to avoid unpleasant surprises... Very practical!

Minus

If you want to get off the beaten tourist track (which is not always easy in Peru), you will have to organise your own excursions. The excursions planned by Peru Hop are concentrated on the main tourist sites... But you can choose your own programme once you get off the bus!

Some useful information in a wheelchair:
 

Peru Hop buses are not accessible. They are classic buses, double-decker for the night trips and single-decker (so with several steps) for the day buses. We wanted to try it anyway!

It is certain that these buses would not be passable in an electric wheelchair, but in a manual wheelchair:

  • We are helped by all the bus escorts/drivers we have on the road, who are informed of our itinerary after our first boarding in Lima and carry Pierre to his seat at each stage, including for short stops (meals, views, visits...), without us even having to ask,
  • The chair is stored in the hold, disassembled, and treated with great care,
  • When the buses are double-decker, two places are systematically reserved for us on the first floor (with the comfortable seats) to simplify boarding... Great luxury!
Our itinerary

We wanted to discover the different landscapes of Peru but unfortunately had to choose our destinations, lacking time to do everything. So we skip the Amazon and concentrate on the southern part of the country, which already has a lot to offer.

Days 1 to 3: Lima
Day 4: Paracas
Day 5: Huacachina
Day 6: Nazca
Days 7 and 8: Arequipa and the Colca Canyon
Days 10 to 13: Cuzco and its surroundings (to be discovered in our next article)
Day 14: Lake Titicaca (to be discovered in our next article)

1st stage (3 days, 4 nights): Lima, city of contrasts

Born in 1535, Lima is an architectural and cultural patchwork full of history, marked by successive destructions / reconstructions (wars, earthquakes...). In the crowded streets of this capital city, Inca ruins, colonial houses, large modern avenues and narrow, colourful alleys rub shoulders.

We spend three days there, the time to recover from jet lag. In our opinion, two days are more than enough time to visit the city... Since we are in Peru, we find it difficult to go off the beaten track. This is particularly the case in Lima, where some areas are strongly discouraged to tourists (or even locals) for security reasons. The possibilities of visits are therefore concentrated on a few emblematic districts: the historical centre, Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro.

Practical information

How to get around?

The size of the city (over 2500 km2!) makes it difficult to get from one neighbourhood to another on foot. To get around, you can choose to take buses, collectivos (collective vans that drop you off wherever you want as long as your destination is on their itinerary), taxis (preferably official, anyone can be a taxi in Lima but some can take advantage of tourists in need of guidance)... Or private drivers! Whatever the means of transport, plan ahead: as in all the big cities of Peru, the traffic is infernal in Lima! You can spend two to three times more time than expected to make a journey depending on the time and the destination...

We opt for walking to visit San Isidro and Miraflores and hire a guide/driver to visit Centro and Barranco, further from our hotel. For 60 Soles per hour (about 16€; allow 3 hours for each district), Fernando shows us the city and its history in perfect English... An ideal contact if you spend a few days in Lima (Fernando Gonzalez : Mail - fergonzalesvotober815@gmail.com; Whatsapp - +51 999 750 144) !

Where to sleep?

Many accommodations are possible in the main districts of Lima, especially in Miraflores which is certainly the most lively... And the most famous when it comes to finding hotels for backpackers or tourists of all kinds.

We are staying at the Pullman San Isidro, an upmarket hotel with a mainly business clientele but which has all the assets to satisfy tourists on the move: a welcoming and available team, a copious and varied breakfast and an excellent Pisco Sour (the national cocktail, made from Pisco and lemon juice)!

We recommend

As the Centro district does not leave us with an unforgettable memory, we'd rather share our favourite experiences with you! We are not very fond of museums and prefer outdoor experiences or local life... Don't be surprised if you don't see many recommendations about them in our articles, even if we are sure that many of them are fascinating! The Larco Museum in Lima for example would be a must-see for museum lovers...

1. Wander through the colourful streets of Barranco (1/2 day)

In this part of the city, each house has its own colour... and the whole is incredibly harmonious! Pass by the Bridge of Sighs to make a wish and stop for a cocktail and possibly one of the many typical Peruvian dishes at Isolina.

2. Walk north along the Miraflores cornice from the Parque del Amor (2 hours)

Overlooking Parque Kennedy and inspired by Gaudi's Parque Güell in Barcelona, Parque del Amor is a great place to watch the surfers below and the ballet of colourful paragliders launching from the cliff. All along the cornice, parkland follows parkland, offering splendid views of the Pacific and Palomino Islands when the sky is clear.

3. Excursion to the Palomino Islands National Park (3/4 day)

From Callao, take a boat to meet the fauna and flora of the Palomino nature reserve. With Mar Adentro Excursiones, enjoy a 3-hour excursion from Callao to go swimming with the colonies of sea lions (there are 8,000) that inhabit the islands (USD 50 per person). Take the opportunity to discover the tip of Callao (and only the tip, as the rest of the village is not very hospitable) for a colourful walk along the sea.

