Adventures in Southern Peru

K in Motion Travel Blog. Mountain Rainbow at Machu Picchu, near Aguas Calientes, Peru

Race to the South

After some weird and wonderful adventures in the Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes, I’d hopped on a plane to Cusco. I was edging ever closer to the ancient ruins of an Incan city I’d been waiting my whole life to see. I couldn’t wait to start my adventures in southern Peru!

As I was exiting the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco, I overheard someone at the information desk asking how to get a colectivo (shared taxi) to Ollantaytanbo. As I was going to the same place, we decided to join forces to get a taxi to the Pavitos Street Taxi Terminal. It was there that we would find the colectivo that we needed.

Getting to Ollantaytanboo

First, we had to make sure that the taxi driver wasn’t going to overcharge us. That’s where my boss negotiating skills came in handy. I got the price down from 30 Soles (US$8.90) to 10 Soles (US$3), which was lower than the amount that the airport staff had told us to expect. Score! We got to the Pavitos Street Station and found the colectivo to Ollantaytanbo. We checked that the fare would be 12 Soles (US$3.60), as we had been told, then sat inside and waited for the other seats in the van to fill up.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. On the road from Cusco to Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
View of the Andes on the road from Cusco to Ollantaytanbo

It wasn’t long before we were full up and enjoying the awesome views of the Andes. The drive to the town of Ollantaytanbo, which serves as the gateway to Machu Picchu took 90 minutes. The colectivo dropped us off right in front of the train station. It was possible to buy tickets at the train station in Ollantaytanbo, but I would suggest booking online beforehand at Inca Rail or Peru Rail, as it makes the process a little bit quicker.

Adventures In Southern Peru – Ollantaytanbo

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. On Quiet Street in Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Quiet Street in Ollantaytanbo

Although it has a name that might prove impossible to say when drunk, Ollantaytanbo is a lovely, quiet Andean town. We saw many people roaming around in traditional Peruvian attire. That included this little 2 year old girl. She was so enamoured with the person next to me that she was only half-heartedly into the ‘give me money’ routine that her mother clearly made her perform whenever tourists were around. Using your daughter’s insane cuteness to get money out of visitors; well played mother.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Local Girl in Traditional Peruvian Attire, Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Girl in Traditional Peruvian Attire

The centre of the town was essentially a huge walk-through market area with many stalls selling local wares. As pretty much the only access point to Machu Picchu, you can’t really blame them for trying to capitalise on tourism, can you? Opportunism aside, the view from anywhere you stood in the town was lovely. It would definitely be a good place to relax for a day or 2, if you aren’t on a tight schedule, as I was.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Town Centre, Ollantaytanbo, in the Andes, Peru
Ollantaytanbo Town Centre

Probably one of the most scenic adventures in Southern Peru is taking the train from Ollantaytanboo to Aguas Callietes. The views just kept getting better and better the closer we got to the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. The 30km train ride takes around an hour and a half and prices start from US$50. It is possible to purchase online up to a few hours before departure. Or get tickets at the window just outside the train station in Ollantaytanbo.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View From the Train. Ollantaytanbo to Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo, in the Andes, Peru
View from the train on the way to Aguas Calientes, Machu Picchu Pueblo

Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu Pueblo

The Spanish name of the small town at the base of Machu Picchu, literally translates to ‘Hot Waters’. It was named for the numerous hot springs in the area. I was of course more interested in the ruins above it. This town is pretty much built on tourism. As you would expect, accommodation can get quite expensive. It is probably for this reason that most people only choose to stay there for one night. That means that although it’s right near a world famous tourist attraction, it’s not overcrowded. This makes it quite peaceful and lovely.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo Sign, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo, in the Andes, Peru

I met some beautiful locals in this town. I got the feeling that even though many tourists pass through the town, not many locals can speak English well. To me, this was appealing as it gave me many opportunities to practice speaking Spanish. I definitely needed the practice. It was actually quite amusing when I needed to get a strap holder on my backpack replaced in the town. Finding the market that had the tailor wasn’t a problem, but trying to explain what I needed fixed was difficult when I wasn’t even sure how to say it in English.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo. Market Building, in the Andes, Peru
Market Building in Aguas Calientes

Suffice to say, I managed to explain to the lovely couple running the store what I needed. They weren’t sure that they had any strap holders lying around though. They said I could leave it with them and they’d see what they could do. It turns out they were miracle workers. Not only had they fixed the strap by the time I returned, but they had noticed another problem and fixed that too. All for just 10 Soles/US$3! I could not imagine getting a pack fixed that cheaply in many other places.

