[Day 5] Off to Cusco

I love being on schedule and planning everything accordingly. But what is a vacation without sleeping in? I purposefully booked a flight flight to Cusco so I get catch up on some zzz’s. And it was so worth it.

The hotel did not provide free breakfast but my travel companion, Nina, brought cup noodles with her. We asked the hotel staff if we can get some hot water and they were extremely hospitable. They let us use the breakfast area, provided us with hot water and drinking water.

After brunch, we headed to the airport. The hotel had an airport shuttle every 30 minutes and it was very convenient. The airport was less than 10 minutes away from the hotel and we were promptly dropped off. The shuttle was first come, first serve, so come early.

The check-in line was relatively long but moved quickly. And the security line was really fast, like 5 minutes fast. I didn’t think it was going to be so quick so that gave me more time in the lounge. I have the Priority Pass so I was able to use one of the lounge and relax before the flight.

10 minutes before the boarding time, Nina and I moved to the gate. The agents made 3 lines and had the passengers line up according to their boarding pass. I believe they were done by seats (window first, middle seat second, and aisle last) to make the boarding process faster. Personally, I couldn’t tell if the seating went faster. One downside of the lines was that friends and family couldn’t wait in line together since they were separated by seats.

The flight was short and uneventful. The airline provided drinks and snack. One tip I can give you for the flight is to make sure to get the left window seat to get a great view of the Andes Mountain. The snowy tops of the Andes is a sight you don’t want to miss.

View from my left side window

Cusco airport is small. Once you are at the baggage claim, you will see all the tourism booth and some taxi drivers holding signage. Some people were starting to feel the altitude sickness and luckily, the tourism booths were giving away coca tea, leaves, and candy. I took pills 12 hours before landing in Cusco so I didn’t feel any different.

From the airport, we headed to our tour agency, Fabian Tour. It was about 20 minutes from the aiport to the heart of Cusco, where Fabian Tour was located. It was right next to Plaza Mayor del Cusco, very easy to find. It was also right next to Inca Rail’s office, in case you wanted to book your trip to Machu Picchu separately. We wanted to book 3 tours with them: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, and Humantay Lake. However, Fabian recommended that we only book two tours for now and see if have enough energy to do three. So we booked the first two: Rainbow Mountain/Vinicunca (45 sol) and Sacred Valley + Machu Picchu ($189)

After booking our tour, we checked into my acommodation, Danna Inn. It was about 10-15 minute walk from the Plaza but our tours included pick ups so we were ok with being a bit far from the Plaza. However, the Plaza is on a slight hill and Danna Inn is on the lower end so getting to the Plaza required a bit of a hike.

The room itself wasn’t too big for a triple. We couldn’t all have our luggage open at the same time. But luckily, the beds were a nice size so we made it work. The window was facing the street but the noise level wasn’t too bad.

We got a triple at Danna Inn

Also, Cusco was very cold compared to Lima. Asked for a radiator to heat up the room but it was still very cold. I was glad I brought extra thick pajamas. We left the radiator running and headed out to grab dinner. We made reservation at Chicha and since we had some time before our reservation, we decided to roam around the city a bit. Even at night time, Cusco felt safe. Cusco had a lot of alley ways but since it was a tourist town, there were a lot of people in each of the streets.

While walking around, we saw the 12 Angled Stones. There were a lot of people waiting to take pictures with it. It wasn’t blown away by this but it was quite interesting to see how the walls were made to fit so perfectly. That was pretty impressive. This area also had a lot of shops so there were a lot of “We have the best price. Come see!” action happening.

After seeing the area, we headed to Chicha por Gaston Acurio for dinner. Inside the restaurant had a very home-y feel to it, with on side of the wall having a semi-open kitchen. We had made a group reservation but since the other party was going to be late, we ended up being split. 3 of us shared a table and we wanted to do a family style. So we ordered Chicha Snack, Alpaca Curry, and Timpu. Chicha Snack was a sampler plate that had Alpacha anticucho, stuffed potatoes, lomo saltado, and native potatoes with cream. We had to try Timpu just because we didn’t know what it was. The discription was “Cusquenian sancochoado with beef, bacon, lamb ribs, potatoes, and other veggies, all cooked in stock.”

Alpaca meat was good. It had more flavor than I expected. It was more on the dry side but had a good rub. We also go to try some interesting local specialties. I personally really enjoyed the dinner but it was on the more pricer side. But you got to try regional food by Gaston Acurio so it could be worth it for some travelers.

My meal at Chicha

After a great meal, we stopped by Mifarma for more sorochi pills, just in case. I didn’t feel any altitude in Cusco but you can never be too prepared. We had to get up early in the morning so we decided to go to bed early.

[Day 4] Last full day in Lima

I dubbed my last day in Lima, a eating day. This day was full of food and I travel to eat, so what a perfect day 🙂 My accommodation was nice enough to let me keep my luggage there so I packed up, placed my bags in the corner, and headed over to grab some breakfast.

