[DAY 12] From Peru to Bolivia

The bus … even the downstair ones wasn’t that comfortable. However, I still managed to pass out for a bit. A lot of places complained about the smell from the bathroom on the 1st floor but there was a door that separated the bathroom from the main area so I didn’t smell a thing.

Also, before taking off, a staff member took breakfast orders for when we arrive at Puno. It was 9 sol and optional and I ended up opting out and slept in more. After breakfast, we were taken to the pier and took a motor boat to the Uros Island. The guide gave us a quick history lesson about the Titikaka lake and how the Islands formed.

Once we were out in the lake, we were able to see several islands. These islands were all manmade with weed from the lake. It was amazing to see this plant-weaved island just floating. We visited Isla Los Uros Suma Chaulla and the people there were very welcoming. They also gave us a history lesson on their Island, how to weave the island, and how they stay afloat. It was facinating.

The people of Uros Islands made their living from tourism mostly. So their income was based on people like us visiting their islands and they also sold handmade souvenirs. The souvenirs are cheaper on mainland but they do have some unique Uros items. To get to the next location, you had the option of taking the motor boat or taking the Uros boat (weed boat in the picture above) for 10 sol. I opted for the Uros boat since it looked interesting.

Once we were on the other side, we got back to our bus and headed for the border. At the border, there were several money exchange booths and I exchanged all the sol to bol. The rate when I went was $1 = 6.9 bol.

Once you are done exchanging currency, you head up the road with your luggage and cross the border. They don’t do luggage checks or anything. And the last thing of Peru you see is the red Peru sign. A lot of people were in line taking pictures with it.

I also wanted to take a picture but I wasn’t able to get my Bolivian Visa before my trip so I had to get it here.

There is a Visa office at the entrance of Bolivia and there are stores here that have internet and printing for a fee if you didn’t bring all the documents. I forgot to bring a copy of my passport so I made a copy here for 1 bol. The Visa was $160 US dollars and you have the option to pay with cash or credit card. They don’t take cash that is damaged so be aware.

It took about 15 minutes to get my Visa and the Peru Hop bus had to wait for me. The officers here are not fast workers and they do make you wait. So if you think time might be an issue, make sure to get your visa in your country before coming.

Also, people were telling me that I might need to get some shots before to apply for the Visa but the office did not ask for any sort of document. However, I have heard from others that they do check for shots and if you don’t have them at the border, you might be out of luck. So again, get your Visa before coming.

Once we were all cleared, we got on a different bus (this one said Bolivia Hop) and headed to Copacabana. This was a beautiful lake city. It was the same lake that bordered Puno, Lake Titikaka. We were now seeing it from the Bolivian side. It seemed like a resort town. With lots of small boats all around.

I was super hungry since I didn’t get to eat breakfast. So we headed to the waters. When you walk towards the lake, on the left side, you see a lot of tents. These tents were all individual Kiosk for Trucha, Trout. They are caught in Lake titikaka and are famous “must have” for this region. We visited Kiosk #12. My companion told me that #12 was famous and the chef has been featured on different shows and such. When we got to the kiosk, it smelled so good and made me even more hungry!

We ordered the garlic trout and the Diablo. With a name like that, I thought maybe it might be spicy. Wrong guess. But it was still really good! The fish was cooked to perfection. The outside was crispy and in the inside was juicy. And the flavors were on point! And both of the trouts came with yuka fries and was very filling. We must have came during the workers lunch time because right after cooking our food, the staff and chef all came out to eat. They were very generous and gave us some of their foods (different things from the menu) and they were also really good. I think one of them was the pork rind and it was really juicy! They also gave us 1 soda for free! So for 2 trucha, 1 soda, and some other tasty foods, it cost us 50 bol.

After lunch, we decided to walk to the top of the trail “El Calvario” to get a better view of the city. The hike was pretty hard. Lots of rocks. Also, there is no bathroom up top so make sure to use the down at the bottom of the trail. The trail itself only took about 50 minutes and we were able to spend some time at the top just enjoying the view, taking in fresh air, and laying about.