Adventures in Southern Peru – The Path to Machu Picchu

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru
Inca Trail
Before you start your journey up, you’ll need to stop in at the Direccion Regional de Cultura Aguas Calientes Office, also know as the Machu Picchu Cultural Centre. There you can grab your park entry ticket. This will set you back around 150 Soles or US$45. The Ministry of Culture has a website where you can book in advance, but I had problems paying through this website. I explained my problems when I went to Cultural Centre and they let me pay by credit card, even though they normally only accept cash. They say they also require a passport, but they accepted my government issued national ID card.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Welcome to Machu Picchu Pueblo Sign, in the Andes, Peru

There are a few ways to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The best way for you will depend on how energetic you feel, or how much money you want to spend. There is a shuttle bus that regularly runs from Aguas Calientes and back between the hours of 7am and 3pm. When I was there it cost 70 Soles/US$21 for a return trip, but as of 2019 it has gone up to 80 Soles/US$24. The bus is comfortable and airconditioned. As the road is very windy, it takes about 40 minutes both ways.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo The Windy Road to Machu Picchu, in the Andes,
The Windy Road to Machu Picchu

Hiking to Machu Picchu

The other, more adventurous option is to hike up. This way is actually shorter, as it cuts across the road at many points. The trail is probably a bit more challenging than your average trail. It is fairly steep and at a high altitude, but certainly doable if you are relatively fit. I also think this is the best way to go! The views are freaking amazing and you can stop to really appreciate them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Sign at the Start of the Hiking Trail From Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo to the Machu Picchu Ruins in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Start of the Hiking Trail From Aguas Calientes. Machu Picchu Pueblo to the Machu Picchu Ruins in the Andes,

The trail up took me a little less than an hour. I passed a few people that seemed to be struggling with the climb, or possibly the altitude. With that in mind I guess it could take up to 2 hours for some people. Now, here come a heap of photos for your viewing pleasure. It’s hard to choose just a few to sum up the wonder of this place.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Llamas Hanging out at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru
Llamas Hanging out at Machu Picchu

To say the place was amazing would be an understatement. It’s quite hard to get a true idea of the scope and extensiveness of the ruins until you see them for yourself. No matter how many pictures you’ve seen beforehand, you’re still likely to be awed when you get there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tree, Ruins and Mountain at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Terraces at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Tree at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Ruins and Mountain from above at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru

Rainbow to Ruins

I was lucky enough to go there on a rainy day, which meant I got to see more than a few rainbows, which made it even more surreal.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Machu Picchu, Rainbow to Ruins, in the Andes, Peru
Rainbow to Ruins

I even walked a bit of the Inca Trail that ended behind some of the ruins which gave me the chance to see yet another awesome view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View of the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. View From the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, in the Andes, Peru

After refilling my water and getting called muy bonita by some of the park staff near ticket checking point, I was feeling a bit excited and managed to get back down to Aguas Calientes in half the time it had taken me to climb up. When I got back to my accommodation, I was greeted by some drunk Chileans who were super disappointed when they found out that I was leaving the next morning. They tried their hardest to convince me to stay an extra day so I could drink with them. They eventually settled for promises to keep in touch.