While I was walking, I noticed a lot of the streets were closed off. Turns out, there was a marathon happening! I got to wave and cheer the runners, watch them get showered by locals, and see them push themselves to their limits. It was nice that the neighborhood got together to support the runners.

So for breakfast, Pan de la Chola was my choice. I found this place on several list for coffee and bread and I’m always down for some good bread. The cafe itself is spacious but on a Sunday morning, it was jammed packed with tourists and locals alike. The open concept made the space look large with all the natural lights and from the entrance, you had a good view of the kitchen. The aroma of coffee and bread alone made me hungry.

I grabbed a hot chocolate and croissant and they were delicious. The hot chocolate was rich but not too sweet and the croissant was buttery and super flaky. My type of croissant. I was able to get a seat by the bar and people watch while enjoying my breakfast. I could have gotten a sandwich but I wanted to leave room for other things.

At noon, I headed to La Mar to meet a friend. Luckily, Pan de la Chola and La Mar are really close to each other. About one block. And the line was just starting to form. I think I was about 10th group in line. And the line kept getting longer and longer. My friend got to the restaurant just as they were opening and we were seated at the bar. We both wanted to see the chef preparing the food and drinks. The restaurant was a good size with lots of natural light.

Inside La Mar

We came for ceviche so we ordered ceviche. We wanted to try something different so we ordered the Mixto and Leche de Tigre. The waiter asked how spicy we wanted the ceviche. We never thought there was a spice level to ceviche but since we were going for different, we ordered the regular Mixto and mild Leche de Tigre.

Left: Leche de Tigre – Right: Mixto Ceviche

It was definitely more fancier than the other ceviche places (and pricer too). But it was really good. Leche de Tigre was my favorite. The right amount of spice and the fresh seafood combo just captured my palette. It was also interesting that they used roasted corn. Unexpectedly, the crunchy corn was a great pair with the ceviche.

After lunch, we wanted some dessert and right across the street from La Mar was Amorelado, a gelato store. The store itself was small with only 2 tables but it had a very lovely atmosphere. I ended up with Pina con Albahaca (Pineapple with Basil?) and it was so refreshing. And the gelato was perfect for the 73 degree weather.

With our belly full, we decided to walk to Maido for our Nikkei Experience. We needed some exercise to become hungry again. With gelato in our hands, we happily walked about 2 hour to Maido. And it was so worth it.

Nikkei Experience at Maido

The course meal was at a good pace but still took about 2 hours and 30 minutes. They used local ingredients with lots of interesting flavors and twists. One example would be Cuy, the guinea pig. I wanted to try it and was glad I got it here. The flavor was close to turkey dark meat but extremely tender. It just melted in my mouth! Even though the portions were small, they were packed with intense flavors and I enjoyed the course immensely. And the dessert was also a sight to see! Using nitrogen, they create ice cream in front of you and also a wonderful sight to see.

what’s left of the nitrogen

And if you thought this was the end of the meal, think again. They give you a take home dessert as the final course and it perfectly sums up the meal: A present to myself. Overall, if you like Japanese food and want to try something unique, Maido is a great place. They have a la carte menu as well as the Nikkei Experience.

After the meal, we uber-ed to Lacomar Shopping Center. We were going to meet more people. While we waited, we enjoyed the view of the ocean. The shopping center was situated at the edge of a cliff, which gave us a panoramic view of the ocean. There were lots of food options here as well so if you wanted a place with a view, you could find something here.

Once we met up with everyone, we headed to Barranco. While at Barranco, we saw the biblioteca, crossed the La Puenete de Los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs), saw street art, and more. When we got here, it was already around 6pm and was getting dark. But the area was lively with locals and tourists alike. It was full of colorful street art and beautiful architectures that you can spend hours wandering about.

Bridge of Sighs at night time

I wanted to stay longer but also wanted to see the Magic Water Circuit since it was our last day in Lima. So we quickly headed to see the show. The entrance was full of people but it moved quickly. The fee was 4 sol and it was worth it. The park itself was large with multiple water fountains. The main one for the show was long… I mean… LONG. The show was filled with lots of exciting music, lasers, and colors being displayed against the waters and it was a sight to see.

Colorful fountain (main fountain after the show)

After the show, we walked around to see the other fountains. Many of the smaller fountains were full of people taking pictures, including several wedding and quinceanera photos. They were beautiful. There were also a lot of kids jumping into the fountains, playfully running in and out of the water. The night’s cool air didn’t stop them from having fun.

After all the walking, we decided to grab a late dinner (more like a snack). We wanted to try anticucho but many of the restaurants were already closed. So we ended up at Huaca Pucllana. (What we didn’t see is that there were lots of street vendors in front of the park that had anticucho). Once we were seated, we ordered Stuffed Potatoes and Anticucho. This place wasn’t cheap but the food was good. It also offered a view of the pyramids. While enjoying the atmosphere of the restaurant, we filled our stomach with delicious food and some pisco sours.