There are no signs that point to the trail but since there is only one trail, all the locals know where it is. Also, google map works pretty well here and I used it to find the entrance. There is plenty of time to do the hike so I highly recommend it! I mean, look at that view!

After the hike, we headed to the local bar/restaurant to relax before getting on the bus again. With the Peru/Bolivia Hop bus, you get a wrist band that gives you some discount at local places. This KM Zero Pub was one of them. I ordered Pineapple Juice which was 10 bol but I got a 15% discount! Score. It was so refreshing to just sit, relax, and drink.

The bus was supposed to come at 6pm so we walked back to the lake side but the bus was nowhere to be found. So I walked around the pier area and took some pictures as the sun was setting. There was a couple playing some music by the lake and it was just beautiful. If I had an extra day, I would have visited the Isla del Sol but I have been told that there were some violent incidents recently. So I opted out. Maybe next time.

Once we got back on the bus, I thought this was it. That we were heading to La Paz. Yes, we were heading to La Paz but we had one more major stop. We got off at this lake and we had a take a smaller boat across the lake and they also had to ferry the bus. It was fascinating! Once we were on the other side, there was a bathroom (1 bol) and some food stalls. Use the bathroom here since the new bus doesn’t have a bathroom in them. And if you needed dinner, this is the spot. The 2 stalls I took a look at were both sandwich places and the prices ranged from 7 ~ 15 bol. They don’t really have a menu and I believe you pick the meat and if you want fried egg or not. If you are feeling adventurous, go for it!

Once we were back on the bus, they played a movie for us (Major Payne) and gave us popcorn. If you are interested in seeing the movie, sit up front! And with almost perfect timing, we arrived in La Paz as the movie was ending. The guide took everyone’s accommodation so we were being dropped off one by one. Most of us were not dropped off right in front of the hotels but our guide told us which way to walk. Overall, the bus ride was good and I would recommend it to people who are traveling between Cusco and La Paz and have time to spare.

Our accommdation for the night was at Loki Boutique. We were only staying 1 night since we were going to Uyuni the next morning but it was a good place. The room was a bit chilly even with the space heater but the shower had plenty of hot water. I mean.. really HOT. And the blankets were thick enough.

[Day 11] Pisac and Peru Hop to Bolivia

Last day in Cusco! This was a buffer day I gave myself for recovery but if you are in a hurry, I think this would be the day you could cut out.

We packed all our bags and stored them at the hostel and began our last adventure in Cusco. Of all the places, we did not get to see Pisac so we decided to head over. We called an Uber and our driver was really nice. He did not speak much English but he stopped from time to time and let us take pictures of the valley and pointed out the ruins on the way. And in no time, we were in Pisac.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but wow! This was a huge market. There were rows after rows of stalls of all kinds of goods. If you couldn’t find something you liked in Cusco, you could probably find something in Pisac. My friends purchased some art pieces and coasters and I got some baby alpaca yarn.

They also had lots of produce vendors and food stalls as well. Many of the places were selling fruits, veggies, and seafood, and you could hear a lot of bargaining happening. As for foods, a lot of the stalls were selling similar things such as fried chicken, chicken soup, and fried rice.

While walking around, we found an empanada place that had a huge outdoor oven and ended up filling ourselves with empanadas. They had 3 flavors, chicken, beef, and mushroom, and they were all very good. Once you pick a flavor, they reheat it in the oven, and it gets all nice and toasty.

We did not get to see the Pisac ruins but we had a lot of fun exploring the market. It had a ton of things to offer so take time browsing. Also, don’t buy things until you’ve walked in a bit. The stalls right at the beginning on the street tend to be more pricey. Still, things are definitely cheaper here compared to Cusco but you need to haggle for it. A lot of the vendors are willing to listen to your offer but don’t lowball them! Have fun and be reasonable 🙂

Once we were done shopping in Pisac, we headed back to Cusco. We had time for one more meal and this one had to be the anticuchos. We didn’t really get to try authentic anticuchos so this was our last chance. I asked several different locals and the answer I got the most of Don Miguelito so we had a winner!