NB: the boats are not wheelchair accessible at all. The guides carry Pierre on board while his wheelchair is waiting for him at the port. When we go down to swim with the sea lions, Jerson (our guide) and a passenger help us down. On the way back up, he carries Pierre on his back up the ladder... Not accessible, but made possible thanks to the good will of some people...

4. Discover the hidden treasures of San Isidro (1/2 day)

In the heart of this district, where embassies, office buildings and luxury boutiques rub shoulders, discover the ruins of Huaca Pucllana between two buildings (open from 9am to 5pm from Wednesday to Monday. Price: 15 Soles). Then cross the Parque da Oliveira, an olive grove in the heart of the city, and enjoy an excellent ceviche with a Pisco Sour on the terrace of Barra Lima

We leave Lima in the morning to take the bus south on the Panamericana. Our next stop is Paracas (about 6 hours drive).

Second stage (2 days, 1 night): the cliffs of Paracas

A little less than 300 km south of Lima, the port of Paracas marks the entrance to the nature reserve of the same name. It consists of the Islas Ballestas off the coast, populated by sea lions and pink flamingos, and on land of an immense desert area whose dunes flow into the ocean.

Practical information

Where to sleep?

The main avenue that crosses this tiny town is made up of 80% of hotels. We choose thehotel Arena Hospedaje, simple but comfortable and welcoming. It costs 50€ per night for two people, including breakfast.

In a wheelchair: if our room is on the ground floor, the access ramp to the hotel is completely impracticable without the help of a third person because of its slope. As for the bathroom, it is absolutely not accessible (door too narrow with a step at the entrance, limited space, shower tray half closed by a glass wall). So we improvise: we take off one wheel of the wheelchair to go through the door, climb the step on three wheels before putting the fourth one back. The owner lends us garden chairs to put in the shower... Not ideal, but with two people we manage!

Where to eat?

For lunch, enjoy a panoramic view of the harbour with ceviche and Cusqueña (one of Peru's beers) at Restaurant Paracas. In the evening, sit on the promenade at Rustikarreta to enjoy fresh fish or seafood grilled before your eyes as you watch the sunset.

We recommend

1. Explore the nature reserve on the land side by bike (1/2 to 1 day)

It is possible to book excursions in the village of Paracas, especially by bus or quad. We take part in a one-hour bus tour included in our Peru Hop ticket.

The advantage: we see the main viewpoints of the reserve, namely La Catedral, Istmo de la Peninsula, and Playa Roja.

The disadvantage: not active enough for us! Getting off the bus every 15 minutes to go and see a new viewpoint leaves us a bit hungry despite the breathtaking landscapes: we are a bit jealous of the cyclists we meet on the road!

It is quite easy to rent bicycles in Paracas, either in hotels or through dedicated agencies. From Paracas, the route passing by these three viewpoints is only 33 km: quite feasible in half a day despite the state of the road if you have a good mountain bike! If I had to do it again...

2. Watching the sunset over the mountains and sea from the harbour

Breathtaking colours!

3. Take an excursion to Islas Ballestas to observe the wildlife (2 hours)

Only if you haven't done the Palomino Islands tour near Lima: Islas Ballestas has less sea lions than the latter and you won't have the possibility to get off the boat to go swimming... So we advise you to choose the first option! If you decide to do it, the tour will cost you about 75 Soles (20€).

Back on the bus for about 3 hours: heading south-east!

Third stage (2 days, 1 night): in the dunes of Huacachina

At the foot of the first dunes of the Atacama desert near Ica, we see a green spot which is teeming with activity : we are in Huacachina ! Around this oasis with emerald waters, a village has been built, far too touristic to be pleasant to live in... The only way to enjoy it : get up early ! A lot of tourists are here to party, so the oasis is quiet until about 10.30 am...

Practical information

Where to sleep?

Here again, there are almost only hotels in the city... So you have a choice! As far as possible, we recommend you to choose a hotel with a terrace overlooking the oasis, the view is worth the diversions! This is the case of the Sand and Lake hotel where we stay (50€ per night for two people, breakfast included).

Like the day before, our hotel is not accessible... We are starting to feel a bit stiff from overcoming obstacles, but also more and more used to workarounds...

Where to eat?

The advantage of Huacachina is that each hotel has its own restaurant... And the disadvantage is that they all tend to look the same in order to attract the crowds... We found an excellent breakfast at Huacafuckingchina, our hotel's restaurant, where a delicious Lomo Saltado (traditional Peruvian dish) and a squeezed pineapple juice accompany the more classic scrambled eggs.

