Chapter 4. Crossing into Peru

After three months backpacking through Mexico, Colombia and Ecuador, we arrived in Peru.

Before arriving in the country, I didn’t know what to expect. Besides Machu Picchu and the good food, I didn’t know much about this country, although I had heard lots of backpackers saying how much they loved it. Coming from Ecuador, that at that stage was already in my mind my favourite country in the world, I didn’t have high expectations. However, we ended up staying in Peru for over 6 weeks.

Machu Picchu

Our itinerary

Our adventure in Peru started off in Mancora, where we stopped for only two days to break down the bus journey from Ecuador to Lima. From Lima, we rushed to get to Cusco, since we were told that it wouldn’t be possible to visit Machu Picchu between February and March – but this isn’t true! After our four day adventure exploring Machu Picchu, we went back to Lima for a few days and then moved on to Paracas and Huacachina, two places I would really recommend visiting. While in Huacachina, we were told we were accepted to volunteers in Ayacucho, with an artisan family – one of the most significant experiences in the whole trip!

Carnival in Ayacucho

After two weeks in Ayacucho, we made our way back to the coast, only to visit the Nazca Lines, as we didn’t have time to see them before. From here, we went to Arequipa, one of the prettiest towns in South America, and from where we visited the Colca Canyon. Finally, we arrived in Puno, where we spent two days, before crossing into Bolivia.

Crossing into Peru & Getting Around

If you want to avoid flying and want to cross into Peru by bus, there are two ways you can do so: via Guyaquil or via Cuenca.

Via Guayaquil: This is the one we chose, since Guayquil was the only option we had from Lago Agrio in Ecuador. You can get a Cruz del Sur bus from Guayaquil to either Lima or to Mancora – if you would like to break the journey down. Guayaquil to Mancora is a 8.5 hour journey and it will cost around 40 US$. You can get the same bus that leaves everyday at either 9am or 2pm, but continue all the way down to Lima, for approximately 95/100 US$. Travelling directly from Guayaquil to Lima will take 29 hours, so if you choose this option, I would recommend getting the VIP seats on the Cruz del Sur bus.

Colca Canyon

Via Cuenca: As there isn’t much to see and do in Guayaquil, some people prefer crossing into Peru from Cuenca to Mancora or Piura. Apparently, the best bus company to use is Azuay, which leaves every day at 9pm and costs around 25 US$ and it takes approximately 8 hours.

Once we crossed the border, we have almost always used Cruz del Sur to get around in Peru, with the exception of one time when we used a company called Palomino. Bus accidents are unfortunately very common in Peru and in the 6 weeks we spent there we heard of at least 8 deadly crashes on the routes we were going to take. Cruz del Sur is a bit more expensive compared to other companies, but it’s supposed to be safest, as they are required to change the driver every 4 hours and from your seat you can see the speed they are driving at on a screen (and potentially ask them to slow down if they ever exceed the speed limit). The buses are very comfortable and clean, which is good when you are spending 24 hours on one of them. For longer journeys, like the one between Mancora and Lima . (22 hours), we purchased the VIP seats, which recline completely, to make sure we could sleep and be ready to explore as soon as we arrived at our destination.

Food & Drinks you need to try

Peru is famous for its cuisine, which despite being full of meat and fish recipes, even includes a few nice vegetarian options. These were my favourite:

My absolute favourite was Papas A La Huancaína are potatoes in a spicy cheese sauce made from fresh cheese and aji amarillo, a local type of chilli, usually served with olives and eggs. Some people eat this as a side dish, but it is big enough to be your main course.

Puca Picante is a dish typical of the Ayacucho region, which we were so lucky to try directly with a local family, during the two weeks we spent in the region. This traditional stew is made with a mix of beets, peanuts, potatoes, onions, garlic, aji panca paste, and cumin and it is usually served with rice. The name comes from Quechua, where puca means red, referring to the vibrant colour of this stew.

A dish that would usually be served with meat, but its vegetarian version is very popular too, is the Rocoto Relleno. Rocoto is a round red chilli pepper, a bit spicier that a jalapeno pepper, stuffed with quinoa (instead of beef), olives and spices and topped with fresh cheese. This is very nice if you like spicy food!

Causa is another dish I really loved. This is a potatoes casserole combined with oil, lime, and spicy aji amarillo sauce. traditionally, this would be filled with meat, but you can ask for the vegetarian version which will include vegetable, boiled eggs, avocado, and olives.

When it comes to drinks, my favourite was Chicha Morada, a non-alcoholic drink made from purple corn, which is very sweet and served cold.

Drinking chicha morada

However, there is a drink you must try when you are in Peru – Pisco Sour. Made with pisco, an alcoholic drink made from grapes, lime juice, syrup and a raw egg to make it foamy. Even though I didn’t like the idea of a raw egg in my drink, I really liked it!

Finally, if you really want to get into the culture, you must try Inca Kola, the Peruvian response to western Colas. It is of a very bright yellow colour and it tastes like a bubble gum, more similar to the taste of Dr. Peppers than to Coca-Cola or Pepsi. definitely not my favourite drink, but an experience that you have to try!

Money and ATMs

The Peruvian currency is Soles and one Sol is approximately €3.50. We usually used Interbank, as it didn’t charge us to withdraw money.

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