SALTA: What to do and EAT

Subscribe to my YouTube channel: Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

I’ve always been curious about the north of Argentina, and finally I’m here! I first arrived to Salta, the capital of the Province of Salta, on a late Thursday night in May. The mornings and evenings are cold, but the afternoon sun shines down, begging you to remove your scarf.

Whenever I told someone I was coming to Salta, they all wanted to tell me how much they loved it, though everyone was vague in their reasons when I asked why. They just loved it. The most concrete answer I got was “I felt like I was more on vacation than a backpacker.” Take that as you wish, I’m still trying to figure it out.

The population of Salta is 618,375, which is obviously several times smaller than its big brother Buenos Aires, though it oscillates between feeling big city/small city. The buildings all feel old and several crumbling, and are generally not higher than two stories tall, which gives the place a more “quaint” feeling. However, when viewing the city from atop the giant hill, reachable by cable car, one can’t help but notice how sprawling it all feels, as white buildings spread off into the distance.

While I chose to stay one week in Salta, it’s entirely possible to hit the highlights in just one day. Here I’ll lay out a general itinerary for what you can do in one day in “Salta La Linda.” The following plan can work for any day except Sunday, when the city essentially shuts down.

9am: Breakfast

Head over to the peatonal (foot traffic) area of the city on Calle Florida and Calle Alberdi. On Google Maps, these are the thinner streets in the center of the yellow area near Plaza 9 de Julio. You can find several traditional cafes in this area, offering the “desayuno” (breakfast) menu. They will have chalkboards out front announcing the day’s promos.

A common desayuno promo would be cafe con leche (or tea, or a submarino- warm milk with chocolate mixed in) with a choice of media lunas (croissants) or tortilla (like a dried layered bread), for 300 pesos ($1.50 usd). You can also choose to add a tostada (toasted ham/cheese sandwich) for a slightly higher price.

Once you finish breakfast, take a stroll through these peatonal streets, which are bustling with people going about their business, street buskers, folks selling you socks and masks, and small kiosks selling popcorn, cotton candy, and garrapiñadas (do yourself a favor and try these candied peanuts, they’re delicious).

10:30am: Plaza 9 de Julio

The 9th of July is Argentina’s Independence Day, and they love a good excuse to name something after it. This plaza marks the center of the city and is surrounded on all 4 sides by the Cabildo, the Basilica, and several restaurants and cafes with outdoor patios. The plaza itself is reminiscent of Cordoba’s Plaza San Martin, with Salta’s hero in the center, Juan Antonio de Arenales, a Spanish/Argentine soldier who assisted in the independence of Argentina. The plaza is scattered with benches, fountains, palm trees, and orange trees that remind of Seville, Spain.

Enjoy a coffee at one of these cafe patios, or just take a lap around the plaza to appreciate its beauty. Though you should definitely expect these cafes to be slightly higher than the rest of the city, due obviously to their prime location.

Both the Cabildo and the Basilica are free to enter. The Basilica closes to the public at noon, so I suggest heading there first to wander this magnificent building, and admire its architecture. Once done there, head across the plaza to the Cabildo. All major cities in Argentina have a cabildo, and generally they are all very similar. They’ll tell you the history of the city, the history of the construction of the building, antique findings from the past, like pottery from the Incas, and several religious paintings and icons. The cabildo has a second story where you can take in the plaza and its marvelous flora.

12pm: Lunch

Head on over to the Mercado Municipal San Miguel. Inside you’ll find the standard market fare: spices, veggies, fish, slaughtered animals being cut up, sweaters, knick knacks, and the best part- a food court. Inside the food court are several different restaurants, each with their own colored tables marking their territory. I sat at the turquoise colored tables because I liked the girl working there. She was the first person who approached me when I entered and explained the various food items.

I was looking for typical foods of the region, and I found exactly that here! I got one tamale con carne picante (with spicy meat), and one humita dulce (sweet corn). The humita is very much like a tamale in texture, though slightly smoother. It is a mash of corn, with two options- dulce (sweet) or salado (salty). I went for the sweet one, and was not disappointed. I wanted something to contrast with my spicy tamale, and I made the right choice! I was honestly not that hungry when I ate, but ended up finishing it all. I couldn’t help myself. Don’t forget to add the aji picante (red sauce). It will take your meal from a 9 to a 10!

Alternate Lunch Spot: If you prefer to eat alfresco, head over to the Paseo de la Familia on Calle Catamarca (between C. San Luis & C. La Rioja). There is a long row of what appear to be old and shuttered down store fronts. However, it also appears that people rent them out and open them up as small kitchens. They grill on the street. It was definitely a unique experience eating there and the food was absolutely delicious. I had matambre, which I watched the man cook in front of me on the grill while I sat at my outdoor dining table, accompanied by the sounds of generators, loud music, and traffic. The matambre came with rice, salad, and soup for a total of 700 pesos ($3.33 usd).

1pm: Parque San Martin & the Teleferico

Just about 8 blocks down the street from the market you’ll find the San Martin Park. At the end of the park, to the right you’ll see a market, and to the left you’ll see the Teleferico. Take a stroll through the local market. It’s actually bigger than it looks, and it’s full of items such as alpaca sweaters, mate cups, and other touristy items.

Once you tire of the market, head across the street to the Teleferico. The cost is 600 pesos ($3 usd) each way. However, there is a walking path all the way to the top if you prefer the exercise. You can opt to walk or take the cable car either way. I opted for the ride up, and the walk down.

Just note that if you do want to walk, the stairs begin at the Monument General Martin Miguel de Guemes, which is a 15-minute walk from the Teleferico station in Parque San Martin.

Regardless of how you go, you’ll eventually reach the Cerro San Bernardo, where you’ll be treated to an amazing view of the city, as well as several Instagram worthy moments. There really isn’t a whole lot at the top of the cerro other than a restaurant, a cafe, a wine truck, and a few shops. There are also a few artificial waterfalls around, as well as, of course, the city sign SALTA to prove you were there!

If you decide to follow the steps down, rather than return in the cable car, the path is pretty well marked. It begins near the waterfalls. Then just keep following the signs for ‘decenso.’

4pm: Light Snack

Depending on how much time you spend up on the cerro, you may have a little time to make it over to La Ollita (La Rioja 111) for the best empanadas of your life. They close at 4:30, so if you want to make it, plan accordingly! This is a very local place and it feels like you’re walking into someone’s private home, but fear not, and follow the ‘entrada’ signs!

6pm: Merienda

Argentines love their afternoon ‘merienda,’ or snack. This can consist of anything from media lunas and cafe con leche, to tostadas, to a beer. I love a good merienda de cervezas! There are a few different craft beer bars around the city, but the one I recommend is Un Bar de Fuegitos (San Juan 430, A4400 Salta). It’s pretty quiet during the week, but it is open every day, and has a fantastic variety of locally made craft beers. They also have a food menu as well.

9Pm: Dinner and Peña

Here in Argentina, they can’t get enough of a late dinner, and in Salta they love a good peña, which is essentially a restaurant with live folkloric music. The most famous in Salta is a place called La Casona del Molino (Cnel, Luis Burela 1, A4400 Salta). It’s a bit outside of the center, and therefore more authentic and less touristy. The place is huge and has several rooms, including outdoor patio sections. In each room, there is someone playing folkloric guitar, and in many cases people clapping along while they consume their sangria and empanadas. I absolutely recommend coming here to really feel the vibe of Salta. I also recommend making a reservation so you’re not stuck sitting outside in the winter, or inside in the summer (0387 434-2835).


SALKANTAY TRAIL: Complete Packing List

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

If you are thinking of walking the 5-day Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, you might be wondering what to pack- what to bring, what to ditch, and everything in between. Don’t worry, I got you covered.

If you want to know more details about how to do the Salkantay Trail, click here.
If you want to know what it was like day to day, click here.

Before going, all the videos I watched mentioned how quickly the weather changed, and how you need to be prepared for everything. They were not wrong, and you do! I actually used every single thing I brought, and was glad to have everything.

You can put up to 7kg in the duffle bag from the company. Try to keep your day pack as light as possible.

So without further ado:
(Everything with an * means I kept it in my day pack to have handy)

SUNDRIES:
Toothpaste
Toothbrush
Floss
Wet wipes* (I also used this for washing my face so as not to carry extra bottles)
One roll of toilet paper*
Bandaids* (for blisters- both on the feet and fingers from holding walking sticks)
Thread and needle (for blisters)
Alcohol gel*
Sun screen*
Shampoo (of the 2 in 1 Head & Shoulders variety, travel size)
Brush
Hair ties


CLOTHING:
1 Pair of Hiking boots (absolute must- my friend used New Balance and suffered)
1 Pair of Converse (they are small so easy to fit and easy to slip on in the evenings)
2 x Yoga pants (I often wore 2 pant layers- sometimes both yoga, or one yoga under hiking pants)
1 Pair of Hiking pants
5 Pairs of undies
4 Pairs of socks (2 official hiking socks and 2 regular sport socks)
2 Sports bras
4 T-shirts
1 Sport tank top
1 Long sleeve thermal layer
1 Zip up fleece
1 Peruvian sweater (I just wanted this for the pictures in Macchu Picchu)
1 Down jacket (fake North Face, folds up into a small bag)*
1 Rain jacket*
1 Cap (for sunny moments)*
1 Beanie (for wintery moments)*
1 Knitted ear cover head wrap thing (for sort of cold but not too cold moments)*
1 Swimsuit (for the thermal baths)
1 pair of gloves
1 Scarf
1 Bandana (this helps especially if your backpack straps scrape your neck)

EXTRA:
Sunglasses*
Walking sticks (absolute must- bring your own or rent them for $15)
Sleeping bag (absolute must- bring your own or rent one for $25)
Duffle bag (provided by the company)
Day backpack*
Camel Bak* (I much prefer this over a water bottle for longer hikes)
Fanny Pack/Bum bag* (It’s so much easier to have chapstick, money, phone, etc. easy to access right in front)
Snacks*
Money* (for bathrooms, drinks, showers, snacks, taxis, thermal baths, etc.)

Here you can see my day backpack, as well as the duffle bag the company gave us. You can pack up to 7kg in it.





SALKANTAY TRAIL LOGISTICS: What to Expect

Watch all 5 days on the Salkantay Trail on my YouTube channel: Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

It’s not easy to summarize an epic 5 day trip into one blog post, so I’ll try to break it down into in a few posts with the necessary info, hopefully making it simpler for you to plan your trip! This post will include: Why we chose the Salkantay, our tour guide gossip, what is and is not included in the price, and what we would have done differently.

