After making the journey over the Peruvian border, the next natural stopping point is Arequipa. Arequipa is a small, high-altitude town (remember the cocoa leaves!) that holds beautiful architecture, a large amount of shops and restaurants, and generally friendly locals. While Arequipa is an attractive and relaxing place to stop off, it holds very little in the way of tourist attractions, and so once you get past the initial beauty of its town center it becomes apparent that Arequipa serves best as a brief stop-gap between the more renowned tourist sights. Unfortunately, my visit to Arequipa was severely marred by a bad case of altitude sickness, which then scuppered my chances of visiting one of Peru’s most sought-after tourist destinations: Lake Titicaca.
The reason my Lake Titicaca jaunt became unattainable was its altitude. After being very ill in Arequipa, I would have had to make a long bus journey (6 hours, I seem to recall), to a location that was a great deal higher in altitude. While a braver traveler than I may well have taken the risk, as I have mentioned before, altitude sickness is not to be trifled with, and so I decided against this upwards trip. Instead, I remained in Arequipa to gather myself, and then decided to travel to Peru’s capitol: Cusco. To get from Arequipa to Cusco, it is recommended to take a night bus. Peruvian buses, while not at the same standard as Argentinian ones, are still of fairly high quality and can assure you at least some sleep, therefore travelers can avoid wasting a day on a coach. Cusco itself is a bustling city with several squares, constantly beeping taxis and an enormous amount of shops/restaurants/bars. It is definitely recommended to visit Cusco, as it is one of the most popular cities for travelers to visit whilst in South America. It is a beautiful, vivacious location which rewards the more adventurous traveler. However, be aware that the streets are steep and that due to the altitude, tourists must be sure to take it easy lest they find themselves falling ill. Also, any travelers looking to experiment in local cuisine, Cusco offers many delicacies including Llama and whole Guinea Pigs. The previous, I can attest, is delicious.
Getting to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu is perhaps Peru’s most sought after tourist attraction, and understandably so. However, due to this popularity it is also incredibly expensive. Tickets are pricey (usually over $100) and so is transport in and out of the village itself. The only way to actually access Machu Picchu is via an expensive train service that travels from several Peruvian towns.
Once travelers take this train into the nearest town to Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes), the last leg of the trip is a half hour bus journey up the mountain where the site rests. A town that is recommended to travel from, though, is Ollantaytambo: a small village which houses its own Incan ruins, and one that is slightly less tacky than the usually opted-for Aguas Calientes.
It is around two hours away from Machu Picchu itself, and about 90 minutes away from Cusco. To travel from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, one should acquire a collective taxi that can be taken for usually about $10, and it will travel the entire distance (there are buses, but several changes must be made). The collective taxis may seem intimidating, but after traveling in several myself, I can say that they are a cheap, worthwhile mode of transport. So long as you don’t mind being crammed into a small car with several locals.
While the trip to Machu Picchu may sound like a huge amount of work, the site itself is absolutely incredible, with soaring views, unbelievable wildlife, and it also provides an insight into just how incredible South American history really is. Machu Picchu was a highlight of my entire time spent on the continent, and an experience I cannot recommend enough. One small tip, though: after the enormous journey of getting to Machu Picchu, make sure you have brought your tickets! While this may sound an obvious point, it is one that my girlfriend, Emma, overlooked when we traveled there. Somehow, we were able to gain access to the site, but it was far more stressful than the already lengthy trip required.