View of the pyramid site from the restaurant

Once we were done, we headed to Holiday Inn Lima Airport, our hotel for the night. My friends were leaving early in the morning for Cusco and I was waiting for another friend to arrive from the airport.

I say friend but actually it was our first time meeting. I had made travel plans with my college friend but the scheduling didn’t work out as planned so I was technically traveling alone. And I wasn’t too sure of traveling alone so I found a travel forum and put up my schedule and asked if anyone wanted to join me. And one person got in touch with me saying that her schedule was similar to mine and wouldn’t mind tagging along. So this was it. First time meeting. We shared our instagram and kakao to introduce ourselves and to talk about what we were excited about. It was my first time doing something like this and I’m very glad I did. We were a pretty compatible travel partner and I’m glad to have met her 🙂

[Day 3] Day trip to Huacachina

One of the reason why I picked Hola Peru as my accomodation was the fact that they offered a day trip to Huacachina from their hostel. This would include pick up and drop off. And of course, since it was a private tour, I was able to negotiate my schedule a bit. I looked at several options for tours to Huacachina. Many of the tours would include Ballestas Island as it was on the way to Huacachina. But I wanted more. I knew I couldn’t get Nazca Lines included but I wondered about a winery tour.

While looking at different books and websites, I found that the city of Ica, where Huacachina is located, is famous for its winery. It wasn’t just the wine but also pisco, Peru’s national drink. I looked at several options to see if I could include a winery tour but all the ones I found that included the winery were overnight tours. My time at Lima was limited so I did not want to do an overnight tour in Huacachina. So I asked my hostel about their tour packages and the owner suggested that I do a private tour with their driver.

I could have done the tour myself but what fun would that be? So I posted on a travel forum that I was looking for someone to do a day tour with me and I found 2 girls to do the tour with. The owner said the price would drop with more people. So with the private tour, including the winery tour (excluding the entrance fee), it was $170 per person. The tour included private car (SUV), a driver, Bellestas Island boat tour, and Huacachina buggy tour + sand boarding. What we ended up adding was a stop at the Winery. And it was perfect.

The owner said that the morning pick up can be done for other hotels/hostels if they were in Miraflores so I left my hostel at 6am and went to pick up the others. Once we picked up everyone, we headed to Paracas. The day we were on the tour, they had a storm and high sea level warning, so the owner told me that the boat tour might get cancelled. I prayed that the weather would change while we were driving out. I mean, it was a 4 hour drive. Things could change, right?

And it did! The weather cleared up and we were good to go! Our driver handed us off to the tour guide at the docks and we were on our way to see Ballestas Island. I thought it was close by but it was quite far. If you get motion sickness, I suggest you take pills before going on this trip.

On the way to Ballestas Island, we saw something similar to Nazca Lines. An image of a candelabra. It was extremely vision and even the tour guide said that they have no idea who made it or why it was made. History is so interesting.

Once we got to Ballestas Island, we saw a lot of activities. Pelicans and seagulls were everywhere and somewhere between them, there were penguins! They were so cute but there were only a few and they were very hard to see. Also, there were some sea lions lounging about and enjoying the sun. According to the tour guide, Ballestas Island has a nickname “poor man’s Galapagos” and I can sort of see it. There are a lot of wildlife here and I think you would be able to see more if you came at the right season.

Our boat driver and tour guide were fluent in English and the explanations were great. The boat bounces a bit but it’s not too rough. The sun… It hurts so make sure you rub on a ton of sunblock and a hat is a must.

Next stop, the Winery. I did not get to pick the winery but we ended up at the one I wanted to go to: Hacienda Bodega Tacama. The Winery is beautiful. I recommend it to anyone planning on doing a private tour.

And we arrived at the perfect time to do the English tour. The price of the tour was 15 soles and it took about 1 hour. The tour includes a wine tasting at the end. They have several tours that goes into the detail but since we didn’t have time, we did the most basic one.

While on the tour, they cover how wine is made and also how pisco is made. They have a small museum that has their old machines and gadgets on display. You can see the older barrels they used to use, as well as pots that stored pisco.

And at the end of the tour, your wines and pisco awaits you. I got to try 1 white, 1 red, 1 rose, and 1 pisco. The white and red were both really dry. The rose wine isn’t very sweet. And pisco…. The pisco was 43%! It was the strongest wine I’ve ever had! Too strong for me. If you like dry wine, I think you would like Peruvian wine.

I tried to fly my drone here because it was so spacious and beautiful. However, when I asked the general manager, he said that we needed to get permission beforehand. So no drone here… 😦 If I knew, I would have asked before coming! So drone owners! If you ask, you can fly here!

