June included some of the highlights of the trip so far (The Galápagos Islands & our massive trek to Machu Picchu) and so overall it was excellent. We spent about a week and a half more in Peru, continuing to enjoy the food there, and just under 3 weeks in Ecuador, a country filled with varying beautiful scenery and day in Colombia at the very end!
Choquequirao & Machu Picchu – this was the 9 day trek I’d been really apprehensive about, and while it was a big challenge, we did it without issue. In fact, it was amazing. We either walked up the equivalent of Ben Nevis each day or down the equivalent (and sometimes both up and down in the day), all of it at relatively high altitude.
I’m so proud of us! Well mostly proud of myself, David was always going to be fine. The highest point at 4,600m had me completely breathless and almost crying, I dragged my feet along the 25km flat walk on the penultimate day and we consistently beat our guide at each stop by 30 mins – 1 hour. Our guide was a lovely guy but pretty useless other than his informative tours around the 2 main attractions: Choquequirao and Machu Picchu.
Choquequirao is much bigger than Machu Picchu but much less popular as it is a 2 day walk from civilisation and only 30% of it has been discovered / excavated. This meant that while it was less impressive, we had this huge Inca site set in the middle of the mountains all to ourselves. Like literally, there was one other group there. It was incredible!
I had mixed feelings arriving at Machu Picchu. While it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go and it was so cool to be there, we were joined with thousands of other people. It was a bit like Disneyland. Fortunately we’d got to the bottom in time for the gates opening and walked up the steps as quickly as we could meaning we were some of the first people in there.
It was pretty empty and stunning (as long as we didn’t look behind us as everyone else filed in). We found a quiet spot to watch sunrise over the place which was such a highlight.
The walk itself was beautiful with a new view everyday, arid mountainside to glaciers to Scottish-like moor.
I’m so glad we opted for the longer trek, such a good way to arrive at these places.
Cusco – David felt 9 days of trekking wasn’t good enough exercise so signed himself up to a day of mountain biking the day after! Crazy man! After taking the public bus to 4,600m, he descended down ‘single track in the Lares Valley followed by some urban downhill in Cusco’. He says the altitude was brutal and the bikes were in terrible condition but still excellent fun. I was more sensible so decided to spend the equivalent cost in the nicest spa in town. At the end of the day we were in very different states, me pampered and shiny, David muddy with a broken toe after a crash into a pile of cement bags!
Lima – our time in Lima was mostly about food. Lima has 3 of the top 50 restaurants in the world, making it one of the best cities to eat in in the world. We managed to get a reservation at number 33 (see best meal of the month). We also ate a lot of ceviche, a national favourite, and some delicious turkey sandwiches at a great local chain La Lucha.
Our trip into the old city centre was marred by our taxi driver telling us how dangerous it was the whole way there. We didn’t spend too long there and mostly hung around in the nice area of Miraflores.
Guayaquil – we hadn’t heard particularly good things about Guayaquil, Ecuador’s main industrial city, but we were headed there for our cheaper flights to the Galápagos. We were pleasantly surprised. It seems fairly rich and much more organised than other parts of Latin America. No stray dogs! It’s like a step back in time with posh dated hotels and decor.
We visited the park full of huge iguanas across from the hotel and walked along the river promenade to the Las Peñas barrio, a colourful neighbourhood that is posh and artsy at the bottom and poorer at the top (and thus covered in security guards). We didn’t do too much else other than research last minute Galápagos cruises as I was full of cold.
The Galápagos Islands – after paying $120 each to leave the airport, we arrived at the famous islands, starting in San Cristobal. Within 5 minutes of walking out of the airport we came across loads of sea lions chilling on the beach and various impressive birds flying overhead. We visited the Interpretation Centre which was an excellent introduction to the history of the islands (geological and social) and went swimming with the sea lions!
Our 4 day first class cruise started the day after from Santa Cruz where we also visited Floreana and Bartolome Islands. This was definitely the best way to see the place!
We went on short walks around the islands over the volcanic terrain, went on small boat trips into lagoons and snorkelled twice a day. The snorkelling was incredible! We saw so many sea turtles, sharks, rays, more playful sea lions and so so many fish! So cool!
We finished our time in the Galápagos with a day scuba diving around Santa Fe. While it was very good, it was very expensive and the snorkelling on the cruise had been better!