If you want to know what to pack, click here.
If you want to know what it was like day to day, click here.

THE TRAILS: There are several treks that can take you to Machu Picchu, with the Inca Trail being the most famous, but also the most overrated and the hardest to make plans for. You need to book the Inca Trail 4-6 months in advance, at least. So what do the rest of us do who only decided to go to Peru 6 weeks prior? Fortunately, we have options: Salkantay, Lares, Jungle Trail, etc. Trip lengths can be from one day, all the way up to 15 days.

Ultimately, we settled on the Salkantay Trail, which is 5 days/4 nights, and through some pretty incredible scenery, including the additional Humantay Lake.

When I was much younger, my aunt and uncle did the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Since then, I’ve always had it in my head that doing a formal, organized tour to Machu Picchu was not only necessary and required, but also the only way to do it. I was wrong, but found that out too late. If you think you might want to hike to Machu Picchu on your own, without a guide, I suggest watching this great video which I found too late.

THE GOSSIP: Because I thought a guide was required, I did a lot of research into different companies, and finally found one I thought would be perfect; they seemed to care about their porters, they had a great website, a great FAQ section, and they were recommended on a YouTube channel I trusted. But here’s the thing. I messed up. I don’t want to recommend them to anyone because we did not have a great experience. Not because of the services provided by the company, which were actually great, but because the guide made me incredibly uncomfortable. Early on day 2, he started making comments about my body, calling me ‘very sexy’ because of the pants I chose to wore, and later in the evening asking us to look at other women on the trail to compare them and decide who was ‘the sexiest.’

Our guide constantly asked my good friend (who is a man) and me probing questions regarding our relationship, trying to sort out if we were just friends, or more. If I tripped, he would feign help just so he could touch me in inappropriate ways, he called me ‘babe’ and ‘baby,’ and I felt I was constantly being monitored. If I walked through the campsite with a roll of toilet paper, he would ask if I went to the bathroom. If I ate an orange at breakfast, he would make a comment about it. If I coughed in the tent at night, I could hear his voice through our thin tent walls “Nicki, you cough?” I felt I could not move or do anything without some comment from our guide, since his eyes were always on me. In stark contrast, he completely ignored my male friend, dismissing things he said and never giving him any kind of attention, though he was also a paying member of the group. This kind of behavior is totally unprofessional, and I would never wish for this kind of experience for anyone else, particularly when doing a life long bucket list item. So in conclusion, the company will not get any recommendation from me.

THE ADVICE: However, there are several companies out there to choose from. If you do want to do a guided tour, these are my recommendations:
1. Ask if they have women led groups (female group leader)
2. Ask if they have a sexual harassment policy for their guides (set expectations early)
3. Don’t book online unless you’re planning to do the Inca Trail. Any of the other treks are easily organized with short notice, right in Cusco. I noticed that one really popular company seemed to be “Salkantay Trekking,” which has an office right near the Plaza de Armas.

THE TOUR: So of course you probably want to know what is and is not included, right? The price per person of our 5 day/4 night Salkantay Trek was $550 usd.

This is what was included:
1. A knowledgeable, but annoying ‘professional’ guide who didn’t speak English very well at all (though he thinks he does), and was difficult to understand most of the time (can you tell I really don’t like him?), meaning we only received about 30% of the information he was trying to tell us. Even when I spoke to him in Spanish, he usually responded in English (his first language is Quechua).

2. A duffle bag. The company gives you a duffle bag to put your overnight gear in (toothbrush, extra clothes, shoes, etc.). You can put up to 7kg in this duffle bag, and it gets carried by a horse and a porter the first few days. It allows you to travel light during the day.

3. Water. Each morning the chef will boil water that you can then use to fill your bottles and Camel Baks for the day.

4. Food. We had a fantastic chef, Mario, on our trip. He was a man of few words, but amazing meals. He prepared for us three meals a day, all of which were delicious. In the mornings he woke us up early with a mug of hot cocoa leaf tea at our tent door. We absolutely adored our silent chef. Dinner in a restaurant once we arrived in Aguas Calientes was also included (except drinks).

5. Tent and set up. Everyday we arrived to our campsite, and the tents were already set up and ready for us, thanks to our porter, Daniel, and our chef, Mario!

6. Transportation and logistics. This was the best part of having gone through a tour. They organized everything and we didn’t have to worry about it. Two days before the trip began, the guide came to our Airbnb to explain details about the trip and drop off our duffle bags. The morning of the trip, they picked us up at the Airbnb bright and early. They drove us hours away to Mollepata and then Soraypampa where we began to walk. They organized all permits and fees. They had all sleeping arrangements pre-booked, including the hotel on the last night. Bus tickets to Machu Picchu and back. Machu Picchu entrance tickets. Then to conclude the trip, the train from Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo) to Ollantaytambo, and the taxi driver who was waiting for us with our names on a sign in Ollantaytambo who drove us back to Cusco. Having all of this organized for us, definitely made things easy. We could have done it, but it was nice we didn’t have to.

Hotel: This was a real treat. When we arrived to Aguas Calientes, we stayed in a 4-star hotel, with the most comfortable bed, and the best shower I had experienced in all of Peru. I even took two showers within the span of 12 hours just because I could. It was glorious. Delicious breakfast was also included at the hotel in the morning.

This is what was NOT included:
1. A day bag. You’ll need to bring a personal backpack that you carry with you during the days while walking. I kept water, snacks, and extra clothes in mine. The weather changes fast so you should be prepared.

2. Walking sticks. The company provided these for a cost of $15/pair. I had my own but my friend rented them. They are absolutely essential.

3. Sleeping bags. The company provided these for a cost of $25/each. Personally this feels like something that should be included in the total cost considering how expensive it was, but c’est la vie. We obviously needed them.

4. Snacks. The company fed us really well, and most of the time we didn’t need a lot of extra snacks. Though we did bring a few cereal bars and some trail mix, and we were glad to have it. I also suggest bringing some hard candies as they can give you some quick energy at high altitudes.

5. Water on the first day. As previously mentioned, the chef boils water every morning, but we needed to bring our own that very first day to drink until we reached the campsite.

6. Some meals. The very first morning, we stopped in Mollepata for breakfast. The cost of this was on us, s/15 each. The lunch on the last day (after visiting Machu Picchu) in Aguas Calientes was also not included. Every meal in between was definitely included.

7. Thermal baths. On day 3, we slept in Santa Teresa, where just outside of town, you can find beautiful thermal baths. The entrance fee was s/10 each.

8. Bathrooms along the way. Of course when you are hiking, you have a nature toilet everywhere you look. But if you’re desiring something more private, they do have a few structures along the route where you can stop to do your business for s/1.

9. Taxis. There were some stretches of the route where we needed to take a taxi due to construction and dust. We split these costs 50/50 with the company. We also split the cost of a moto-taxi between Santa Teresa and the thermal baths, both ways.

10. Extra drinks and snacks. There are several shops along the way where you can get a popsicle, a beer, a banana, a bag of chips, a Gatorade, etc. all of which will of course be paid from your own account.

11. Showers. We had imagined that the only shower we would take for 5 days was the one at the hotel on the last night, and with wet wipes all the days in between. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that on night 2, we could pay s/10 each for a low-pressure, yet very hot shower.

12. Tipping. As in most tours around the world, tipping is generally the rule, and this is no exception. Before the trip, the guide gave us an information pamphlet about the trip which included a section about tipping. It recommended that the chef receive s/65, the cook receive double that, and the guide can receive whatever you wish to give. The recommendation was the total for an entire group. Because we were just a small group of 2, we gave s/50 to the porter, s/100 to the chef, and another s/100 to the guide. The tips were given on the last day each person was present. Our porter left on the morning of day 3 because he couldn’t take the horses any further than that point. The chef left on the morning of day 4, after having prepared lunch packs for the day. We tipped our guide on day 5, once we returned to Aguas Calientes from Machu Picchu.

THE CONCLUSION: Am I happy I did it? Absolutely! Would I do it differently if I did it again? Definitely! Having the company made so many things much easier, like not having to deal with train tickets, bus tickets, entrance tickets, organizing sleeping arrangements, thinking about food, etc. But after having done the trip, and having seen others doing it on their own, I know I would have preferred to do it that way. There are A-frame cabins along the entire route at each camping spot (bring your own sleeping bag though). There are small shops and restaurants and every rest point. Yes, you will need to bring a lot more cash with you on the trip as you’ll be pulling out your wallet every day, but in the end, it will be cheaper. It also seemed easier to make friends.

We had been hoping for a group experience, meet people, play games, make lifelong friendships. That didn’t happen for us. Our tour ended up being private. But we saw the way all the individual people slowly found their way to one another, formed groups, and friendships, hung out at night, and we felt slightly jealous. We of course enjoyed our own company, but did feel that we missed out on the social aspect of the trip.

I had envisioned a primitive 5 day camping trip. It was not that at all. The first day, yes, was the most primitive, the night was freezing, and we were right in the center of a beautiful valley. We poo’d in a giant hole. All the other nights, however, we slept in tents on balconies of private homes or campsites. There was running water. Showers even. Regular toilets (but with no lids). There was definitely more infrastructure than expected. Seeing all this, I knew I could have done it on my own. Especially after having walked on the Camino de Santiago for 25 days. Doing the Salkantay trail for five days with all this infrastructure did not seem so complicated as I had originally imagined.

Mainly though, doing the trail without a guide would mean, exactly that, doing it without the guide- the worst part of the trip. I would gladly take on all the extra responsibility of dealing with the logistics if it meant that I could do a sexual harassment free trip. I would be free to exist in nature without his disgusting gaze, constantly telling me to walk in front of him. I would be free to enjoy myself on a bucket-list trip of a lifetime without spending hours walking alone, fuming about what I should have said when caught totally off-guard by the first comment about my ‘sexy body.’ I would also have the freedom to look back at my trip experience and reflect on the beautiful nature, the challenge of climbing in high altitudes, and the companionship with my friend. Instead, I look back and feel resentment for having paid to be sexually harassed in nature.


LIMA, PERU: Food Tour

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

Coming to Lima was a bit of a last minute decision. It had the best and cheapest flights back to Argentina, so here I am. I had only 4 days in Lima, so my main goal was to eat, and eat well. So eat, I did!

EL TOKE PEZ:
Av. Angamos 886, Surquillo 15047

I came here before I watched the episode on Netflix (Street Food: Latin America: Lima, Peru). I should have watched the episode first to fully appreciate each small detail. The first and most important thing you should know about El Toke Pez is that it’s delicious, worth it, and you should definitely go.