We also got to enjoy lunch here. The price is a bit high but the good was really great. The plates are rather large and can be shared. A lot of their food were shareable types so prepare to do a family style meal.

Finally, our last stop. Huacachina. I have been seeing this place on my instafeed since I started searching Peru on my phone. The small oasis in the middle of the desert. I’ve never seen an oasis before so I was really excited for it. Plus, sand boarding was something I’ve never done so this was all new. And I like new things 🙂

The sand dunes were filled with tourist and the buggies. The buggy was a 6 seater but since we were a private group, it ended up being just us and the driver. He took us to the top part of the dunes and took pictures of us. The desert was amazing to see. No one in sight, just all sand… It was so peaceful and even the wind felt nice. With no footsteps or tire tracks, the desert looked untouched and I was mesmerized by it. It felt as if it was somewhat out of this world…

Once we were done awing at the desert, the driver asked if we wanted to sand board. We all said yes. He took out the boards from the back of the buggy and applied wax to the bottom of 3 boards. With our tour, the sand boarding was only the laying down one. If you really want to board similar to snow boarding, you have to ask beforehand.

We started at a smaller hill and it was a blast! But too short. And after we were at the bottom, we had to walk back up and it was too much. Every step we took, we were sinking into the sand. It was pretty hard. So we asked if we have to keep walking up. Our driver said that if we go to a higher hill, he can drive us up. So we opted for that. The higher hill was a bit more scary and there were more people. I’ve heard of accidents were boarders collided with each other. But I think all the drivers were aware of that and made sure people had enough space between them and also time between when sliding down. We were able to board about 4 times and after that, my tour mates were done. So we decided to call it a night.

We asked our driver if we needed to head back right away or if we had time for dinner. He said we could grab something. So we headed back to town and ended up at the Desert Nights. This place has a rooftop and offers a great view of the sand dunes. Also, they have happy hour and has good food choices. We ended up getting ceviche and drinks.

If I had more time, I would have liked to stay at Huacachina overnight. It is really small but just being able to relax on the rooftop with a drink or even sitting at the sand dunes with a drink and watching the sunset sounds like sometime I would do. If you have time, making this a 2 day trip and including Nazca Lines wouldn’t be so bad.

With all the driving, it was a long day and I was glad we did a private tour. The car ride was good and I think we all passed out. And with all the flexibility we had, I think doing a private tour is definitely worth it.

[Day 2] Traveling to Old Town

Sleeping on the heating mat really helped me. My fatigue was pretty much gone and felt like I was ready to travel around. I didn’t think I was going to be able to walk around for breakfast on the first day so I had asked for breakfast. My first meal in Lima. Korean food. But it was really good Korea good. The owner of the hostel was a great chef. There were about 6 side dishes, including a meat dish, and soup and rice. Perfect Korean breakfast.

After breakfast, I walked to the main street, Av. Jose Pardo to exchange USD to Sol. The owner told me that there are several money exchange places on that street so I went to check them out. The walk wasn’t too bad and I felt very safe. There were lots of people on the streets, tourists and locals.

At the corner of Av. Jose Pardo and Av. Arica

After walking for several minutes, I found 4 money exchange places, all next to each other. I ended up going to Western Union because it was something I was familiar with and all the stores around it had the same rate. The rate I was given was 3.3 Sol to 1 USD. At the airport, it was 3 Sol to 1 USD so I was getting some more.

After the money exchange, I met up with a friend and planned on getting some local foods. We both wanted to try the ceviche and I really wanted to try Chez Wong‘s restaurant because Anthony Bordain had recommended it. We took an Uber to the location was it was closed until 1pm. We decided to walk around the area and wait. We walked to the local market, Mercado Cooperativo Balconcillo. It wasn’t a super big market but it had all the essentials. Fruits, veggies, meats, fish, flowers, clothes, toys, and more. They had small food stalls for chicken soup, sandwiches, fresh fruit juice, and desserts.

splitting the dough and frying them!

My friend really wanted to try the fried dough. This was the only food stall that had a long line. So we got in line and tried it out. We really wanted to save our belly for the ceviche so we asked for 2. Or we used are fingers to say 2. As in 2 pieces. But we ended up getting 2 soles worth of it, about 12 pieces. O_o They were pretty good and very filling. We also got some guava and eat it while walking around the area.

At 1pm, we walked back to the restaurant, only to find out they don’t take walk in customers at all! Only reservation. When we got there, the restaurant was completely empty but still no. We were so sad but had to move on. Anthony Bordain, I will be back again to try your recommendation.

While walking down the street and talking about what to do, we found another ceviche restaurant called Puro Tumbes. The restaurant was bustling with people so we checked the Google reviews and found it had great rating so we decided to check it out. And what a great choice! Their menu was pretty extensive. They don’t have an English menu but there are lots of pictures that can help. We ended up getting the Ceviche Nando (mix) and Picante de langostinos.