Means of payment

Be careful, there is no ATM in Huacachina! If most of the restaurants accept credit cards (Visa and Mastercard), some tour operators prefer to pay in cash... Think about withdrawing before arriving in the city!

We recommend

1. Watch the sunset over the dunes (2 hours)

From the main dune if you have the courage to walk up it... Plan to leave early! Or on a buggy tour: a collective tour will cost you 45 Soles per person (vehicles of 8 to 10 people), a private one about 130 for 2. We strongly recommend the second option which will allow you to limit the impression of mass tourism... Even if the number of buggies driving in the dunes around you will leave little doubt about it! The show remains nevertheless exceptional and the thrills are guaranteed on board!

2. Test your sandboarding skills

Halfway between skateboarding and snowboarding in terms of size, sandboarding allows you to make more or less spectacular descents on the side of the dunes. Flat on the stomach, sitting or standing if you feel capable, all techniques are good for a great time, both original and fun (included in the buggy tours, collective or private)!

3. Enjoying the view of the oasis during an early morning breakfast

We've already told you all about it above: don't miss this moment!

Our bus leaves Huacachina at 12:00 to arrive on the Nazca plateau at 17:30, just before sunset...

Fourth stage (1 day, 1 night): above the Nazca lines

The geoglyphs of Nazca are huge shapes engraved in the rocky ground of the Nazca plateau. Listed as a UNESCO heritage site, they represent animals, humans or simple geometric shapes. How they were made is still a mystery...

The city of Nazca itself is not very interesting, except for being a good base camp to observe these famous lines, either from one of the two observation towers built on the plateau, or by flying over them!

Practical information

Where to sleep?

After two nights in hotels that are absolutely unaffordable, we decide to go for a slightly higher category to rest a bit... We choose to stay at the Casa Andina, a Peruvian hotel chain that is very comfortable but still affordable for Europeans, although a bit expensive for Peru... It costs about 95€ per night for two people, including breakfast.

But at least there are no steps to get in, so it's already partly relaxing!

Where to eat?

In the main street of Nazca, there are several restaurants. We advise you to choose carefully what you eat there! To be avoided in particular: seafood in all its forms... Nazca being far from the coast, it might not be the freshest! If you don't risk anything with river fish (so don't hesitate for a second to taste a ceviche), avoid products that necessarily come from the sea (example: shrimp chicharron, a traditional Peruvian fry offered in almost all restaurants).

We have an excellent dinner for a very reasonable price (25€ for two) at the restaurant La Encantada on the main street.

We recommend

The two observation towers on the Nazca plateau provide a first glimpse of what the lines drawn on the ground might look like. In our opinion, however, they have two major drawbacks:

1. They are not accessible at all (there are only stairs to the top),

2. They only allow you to see a tiny portion of these incredible achievements They allow you to see only a tiny portion of these incredible achievements: both because you can only see a few geoglyphs, but also because their height does not allow you to fully appreciate what they represent.

To appreciate the Nazca lines at best, we strongly recommend you to take one of the flights on board a cuckoo plane proposed by different companies from the Nazca aerodrome (35 minutes approximately, count half a day the time to go to the aerodrome and back)! We choose AeroNasca which takes us over the whole plateau and its fifteen geoglyphs for 80 USD (72€) per person (taxes are also asked at the airport for 15 soles per person, about 4€). The price includes the round trip from the hotel to the airfield. Honestly, it's worth it!

Beware: the flight is done on board very small planes (6 people enter, including the pilot and co-pilot)... The winds blow hard on the plateau and the pilots allow their passengers seated on the right and on the left to see each of the shapes, which implies a good number of quite impressive turns... In short, it's shaking! If you are afraid of flying, we recommend that you avoid it... And whatever your resistance to motion sickness: above all, take your flight on an empty stomach! Usually rather resistant, we came out of the cabin a bit greenish despite this recommendation, which we were more than happy to follow...

In wheelchair: as since the beginning of our journey, the pilots offered to carry Pierre to the aircraft without us even having to ask...). The airfield is 100% accessible, including toilets.

We jump back on the bus for a night stage this time: departure at 7pm, arrival at 5:30am in Arequipa!

Fifth stage (2 days, 2 nights): Arequipa and the Colca Canyon

The second largest city in Peru in terms of population, Arequipa is above all an architectural nugget and a city in which you want to stay a few days! Nicknamed the white city because of its buildings made of Sillar, the stone used to build it, it is full of magnificent monuments, welcoming cafés/restaurants and charming streets. Situated at 2300 meters above sea level, Arequipa is surrounded by volcanoes (one of which is still active) and will be our first mountain stop before continuing our ascent to Cuzco (3400m), Lake Titicaca (3800m), La Paz (3600m) and finally Potosi, our highest point (4100m). The city is also known for its gastronomy, supposedly one of the most exceptional in the country!

Practical information

Where to sleep?