Netflix informed me that the owner, Toshi, is third generation Japanese born in Peru, to a successful restaurateur father. He calls his restaurant ugly, and himself a loser. Neither of which are true. Toshi earned a PhD in chemistry in England and runs an incredibly successful restaurant in Lima. It’s small. It’s not fancy. But it has charm. El Toke Pez is on a busy main street full of car horns and bus stops.

But once inside, it feels intimate. I chatted with the man who sat on my right, a South Korean/American professor who brought students to Peru for a semester study abroad program. He watched the Netflix episode first.

Both the professor and I ordered the ‘combinado’ for s/25, which is certainly the most popular and necessary dish to order. It comes with three sections: chicharron, ceviche, and rice with seafood. Each individual dish comes with a rich and individual flavor. The rice dish was hot, the ceviche was cold, both seasoned expertly. I couldn’t finish it all but I certainly tried. I rinsed it all down with the included chicha morada (purple corn drink).

According to Google Maps, the place is open every day from 12-4. According to the sign, it’s open from 11:30-3:30. I suggest arriving as close to 11:30 as possible if you want to sit down. I arrived at 12:10, and the line was already 10 deep. I waited 35 minutes in line until my turn arrived. A man came through the line to check if each person wanted to wait and sit, or order take away. Obviously I wanted to sit. Give me that experience, I am not in a hurry.

I finally arrived to my seat at 12:45, and the second I sat down, a beautiful 3-dish plate was served to me. I enjoyed every moment, including the parts where I started to feel full and could no longer take it. This was the best food I’ve had in Lima, and definitely the best ceviche I’ve had in Peru. The line was still several people deep when I left.


EL BURGUERO:
Calle Berlin 15048, Miraflores

I was told that Calle Berlin is the place to go for sandwiches, and so I went. I walked by several shops and finally settled on El Burguero, which had both the lunch menu option (s/15) as well as a sandwich menu. I ordered the sandwich clasico (& a lemonade for s/24), which was a thin chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, mayo, a side of fries, and nothing to write home about. I’ve tasted better, I’ve tasted worse. Next time I’ll get the lunch menu.


STREET CHURROS:

After having lunch at El Burguero I decided to take a walk over to the cliffs along the water. I wanted to see the sea. As I strolled along the ocean overlook path, I passed a woman selling churros. They were fat and filled with dulce de leche and I wanted to try (s/3). It wasn’t warm, it wasn’t cold, but it was delicious and exactly what I was craving.

A perfect snack for a grey, foggy day stroll along the coast of Lima. Also presenting in this photo my many bug bites from Machu Picchu. Ta-da!


CANTA RANA:
Genova 101, Barranco 15063

The same friend who recommended I try Morena Peruvian Kitchen in Cusco, also recommended I come here. Because of the true beauty of Morena, he had gained my solid trust when it comes to food, and I knew I had to come.

Canta Rana is in the center of the Barranco neighborhood, which is worth a visit itself. I came on a Sunday, and the area was full of markets- vintage market, handmade market, craft market. I saw at least 5 different Sunday markets around the hood.

Canta Rana sits on the corner, and once the line starts forming around 1pm, the line goes down the block away from the main door. There are tables both outside and inside. The sidewalk seating is on the small street and on a nice day is very desirable. I got sat inside and had a front row seat to the chaos. This place is BUSY. The workers run around, working hard and fast. The food comes out surprisingly slower than expected for a place with a line out the door, but once it does come, it is delicious. And rich. I had the spinach ravioli with the famous Peruvian huancaina sauce. So rich I now have leftovers for dinner. Raviolis + lemonade + 10% tip = s/ 41.

PICARONES MARY:
In the center of 7 de Julio/Kennedy Park

After leaving El Toke Pez yesterday, I decided I should probably try watching the Netflix show that helped increase its popularity. The episode was good, and what I also found there was Picarones Mary, in the center of Kennedy Park. So, of course, I went. I wanted a little sweet something after lunch.

Picarones are fried dough in the shape of a donut. Though it may surprise you when they don’t taste like a donut at all. The dough is made of pumpkin and sweet potato, then deep fried. A sugary glaze, almost molasses-like, is then poured over the top.

I wanted to like these, and I almost did. I liked them for the moment, but I can’t see myself ever craving them in the future. Just a one and done kinda food for me. But I’m glad I tried them. Five came in the package, I ate 3, and 2 went to the trash can. 5 picarones for s/ 8.


SALKANTAY DAY BY DAY: What to Expect

Watch Day 1 of the Salktantay Trek on Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

In this post I’m going to explain what you should expect on each of the 5 days during the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. If you’re interested in some logistics of the trip, like how much it costs, and what it includes, plus a little juicy gossip about my tour guide, check out this post here. If you want to know what to pack, click here.

PRE- DAY 1:
Two days before the start of the journey, the guide came over to our Airbnb around 7pm. He gave us our duffle bags for the trip, and explained some of the logistics, and how everything would work. This is an opportunity to ask questions and have the guide check any gear or clothing you might be worried about.

DAY 1: CUSCO to MOLLEPATA to HUMANTAY LAKE
This day began very early. We woke up at 4:15am. The guide was back at our Airbnb by 4:45am to pick us up. We then drove to the main office of the tour company to pay our remaining balance (you pay a 40% deposit online when booking, and the rest must be paid in cash – usd or soles- once you arrive), get a couple water bottles, get the company’s bright yellow T-shirt, and then we were back on the road.

We drove two hours to Mollepata, where we made a quick pitstop for our guide to get us registered with local authorities and pay some entrance fees. We then drove into the center of town to have breakfast (first breakfast not included in price). The breakfast was s/15 and consisted of juice, coffee, tea, bread, and a choice of a cheese, egg, or ham sandwich. Once breakfast concluded, we then drove on to the town of Soraypampa, where our journey officially began. We met Daniel, our porter/horseman, and Mario, the chef. We were also expected to tip our driver at this point.

The men packed our duffle bags onto the horses, we strapped on our day packs, and started up the hill. The first stop was Humantay Lake, which sits at an altitude of 4200m. It took about 2 hours to hike up to the lake from the parking lot. I fortunately didn’t struggle with the altitude, and found this a rather easy hike, and could have done it much faster. However, my friend, Art, had been struggling with the altitude and definitely needed a few breaks along the way.

The base of the lake was as packed as a summer day along the Amalfi Coast. Some people do just a one-day trip to Humantay Lake, and it shows. Rather than stick around the surface level of the lake, we continued hiking up to the left about 15 minutes, where we were rewarded with postcard photographic views. Sights indescribable. The water so blue, with a snowcapped peak background. It’s impossible to take a bad photo here. We were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves for about 30 minutes, until others started to join and crowd the space.

We took that as our cue to leave. We headed back down the mountain, the bajada taking only 30 minutes, and made our way to our lunch spot, not far from the original parking lot. A local wedding was taking place in the hills, and the flute music showered us with its echo throughout the valley while we ate.

Mario had prepared us an appetizer of fresh, homemade tortilla chips and guacamole. Then arrived the rice, veggies, and trout. After finishing up lunch, we relaxed for a bit, shoes off, eyes closed, supine position, face to the sky, paired with a cocoa leaf tea. Once the sun disappeared and the first rain drops started falling, we packed up our bags and headed off for the second half of the day.

The second half of the day consisted of light to moderate rain, slight wind, and and an obvious temperature drop. We walked another couple hours through a flowery, green valley, surrounded by massive mountain walls on all sides. We finally arrived to our night 1 campsite after 3 hours. Our tent was set up already, thanks to Daniel and Mario. We quickly got in our tent, added a few layers of clothing and waited for ‘happy hour.’ There was always a light snack of popcorn, crackers and hot chocolate before the official dinner was served.

We shivered in the food tent as we waited for our meal and sipped our hot chocolate. The cold made us nervous for the coming days, though what we didn’t yet know, was this is the coldest it would get on the trip. We just had to get through the night.

It was a long, cold, restless night. We tried to cuddle and get as close to each other as we could to stay warm, but because the sleeping bags didn’t unzip very far, it was an unsuccessful venture. I woke up a dozen times, checking my phone, and hoping for the morning to arrive as possible to get moving again.

DAY 2: THE SALKANTAY PASS
Finally 5:30 am arrived and we were greeted at the tent door with ‘buenos dias,’ and a hot cup of cocoa leaf tea. Thank you, Mario! We then braved the cold morning and went to the bathroom, brushed our tooth, packed up our bags and had breakfast in the food tent. We were ready to get moving!

While cold, the landscape was incredible. We continued walking through a wide valley, and eventually began climbing up the side of the mountain wall which rewarded us more amazing views as we looked at where we had come from. At this point, the sun started to come out and we shed a few layers. Our hats changed from warm winter to sun caps.

Slowly the landscape began to change, and we continued up the side of Salkantay Mountain. We could see the snowy peak of the mountain in front of us all day as we got closer and closer. We reached the Salkantay pass of 4600m around 11am. There we met up with Mario, who of course had cocoa tea ready for us. We enjoyed the incredible scenery, had a small stone stacking ceremony for Pachamama, and then continued on down the other side of the pass.

Just as we began to descend, the weather began to change again. Coats on. Rain covers on. Winter hats on. Down we went. The landscape changed from mountainous boulders to large red rocks rising through fog. We crossed rivers and continued on what felt like a path through Mars.

We reached the lunch spot mid day just as the rain started to pour down, and we were glad for shelter and a temporary respite from the wetness. After another amazing lunch, and a bathroom break, we continued on. Down we went. As the hours passed, the landscape slowly changed again, this time to jungle views, with weather to match. It got hot. It smelled like a rainforest. It looked like a rainforest. It sounded like a rainforest.

Another few hours and we arrived to our campsite for day 2. This time it was not a cold and primitive site in the middle of a valley. It was on the balcony of a private home, with a s/10 hot shower, running water to brush our teeth, a laundry line to hang our sweaty clothes, and a small shop for a well deserved evening beer.

DAY 3: ON THE WAY TO SANTA TERESA
Another early morning that started with cocoa leaf tea at the tent door. We had breakfast and said goodbye to our porter, Daniel, who had to take the horses back. The night’s sleep was definitely better as the temperature was much warmer.

This day passed through valleys, along ridges, along rivers, by waterfalls, everything green green green. And warm warm warm. We were down to just T-shirts on this day. If I had them, I would have worn shorts.