Adventures in Southern Peru – Cuzco/Cusco

I think I was so tired that I may have napped for most of the trip back to Cusco. This southeastern Peruvian city was once not only the capital of the Incan Empire, but also the historical capital of Peru. Now it serves as the capital of the Cusco Province. With under 500,000 people living there, it’s by no means a large city, but it certainly has a lot of character.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

The centre of this Andean mountain town is roughly shaped like a puma, as indicated by maps and pavement slabs around the town. The Puma is said to represent the power of the earth, with a fortress at the head built to protect the city from invaders. It ultimately failed at it’s job, since the Spanish Conquistadores invaded and took control of Cusco in the 1500s

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tiger Map in the Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Tiger Pavement in the Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Cusco was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1983 and it’s not hard to see why. There is a lot of history in the town, from Incan, pre-Incan and colonial Spanish societies. I was told that the Spanish mostly built on top of existing Incan structures. That means that there are still a lot of Incan buildings in the city underneath or behind the colonial buildings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Colonial Building Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

It’s also a vibrant city with a lot going on, including random carving competitions and art displays in the streets.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Carving Competition Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Art Display Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

And of course there are Alpacas.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Alpacas Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Cuzco Culture

But perhaps my favourite thing about this city is the traditional culture and how willing folks are to share it.

I stumbled upon this performance in the centre and it was amazing! All of the instruments this guy used were hand made. The sounds that came out of them were divine. He had everyone’s undivided attention!

After he’d finished, he invited everyone watching him to have a look at his instruments and try them out. He made it look so easy, but when I tried, I just looked like an idiot. Not that I minded, because it was really fun to have a go.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Traditionally Dressed Man Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

I thought I could sneak out of the area without anyone noticing while people were having their photos taken. The performer foiled my escape plan and insisted that I put on some traditional cloth and have my picture taken with him. So here’s the cheesiest photo I’ve ever been in.

I ended my trip on a high note with a free Peruvian cooking and cocktail making class in a quirky little hilltop pub. Nothing beats looking over a beautiful town whilst eating and drinking things that you’ve made yourself.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Cooking Class in Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru K in Motion Travel Blog. Adventures In Southern Peru. Quirky Hill Top Pub in Andean Mountain Town of Cusco, Cuzco Peru

Have you had an amazing experience in Peru? I’d love to hear about it! :o)

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Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

K In Motion Travel Blog. Tumbes Mangrove Tour. Line of Boats.

Getting to the Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Aguas Verdes Border

My time in Ecuador was up, so I made my way to the northern Peruvian Frontier town of Tumbes. That involved taking an overnight bus from Guayaquil to the Aguas Verdes border with Peru. Unfortunately, the checkpoint was closed when we arrived around midnight. The bus company had not mentioned this until we got to the border. The bus driver also seemed to be surprised, so maybe it wasn’t normal. With no other options, We waited in the bus and tried to sleep a bit. I groggily arose from slumber at 3am to join a crazy long line that had developed while I was snoozing. Awesome.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Crazy Line at the Aguas Verdes Border Between Ecuador and Peru
Crazy Line at the Border

The line started moving slowly around 3:30am. Although it seemed like much longer, it probably only took 30 minutes get to the entrance to the immigration area. Luckily the room was small, so once I’d made it to that point, there wasn’t much of a wait. The interesting thing about this border was that both the exit from Ecuador and the entry to Peru were processed at adjacent counters, which made things pretty quick.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes

I was running against the clock by this point, as I’d been more captivated by Ecuador than expected. This meant I didn’t have time to travel overland all the way to Cuzco as I’d originally planned. So I’d found myself a last minute flight to Cuzco out of the tiny northwestern Peruvian city of Tumbes, just over the border from Ecuador. Never heard of it?

Neither had I. Until I booked a flight from there. I’d actually chosen to fly from there because it was the closest Peruvian city to my location. It was also much cheaper to fly to Cuzco from within Peru than it was from Ecuador. It turns out that the city has quite a long history. It’s a pre-Incan settlement named for the native tribe of the area, the Tumpis.