We choose theSolar de Arequipa hotel for its ideal location, two blocks from the Plaza de Armas. The hotel is comfortable and has rooms on the ground floor (although the bathroom is still not accessible, we are getting used to it). We pay 65€ per night for two people, including breakfast.

Where to eat?

The Arequipa region is known for its Picanterias, restaurants that offer local specialities, often very spicy.

As a consequence of a shrimp chicharron we had in Nazca (we told you it was better to avoid it), our stomach is in a bad state during our stay in Arequipa... So we don't enjoy it very much !

Instead, we have an excellent breakfast at La Despensa opposite the Santa Catalina convent.

For dinner, we decide to treat ourselves and try the Chicha restaurant created by Gastón Acurio, one of the most famous chefs in the country. His Chicha chain is present in different cities and each establishment offers a cuisine inspired by local products and traditions. We taste alpaca, guinea pig (a traditional Peruvian dish) and delicious cocktails made with Pisco. Although it seems expensive considering the usual Peruvian prices, we manage to get by for 50€ for two, tasting a starter, two dishes and our respective drinks... A bistronomic address not to be missed!

We recommend

1. Stroll through the narrow streets of Arequipa (1/2 day)

Don't miss the Plaza de Armas and its cathedral, the Compañia church and the San Camilo market, a few streets away. We missed the Santuarios Andinos museum which we really wanted to visit and where you can see mummies of children sacrificed by the Incas...

2. Visit the monastery of Santa Catalina (2 to 3 hours)

With its brightly coloured walls, this monastery was one of our favourites in Arequipa! Founded in 1579, it is a real village in the city! You can get lost for several hours in one of the alleys of this 20,000m2 building, a magical moment! The entrance fee is 40 Soles per person (about 11€). Don't hesitate to take a guide who will help you understand its history during a visit of about one hour (20 Soles per group): the official guides are waiting for you inside after the purchase of the tickets.

3. Excursion to the Colca Canyon (1 day)

A four-hour drive from Arequipa, the Colca Canyon is the second deepest in the world! Excursions and treks are easily booked on the streets of Arequipa. A day trip costs around 90 Soles (€25), plus the entrance fee to the reserve (70 Soles for foreigners).

As we can't do the two day treks (which are known to be difficult and therefore not accessible), we choose a one day excursion. Departure at 3 am from Arequipa! Objective: to arrive early enough on site to observe the awakening of the condors. We are completely conquered by this day where we take a lot of pleasure between the condors, the incredible agricultural terraces of the Colca valley and a stop at 5000 meters of altitude to observe the volcanoes... Even if, as every time, the trips in minibus with a stop at each point of view leaves us a little bit hungry...

And finally: accessibility in Peru... What do we think?

We didn't know what to expect in terms of accessibility in Peru and we are rather pleasantly surprised... In the big cities and in public places at least!

In Lima, historical places like restaurants have mostly ramps at the entrance, lifts / lifts inside to access the floors when there are some... And toilets! The pavements are almost systematically lowered at pedestrian crossings... In short, a rather accessible city despite a certain difference in level!

To a lesser extent, Arequipa is quite easy to get around thanks to these same pavements (beware, Arequipa is in the mountains: the streets are steeper), but the buildings often have steps at the entrance. This is the case of all the restaurants we ate in and the Santa Catalina convent in particular (note: as part of one of their tours, Accessible Travel Peru offers to visit it with a joëlette). Some buildings like the La Compañia church have ramps at the entrance, but they are not systematic...

In smaller cities, on the other hand, accessibility remains very uncertain. Although ramps are sometimes present (particularly in hotels) when buildings have several steps at the entrance, they are often impracticable without outside help because they are too steep...

Finally, in all categories: in hotels it is rare to find an accessible bathroom as defined by European standards. In higher category hotels, it is possible to find bathrooms that are large enough to be comfortable, or even fully accessible on a few rare occasions; a shower tray with a step is almost unavoidable. In other hotels, a room on the ground floor may be sufficient to declare the room and its bathroom accessible, but this does not mean that the bathroom cannot have a narrow access door, a step to enter the room or a shower tray with glass doors... In short, you have to be creative!

We give details of the accessibility of the places we visit (restaurants / accommodation / tourist sites) in the applications of our partners: Jaccede.com and Handiplanet, don't hesitate to consult them!

Beyond the infrastructure, we are marked by the willingness of the people we meet to help us in all circumstances. The first question is not "is it possible", but "how do you want us to help you do it"? No reluctance, no intrusion: just practical questions to enable us to do as many things as possible as simply as possible, even if it means putting in some collective effort... We are very grateful for this!

In our next article...

We leave Arequipa at 5am for a day bus ride to Cuzco! On the agenda: a train trip in the heart of the jungle, the ascent of Machu Picchu, the exploration of the Sacred Valley and a visit of this magnificent city... We will tell you all about it in our next article!

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