We arrived to our lunch spot around 1pm, which felt like a party. Several other groups sitting in circles in the grass, drinking beer, laughing. The place was full of merriment. After lunch we all decided to take a taxi to Santa Teresa. The other option was to walk there- another 3 hours- after already having walked about 8. It was the most awkward day with our guide (check this post if you don’t know what I mean), and we were ready to be done with the day. Besides, we had thermal baths we wanted to get to.

About thirty taxi minutes later, we arrived to our night 3 campsite, which was more of a motel with a garden and an outdoor cooking space. We were once again grateful for the running water and toilets, even if they didn’t have toilet seats. And once again, like the night before, we set up our tents on the balcony. We found this to be the best option, as it was flat, whereas the earth had more of a tilt, and allowed us to sleep most comfortably.

Once we set up the tents and got changed, we headed to the center of town where we found a moto-taxi and zoomed outside of town to the thermal baths. We arrived just after 4pm, and the baths closed at 5:30, but it was just enough time to get in, get warm and relax. Well, relax as much as possible when a local Peruvian has his nightclub music blaring in the corner. The thermal baths were surrounded by green mountains, and full of other foreigners on the same journey as we were.

After the baths we headed back to the campsite via moto-taxi, had another amazing dinner, and headed to the tents for an early night. Thankfully this night was so warm, we even took off layers as the night went on. Being able to keep our arms outside of the sleeping bag was a real win for us.

DAY 4: SANTA TERESA TO AGUAS CALIENTES (MACHU PICCHU PUEBLO)
This was the most relaxed and slow-moving morning of the trip. The reason being, we were not going to start out the morning by foot, but rather taxi. The first stretch of day 4 had recently been converted into a giant, dusty construction site, and the road to pass through didn’t open until 9am. Therefore, we spent the morning eating breakfast, playing with street dogs, and throwing small rocks into the mouth of a frog on a table (a Peruvian game we’ve seen all over the country).

Once the time arrived, we said goodbye to our chef Mario (who was heading back to Cusco), and caught our taxi to the next point. We made a couple stops along the dusty road to allow for passing trucks, but eventually we arrived at our destination at Hydroelectrica. Now that we had lost both our chef and our porter, we had our duffle bags with us. Hydroelectrica is the last stop on the train path to Aguas Calientes. We passed our duffle bags to another porter who would then safely put them on the train that was to arrive later that afternoon. Then, with 10km until Aguas Calientes, we set off.

We followed the train tracks the entire 10km until we reached Machu Picchu town, making just a few stops to eat lunch and talk about the various types of plants growing around. Entering what felt like a real town with real infrastructure for the first time in 4 days felt good. We had that hotel bed on our minds. Our hotel was located on the edge of town near the market and train station. We had a couple hours to kill before we had to meet up with our tour guide again. He would be staying at a hostel for the night, and we felt relieved to have a bit of space away from him.

At 6:30, he met us back at the hotel after having picked up our duffle bags at the train station. We threw our bags in the room and went to have our last, and definitely most awkward dinner with the guide. That night we took showers in a glorious and hot shower, watched Netflix, and deeply appreciated clean hotel sheets.

DAY 5: MACHU PICCHU
The alarm was set for 5:30. We both showered again, because we could, and went off to the hotel breakfast, which definitely surpassed our expectations. Warm eggs, sausage, cheese, fresh juice and coffee. We met our guide once more in the hotel lobby at 6:30 and headed to the Machu Picchu bus line in the center of town.

Our entrance tickets were for the 7am-8am grouping. We entered Machu Picchu with what felt like hundreds of other tourists coming for the same thing. There isn’t really much I can say about Machu Picchu. It’s exactly what you imagine, only more people. The fog rolls in low adding to the magic of the place. There is the standard photo spot. You know the one- you’ve seen it in several people’s Tinder photos.

The direction of traffic in Machu Picchu goes just one way. You must follow it, and you must not stop too many times to take photos as the security guards will yell at you about blocking the traffic. We spent about 3 hours at this Modern Wonder of the World, strolling through structures of stones that are hundreds of years old.

It’s amazing, and fantastic, that the Spanish colonizers were not able to find Machu Picchu, and therefore it was left untouched for hundreds of years until an American professor finally arrived in the early 1900’s. He was led here by locals when they heard he was researching the history of the area, looking for Incan sites. Now, just over one hundred years later, the site is visited by thousands each day.

Three hours later, we made our way to the exit, and took the bus back down to town. We said goodbye to our guide, gave him a tip, and went our separate ways. Our way led us to a restaurant along the river with craft beer where we hung out until it was time to go back to the hotel, pick up our bags, and head to the train station. You should definitely arrive at least 45 minutes before the train departs as the lines are long. The train to Ollantaytambo took about 1 hour and 45 minutes through beautiful greenery, passing by rivers and through valleys. Once in Ollantaytambo, we were met by a taxi driver holding up a sign with our names on it. We then drove towards Cusco, and arrived about 2 hours later in heavy traffic. We were relieved to be arriving back in Cusco, ready to shower and sleep in ‘our own beds’ (as opposed to tents). The taxi driver gave us each a plastic bag in order to do a clothing swap, so he could take the duffle bags back to the company.

We were grateful for the experience, but also glad to be back ‘home.’


CUSCO, PERU: 15 Foods You Need to TRY

Everyone who comes to Peru, comes to Cusco at some point. Everyone who steps foot in Peru will immediately begin to receive suggestions from other travelers who have already been to the places you’re eventually going. Most of those tips are often about food. Where to eat. Every time I get a tip, I make a note in Google maps.

Welp, I’ve finally arrived in Cusco, and I’m ready to try out all those hot tips, plus a few more.

CAPPUCCINO CAFE:
Plaza de Armas, Portal de Comercio 141, Cusco 08002

This cafe sits right in the center of the main square of Cusco. It has three small balconies, and if you’re lucky enough to arrive to find one empty, you can enjoy your cappuccino while the sun shines on your face as you look out over the Plaza de Armas and listen to the raging sounds of traffic jams and horns honking.

Personally, I find this place to be a bit overrated. The ambience and location get an A+, but the food and drinks are standard cafe options, but overpriced. I had a piece of the apple pie and a cappuccino, since that is the name after all. I would describe them as ‘fine.’

Cappuccino & apple pie: $22 soles ($5.74 usd)


SAN PEDRO MARKET:
Thupaq Amaru 477, Cusco 08002

This massive market in the center of Cusco has everything. Clothes. Incense. Bags. Gloves. Juice. Food. If you’re looking for an inexpensive meal, this is the place to come. While the majority of the market is full of stands with embroidered goods, there are two rows for juice, and on the far side, a food section. The juices range in price depending on what you want mixed together, but you can choose more than a dozen different flavors. Then you can sit down and enjoy your juice right there, as it is served in a glass mug, which I appreciate for environmental purposes. One massive orange and carrot juice cost me 6 soles ($1.57 usd).

When you’re ready for lunch, head on over to the food portion, where you can find adobo, ceviche, and fresh chicken noodle soup. I opted for the soup, though there were two versions: The sopa de pollo (smaller version, 7 soles – $1.83 usd), and the caldo de pollo (13 soles – $3.39 usd, comes with chicken feet). I opted for the smaller bowl sans chicken feet.


MORENA PERUVIAN KITCHEN
320 Calle Procuradores, Plaza de Armas, Cusco

This was by far the best food I’ve had in Peru. Hands down. I ate it as slowly as possible to enjoy every single second. Even after I was full, I kept going slowly and surely. I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I ordered the lomo saltado, which came on a bed of yellow quinoa, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and edible flowers. Everything cooked to perfection. Just before the main course came out, they brought over a small starter of two round potatoes served with chimichurri and aji verde sauce. Along with the meal, came a dish of three sauces- a yellow garlic, more aji verde, and a spicy rocoto (red pepper). The sauces of Peru are a wonder of their own. The guys next to me ordered cocktails, and a waiter brought over a cart and created a masterpiece right at the table.

Yes, this is on the more pricey side for Peru, yet a meal this good for less than $20 by US standards is an absolute must. Go ahead and treat yourself one day. Lomo Saltado dish (as described above), and water sin gas: 64 soles ($17.16 usd).


GREEN POINTS RESTAURANTS:
Carmen Bajo 235, Cusco 08003

This beautiful restaurant is in the San Blas neighborhood, at the end of a long outdoor hallway filled with succulents and cacti. Once you enter the main part of the restaurant, you are welcomed into what feels like a secret garden. Full of plants, flowers, and beautiful hanging lights. The ambience is special. Both in the smell and feel. This is a fully vegan restaurant, and the attentive wait stuff make sure to explain each detail of everything you are served. I ordered the lentil burger, which came with possibly the best homemade fries I’ve ever had. In addition, they brought out several sauces- a homemade mayo, a spicy mustard (it wasn’t that spicy), and an incredible ketchup de la casa. Lentil burger & lemonade: 46 soles ($12.33 usd).


KUSYKAY:
Detrás del colegio San Francisco de Borja (mirador, waynapata 410, Cusco 08002

This restaurant is in the center, but sits at the top of a hill with an amazing view of the city, including the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get the table next to the window upstairs and look out at the view during your whole meal. Unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky but I still enjoyed the atmosphere. It was very quiet and peaceful (until a family came in and set next to me, and the young boy played video games on his phone with the volume up and nobody told him to turn it down). All the food is fresh and prepared in house. The wait staff is extremely attentive, and I mean extremely. Like it’s just too much. I barely took two bites before they came back again to ask how it all was. To the point of annoyance. I don’t need to be checked on twice while I’m just enjoying my cappuccino. That’s after a dozen other check-ins during my meal. The food was good, but it was hard to focus on, since the waiters started to put me in a bad/annoyed mood. They serve you a mint tea at the end. Lomo alpaca, Limonada, cappuccino: 66 soles ($17.69 usd)


TUPANA RESTAURANTE:
Calle Puputi & Juan Santos (Near Plaza Tupac Amaru)

This is a standard Peruvian “menu” place. The Peruvian “menu” means you pay one flat rate, generally 6-8 soles, and it comes with a drink, a starter, and a main dish. We ventured out a bit late in the afternoon (3pm) for lunch so struggled at first to find an open menu restaurant. We walked a few blocks up the hill from Plaza Tupac Amaru and found the perfect place: Tupana. It was open, still serving, and several Peruvian men hanging out watching the Manchester United v Real Madrid game.

