I had often read about Peru, and it's land of archaeological discoveries in books and magazines when I was growing up. Often, they had involved a unique main character's mother or father being absent, away digging up ruins in the mysterious country of Peru. Machu Picchu, of course, is the crown jewel in Peru's tourism fame. I booked my trip to Peru a few months before I even decided I want to write about travel. But if any country inspires you, it is Peru. When I had booked my trip, all I wanted to really do was to get out of Florida, where I had recently moved and had some serious life misadventures and disappointments along the way. I wanted to see the world. I needed a break from reality, and I needed adventure.
The only problem was that I didn't have anyone to do it with me. There was NO way I was going to travel alone to a country that didn't speak English as it's main language. I know plenty of travel bloggers who talk about traveling the world solo as a woman, but truth be told, I lived in South Africa long enough to know that traveling to Europe by yourself as a girl is a lot different to traveling to third world countries by yourself. I know there are women out there who do it, and props to them! But I am certainly not one of them. So, along came CONTIKI!
What is Contiki?
Contiki is rather famous in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Canada for its Europe tours. Contiki caters for travelers from ages 18 to 35, and is a group tour experience. Included in your tour price is all your accommodation, select meals, most fees to sights, and transport in between locations. Many of my friends who have done the Euro trips frankly don't remember them. This is because the Europe trips are considered to be a big party adventure. The tours are often whirlwind adventures as well, with only one or two nights in the major cities. It's definitely a great way to see the world with a group of relatively like minded individuals, though I'm not sure the Europe adventures are for me. After spending a few months weighing up my options, I finally decided that their Latin America tours were my best bet (cheaper too), and that Peru was going to be it! Machu Picchu had long been a bucket list item for me, so it was going to be an amazing experience to go to South America and to see Machu Picchu. I booked the Inca Panorama Tour for November, 11 days in total.
Where does the Contiki Inca Panorama Tour go?
The Highlights of the Contiki Inca Panorama
What isn't a highlight? Really? I loved almost every single second of my tour. Everything was a highlight, barring a few places where my usual travel mishaps that come with me being me usually entail. The places we visited, the food we ate, the experiences we had - everything was incredible.
The Contiki tour starts in Lima, early in the morning, and only really covers one day of the sights, before you make your way to Arequipa (one of my favorite cities in Peru!). I would recommend getting there the day before, not only so that you have a decent night's sleep before starting your trip, but also so that you can enjoy the places that get missed on the tour of Lima for the day. The Contiki tour takes you to some great places like Pareque Del Amor, Plaza San Martin and Plaza De Armas, as well as the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. You don't want to miss out on Huaca Pucllana though - an ancient site set in the middle of a modern and upcoming neighborhood. The tour bus drives past it but you don't get to go in with Contiki. Lima has a lot to offer, so if you're going to come in early, you should check out my guide to what else you can do in Lima.
Arequipa has to be one of my absolute favorite places in Peru. And how can you argue with this when it's backdrop is three volcanoes and buildings built from white volcanic sillar rock. On top of the beautiful setting, this city and its surrounding region is known for its food. It's a foodie's delights. Two of my favorite meals in my time spent in Peru were from the one day we had in this gorgeous city. You arrive in Arequipa after a short flight from Lima, and spend the rest of the day exploring the city with a local guide. You visit some spectacular places and eat some astronomically delicious food as well! I would go back to Arequipa in a heartbeat.
Colca Canyon and Chivay
The next part of the tour has you leaving Arequipa and driving to Colca Canyon and the town of Chivay where you spend the night. This is where the altitude really starts to get to you. You need to remember that this part of Peru has altitudes exceedng 3000m above sea level. It's likely that it will effect you in some way. These high altitudes however mean that you have the most stunning scenery to experience. The tour bus stops along the way at various locations. We stopped to see some wild vicuna in the Salinas y Aguada Blanca Reserve park. We also drank cocoa tea and had lunch along the way. Cocoa tea helps a lot with the altitude sickness, and is actually really delicious. Among all the other amazing things that you should eat in Peru. Colca Canyon is also incredible. We were also on the look out for the Andean Condor, a massive bird of prey. We spotted some along our drive, and at Colca Canyon. Another highlight in this part of the trip was sitting in the hot springs and hanging out with the Contiki crew. You could also chose to do a zip line. I loved seeing all the scenery, despite my mishaps here. One of the tuk-tuk drivers hit a dog (luckily, it seemed ok), and I was not feeling well thanks to the motion sickness and high altitudes. Beautiful, beautiful, epic, incredible scenery though.
