Wide awake at 5:45am to catch our bus to Puno! It was a very easy transition from our hostel (the Wild Rover Hostel in Cuzco) to the Inka Express bus station (super cheap cab ride too – 10 soles). Our hostel was great in Cuzco and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling there. It was cheap – 80 soles a night for two people – and included complimentary breakfast in the morning (tea and toast but that’s better than nothing). It was definitely a party hostel with a really nice bar and lounge area and a great menu (they served breakfast, lunch and dinner). Kat and I got the “matrimonial” room for a private bath, which was definitely worth it. The showers did have warm water, but not warm enough to relax and enjoy. It was definitely in and out if you wanted a shower. The front desk was very helpful and called us a cab when we needed it and answered all of our questions. It was also in a great location – only a few blocks from La Plaza de Armas, which is where most of the nice restaurants are.
The bus we took today is a ten hour ride to Puno. There is no airport in Puno so our only option was bus or train. You can, however, fly into Juliaca which is an hour outside of Puno. When we drove through it it looked like it wasn’t the safest place to be and that it would be a pain to have to bus it from there to Puno…in my opinion, take the longer bus ride and avoid the hassle. The Inka Express was awesome because it’s super comfortable (the seats are cushy and recline back quite far), extremely clean, and we stopped at 6 tour spots on the way to observe ancient churches and ruins…also, the bus had heating and air conditioning…perfecto! Moral of the story is, if you have to take a ten hour bus ride somewhere you might as well make it worth your while and see more of the country along the way!
Our first stop from Cuzco was the town of Andahuaylillas. We saw el templo de San Pedro, which was unbelievably breathtaking. Everything from the ceiling to the paintings was ornate. Columns were painted in gold and lined the walls along the entire church. It was really amazing to see something so beautiful. Outside the church was a stray dog. They are quite popular in Peru, but most of them look very healthy and well kept. Naturally, I befriended this pup and he became my little model in front of the church. See the photos below of the pup and ceiling of el templo de San Pedro.
Our second stop was the town of Huaro. We only had about 10 minutes here to explore the church of Saint John. Once again, stunning design and architecture. It also didn’t hurt that the backdrop was a mountain range. Inside the church there were life size doll-looking shrines surrounded by flowers. They lined the aisle walking down to the altar. Churches are definitely my favorite things to explore in other countries…I love seeing the cultural differences within each place of worship.
Our third stop was the town of Raqchi. This stop gave me chills. We pulled up into a quaint marketplace where the locals were selling beautiful hand made alpaca items and wood carvings. Within the marketplace was a church and then a path that took you along a pond and into Incan ruins. We explored what remains of the largest Incan temple ever built – Templo de Wiraqocha. I mean, how can that not give you chills?! Looking up at this massive stone structure, it was hard to believe a small town of men built it with their bare hands. Every stone (the ones still standing) looked like they were meticulously placed. Behind the main structure of the temple were sectors of the temple. It was like a maze and would have been the ultimate hide and seek arena…I wonder if the Incan children started that game? Anyways, it was inspiring and mind blowing. We had an hour at this site, but Katriena and I found ourselves running to catch our bus because we couldn’t stop exploring! Side note: at one point, when we were in the middle of these ruins, Katriena started signing a song by Aqua. So typical and so perfect…this is why we’re soul mates.
The fourth stop was in Sicuani, where we had a beautiful Peruvian lunch. One of the most convenient things about this bus tour is that lunch was included! I love trying new food and tasting the flavorful spices we don’t normally use, or have easy access to, in the US. It was delicious…they also had a plethora of vegetarian options (the potato is quite a popular item here) – major score.
Our fifth stop, and most brief stop, was La Raya. We reached the highest elevation on our trip of over 14,000ft. I didn’t notice it until I did a little jog and was gasping for air. Oops. We saw a lot of llamas and alpacas, which apparently prefer the higher elevations, and we took some amazing photos of the mountains…see some below!
The sixth stop was one of the oldest villages in Peru, Pukara. There we visited el Museo Alcra, which housed some of the oldest Incan artifacts. One of the coolest pieces that we learned about was cabezas trofeo (trophy heads). The priest chiefs offered human sacrifices…through decapitation…in order to ensure their people received nature’s bounty. According to ancient beliefs, the “trophy heads” provided good luck in the hunt, fertility to women and an abundant harvest. Pretty frickin cool…if you’re not the one being sacrificed (BUT those who were sacrificed considered it an honor, they didn’t just go around murdering people). Another highlight of Pukara was meeting the sweetest little boy. Him and his mother spoke no English but were delighted to have me take his picture (it was taken on my digital cam not my phone so you’ll have to wait to see that cuteness). I just wanted to squeeze his cheeks!
Finally, after ten hours of a beautiful drive and multiple stops, we arrived in Puno! It’s not as developed as Cuzco and apparently has a little black market action going on with Bolivia right across the lake, but whatevs! We checked into our hotel, La Totarani Inn, and the woman didn’t speak any English. Which was a beautiful thing because Katriena and I did so well practicing conversational Spanish! We managed to somehow all be on the same page and we have a great room with two beds, hot water, a heater, wifi and cable tv….all for $40 a night for the two of us! All of my traveling peeps know that’s major.
Tomorrow we get up bright and early for Lake Titicaca and the floating islands! We will be staying with a local family for the next day and a half and won’t have access to electricity until we get back to our hotel on the 24th (SO excited to be away from the technological world for a day and a half and see the Peruvian culture up close and personal). So, you’ll have to wait for another update when we get back to wifi! Until then, my friends, buenas noches!