We sat in the back of the restaurant, which was like a private room, and ordered 2 ‘menus.’ Generally you have a choice of a few different items, though since we were quite late, we got whatever they had, which was still delicious. The drink was mate de manzanilla, chamomile tea. The first dish was a rich, yellow, quinoa soup with vegetables, and the second was ‘seco de pollo,’ which was a cup of white rice, carrots, potatoes, and a chicken wing, with a rich, seasoned green sauce. Not bad for 7 soles each person ($1.86).


STREET FOOD:
F2GV+5XG, 3S, Cusco 08003 (right in front of this address)

About 15 minutes walking from my apartment, there is a small park in front of a hospital. In that park there are several women, and oftentimes with their children, selling all kinds of homemade food. This area seems to cater to the workers in the area, as it on a main street next to a bus stop. We went over there one afternoon to see what kind of street food we could find.

Rocoto Relleno: This food was recommended to me in Arequipa. I tried it at a very popular restaurant, but was really not impressed. When I tried it here in the park (with a couple extra potatoes given to us by the seller woman), it was absolutely delicious. It is a red pepper stuffed with meat and vegetables, then deep fried. Even better if you add aji verde (spicy green garlic sauce) on top. The pepper and three potatoes ran us 4.50 soles ($1.50 usd).

Yuca con Queso

Yuca con queso: This is a warm piece of yuca/mandioca, with a melted piece of cheese in the center. It is very oily, and gets your hands greasy, but manages to taste slightly dry in your mouth. It is good, and fills you up fast, but the flavor is not very varied, but quite simple. But for 2 soles, it’s definitely worth a try ($0.50 usd).

The fresh squeezed oj cart

Fresh Squeezed OJ: You’ll see this all over the streets in Peru. A cart packed full with oranges, a squeezing contraption, and a pitcher full of fresh juice. Luckily there was just such a cart behind us once we finished our fried foods and were ready for something to drink. What I also like is that they give it to you in a glass so there is no waste. Once you drink the juice, simply give back the glass and they’ll wash it for the next customer. Absolutely delicious, $3 soles ($0.90 usd).

Almost empty glass of Chicha Morada

Chicha Morada: Chicha morada is the popular Peruvian drink made from purple corn (Chicha= corn; morada= purple). It doesn’t exactly taste like juice, and it definitely doesn’t taste like soda. It’s a flavor totally unique to my palate, and incredibly delicious. I ordered one glass of chicha morada from the woman, who encouraged me to chug the first glass so that she could refill it one more time. All for $1 sole ($0.25 usd).

Cheese Pancake & Potatoes

Cheese Pancake & Potatoes: This is exactly what it sounds like. There are a few warm potatoes on a plate, and covering them like a blanket is a hard piece of cheese that looks like a pancake, but tastes quite rubbery in your mouth. This was definitely not my favorite of the street food assortment, but it was good to try. I absolutely recommend putting on some aji verde to add some flavor. This ran us $3.50 soles ($1 usd).

Queso Helado

Queso Helado: This is another sweet treat you’ll find all over Peru. It’s slightly yellow in color, and tastes like ice cold milk, with cinnamon sprinkled on top. This is not actually a cheese flavored ice cream as the name might lead you to believe. It’s just called ‘cheese ice cream’ because the base in both cheese and ice cream is milk, therefore ‘queso helado’ because this treat is made with milk. One cup of queso helado is $3 soles ($0.90 usd).


INCA COLA:

Nicki holding up a bottle of Inca Cola

This neon yellow drinks screams I. “I am full of sugar!” I never trust an unnaturally bright yellow or blue libation. Inca Cola proved my point. From the second I untwisted the cap, the sugar fumes filled my nostrils. Even before I took my first sip, I already wanted to brush my teeth. Inca Cola tastes like a liquid Jolly Rancher. Cotton Candy in drink form. The Bubble Gum flavor at the dentist. I had three sips which was more than enough. I will never drink an entire bottle in my lifetime. Though Peruvians can’t seem to get enough. Yesterday I saw a boy drinking it at the airport at 8am, so there’s that!

LA CUSQUENITA:
Centenario 800, Cusco 08002

Nicki holding up the two sides of a fried cuy (Guinea Pig)

We came here very specifically to eat cuy, or guinea pig. Apparently it is a traditional Incan Food tradition that Peruvians still celebrate. As my friend Art said, it’s more like a “gimmick pig.” We ordered the Cuy Chaqtado, which is a deep fried version of the pig. The rich flavoring of the marinated skin seeps down in to the small bits of meat you can find, and really does not take like chicken as one might expect. Guinea pig is to try once in your life, but I guarantee you will never crave it again. There isn’t much meat to be found, which I suppose is not much of a surprise considering it is a rodent after all. I was able to find about 5-6 solid bites of meat (maybe), before I was left digging through ribs and organs like a starving person, searching for something I could eat. Fortunately the dish came with potatoes and a rocoto relleno, which I desperately needed since the cuy did not provide much sustenance. The cuy was 60 soles ($16 usd).

CUSCO, PERU: Easy Day Hikes From the Center

Everyone comes to Cusco because they plan to hike, or train, to Machu Pichu. It is, without a doubt, an over touristed destination, meaning that it has been loved to death. So many tourists, everywhere you look. But, thankfully, there are a few escapes to avoid the crowds and get out into nature. They are also easily accessed from the center of Cusco.

CRISTO BLANCO:

Hanging with Cristo Blanco

Okay, yes, I know, this stop is not totally tourist free. But there is a nice, yet steep, hike up to it, and the view of the city is fantastic. You’ll find the typical sellers that you’ll find all over Cusco- selling sweaters, hats, photos with alpaca, tours, etc. The White Jesus (Cristo Blanco) was quite a bit smaller than I had expected, but it was still definitely interesting to see. On Google maps, you can find it as “Mirador desde el Cristo Blanco.”

How to get there?
It’s not exactly complicated, you just have to get yourself on the right path. The easiest way to explain would be to put in ‘Acueducto de Sapantiana’ into Google Maps. Once you get there (worth a quick stop to see the aquaduct as well), you’ll see signs for Cristo Blanco. Keep following them up.

If you prefer more analogue instructions, try this:
Face the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. Just to the left, there is a small street. Follow that street up and you’ll hit a fork. Take the small alleyway to the right. Follow that alley all the way until you hit a dead end at Calle Choqechaka. Turn left and walk up the street until you reach a staircase. At the top of the stairs to the right, you’ll find the aquaduct. To the left, you’ll see a sign for the Cristo Blanco. Follow that arrow, which will lead you up a beautiful staircase alleyway full of plants and flowers. Once you reach the top of the stairs, turn right. Then just keep walking up until you reach the highway. There will be a few shops on the right. Walk past the shops and underneath the big sign that is the entrance to the park. Walk up.

You’ll reach another fork. To the right you’ll see a hill. Straight ahead you’ll see what looks like a small ticket booth. You also have the option to go straight ahead to purchase your ticket to see the Saqsaywaman Archeological site, which is just on your left. I believe it is 130 soles.

But if you just want to see White Jesus, head right, cross the small bridge, and follow the path up the hill. It takes about 10 minutes walking up. Make sure to bring water as the heat and altitude may get to you.


TEMPLO DE LA LUNA:

Looking out over the Templo de la Luna

I had actually hoped to find a more direct route from the Cristo Blanco to El Templo de la Luna, though I wasn’t able to. I asked a couple local girls once I came back down the hill from Cristo Blanco, and they said it was on the other side of the hill (that I had just come down from). Meaning I would have to go back up and over the White Jesus hill, and continue along the highway. That didn’t sound ideal, so I decided to head back down to the aquaduct, through the San Blas neighborhood, and then back up where there were much more clearly marked paths to get there.

The Templo de la Luna is technically an Incan archaeological site, with carvings in the side of the rock. It really isn’t that big, and to be honest, doesn’t give a ‘wow this is an important place,’ kind of vibe. Though the surrounding area really is beautiful. Standing on top of the rock, you have a 360 degree changing view. On one side green hills and mountains, and on the other an open green space with the city and more mountains in the distance.

How to get there?
You can put easily find ‘Templo de la Luna’ on Google Maps, though getting there is not as easy as it might seem. I followed the recommended path by Google, but that is not the path I want to suggest to you. Google shows you walk up some small roads in Cusco until you reach the highway, shown in yellow on the map. Then you cross the highway, and continue to walk straight up the road along the pavement, walking through a small neighborhood with a few shops, and old men sitting outside of them until you reach the opening of the green space that holds the temple. Don’t go this way. It’s very steep, with very few shadows.

Don’t walk up this road. Look to the right for the dirt path. Follow the dirt path.

Do this instead: Follow Google’s steps up to the highway. Cross the highway. Then about 1minute later, you’ll see a structure to your right. A square with chainlink fence walls, and green painted poles, most likely protecting something electrical inside. Next to that green chainlink square you’ll see a path. Get on that path and keep following it up. It will eventually lead you to a part of the Incan trail leading to the Templo de la Luna. You’ll walk on a grass path with stone walls on either side. This trail is much more pleasant than the road.


LA ZONA X:

Zona X is not promoted anywhere that I have seen. I only knew about it because a friend of mine used to live in Cusco for a year, and he told me to go. It’s only a 30-minute walk from Templo de la Luna, along a mainly flat dirt road, with incredible views of green hills to the right, the eucalyptus forest to the left, and the occasional alpaca having lunch.

Zona X was explained to me as having magical energies. It expands much further than I went, but the area is covered with tunnels that go into the Earth. Just before I was to cross the highway to enter Zona X, I stopped to chat with one of the horse guides who told me a few tales about the area, which I’m not fully keen to believe. He said the area is called Zona X because the tunnels in the area make one giant X (this I do believe), which several smaller tunnels jutting out from the main X. He recommended that I do not enter the tunnels because it can be difficult to get out again.

Paths in Zona X

He told me how the tunnels lead to several parts of Peru; one leads down to the Plaza de Armas in the center of Cusco, and another leads all the way to Machu Picchu. He told me a story about how three university students once entered the tunnel in their early 20’s and got lost. Two never made it out and died in the tunnels, but one finally emerged 40 years later, a skinny, old man with malnutrition (this is a story I don’t believe).

I did explore around the area for about 45 minutes. There are several rock formations, which reminded me somewhat of hiking in Cappadoccia, Turkey. I did see entrances to several tunnels, though they didn’t seem to go very far, nor that deep. Several had such small openings that I wouldn’t expect a human to fit through. However, I think there are likely several more tunnels that I missed. However, the area is incredibly beautiful, and I was completely alone. Not a single other tourist. Just me, the breeze, and a couple dozen sheep in the distance.

