Three Month Update: November 2017

November was a whirlwind month. We started in Mexico City and hit the tourist trail hard in Peru. By the time we got to Arequipa at the end of the month we were looking forward to a slower pace in December. But first a recap of our adventerous November.

  • Countries visited: Mexico and Peru
  • Cities: Mexico City, Cusco, Ollyantambo, Agua Calientes, Arequipa, Lima
  • Hostels: 5
  • Campsites: 3
  • Airbnbs: 1
  • Trains taken: 1

An insider look at the day of the dead

When we first started planning our trip to Peru, I read an article about how the influx of hikers on the Inca Trail leading to Machu Pichu was destroying the wildlife, so I started researching other big hikes we could do in the area. I  found a tour for a 4 day trek around Ausangate outside of Cusco, Peru and immediately knew we had to do it. When we initially booked the hike we were hoping to do it in mid-December or January so we could travel from Mexico City through Central America, but the tour agency recommended we come earlier due to the risk of bad weather during Peru’s rainy season. So we switched up our plans in order to leave earlier, but we stayed in Mexico until November 4 so that we could partake in the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos.

I am so glad we stayed because the several days of Dia de los Muertos celebrations were my favorite in Mexico. We watched the parade in Mexico City and traveled to the tiniest village on the outskirts of the city known for their Dia de los Muertos festivities. It was one of the most beautiful celebrations of honoring ancestors and life in general that we’ve ever seen.

Being shameless techies in Santa Fe

Another reason we stayed in Mexico City until Nov 4 was so that Jeff could upgrade his phone to the iPhone X. It just so happened that at the Dia de los Muertos parade I was pickpocketed and was in need of a new phone as well. So we were those people, and spent an afternoon at the Santa Fe mall, home to the only Apple store in Latin America updating our tech.

Resting and Relaxing in Cusco

Though we were coming from Mexico City which is 7300 ft, we gave ourselves 5 days to acclimate to the 11,100 ft altitude in Cusco before starting our 4 day hike. We were glad we gave ourselves that time because for the first two days every slight hill or flight of stairs took the wind out of us. When we could finally breathe somewhat normally, we squeezed in a few “training” sessions, exploring the San Blais neighborhood which is nestled on the side of a steep hill and led to a gorgeous mirador of the sprawling city. While in Cusco we also learned loads of history while on a free walking tour, made our own chocolate in a class at the Museo de Chocolate, and watched the entire season of Stranger Things 2. It was a good few days to rest and recoup after our busy time in Mexico City.

An epic four day hike ending at Rainbow Mountain

By far, one of our highlights of Peru was our four day guided trek around Ausangate to Rainbow Mountain. We had been looking forward to the hike since before we started traveling and it exceeded all of our expectations. Allison learned a major life lesson and wrote all about that here. You can also see at 5 posts about it on our instagram.

Spending all day at Machu Picchu

Its hard to describe the majesty of a place that is so well known and so well documented. After seeing pictures or watching a documentary it would be easy to write it off as a place not worth visiting. But we are fully convinced that pictures will never ever do it justice. We got to the park at 7am for our allotted time slot to climb Wayna Picchu. The views from the top were above and beyond worth the 500 stairs and 40 minutes it took to climb to straight up the side of the mountain. After climbing back down we exited the park and stopped at the cafe in the gift shop for a quick coffee break before reentering a the second time for a tour of the ruins. Our tour guide pointed out a trail leading to a mountain pass called Sun Gate, so after our tour we convinced a guard to let us enter the park for a third time (tickets restrict to two entries per day) so we could do another hour long hike to the see the view of the valley from the other side. As we made our way back from Sun Gate it was pouring rain so the place took on a eerie, mystical feel as we wandered the ruins for the last time. This is one of those places that is on every travelers list for a reason, and we highly recommend adding it to your bucket list. See our write up for all of our tips and tricks on how to actually get there.

Impulsively deciding to spend a few days in Ollyantaytambo

On our way to Machu Picchu we had to stop in Ollyantaytambo to catch the train. We got there early so we grabbed lunch in the town square and as we walked to the train station we were so charmed by the ancient architecture and surrounding mountains that we impulsively decided to spend two nights there after Machu Picchu. It was such a fun glimpse into life in an ancient Incan city that people still live today. The narrow cobblestone streets are lined with irrigation canals still carrying water from the mountains to the main square. The surrounding hillsides are carved with ancient terraces that locals still use to farm corn and squash.

The size was perfect for exploring in just a day. In one day we visited a surprisingly well preserved ancient grain silo, spent an afternoon walking down a dirt road through farms to an Oregon style brewery, then ended our evening with one of our best meals in Peru at a fancy farm to table restaurant in the train station. Ollyantaytambo was the first place we stopped without having planned it beforehand, and turned out be an lovely surprise.

Staying at the most beautiful bnb in Peru

Before we got to Peru a friend recommended The Green House, and from the moment we saw their website we knew we would have to splurge with a night or two there. We tried to arrange a taxi from Ollyantaytambo but our hotel was on one of the cobblestone streets which was inaccessible to cars so we ended up grabbing a taxi at the train station and our driver had no idea where he was going. Even after showing him on the map and stopping for directions we ended up on tiny back road roughly parallel to the highway we could have been on. What would have been a 45 minute drive took 2 and a half hours.

When we finally made it to the Green House we were in paradise. The small town around the bnb had one shop and one cafe so we felt completely removed from the outside world for a few days. We spent most of our time reading in hammocks, playing with the adorable three dogs that lived there, and indulging in the best breakfasts we had anywhere in Peru.

Back to city life in Arequipa

After rushing from place to place in the sacred valley we spent a week in Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city which has a very colonial feel with tall brick buildings all made out of a unique, local, white stone. We enjoyed the European influence that led to lots of cafes, independent restaurants, chocolatiers, museums, and art exhibits. We got into a little routine of settling into a cafe in the morning to catch up on projects and plan the next leg of our journey, then we would explore the city in the afternoon, then in the evening we would have a drink at one of the rooftop bars taking in beautiful sunsets like the picture above. We also happened to be there for the first day of December so we were able to join the city in their Christmas tree lighting ceremony which was complete with fireworks.

Surviving Colca Canyon

Arequipa is also one of the adventure capitals of Peru and a good home base for many outdoorsy activities including river rafting, horseback riding, and climbing Chachani, an dormant volcano sitting at 6057 meters that has a trial right to the top, so its very popular among people who have climbing over 6000m on their bucket list.

We didn’t do that, but we did do a hiking trip with our hostel into Colca Canyon, the third deepest canyon in the world. We hiked 1000 meters down on a meandering path through the canyon with our guide stopping regularly to educate us about the local flora and fauna. That night we stayed the night in a small lodge hopefully named, Oasis. Then at 5am the next morning we climbed 1000m straight up out of the canyon which was the most painful three hours of our life. Sadly, Jeff came down with the flu on last day so for the remainder of the tour, which took us to various tourist outlooks and markets, he was stuck on the bus hoping not to throw up. Overall we’re not 100% convinced this particular tour was worth it but many other travelers said they loved it, so to each their own.

That wraps up our November. In December we’re headed to Lima, then on to do some volunteering in Ecuador for a bit of a change of pace. Thanks for following along!