It wasn’t very closed to the center of the city so we had to uber. When our driver dropped us off, I thought maybe we were at a wrong place. The area seemed very old and even though there was a sign, when we walked in, it was dark and the things on display were ice cream and beauty products.

The restaurant itself was only on the 2nd floor and when we got there, there was already one table eating. They didn’t have any English menus and we had to go off of pictures (Thank goodness they had pictures!)

This place was most definitely a hole in the wall kind of place. It was a bit out of our way but it was so worth it. The place is very small with about 6 tables. We got there early and there wasn’t a lot of people but when we left, the tables were filling up. For 3 people, it was about 15 sol each and for the price, you leave very full.

After our meal, we headed straight to the Peru Hop Bus Station. One thing to note is that there were several bus terminals in Cusco and you have to find the right one! Peru Hop has their own station so make sure you find the one for your bus.

We got to the Station at 7:30pm and we weren’t the first one there! There was already a family here waiting for the bus and the cleaning crew. People can come wait at the station but staff is not available until 30 minutes before departure. The cleaning crew left around 8pm, leaving the passengers all alone. You have to wait outside but they close the gate so it feels a bit safe.

30 minutes before, two staff members came and checked us in and gave us wrist bands. Once you had the band, you were allowed to board the bus. No one monitors the lines for the bus but I think the people were being civil and lined up accordingly. The Peru Hop bus was a double decked but the lower floor chairs reclined more. It is all first come, first served. So after getting the band, we lined up so we could get seats on the 1st floor.

And luckily! We got the very front seats on the 1st floor! Peru Hop also gives out thick blankets for the ride and I definitely needed it. After getting settled in, I tried my best to fall asleep so I could enjoy the day ahead.

[Day 10] Cusco City Tour and Cooking Class

We’ve been in Cusco since day 5 but didn’t get to explore all of the city yet! So we dedicated the morning to just wandering around town. This was also the first day I got to sleep in a little. The weather was perfect for a city tour. We decided to walk around some major parts of the town and just sightsee and shop around.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de Armas. We’ve seen it in passing so it was just nice to walk through it and take in the beautiful architecture. The two major buildings that stand out is the Cusco Cathedral and the Natural History Museum. During our visit, the City started to renovate(?) the Plaza’s central sculpture piece but the Plaza was just bustling with people.

Right next to the Museum, there was a Starbucks. One thing I like to do is to try different frapps from different country’s Starbucks. And Peru had one unique one called Lucuma frapp. I just had to try it. So we headed to Starbucks and was quite amazed at their courtyard and their view of the plaza. If you want to grab some coffee and get a nice view, I recommend this place! (Of course, you might be able to find a nice local cafe nearby too).

So Lucuma. I’m not sure if I would say I liked it but it definitely was interesting. The explanation the staff gave me was that it would be close to a butterscotch flavor? But to me, it was just a tad bit too sweet and I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the lucuma flavor 😦 If anyone else has tried this in Peru, please let me know what you thought!

After grabbing the drink and enjoying the view, we were getting a bit hungry so we headed to Plaza San Blas area to find some cafe. From the guide book, it said that the San Blas area was like the “art-sy” area and was up and coming. There was an outdoor market here as well (mostly handmade goods) but also a lot of cafes and smaller restaurants. It was definitely less crowded but you still got the beauty of Cusco.

One thing. San Blas is on the hillside so from Plaza de Armas, it is going to be an upward walk. Be prepared. (But most of Cusco is this way)

While walking around, we found a nice cafe named Pantastico and bought several empanadas and a pie maracuya to go. I’ve heard of the maracuya fruit and I wanted to try it. They packed everything neatly and we headed back to the Plaza to eat while taking in the view. The empanadas were amazing and filled our stomach but the pie was too sour. If you like sour things, try maracuya!