Top: Ceviche Nando / Bottom: Picante de langostinos

Everything on the ceviche was great. The octopus and the fish were my favorites. The flavors are on point with the lemon and herbs. And I thought the langostinos would be spicy but it wasn’t. I saw picante = hot, but it was more… 5/10 spicy level, closer to curry. It paired perfectly with rice. It was on the pricier side but still cheap using US standards. It was a great first meal for both me and my friend.

After the meal, we Uber-ed to Historic Lima, the Old Town. From my list, I knew I wanted to see the Basillica y Convento de San Francisco (catacomb), Palacio de Gobierno del Peru, Catedral de Lima, Plaza de Armas, and Santa Domingo Priory. One great thing is that these are all walking distance from each other and there are a lot of other things to see around here.

I really wanted to see the catacomb since I’ve never seen one before but there was a huge line when we got there. I believe a tour company came with a large group and I couldn’t even get to the ticket booth. We had gotten to Old Town later than I expected so I had to pass on seeing catacombs 😦 We took pictures in front of Basillica y Convento de San Francisco and walked over to Plaza de Armas. The street leading to the Plaza was really pretty. There were lots of old architecture with iron work and small shops and cafes to visit.

We ended up doing a quick visit to the choco museum and grabbing some chocolate dessert. We walked to the front of the Catedral de Lima, sat on the stairs, ate our chocolate dessert, and people watched everyone visiting the Plaza. It was so peaceful. I heard Old Town could be dangerous but there were so many people here, including guards and police everywhere. I was carrying both the camera and my phone and I still felt very safe. Of course, this is during when the sun was still up. It may be different during the night.

Santa Domingo Monastery

After seeing the other buildings nears the Plaza, we moved to Santa Domingo Priory and it was so pretty! Pink! I was satisfied with just taking pictures from the outside and I didn’t even know there was a tour. But when we got inside, the tour guide told me that he was going to do the last tour in English so I was sold. The entrance was 10 soles and the tour would be of the Bell Tower and the museum. It is 100% worth it! The Bell Tower provides an amazing aerial view of the city and also there is a lot to see inside. The garden, the library, the tower, the cloister, and more. Come early to see all the museum as to offer.

view from the Bell Tower

Old Town was so beautiful and full of charm. I didn’t get to see everything in the area but what I saw was amazing. I do wish I could have spent more time at each location rather than just stop and go. I would recommend a full day or even seeing it for 2 days if you have time.

[Day 1] Traveling from SAN to LIM

I love traveling and seeing the world. And because I love traveling, I also like to collect points/mileages! I like to consider myself a pretty loyal person so I tend to stick to one airline or a group. With that being said, I am currently an avid user of Star Alliance flights, collecting mileage for Asiana Airlines and luckily, United, part of Star Alliance, had cheap flights to Lima and I took it.

There was no direct flight to Lima from San Diego. So I had a layover in Houston. Houston is United Airlines’ largest hub so I had planned on using their lounge while I waited for the next flight.

My flights!

My original flight was to leave SAN at 10am and arrive at 3:10pm in Houston. My next flight was at 4:30pm. However, there was an aircraft change and my flight was delayed. I didn’t have time to use the lounge in Houston and I was a bit worried about where my next gate would be. I heard that Houston was a big airport and I have never been to it. While in air, I asked one of the flight attendant about my situation and she was able to locate the arrival and departure gate. My arrival gate and departure gate in Houston was right next to each other so I did not have to rush too much. The flight attendant was extremely helpful and knowledgeable. She gave me some tips for Lima and also on traveling.

Once off the plane, I quickly grabbed snacks from the closest store and got back on my next flight. The flight over to Lima was long and I was not tired at all! It was a day plane as well so I ended up watching endless amounts of movies until we arrived in LIM at 11pm. I watched Captain Marvel, Avengers:Infinity War, How to Train Your Dragon, and episodes of Big Bang Theory.

My little movie theater

They give us “dinner” but it was very small. A sandwich and carrot sticks. I was super glad I picked up some snacks from Houston. If you are flying this route, make sure you take some food with you.

Dinner from United Flight to Lima

Once I landed, it was 11pm. Since it was a late flight, I thought going through immigration would be quick. Boy, was I wrong! There must have been other flights that landed around the same time because by the time I got in line, it was already wrapped around 3 times! The officers were working quickly but it did not take too long. Estimated about 35 minutes?

The airport itself is relatively small. So once you are done with immigration, you walk right into the baggage claim. I had checked 2 things. 1 luggage and 1 box. The luggage was on the belt but the box was in a separate area by the security office. If you are sending boxes or oversize items, I believe you can pick them up from the security office area.