How to get there?
This is also easily found on Google Maps by typing in “zona x.” From Templo de la Luna, just walk in the opposite direction of how you arrived. You’ll see a path going down the rock. Eucalyptus forest to the left, green hills to the right. There is a small fence all along the path. Just follow that path, and within 30 minutes you’ll come to the highway (and all the horses just before it). As soon as cross the highway, you’re in Zona X. There are small paths you can follow around and just keep going as long as you want.

If you are not planning to see the Templo de La Luna, and prefer to drive, just follow the highway up until you come to the spot marked on Google maps. There is a small gravel shoulder where you can park, just next to the horses.


ARGENTINA: Cost of Living (and how to get Dolar Blue)

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Nicki Posts Travel Stuff

I spent the first three months of the year in Argentina- mid January to mid April. I wanted to keep track of spending to have a better idea of what living there long term would look like.

To do this, I used an app called Trail Wallet (not sponsored). The app is free for the first 25 entries, but only $5 unlimited after that. A small price to pay I felt. I kept track of every peso I spent for three months, from each empanada to metro card recharge to dinner out, and now I want to share that idea with you in case you too are planning a trip to Argentina, whether it be short or long term.

This is the travel budget app that I use: Trail Wallet

RED VS BLUE RATE:
The first thing to understand about Argentina is the money. Argentina suffers from high inflation, and what has resulted is two currency exchange rates. I’m going to explain these rates as simply as possible, as well as explain how to get access to your money, in order to help you better understand the cost of living in general.

The two rates are the dolar red and the dolar blue:

The dolar red is the official exchange rate. It is the exchange rate you’ll see on xe.com. As of today, $1usd = $114 pesos. You will receive this rate by:
Using a foreign credit card
Taking money out of an atm

The dolar blue is the unofficial exchange rate. This rate fluctuates every day. When I first arrived to Argentina in January, it was at $208 pesos to $1usd. Then it went up to $217. On the day I left in mid April, it was $191. As of today, the rate is $1usd =$202 pesos. As you can see, the dolar blue is about double that of the red, which means paying in cash gets you half off.

This is a screenshot from April 26, 2022 of the exchange rates


For simplicity sake, I’m going to assume the red rate is an even $100 and the dolar blue is an even $200 to $1usd for the following example.

Let’s say you go to dinner and the total comes out to $4000 pesos. You decide to pay with your credit card. You would be charged $40 usd. But then your friend is like, hold up, don’t pay with a credit card in Argentina, silly. So you put away your visa, and pull out that cash you just exchanged on the blue rate. You put down $4000 in cash, which is now $20 usd. You just saved half of your money.

HOW TO GET THAT BLUE EXCHANGE RATE:
So now that you understand how each rate works, and you understand you better be paying for everything in cash (but not from the atm), the next step is to know HOW to get that blue exchange rate. There are a few ways:

Arbolista: This is what someone is called who deals with exchange in the blue dollar. If you ask an Argentinian friend, there is a 100% chance they have a friend who is an arbolista and will connect you. Make sure you’re bringing crisp $100 bills with the big Benjamin face (the newer bills). They often will not exchange smaller or older bills.

Cambio: Maybe you just arrived to Argentina and have no connections and no Argentinean friends, but you still need to exchange money. You can go to the microcentro of the city you’re in (Calle Florida if in Buenos Aires, zona peatonal in Cordoba) and look around for people saying “cambio, cambio.” These people will exchange on the dolar blue. Personally I think this is the least secure way, but I know that for some people it is their only option. Therefore, I would take these steps to protect yourself:
1. Ask the rate they will exchange before following them inside
2. Verify how much you have to exchange & the total that you will receive in pesos
3. Count out each bill out loud, one by one. “Cien, doscientos, trescientos,” etc.
4. Film the entire transaction
(I know this sounds extreme but it will help you to avoid being scammed. It doesn’t happen often, but it can happen. Since you don’t have any personal connections to this person, it is better to be cautious).

Western Union:
Personally I think this is the best, most secure, most comfortable, and safest option. Create an account with Western Union. Connect your bank account and/or credit card. Download the app which will make things much easier. Transfer yourself the money. Then go into a WU branch (there are several) and simply pick up your money.

Tips & Things to note:
1. Always use the promo code DIGITAL0FEE to avoid the WU fee.
2. It takes 3-5 days to receive a transfer from your bank account.
3. Transfers from credit cards are instantaneous, but your credit card company will likely charge a fee. Mine charges $10 usd.
4. Bring your passport and the transfer code.
5. If you go to a smaller branch, you’ll need to bring a photocopy of your passport.
6. Go straight home and drop off your cash. Because of inflation, you will receive a lot of bills that will likely not fit in your wallet. Don’t make yourself a target.


Okay great, now we understand money in Argentina and how to get access to the dolar blue. Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of how much things cost. I’ll break it down by the one month I spent in Buenos Aires, and the two months I spent in Cordoba Capital.

BUENOS AIRES:

The Soho Market in Palermo

In one month in Buenos Aires, I spent a total of $735 including rent. Without counting rent, I spent an average of $10.82 usd/day ($335.38/31 days). I’ll break this down into categories (in usd based on the dolar blue):

RENT: $400
FOOD: $231.17
TRANSPORT: $39.61
ENTERTAINMENT: $5.73
SUNDRIES: $0.49
MISCELLANEOUS: $0.97
PHONE CREDIT: $14.76
DRINKING/GOING OUT: $42.67

Now let’s break it down further. How much do things really cost (on average)? Here are a few examples of the things I purchased throughout the month:

FOOD (prices at restaurants are including 10% tip):
Street Empanadas (3): $1 ($200p)
Ceviche at Soho Market: $3.88 ($800p)
Chicken breast with mashed potatoes: $4.13 ($850p)
Avocado Toast in Villa Crespo: $4.08 ($840p)
Ojo de bife steak with wine: $9.71 ($2000)
Vegetables from a verduleria: $8.09 ($1667p)
Milanesa Napolitana with fries: $6.41 ($1320p)
Choripan with fries in La Boca: $3.64 ($750p)
Big supermarket shop: $19.85 ($4090p)
Cafe con Leche w/ 2 media lunas: $1.12 ($230p)

TRANSPORTATION:
Taxi from Congreso to Aeroparque: $3.40 ($700p)
Taxi from Palermo to Congreso apt: $2.72 ($560)
Subte card loaded with credit: $1.07 ($220p)
Subte card reload: $2.43 ($500p)

ENTERTAINMENT:
Evita Museum: $3.49 ($720p)
Playing Cards: $1.75 ($360p)

SUNDRIES:
Bandaids: $0.49 ($100p)

PHONE CREDIT:
Sim Card with 30 days of credit: $5.82 ($1200p)
Recharge: $6.02 ($1240p)

DRINKING/GOING OUT:
Craft beer at Soho Market (x2): $4.27 ($880p)
Craft beer in Palermo (x2): $3.40 ($700p)
Cocktail in Palermo: $4.37 ($900p)


CORDOBA:

Santa Calma in Cordoba

In two months in Cordoba, I spent a total of $1067 including 6 weeks of rent (I stayed at a friend’s house the first two weeks). Without counting rent, I spent an average of $11.94 usd/day ($692.63/58 days). I’ll break this down into categories (in usd based on the dolar blue):

RENT: $375 (6 weeks)
ACCOMMODATION: $54.36 (two nights in Villa Belgrano)
FOOD: $348.87
TRANSPORT: $16.60
ENTERTAINMENT: $1.21
SUNDRIES: $13.98
MISCELLANEOUS: $66.31
BEAUTIFICATION: $58.78
CLOTHING: $75.67
PHONE CREDIT: $9:56
DRINKING/GOING OUT: $47.28

Now let’s break it down further. How much do things really cost (on average)? Here are a few examples of the things I purchased throughout two months in Cordoba:

FOOD (prices at restaurants are including 10% tip):
Street Empanadas (3): $1.31 ($270p)
Chinese food delivery: $7.28 ($1500p)
Brunch: $4.37 (900p)
Asado: $8.25 ($1700p)
Vegetables from a verduleria: $4.61 ($950p)
Choripan at street fair: $2.67 ($550p)
Medium supermarket shop: $9.32 ($1920p)
Lunch at Fazzio Fish Market: $12.14 ($2500p)
Cafe con Leche w/ 2 media lunas: $1.65 ($340p)

TRANSPORTATION:
Roundtrip bus between La Cumbrecita/Villa Belgrano: $4.66 ($960p)
Roundtrip bus between Cordoba/Villa Belgrano: $5.44 ($1120p)
Taxi from party to apt: $2.43 ($500)
Subte card reload: $0.97 ($200p)

ENTERTAINMENT:
Museum: $1.21 ($250p)

SUNDRIES:
Face wash: $11.65 ($2400p)
Tampons: $2.33 ($480p)

PHONE CREDIT:
Recharge: $6.31 ($1300p)

DRINKING/GOING OUT:
Craft beer: $2.14 ($440p)
Beer and wine for dinner party: $4.61 ($950p)
Two Bottles of wine: $2.91 ($600p)

CLOTHING:
Fake Converse: $10.68 ($2200p)
Hiking socks (x2): $12.14 (2500p)
Ring at a market: $4.85 ($1000p)
Hat at a market: $11.65 ($2400p)
Several items from a vintage clothing market: $4.85 ($1000p)
Black skirt: $15.48 ($3190p)

BEAUTIFICATION:
Depilacion (full leg, feet, armpit): $8.74 ($1800p)
Depilacion (full leg, bikini, armpit): $13.59 ($2800p)
Semi permanent Hair Straightening: $12.14 ($2500p)
Nail polish and overcoat: $12.66 ($2609p)

MISCELLANEOUS:
Laundry: $3.88 ($800p)
Powerbank: $14.56 ($3000p)


After three full months in Argentina, between Buenos Aires and Cordoba, I spent a grand total of $1802. Though I did buy a $90 flight from Buenos Aires to Cordoba, so really the total is: $1892. That is an average of $630/month, including rent.

Most people in the United States are paying more than $1892 for just one month of rent, not including any of the other extras. When people ask how I can afford to live abroad, well, now you know.