Cuenca – another pretty colonial old town with big pretty cathedrals. We visited the Panama Hat museum (they were actually invented in Cuenca) and I came out with my very own in a massive hat box which I insisted on keeping (terrible backpacker). We had a day hiking in the nearby Cajas National Park which was beautiful and surprisingly easy to access with public transport. It was very Scottish except the sunshine and 4000m altitude. The terrain was pretty slippy and challenging. I fell over a few times. David tried to rescue me once, slipped and fell in a cactus lol. Poor thing, I pulled the spikes out of his bum.
Quito – we had 4 days in Quito so decided to sign up to Spanish language school as it was pretty cheap. We did 3 afternoons, 4 hours each day and surprisingly improved a lot. Our conversations with taxi drivers have been significantly more understandable since! I’d left the 20km of running to the end of the month as usual so our mornings were spent running 5km, which was made much more difficult given we were at 2,900m. Other than that, we explored the old town (apparently the best preserved in Latin America which I’m not sure I agree with), waved at the president while he oversaw the changing of the guard ceremony (he does this every Monday at 11!) and found some good pizza and craft beer for David.
Ipiales / Pasto – for some reason flights from Quito to Cartagena were super expensive (like £750 for the 2 of us) so David concocted a cheap plan involving 2 days of travelling. This is what brought us here. By taking a bus to the last town in Ecuador, a taxi to the border, walking across the border, taking a taxi to the bus station in Ipiales and then a bus to Pasto, we were able to get cheap flights from Pasto to Cartagena the next day. Whilst this was the day I was looking forward to least out of the whole trip, it actually went pretty smoothly. The foot crossing into Colombia that had a bad reputation was fine and we managed to fit in an excursion (and two more taxis rides!!) to Las Lajas Sanctuary, a crazy miracle church set in impressive surroundings, see below.
Bogota – we didn’t intend to visit Bogota just yet on our trip, but our flight to Cartagena via Bogota was delayed by 12 hours! This provided a good amount of time for us to head into the city, eat tasty Italian and have a bottle of Lambrusco at Trattora Nuraghe, have great coffee and visit the Gold Museum. The museum was really interesting and extensive! The city itself is pretty nice so we’re looking forward to our return.
Highlight of the month:
David – the trek – Choquequirao
Jess – The Galápagos Islands – turtle spotting
David’s highlight this month was the trek. He said the whole thing was a highlight “enjoying the unspoilt wilds of Peru” but when pressed, he picked out Choquequirao as the best bit. He says “more than Machu Picchu as it was a more enjoyable experience. It felt like we’d earned it a bit more”.
I do have to agree with him that this was amazing but I’d maybe pick Machu Picchu. As I can’t say for sure, I’m going for the Galápagos as my highlight.
Every time we’ve scuba dived I’ve always wanted to see a sea turtle, so being surrounded by them in such a cool place is my highlight this month.
David – “Yo soy un doctor para tres anos” (“I am a doctor for 3 anuses”)
David continually mispronounced the ñ in various Spanish words, including años (years) meaning he was always talking about anos (anuses).
David – Astrid y Gaston
Jess – Bandido Brewing
David agreed with the critics and had picked the 33rd best restaurant in the world as his best meal this month. He did the 10 course tasting menu which he says “was really good”. It was “the best ceviche I’ve ever had and I got to eat sea urchin and a pancake with cuy (guinea pig), all of which were interesting and delicious”.
I don’t agree with David or the critics. I opted not to have the tasting menu as it was over £100 and I wouldn’t have appreciated at least half of the courses. Instead, I ordered off the normal menu which was really nice but not amaaaaazing. I guess the tasting menu is what it’s famous for though as that’s supposed to showcase the best.
As a girl of simple tastes, I’ve instead picked the pizza in Quito. It’s mostly because we haven’t had decent pizza in ages and these were really really good, even though we accidentally ordered one without tomato base.
- Choquequirao & Machu Picchu (Peru)
- Lima (Peru)
- Guayaquil (Ecuador)
- San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Santa Fe, Floreana, Bartolome – The Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)
- Cuenca & Cajas National Park (Ecuador)
- Quito (Ecuador)
- Pasto (Colombia)
- Bogota (Colombia)
Car / Bus: 1,101km
Bike: 40km (David solo!)
Cumulative Total: 133,835km
Plans for next month:
Oh god we go home! Although I shouldn’t despair, we have 3 weeks in Colombia first which we’ve heard very good things about. We’ve got our final trek, 4 days in the jungle to the Lost City and some relaxing time in the Caribbean among other things. Alex finally booked his flights to come join us for a while (3 days in advance!) so it will be great to see him and Christina.