Also, I heard drones are a no-no in Peru. So when I packed my drone, I expected to pay some tax or fees to get it through customs. When I got to customs, I told the officer I had a drone in my bag and he said just put it through the x-ray machine. (NOTE: All bags will go through x-ray machine when you exit so please claim everything or you will be fined) He saw my drone and just let me pass. I’m not sure if it was because of a new law or if it was late at night, but I was able to pass with a drone. This might not be the case for everyone so be very careful when you enter Peru with a drone.

Once I was out, I found a driver holding my name at the front. I had arranged with my accommodation for a pick up at the airport since I was arriving late. Many places offer airport pick up for a fee, usually a bit higher than taxi, and if you are not sure about how to get around, making an arrangement might be the best. Once you exit the airport, there are tons.. I mean TONS of taxi drivers who will approach you and ask if you need a ride. Be cautious when getting in any taxi at the airport. When I was doing my research, everyone recommended Green Taxi or Uber. Yes, Uber works in Peru so please use it! Also, I did not want to exchange money at the airport since I knew they would be more pricy. So by using Uber or prior arrangements, I wouldn’t need to have Soles yet.

Outside the Lima Airport

For my accommodation, I booked a Korean Hostel called Hola Peru. I usually don’t like to stay in Korean places but since I was new to Peru and super unfamiliar with the area, I thought it might be nice to get information from the locals. And the location was really good too. It was in a very quiet, residential area in miraflores. It was walking distance from the main street and that was really the selling point for me.

They had several rooms and I got to stay in a double by myself. The prices are: single $25, double/triple $18 per person. They have 2 shared bathrooms with plenty of hot water, shared mini-fridge and Korean snacks you can buy, great wifi, and a printer. They do airport pickups and dropoffs, provide luggage storage service, and also tours. They offer Korean style breakfast and it was 20 soles per. One thing I did not know until I got there was that they provide heated mats for each bed. Guys. This is a super plus! After a long flight, having the heated mattress for my sore back really did wonders.

Peru and Bolivia Master Plan 2019

This was the first time I took a long vacation in 4 years. Mostly of the time, I would attach 1 or 2 vacation days to a weekend or a work trip. The most I have taken was a week. So this was definitely something special for me.

I took 2 weeks to see Peru and Bolivia but this was definitely not enough. Of course in the span of 2 weeks, I did my best to see the major cultural points in the 2 countries. Or at least what I wanted to see.

Here was my list of to-do.

For Peru:

  • Machu Picchu
  • Vinicunca/Rainbow Mountain
  • Sacred Valley Tour
  • Humantay Lake or 69 lake
  • Huacachina (Dune Buggy)
  • Nazca Lines Tour

For Bolicia:

  • Uyuni Desert
  • Ride the teleferico
  • Witch’s Market
  • Valle de la luna/Moon Valley

I knew I didn’t have a lot of time. So I had to compromise on what I can see and do. I heard the beauty of 69 lake from other travelers but that was quite far from where I planned on going and it would not be a day trip. So instead of 69 lake, I decided to visit Humantay Lake. From reviews, many travelers said that if the weather permits, Humantay Lake is also beautiful. I took a chance. I also wanted to see Nasca Lines since it is close to Huacachina. However, it was another compromise I had to make since I would need to stay in Huacachina for a night and I wanted to do a day trip.

Also, I knew I was going to have only a day to see La Paz because of Uyuni. I have been told that Uyuni’s weather can be unpredictable and if you want to see the salt flats as you see on the internet, you might need to stay extra days just in case.

So with this in mind, here is the schedule I made.

So when a plan, I was pretty set. Now, I just needed to pack.

Packing was a bit challenging. I did not want to take too much but since the weather was all over the place, I had to basically pack summer AND winter clothes. Overall, the weather was going to be in the high 60s to mid 70s. However, Uyuni Desert was something else. Everyone said to take winter clothes, lots of layers.

So things I packed:

  • Travel essentials (toothbrush, paste, shampoo, skincare, etc)
  • 2 Long sleeve and 2 short sleeve
  • 1 sweater
  • Water proof winter jacket
  • 2 Jeans, 1 jogger, 1 yoga pants
  • Pajama
  • 1 hiking boots and 1 rainboots
  • 12 packs of disposable heating pads
  • Flashlight, wide brimmed hat, disposable raincoat
  • Camera (Sony A5100)
  • Phone (Samsung Galaxy note5)
  • Portable Wifi (GlocalMe U2)
  • All the charging cables
  • Journal and pen

I made sure to book accommodations that offer laundry service for a fee. So I planned to pack as little as possible.

Of course, with traveling, there are always mishaps even if you try to account for everything. So even though this was my plan, I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to. I will write about my day to day and how my travel plans changed. I will also do reviews of the travel companies I used and the accommodations I used throughout my trip.