Volcano Misti: The Hardest Climb of my Life

When the plane landed in Arequipa, we all disembarked onto the tarmac, and stood in line outside in the sun waiting for our turn to show our immigration and vaccination documents. The process was slow and there wasn’t much to do but look around and admire the scenery while waiting for my turn. Right there, rising up from the Earth, straight in front of us was the Volcano Misti. Of course I didn’t know that was its name yet. First I posted it to social media, as you do. Second, my Argentinian friend Charlie messaged me and said he spent time in Arequipa, and that I should climb the volcano.

I hike a lot, I’m in decent shape, I like adventures, so I thought ‘why not?’ In the taxi, I asked the driver about it. He said it can only be done with an agency. So once I got to my hostel, they pointed me in the direction of Waiky Adventours.

But that evening, I started watching some videos on YouTube, and I started to get scared. Two Spanish guys claimed they almost died, and cried happy tears once they reached the base camp, to still have their lives. They didn’t make it to the peak. Some Americans who did make it to the peak said they would NOT recommend it to anyone else.

I started to get scared. I was nervous. For the altitude. For my knees. For my hips. For the difficulty level. On one hand, those videos turned me off from the idea of climbing it. On the other hand, I saw it like a challenge and became even more interested.

The next day I went to Waiky to ask about the climb. The woman working there convinced me it’s not so tough, it’s no big deal, and gave the example that a 65 year old woman had just finished it without a problem to further convince me. I guess it worked because I handed over my credit card and started making arrangements. Challenge accepted.

This is what the Volcano Misti Climb includes for 250 soles:
Transportation
An experienced guide (Alejandro was my guide and he was great)
Dinner on day 1
Breakfast on day 2
Warm jacket (if you don’t have one)
Warm pants (if you don’t have them)
Gloves (two layers)
Camping equipment (tent, sleeping bag, mat)
Plastic bowl, mug, spoon

This is what the Volcano Misti Climb does NOT include:
Hiking boots
Walking sticks (70 soles to buy, 15 to rent)
70 liter Backpack (20 soles to rent)
Headlamp (10 soles to rent)
5-6 liters of water (you are required to give 1.5L to the guide for cooking)

Extra stuff to bring:
1 roll of toilet paper
Sunscreen SPF
Sunglasses
Snacks (cereal bars, nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, lemon candies, etc.)
Lunch on day 1 and 2 (I pre-made sandwiches)
Cocoa leaves (to help with altitude sickness)
Medication (I brought 4 altitude pills I got from the local pharmacy – 2.5 soles each)
Toothbrush/toothpaste
Contact lenses/glasses if necessary
Phone/camera
External battery chargers
Wet wipes (for washing hands & face- bum if necessary)
Camelbak or the like
Fanny pack (for easy access to things like chapstick, camera, and candies)

Clothes I wore:
Light pair of hiking pants for day 1 going up
Two T-shirts (one for each day)
Light waterproof jacket
Yoga pants (for sleeping and worn on day 2)
Fleece
Down Jacket (borrowed from Waiky)
Wind Proof winter pants (borrowed from Waiky)
Three pairs of socks
Cap for the sun
Beanie for the cold

Stuff to pack. I actually did leave some of this stuff behind.

PRE-TRIP
They asked me to come into the Waiky shop the day before the trip to get fitted for all my extra equipment. I tried on pants, jackets, gloves, etc. I got my sleeping mat, sleeping bag, headlamp, backpack (I had to rent one since mine wasn’t big enough), and walking sticks (I purchased them since I’ll be doing other treks in Peru). We got everything organized and put together in one pile so it would be ready the next morning.

MORNING OF DAY 1
They asked me to arrive at 8am to Waiky, though the other 4 in my group didn’t arrive until 8:30. Once I arrived, I unpacked all of my items from my personal backpack and organized them into the larger borrowed backpack, along with all my other borrowed items such as gloves, sleeping bag, jacket, etc. Around 9am, once everyone was there and had their bags organized, we met our guide, Alejandro, and threw our items on top of the 4×4 that was to bring us to the base of the volcano.

We drove about 30 minutes, and made a quick 15 minute stop in a market area where we could grab any extras we might need such as TP or snacks. I grabbed some bananas and an apple from a verduleria, 6 lemon candies from a snack shop (supposedly help while climbing in altitude), and a bag of cocoa leaves, which are also said to aid in altitude sickness. After the market stop, we piled back into the 4×4 and head towards the volcano, about an hour drive.

ARRIVAL TO THE BASE:
We pulled off all of our bags from the roof of the 4×4, and Alejandro encouraged us to reorganize our bags to make sure everything felt super even. We put on SPF and even took a shot of Anis (local alcohol) that one of my climbing mates had brought. We took a group ‘before’ photo, threw on our bags and started walking.

The before photo

DAY 1 HIKE:
I won’t sugarcoat this. It’s fucking hard. It started out a challenge within the first 5 minutes. It’s steep. You’re walking on pebbles, sand, rock, ash. While each portion was quite hard, the time did seem to pass by quickly. It was around 10:30-11am when we first started hiking, and it was hot. I hiked up in just a T-shirt and light pants, my rain/wind jacket strapped to my backpack. We stopped several times on the way up, maybe 4-5 times, to take a totally necessary rest. We stopped for lunch around 1:15 for 30 minutes. Then we strapped our bags back on and continued up the volcano. A couple more stops, and then we were finally at the basecamp, around 4500 meters above sea level by about 4pm. The last push to get there was truly difficult, walking on ash, you feel as if you are sinking a little with each step. Arriving to the basecamp was a relief. The total hike for day 1 was 5 hours. That’s 5 hours of straight up. It was hard. But I had no idea what was to come the next day.

ARRIVAL TO THE BASECAMP:
As soon as we arrived to the basecamp, Alejandro encouraged us to find a spot and set up our tents around a massive rock, which allowed for a bit of wind protection. I shared a tent with a young Dutchman. We set up our tent, threw in our mats, sleeping bags, and backpacks.


I changed my clothes right away, as I didn’t want to get cold from my sweaty T-shirt. I put on my yoga pants under my hiking pants, changed T-shirts, changed socks, put on my fleece, my rain jacket, and the big jacket over that. Changed my sun cap for my beanie. The clouds were coming in and it was getting cold.

The “bathroom,” Alejandro explained, was just on the other side of the big rock. I was surprised by the tons of shredded pieces of toilet paper scattering the area. In addition to old water bottles, Anis bottles, etc.

Our tent location

DINNER AT THE BASECAMP:
Alejandro prepared dinner while we set up our tents and changed our clothes. Around 5pm he called us over, time to eat. The first portion was a creamy noodle soup. Delicious. I’m not sure if Alejandro is the best cook in the world, or I was just incredibly hungry, but it was amazing. The second portion was rice and broccoli with a hamburger patty. We ate while the clouds rolled in just below us, and the sun dropped down into the clouds. It was a beautiful moment.

SLEEPING AT THE BASECAMP:
Sunset was between 5:30 and 6pm and we headed to bed. I, of course, brushed my teeth first, though I think I was the only one to do so. I climbed into my sleeping bad, and tried bundling myself up as much as possible. The night was cold, though not quite as cold as I had expected. I really didn’t sleep well, or much. The ground was quite uneven, with my feet several inches lower than my head. The mat didn’t provide much comfort and each rock could still be felt underneath.

I woke up several times per hour. Sometimes due to the high winds. Sometimes due to the sounds outside the tent. Just before going to bed, Alejandro warned us to put our bags and bowls inside the tent because foxes come at night. My Dutch tent-mate refused to do so, so all night I was paranoid that foxes were surrounding us. Sometimes I woke up because I was just plain uncomfortable. Sleeping in fetal position worked to warm me up, but only so long until the side of my hip started hurting. Then, of course, is the age old question of – I have to go to the bathroom but it’s cold outside, so do I get up and suffer but then sleep better, or do I stay here and just hope I fall asleep again?

Arequipa at 2am

I also woke up a few times with a slight headache, so I grabbed several cocoa leaves from my bag and chewed them hoping for relief. I was relieved when 1am rolled around, as that was our scheduled wake up time. I got up, went to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, got dressed, only to go to the eating area and have Alejandro tell us it’s too windy, and we’ll need to wait another hour. Back to bed, back up again at 2:30 for breakfast.

BREAKFAST AT BASECAMP:
Once we got up the second time, we found Alejandro over the flame preparing cocoa leaf tea for us. Another delicious Alejandro creation. Also on offer for breakfast was bread, cheese, and marmalade. Quite honestly, it was hard to eat that early, and I didn’t have much more than tea and a couple pieces of salty cheese.

DAY 2 HIKE:
We started at 3am, with our head lamps turned on. I had loaded myself up with all my clothing, but got incredibly hot right away, and so stopped to remove my rain jacket within the first 15 minutes. Day 1 was hard, but I felt okay. I often was the first or second to reach each break point. Day 2 was a different story for me. I really suffered. I tried my best to maintain the pace with the rest of the group, but I just could not do it. I remained in the back almost the entire day, allowing the space between me and the pack to grow wider and wider. The group stopped to wait several times, but as soon as I got near, they continued on. This left me very little time for longer breaks that the rest of the group was having, though I had several mini breaks of my own.

That the pack was able to just keep stepping one foot after the other seemed like a miracle to me. I would often take 2 steps, and need to stop again. I started making a goal to walk at least 15 steps before a break, then 25. Sometimes I even made it to 27 or 32 before I had to stop again. I didn’t feel I was struggling with breathing, and my headache was gone, but everything felt heavy and my legs were on fire. My calves and thighs burned with each step, and I could feel the backpack digging into my hips.

We watched as the sun rose over a nearby peak. Headlamps went off, and the sun came out. A Misti shaped shadow covered the city of Arequipa. Each step was harder than the last. Stepping over massive stones, with the feeling that one accidental step backward would fling you down the side of the volcano. My feet sunk into the sand and ash and everything felt heavier and heavier.

Finally around 9am, the peak appeared in sight. I was far behind the group and watched them take steps on the path where I knew I would make it to eventually. Slowly and surely. The last push up to the crater was a struggle. Alejandro pushed through the ashen path like a pro and cheered me on once I got nearer. I counted my steps, but just could never get more than 25 before another break. Another break. Another break. But then I made it. At 10:13am, I made it to the crater at 5700 meters above sea level. We each reached the crater in order of age (not including Alejandro, the pro). First the two 22-yo boys, then the couple- 27 & 30. Rounding out the pack was me, at 39.

Alejandro made the decision that we would not be hiking the last 100 meters to what is officially the peak, as it was getting too late. Partly because of our late start, and partly, I’m sure, due to the group waiting for the slowest member of the pack (hi, it me!). The crater was cold and windy. We took several pics to prove we had made it and then it was time to turn back around and head down.

