Coming back after a long trip, I only had one wish – to feel fresh! I arrived in Arequipa, Peru on Monday, 14th of February. All I needed that time was a good shower. After settling in at Andes House Inn,located on Calle Ayucho, I took a much-needed shower. After few minutes, I slept like a baby, as the rain poured heavily outside. Nothing can beat an awesome shower and a good nap for 30 soles per night after that long trip!
I woke up to a nice morning and was ready to explore the city of Arequipa. I had my list ready to go. We started off the day with a brunch at La Boveda, which is located on the upper level at Portal San Augustin 127-129, Plaza de Armas. Starving, I ordered spaghetti bolognaise and was significantly impressed with it and gave it two thumbs up. I also enjoyed the spectacular view of the square from the balcony. I spent the rest of the day exploring two of the notable museums within the city – Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) and Monasterio Santa Catalina – (Santa Catalina Convent).
Our first stop was at the Museo Santuarios Andinos. The standard admission fee at the museum was 15 soles. I had to leave my backpack, as taking pictures was not permitted inside the museum. One of the highlights of the tour was a documentary movie on the discovery of archaeological remains of ‘Juanita,’ the famous Ice Princess mummy believed to be sacrificed, as part of the Incan culture. Juanita’s body had lain buried in the snow for more than 550 years. Unfortunately it was our unlucky day, the Ice Princess was not in the museum over this time of the year. Aside from Juanita, the museum also houses 18 other mummies. We saw one!
We then walked towards Monasterio Santa Catalina, one of the most religious edifices in the city. At 35 Soles for admission, this fascinating place also known as ‘a city within a city’ provides a rich historic tour for its colonial architecture. I most enjoyed visiting the rustic kitchens and clay ovens in all different sizes, and antique kitchen utensils. This historical place shows the diverse lifestyle and backgrounds of women who entered the convent and began their lives as nuns, closing themselves to the outside world and devote themselves to prayers.
After the museum trips, we stopped by at a 2-storey funky little Café Bar Istanbul located on Calle San Francisco to enjoy a nice and refreshing cocktail drink. The café has interesting tables built from an old sewing machine table. Across the road from the cafe is El Turko Kebab where I had the best kebab in town at a very reasonable price. Their bread was absolutely divine.
Wednesday, 16th of February, was another beautiful day. Yrene, our tour guide from Colonial Tours, picked us up at our hotel for our 2-day exploration to the highlands of Colca Valley. The 2-days/1-night Colca Canyon tour package of 65 Soles (excluding 35 Soles for the Valley tourist ticket) includes a pick up/return transfers from the hotel, tour guide fee, accommodation and breakfast. Yrene is well versed in English and has been a tour guide for 8 years.
Day 1 of our Colca Valley tour, we boarded on a very comfortable mini van along with 15 other tourists (plus an infant) from Lima, Brazil, Chile and Canada. Yrene’s first message to us was to bring along a ‘smile’ throughout the trip. When everyone got on board, Yrene had us go around the bus and introduced ourselves by stating our town/country of origin. It was a great and fun way to know each other. With Yrene’s efficiency, pleasant manner and positive attitude, along with her great sense of humor, I knew immediately that I would enjoy the trip.
The first stop of our 4-hour high up mountainous drive was to a mini-store to buy water, coca leaves or coca products as a preventive remedies from altitude sickness. And one thing I learned was to chew coca leaves in one side of your cheek at least 15 minutes. We had few stops along the way to take photos of the Chachani and Misti Volcanos, Patawasi, Tojra Pampa, Mirador Los Andes(known as the Patapampa Pass which measures 4,910 meters high), and the Chivay Lookout View Point. An abundance of built mound of rocks was prominent, a symbolic sign or offerings to the Gods of the mountains.
For lunch, we stopped by at Restaurant Urinsayain Chivay, where they had a buffet lunch for 20 Soles. It was also in Chivay where we stayed the night at a very standard hostel, La Estancia. While in Chivay, you can treat yourself for a quick visit at the Hot Springs, not far from downtown and also get entertained by the Peruvian dance show at Encanto Del Colca. This folkloric restaurant also offers a refreshing local drink called ‘Caliche’ tea mixed with fresh pieces of fruits, served hot.