Cancelled trip

I haven’t been to Grand Canyon in over a year so needless to say, I was excited to visit the place with my friend. Unfortunately, my friend had to cancel her trip to the US and we had to cancel all the subsequent trips. She had a sudden surgery and was bedridden. She thought about postponing the surgery for the trip but her doctor insisted that the surgery was urgent. She called to ask and of course I told her that her health was more important. It was really hard for her to take time off from work so she was really upset but we decided to push back this trip.

Credit to Alachua County

Which meant, we had to cancel all the reservations for tours and hotels. Usually when we plan for vacation/trips, we don’t plan to cancel them. But we cannot plan for unexpected emergencies that come up. This is one of the reasons why I usually try to read all the fine print and book things that can be cancelled before the trip, if need be. With most international trips, I try to book that can be cancelled because you can never be sure what will happen during an international trip. You can plan for A, B, and C but you might need plan Z.

In our case, we had several hotels, rental car, tour and flights booked for the trip. Many companies have 48 hour cancellation policy, which means if you cancel 48 hours in advance, you would get 100% refund. Of course, you would need to check the fine print. They will tell you when you can cancel and what you would get back.

I was able to cancel my hotels, rental car, and the tours. One problem was the flight. These days, flights have gotten harder and harder to cancel. Most of them are non-refundable unless you buy the more expensive ticket(I mean, who buys those tickets?! The fare difference is like $500+). However, if you have an emergency such as surgery or death in the family, you can cancel the flight and get a refund. You would need to send them documentations such as death certificates or doctor’s note.

In our case, the airline we used could not give us the full refund in cash but they were able to give us full credit for future flights. We had to email them about the situation and the agent was able to give us more information on the process. We had to get a doctor’s note about the surgery. Since my friend was getting the surgery in Korea, I asked if the note could be in Korean, and the airline said it was okay. So we sent an email with our flight information and the doctor’s note and the airline gave us the full refund in credit.

One thing to remember is that the agents are human too. They understand that things happen. So if you are lucky, you might find a nice agent who is willing to accept your situation and refund you. However, it will be almost impossible to get the refund back as cash unless it is one of the situation above. They may give you back the funds in form of credit as a courtesy. So please do not demand money back or yell at your agent. They are doing their job and will try to help you as much as they can(whatever their capacity might be).

[Note: In previous trips, I was able to get a full refund due to a death in the family. The process was a bit tedious. When you call the airlines, they make you talk to their claim team and the team sends you a bunch of links where you have to submit documents. I know they will accept the documents in any language as I submitted them in Korean and they took them]

So we were not able to go on our trip this time but there will be a next time! I look forward to planning the trip again with my friend in the near future.

Antelope Canyon

Busan: the Port City

Busan. I love this city. It’s the second largest city in South Korea and although it doesn’t have the old and new feel of Seoul, it does have it’s own charms. Also, Busan contains the word for mountain but the city is also surrounded by water. So if you are looking to vacation, this could be it.

Busan is a city with a lot of history. After WW2, Korea was just freed from Japan’s colonial rules and had no real leadership and was a strategic location for the US, China, and Russia. China and Russia were pushing for communism while the US was aiming for democracy. The country was way too vulnerable and took in what was near them. So the northern part took in the communism ideals with Kim Il Sung as their leader and the South took in democracy(more like capitalism) with their first president, Syngman Rhee. Both leaders claimed that they were the rightful leader of freed Korea. Unable to come to an agreement, Northern Korea, attacked the South.

The innocent people of Korea, not knowing what was going on, fled. They had just been freed from the Japanese but now, they were fighting each other. Many people, including people in the North, were leaving everything behind to save their lives. The North kept pushing and pushing and eventually, Busan was the last city standing on the South Korean side. And from here, the South, with the help from the US, pushed back. Eventually, they came to terms and set the 38 parallel line and the DMZ.

So within the city of Busan, you can still see the remnant of the War. Gamcheon Culture Village is one. People now come to see the Village as this colorful, artsy place, but actually, these were the houses the refugees built on the mountains. There were so many refugees, this was the only way to house all of them. People from the era still live here but now it has become more of a touristy place to take pictures from.

Gamcheon Culture Village (From https://www.gamcheon.or.kr/?CE=about_01)

If you enjoyed some history from Gamcheon Culture Village and want to see something new, head over to Haeundae area. This is the up-and-coming (not really coming anymore, just up) town. With the highrise buildings that overlook the ocean and gentrified restaurants and cafes, this is the town that everyone wants to be a part of. During the day, enjoy the ocean view from a terrace cafe or walk around the Dongpaek Park and during the night, take in the night view in front of the Bay 101 and enjoy the night life. Also, Gwangandaegyo during the night lights up the beach pretty well if you want to just sit around.

View of the Gwangandaegyo from Dongpaek Park

These are two things I really enjoy about Busan. I’ll write up a list of places to visit for now but will talk in more detail about other places as well later.