THE DESCENT TO BASECAMP:
What took 7 hours to climb up, took just under an hour to go down. We did not take the same path back down as I had expected. Instead of traversing the giant rocks and pebbles of the incline, we went straight down the side of the volcano, doing what felt like ash skiing. With the help of gravity, we flew down the side of that volcano, filling our boots with ash, and trying our best not to fall, which happened several times. As we got closer to the basecamp, the rocks got bigger, as did our focus to avoid them. We arrived back to the basecamp just after 11am.

Going ash skiing down the volcano

We had until noon to relax, eat, and pack up our things. Thankfully, another group was headed up the volcano just as we were headed down, which meant that we did not have to pack up the camping gear, nor did we have to carry it. We left our mats, bags, and tents where they were, and just focused on, well actually nothing. It was hard to think with that much exhaustion.

THE FINAL DESCENT:
Noon arrived, and Alejandro was ready to guide us one more time. He also wanted to get back and eat pizza. This was his second Misti climb of the week, and I would say he deserved some pizza.

We once again went down a different way than we had come up. And, once again we continued our ash skiing until we reached a more civilized path you might see in mountain hiking. The type of path I was grateful for, and had missed. The descent down took about 1.5 hours, and I fell about 3.5 times. Weak and tired legs, lots of pebbles. Fall, fall, fall.

We were all super grateful once that 4×4 on the dirt road was in our sight. We washed our hands, took that necessary AFTER photo, and climbed back into the 4×4.

THE END:
We arrived back to Waiky around 3:15pm, with just a slight detour- the vehicle ran out of gas, and the guys got out and pushed it to the gas station. Once we unloaded our gear from the car, the women counted each item and checked for any inventory we may have lost or broken (I lost a pink glove on the way down. If anyone sees it, please bring it back to Waiky).

I gave a 20 soles tip to Alejandro once we arrived back, but I’m honestly not sure if that is enough, not enough, too much. I tried to find out from the others how much to tip and what was normal. I asked one of the Peruvians and she was surprised we would tip at all. I asked the Dutch and he said 20 soles should be enough per person. I didn’t see any of the three Peruvians give a tip (they may have and I just didn’t see it), but I think only the Dutch boy and I tipped.

FINAL THOUGHTS:
I’m an avid hiker and I’m in good shape. I hike several times a month. I’m from Boulder, Colorado where the elevation is more than a mile above sea level, and I struggled. I walked for 25 days across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, averaging 25-30km per day. Hiking Misti was harder. I truly think this was the most physically exhausting thing I have done in my entire life. I would recommend it to others to do if they are ready for the challenge, but only if they know how hard it was. I felt slightly mislead about the difficulty level of the hike, and I just wasn’t mentally prepared. If you plan to climb Misti, I don’t think you will regret it, but you will be better off knowing from the jump just how difficult it really is.




AREQUIPA, PERU: What to do

Maybe you’re like me and you arrived to Arequipa without doing any research at all. Now that you’re here, you’re wondering- well what do I do now? Or maybe you’re planning ahead, saving locations in your Google Maps, and getting excited for your trip. Either way, I’m here to help! Below is a list of several places in and around Arequipa you can use to fill your time!

But first, let’s eat:

SUPER ADOBO AREQUIPEÑO:
C. Alfonso Ugarte 214, Yanahuara 04017

This is a picanteria about 10-15 minutes walking out of the main tourist center. It’s in a white corner building; the inside is small, and unassuming, with very eclectic interior design choices. But, the food is some of the best you’ll have in Arequipa, particularly the adobo. One of my dear friends lived in Arequipa for six months, so when she recommended I come here, I listened. It was my first time having adobo in Arequipa, and it was pure magic. Just the right amount of spice, broth so perfectly creamy yet not too creamy. The pork cooked just right. They have a lunch menu for 17 soles. The adobo was 20 soles and came with hot mate.

PICANTERIA LA CAPITANA:
C. los Arces 209, Cayma 04014

This picanteria was recommended to me by the locals I bought my SIM card from on my first day, though I wasn’t able to make it there until my last day. This seems to be an extremely popular local joint. I got there around 12:30 for lunch and was able to squeeze into a shared table (with a clear plastic wall guard between myself and the two other women at the table) without much problem. When I left 45 minutes later, however, the line was out the door and down the street. Get there early.

I’ll be honest, this was not the best food I had in Arequipa, but possibly closer to the worst. I paid 22 soles for the rocoto relleno (meat stuffed pepper that was recommended to me by my taxi driver from the airport), and 5 soles for a chicha that tasted a bit fermented. The food came out quickly, like reheated leftovers, and lacking a bit of salt. So, why, you are probably asking yourself, am I recommending this place to you? Pure experience! It’s a fairly large place, and the faded white walls are covered with magic marker letting you know who ate there and when, where they’re from and what they ate. Fake plants abound. I spotted a couple other foreigners around, but it was mostly locals. By the line outside, you’ll see it has made quite a name for itself.

PRANA VEGAN CLUB:
C. Ugarte 109, Cercado 04001

Okay so you’ve eaten at La Capitana and had your local experience, but now you want to find where all the foreigners are at? Head to Prana. It’s right in the center, and easy to find. Just head up the spiral staircase once you enter the building and you’ll be met with the sounds of English, German, and French all along the beautiful terrace. The food is good and affordable. You can get fresh juices or smoothies. The lunch menu can be 12 or 15 soles depending on which entree you choose, but it also comes with a side, a drink, and unlimited salad bar. Though the salad bar is really nothing more than two plates with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, carrots and beetroots. Unfortunately I only ended up coming here once, but I thought about it at least 5 other times.

CHELAWASI PUBLIC HOUSE:
Campo Redondo 102, Arequipa 04001

Once again, this was another recommendation from a friend who spent some time in Arequipa a few years ago. It’s in a very cute area surrounded by other restaurants and cafes in the north of the main city center. This brewpub did not disappoint. I’m a big fan of craft beer, particularly IPA, and I was not let down. The waitress recommended the Pulpa Ficcion Double IPA by the local Melkim Brewery, and I’m so glad she did. I got some croquetas arequipeñas to go along with my beer, and the highlights of American soapbox derby racing playing on the TV.


Okay okay, but where’s the culture? I’m full and ready to see the cultural portion! No worries, I got you!

PLAZA DE ARMAS on SUNDAY MORNING:

Admittedly, I did not see this with my own eyes, but I did hear it with my own ears. My hostel was one block from the Plaza de Armas, and on my last morning in Arequipa (a Sunday) I heard drums and banging around 8am while I was on the rooftop waiting for breakfast. I asked the owner of the hostel what the sound was all about and she told me there is a parade every Sunday morning. Sectors of the military march around the square and then down surrounding streets. I witnessed this part as the crowd marched toward me, knees high and guns on shoulders, while getting in my taxi to head to the airport. I wish I had known sooner so I could see it from the Plaza de Armas. I suggest getting there around 7:30am.

MERCADO SAN CAMILO:
C. Perú 416, Arequipa 04001

This is a pretty typical market one might expect in South America. It has everything. From flowers, to trinkets, to hundreds of types of potatoes, meat, fish (even fresh shark), cheese, hats, but best of all- juice stands. On the east end of the market, you can find several juice stands in a row, all raised on a slight platform. You can choose whichever types of fruit you want and get them all blended together. You can choose to blend with water, oj, milk. You can even get specialty juices with beer. The woman then peels the fruits in front of your eyes, blends them all together, and hands you a beautiful glass container to enjoy on the spot (you can take away if you prefer). But if you stay, you can hand the glass back to her upon finishing, and she will refill your glass with everything that is still left in the blender, which is essentially an entire second glass.

MONASTERIO SANTA CATALINA:
Santa Catalina 301, Arequipa 04001

The entrance is 40 soles and can be paid with a credit card. I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when I came here. A girl at my hostel recommended it to me on my first day so I went to give it a try. It’s actually massive inside of here. The paths just keep going and leading you further into what feels like a mini village with brightly painted red walls, and a courtyard with bright blue walls. You can pay extra for a guide if you would like, but my mind wanders too much to be able to follow a guide for too long. So I just listened in a minute at a time when I passed by various groups. I was perfectly fine just to wander in and out of the alleyways, courtyards, and small rooms on my own.

MUNDO ALPACA:
Alameda San Lázaro 101, Arequipa 04001

Is this place a bit gimmicky? Yes, it is! Are the clothes in the shop beautiful yet extremely expensive? Sure are! But, it’s worth it for a quick meander through the area. You can see various types of alpacas who are living on the grounds, feel the different types of wool that each animal makes; inside the building there are giant piles of wool you can pick up and compare with other wools. Continuing further into the building you can see the way the wool is spun into thread, and then how that thread is used to weave beautiful sweaters, scarves, and other items.

MIRADOR DE YANAHUARA:
JF75+282, Miguel Grau, Yanahuara 04017

Not far from Super Adobo is the Mirador de Yanahuara, so you might as well get lunch first and then head up to the scenic outlook point. From this point, there is a great view of the Volcano Misti and Chachani, as well as a view over the entire city. There are several porticos offering great instagram worthy shots. Just next to this lookout is a beautiful plaza full of palm trees and ice cream sellers. It’s a great spot to try the famous Arequipa queso helado (yellow ‘cheese’ ice cream).

MUSEO SANTUARIOS ANDINO:
C. la Merced 110, Arequipa 04001

This museum is known for the child Juanita, who was sacrificed 500 years ago, but her body was found mummified in ice in 1995. I did not go to this museum, though it is an option for things to do. The reviews on Google maps are not kind and describe the tour as rushed, with a required additional price for a guide, and expected tips after a 30-45 minute tour.


Alright, so you’ve exhausted all that Arequipa has to offer inside the city limits. So now what? There are several excursions you can go to from Arequipa:
The Salinas (salt flats)
White Water Rafting
The Ruta Sillar (the mine where they get the white rock)
Colca Canyon (full day, 2, 3, or 4 day trekking)
Climb Volcano Misti (volcano at 5800m above sea level)
Climb Chachani

You’ll need a guide to do almost any of these activities. There are several tour agencies around the city. I used Waiky Adventours which was recommended to me by my hostel. I thought they were quite good and the guides were always great.

I did two of these adventures: Colca Canyon Full Day Tour and Volcano Misti. Feel free to click on either of these links to see my experience in more details, along with the accompanying videos from my YouTube channel.