I struggled to get up on day 2, Thursday, 17th of February. Four in the morning was an early start for me, but Yrene convinced us not to miss the opportunity to see the natural beauty of the valley during the dawn and to have more time explore the Condor Lookout View Point. The opportunity to take a snap shot and view the magnificent Peruvian Condor in action was indeed the highlight of the trip. Although we were fortunate to have the best weather, we weren’t lucky to observe the spectacular flights of condors that day. However, we had an extremely good view of Colca Canyon from the Antahuilque Lookout Points.
Contented with the amazing view, we ate at the Qhapaq Nan Restaurant in Chivay. We also made several stops to visit a couple of small villages, Yangue and Maca. Both offered a good tour of nice plazas and historical churches. While in Meca, make sure to try ‘Sankayo’ a drink delicacy of a typical fruits found mainly in Colca Canyon. It was a delicious mixed with water and sugar.
The trip back to Arequipa was uncomfortable. It started raining and what made it more challenging for Javier’, our driver, was to drive on a foggy road. Thankfully, he brought us back to our hotel safe and sound at exactly 5 pm.
At 8 pm, I had to bid farewell to Steph and boarded on to the most comfortable full Cama (bed) seat of Cruz Del Sur for an overnight 10-hour trip. It was absolutely a nice experience at 122 Soles, akin to a business class cabin airplane. Very luxurious service!
I arrived in Cuzco at 5.40am, Friday, on the 18th of February. It just felt like home. It rained almost the rest of the week through my last night, Wednesday 23rd of February. I culminated the last night in Cuzco with a good dinner with Jane Gavel (Peru’s Challenge founder) at Limo, rated to be the #2 best restaurant in Trip Adviser. The food and service was absolutely fantastic. It offered the most spectacular nigh view of Plaza de Armas. Limo was relatively pricey but not as pricey as Cicciolina. Both our waiters, Coco and Luis, spoke very good English and were very attentive. Their recommendations for the entrée, main course and dessert were close to perfect.
On Thursday, 24th of February, marked my last day in the majestic Cuzco, a place that I referred to as home for my over a month stay in Peru. Leaving the place was difficult but I promised to myself to be back, one day.
I arrived in Lima in a nice pleasant day and with great relief as it was not raining. My stopover for 2 nights was inclusive of my Peru’s Challenge package.
As I exited the terminal, it was always great to see my name on the board. It was approximately a 35-minute drive to El Faro Inn Hotel, my hub for 2 nights. The hotel was located in Miraflores, an exclusive and expensive district. The hotel was within walking distance to LarComar, a shopping centre complex that sits on a cliff facing the Pacific Ocean. I took advantage of the nice afternoon by walking from the hotel through the parks, as I enjoyed the spectacular view of the sunset. If you are the romantic type, you will enjoy a nice stop at the Parque del Amor, aka Love Park. From the sunset viewing, you have a choice to either go to the cinema, to window shop, play bowling, or enjoy some Peruvian delicacies from any of the restaurants overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
My last day in Peru included a tour of the beautiful attractions around the capital city of Lima. The highlight of the tour was the visit to the catacombs (Museum of the Convent of San Francisco de Asis of Lima) of the Convent underground where you go through a number of passages and get to see graves and skeletons. This reminded me of the labyrinth like Halloween places I go to scare myself. But honestly, I wasn’t scared at all but fascinated by the many bones and skulls I saw neatly sorted. The tour included a visit to Huaca Pucllana (Peru’s Pyramid), San Isidro (known as Lima’s garden district and noted for its many olive parks and historical buildings), Museo Banco Central de Reserva Del Peru (Museum of the Central Reserve Bank of Peru) and of course the stunning Plaza de Armas.
The last night in Lima was culminated with a home cooked dinner and Peruvian hospitality at the Quinones family. I met the gracious Quinones family during my Colca Canyon trip in Areguipa. Dinner was a local delicacy – a delicious Peruvian chicken dish served with the best-mashed potato I have ever tasted.
Well its time to for me to finally say ‘ciao’ to Peru. It has been a real amazing journey with lots of memories to be cherished. My last day in Peru was my day for a new beginning, a day for a new adventure to another land of wonders, Argentina.
© 2012 by Michelle Riel, retains sole copyright to her contributions to all the contents of this site.