  • Other places to visit in Busan:
    • Taejongdae Park
    • Songdo Skywalk and cable car
    • Yonggungsa Temple
    • Nampodong and Gukje Market
    • Bosudong old book street
    • BIFF Square

Super Bloom 2019

Have you heard of the super bloom? It’s when the wildflowers take over the parks. I’ve always heard about the super bloom but never been and everyone was talking about how this year was going to be amazing because of all the rain California has been getting. It is true. California has been getting excessive rain this winter/spring, contributing to the super bloom (And also ending the drought!)

I’m a big fan of rain so I was actually enjoying all the rain we have been getting here in California. And the super bloom? That is just a cherry on top! So this year, I did an impromptu trip. I asked a friend Friday night if she wanted to visit the Park with me Saturday morning and I’m so glad she said yes! It was a first time for both of us so we didn’t know what to do.

But there was one thing everyone told us. They said the traffic gets really bad so leave early. So we decided to leave early, that is if 8am is considered early. As a note, 8am Saturday morning had no traffic. We did not know where to start so we decided to start at the Visitor Center. The road to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is very curvy but from about 30 minutes out, you can start to see all the blooms.

The entrance to the Park

The Park has parking but it is $10 and it does get full. When we arrived, it was full but there was plenty of street parking (for free!). We parked our car on Palm Canyon Drive and walked to the Visitor Center. The flower blooms near the Visitor Center was not what I expected. I expected more of a BAM! of flowers but it was a bit sparse. The flowers were pretty but I expected more because it was the Super Bloom.

Walkway near the Visitor Center

We walked around the area before heading over to the Visitor Center. If people are first timers like me, they should visit the Visitor Center first. They have maps marking where all the flower blooms are happening and can give you information about where to go and how to get there. There were lots of places marked (up to 9!) but we didn’t want to go too far so we headed to the closest one to the Visitor Center. It was about 10 minute drive and was on Di Giorgio Road. When you are on Di Giorgio rd, you might be like “where are all the flowers?” but not to worry. Keep driving down, and this is what you will see (on the left side).

Flower field!

This was what I was expecting. Just a never ending field of flower(s). The weather was really nice this day and the wind carried the scent around, making it even better. The picture doesn’t do it justice. You have to really be there to see, feel, smell it. And I was really worried about stepping on the flowers but this field had a small road you can use to walk up and down the field.

The road to the center of the field

We spent a lot of time here just taking everything in but we knew this wasn’t the end. So we kept driving up the road. As we got to the end of the road, we saw a lot of cars parked on the side. We knew this was it because of the cars and the flowers. This area also had a trail and we walked about half a mile before turning around.

This area wasn’t as full as the previous place but it had more flowers than the Visitor Center. And the colors were so pretty! The purple, yellow, and the green just worked so well together. It was really quiet here and the walk was really easy. The flowers surrounded the the trail and you could see a lot of people taking pictures and enjoying the scenery.

If you are interested in going, you should definitely do it. I really enjoyed the morning I spent at the Park. And according to the official website, the flowers are still in full bloom. You can check the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park website for more information.

Past Travels: A list of Countries

I wasn’t planning on writing about my past travels because we live for the future. But a friend of mine told me that I should at least do a recap of my past travel experiences for my own sake. She told me that at least I can look back and see what I’ve done and maybe think about if I would do it again/go again.

Ok. That sounds pretty reasonable. As I stated in my first post, my dad was the one was who all about travels in our family. I think he believed that traveling also has immense educational value and wanted to give us that first hand. I won’t list all the places I’ve been with my family because most of it is from road travel within the US. I’ll make a separate list for US States I’ve hit in the future. Instead, I’ll list all the countries I wanted to visit and have gone to. I will also exclude Korea because it would come up too often.

So here is the list:

2009 – England (London) and France (Paris)
2010 – China (Beijing), Vietnam (Halong bay and Ho Chi Minh City), and Cambodia (Siem Reap)
2011 – China (Kunming)
2012 – (grad school years)
2013 – (grad school years)
2014 – Philippines (Cebu and Bohol)
2015 – Japan (Fukuoka, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka)
2016 – Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Uji, Okinawa) and South Africa (Rustenburg)
2017 – Canada (Toronto), Japan (Tokyo), and China (Hangzhou, Shanghai)
2018 – Iceland (Reykjavik to Hofn), Mexico (Cancun), and Japan (Ise, Nagoya)

Wow… Now that I’ve written it down… That is a lot… More than I remember! Most of them were short trips put together but wow. That is a lot. And a lot of Japan. That is because every time I went to Korea, if I had time, I would do a 3 day trip to Japan. Mostly weekend trips.

Alright. Now that I have the list, I’ll try to go back and find photos and write a post. I might do them backwards to make it easier for myself. I know I can find pictures of Iceland, Mexico, and Japan easily but for the earlier trips, I might need to do some digging. I really should keep all my photos together somewhere… (Time to buy another external hard drive)