As I said earlier, there was a small open marketing happening here. While looking around, we found ladies who had alpacas for photos! I’m not a big fan of paying for photos, the baby alpaca just got to me. The ladies are very nice and they let you take pictures with the baby on your lap or you holding him. After several pictures and 5 sol later, we were off exploring again.

From San Blas, we started to talk towards Mirador de Plaza San Cristobal. It was a bit of a hike but the road there was full of things to see. Lots of cafes with great views, colorful drawings on the street walls, and just the view of the city from up top! 3 combo! At first, walking up the hill was so hard! I felt like it was never ending (similar to Machu Picchu) but the interesting surrounding area made the hike more enjoyable.

And Mirador! 100% recommend if you want to see Plaza de Armas from above. The view of the city here is spectacular!

You can see things that are only visible when you are up top, such as the EL PERU written on the mountain. Here is a video of the view from San Cristobal.

Once we were done walking around the city, we headed to our cooking class. It’s always fun to take local cooking classes to learn about the history of the food culture and also to learn some new recipes. You never know what you might learn.

So after some research, we decided to take a class with Peruvian Cooking Class. The classes were small but offered various types of dishes. The location was very easy to find and was about 10 minute walking distance from Plaza de Armas. The first floor of the building was the cooking station and the second floor was the waiting room/dining room area.

When you make the booking, you have the option to choose which menu you want to make. The choice of menu is decided by the person who made the first booking for that day. So if you have something you really want to make, make the reservation first! We decided on menu #2 : Pisco Sour/Chicha Morada, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and chocolate.

Once we checked in, we found out that we were the only 2 people taking the class. Score! A private class. It was awesome! They even let us change the menu a bit. So we picked Chicha Morada as our drink, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and Arroz con Leche!

With the chef of the day, Yuli, we first got to try some local fruit: Granadilla, Tumbo, Lucuma, Perito Abuel, Lima, Pacay, and Golden Berry. I hope I got all the spelling right 🙂 Granadilla was my favorite and it tasted like passionfruit but much sweeter. Tumbo was also good. It used to be used in ceviche back in the days but when the Spanish brought Lemon, it was replaced. I got a real taste of Lucuma here and it was closer to a persimmon. Perito Abuel was small and tasted like sour apple. Lima looked like a small citrus but actually it didn’t taste like a citrus. It can actually replace lemongrass. Pacay looked like cotton balls. Very furry. And Golden Berry looked like a cherry tomato but very super sour.

After tasting several fruits, we made our grocery list and walked to San Pedro Market to buy our ingredients. What we didn’t know was that the Market was CLOSED until Monday! They were doing a massive cleanup for the festival.

So we went to a smaller market behind it. It was more local and less clean but we were still able to get everything. While shopping, Yuli continued to talk to us about Peruvian food and culture. She even helped us get some Granadilla for later.

Once we had everything, we headed back to the shop and started cooking. It was so much fun. Yuli explained everything, step by step, and demonstrated just a little and we had to do most of the actual work. She showed us how to cook the meal as well as plating it just right. The Palta Rellena was a chicken and potato salad and Lomo Saltado was stir fried beef with rice (one of my favorite Peruvian dish) and Arroz con Leche was sweet rice pudding. The meal was extremely satisfying. The fact that I made the food made it even better 😉 After cooking, we took our food upstairs and got to enjoy it as dinner. It was delicious.

And satisfied, we went shopping. I wanted to get some alpaca scarves for my family members so I visited SOL ALPACA. I wanted to get them something that was more authentic and trustworthy when they claimed 100% alpaca. SOL was considered a luxury brand and everything gave it a high rating so I gave it a try. Everything here was really soft and it did not give any scratchy feeling what-so-ever. Everything was really pretty and I wanted to buy everything but I stuck to my plan and purchased different colored scarves. Next time, I want to buy more!

[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.