With a population hovering around 100,000, it’s fairly small as far as cities go. That made it more surprising when the people from the bus company insisted that the place was dangerous. They tried very hard to convince me that I shouldn’t walk around by myself. I couldn’t see anything about this town that indicated someone was going to jump out of nowhere and mug me, as people had suggested. Still, as I normally do, I kept my wits about me and had no problems.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Dog on a Beach K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Swampy Island

Tuk Tuks and Tours

I didn’t get far on my walk before a worried Tuk Tuk driver insisted that I ride with him. He was still insistent even after I told him that I wasn’t going to give him any money. He decided to drive me around the town and take me on a mangrove tour to an island with a crocodile park, for free. I, of course, asked him a thousand questions about life in Peru and came to the conclusion, after he offered to pay for my flight to Cuzco, that Tuk Tuk drivers make the big bucks.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour in a Little Blue Boat K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Mangrove Tour. Crocodile Park

Rax, the Tuk Tuk driver had to get some maintenance done on his vehicle, so he dropped it off at the Tuk Tuk repair place. He didn’t know how long it would be before it was ready to drive again, so he said that he wanted to organise a lift to the airport for me. I declined as I’d reached my limit for sitting down by that point. The airport was only 5km away, which is a comfortable walking distance for me.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tuk Tuk Workshop.

Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes – Unexpected ‘Danger’

Little did I know, that this walk was the start of a whole new adventure. As happens in many places, I had taxis and Tuk Tuks stopping to offer me rides, which I politely declined. After a short while, I came across a roadside stall. It was run by a sweet older man, selling all kinds of homemade Peruvian treats and refreshments. He was the first person I’d met in the town who hadn’t told me it was dangerous. He was actually quite interested in how I’d ended up there.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes Sculpture/Building in Central Tumbes, Peru
Building on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told him I was walking to the airport, he said it was 10km away, which was weird, because my map was saying it was only 3. He suggested that I should get a taxi, but after I informed him that I wanted to walk a little more, he wished me luck and I went on my way.

Police Escort

About 2 minutes later, I was stopped by 2 people who were sitting in a stationary car in a bylane of the main road. They did their best to assure me that they were the good guys and they weren’t going to hurt me. Not that any thoughts like that had even crossed my mind. It turned out that they were off duty police officers. They showed me their police IDs so that I would know they were genuine. By that point, I was getting the idea that locals think there are a lot of dishonest people in their city.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Monument
Monument on the walk to the airport in Tumbes

When I told them my plan to walk to the airport, they said it was 10km away, just as the man at the stall had said. I was still puzzled by that, as my map had never steered me wrong before. Maybe Peruvians have no concept of distance? They insisted that they would drive me. They simply weren’t taking no for an answer. So what choice did I have? Less than 2 minutes later, we were at a gate that serves as the entrance point to the airport compound. Yes, the airport is in a compound.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. Tiny Airport
The tiny Tumbes Airport

We arrived at the airport building shortly after and it was tiny and empty. The car park was empty except for a security guard walking around with a gun. A gun? I wasn’t sure whether to feel safe or scared. He asked to see my flight confirmation then told me that I needed to quickly go inside because it was dangerous outside. I was again perplexed. I still couldn’t see anything remotely dangerous about the place. There wasn’t even anyone else around.

K In Motion Travel Blog. Northern Peruvian Frontier Town of Tumbes. The Only Cafe in the Airport
The only cafe in the tiny Tumbes Airport

Tiny Airport

There were only 2 shops inside and they were both closed when I got there. The place was almost completely empty except for some cleaning staff. It was then that I found out that the airport only has 2 flights in and out each day. It’s then closed for several hours in between. I had gotten there a tad early because I wasn’t expecting a lift, but it wasn’t long before the cafe reopened and I was able to grab some food. Unfortunately there was no WiFi. The flight was only short and I was sure there would be WiFi available on y stopover in Lima.

All in all, Tumbes proved to be a lot more interesting than one would think. It seemed like a nice quiet town and everyone was super nice and friendly. There also seemed to be a perception around town that it was unsafe. But it didn’t feel unsafe. It felt like people in the town were overreacting or being overcautious. or perhaps they had a different idea of danger to me. Either way, the fact that those locals were willing to help keep a stranger safe, makes it a safe place. It’d be worth a visit if you’re in the area.

Check out the continuing adventures in southern Peru in my next post :o)

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