Puno and Lake Titicaca
Moving onwards from Chivay and Colca Canyon, you head to Puno and Lake Titicaca. Truthfully, me being me, this was a tough part of the trip. I wasn't feeling well from the altitude, and I get really bad motion sickness. The altitude is really something to take seriously, and it's a good idea to take steps to prevent altitude sickness. It also meant that I didn't get to experience the day out in Puno and on Lake Titicaca. Lake Titicaca is one of the highest navigable lakes in the world. It also borders Peru and Bolivia. Apart from Machu Picchu, this was the next thing I was looking forward to on my trip. I guess it was not meant to be, and will force me to come back! Everyone else really enjoyed the day out however, and their photos are incredible. Jealous!
The tour heads into Cusco for a day before moving on to the Scared Valley and Machu Picchu. Cusco is a really cool city. It's filled with travelers and charm. I had some of the best meals of my life here, and we had a lot of fun at the bars and clubs in the square. I really enjoyed the vibe in Cusco and it was a nice spot to hang out with our group and do a little shopping as well. We were taught salsa dancing at one of the clubs here, and had a great evening out. The food in Cusco is honestly amazing. There's a great little burger place on the square, and our amazing tour manager took us to the most incredible restaurant called Fallen Angel. On our last day, we did a horse-back riding too.
The journey to Machu Picchu is just as exciting as the event itself. At least in my opinion! We stopped at several more impressive sites, including Ollantaytambo and Pisac. These sites are just beyond incredible! I have never been more excited and amazed at every turn before. This is one of the reasons why I truly love Peru.
Inca Trail and Machu Picchu
There are just no words to describe this experience. If you'd like to read more, this was my journey on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
What I really loved about this tour was that after you spend the day hiking the trail, you get to go up again the following day. We didn't have the best of luck with the weather on our day at Machu Picchu, as it was rainy, overcast and foggy all morning. One of my friends and I sat up at the top while the majrotiy of the rest of the group went back down to the hotel. I'm not sure if we waited for three hours, but it certainly felt like we sat there for that long, just waiting for the mist to clear. It finally did, for around 3 or 4 minutes. I remember feeling disappointed that we couldn't walk around the ruins in the sun, and see properly. But my friend who hung out with me had a good point: We had gotten to see Machu Picchu in two completely different settings. One in brilliant sunlight after hiking the trek in amazing weather all day. And the last, in a very moody, mysterious and magical kind of setting where the clouds took over the site. It really was beautiful. I just wish it had not been as rainy on the day that we were exploring Machu Picchu. Our tour manager, Gaby, was amazing, and she was our tour guide for Machu Picchu too. She knows her stuff, and is incredible. The entire trip, Gaby taught us so much, and gave so much of herself and her personal history and how she came to be a tour guide in Peru. So everything we experienced had a personal layer to it as well. FANTASTIC!
The remainder of the trip is back to Cusco with a finally evening and day with the tour group. The following day the group heads off to the Jungle. I really wish I had joined this part of the tour! I was sad to leave and not join in!
Some Tips to make the best of the Inca Panorama Contiki Tour
- Peru is not very expensive, if you are traveling with dollars or Euros/Pounds. Other countries might not feel that it is as cheap, but it is certainly more reasonable than traveling to Europe.
- Try and order Peruvian soles in small notes if you bank allows you to dictate denominations. It is sometimes difficult to get change in Peru because most places and merchants prefer smaller denominations e.g. coins, tens, etc. If your bank can't offer you the choice, try and break change when you get to Lima. It will be helpful and save a lot of headaches later on.
- While it is not customary to tip in Peru, you will be traveling in large parties with Contiki. It is a good idea to have small change in soles available to tip your servers.
- Things are more expensive in tourist cities, particularly around Machu Picchu.
- Take extra money for souvenirs. I'm not a souvenir type person, but I picked up gifts and things for myself in Peru because they were unique and I really loved the colors and little trinkets. That's really not usual for me, so if you do like that kind of stuff make sure you bring extra money. I typically bought from Markets.
- Try everything once. Peruvian food is world renown and you will see by the multitude of posts I have about what to eat in Peru that is Peruvian cuisine is pretty spectacular.
- Water. Lots of it. It's always a good idea to stay hydrated when traveling, but it is even more so the case when traveling at higher altitudes. Buy lots of water and keep sipping. Don't drink water from the taps.
- Food is relatively inexpensive except in fancy restaurants and tourist spots like Machu Picchu.
Altitude Sickness - Traveling at high altitude can cause illness. It's important to stay hydrated but you can also get medication to help you with the adjustment. Read my guide to Preventing Altitude Sickness in Peru.
Bathroom considerations - I wasn't prepared for the toilet situation in Peru, but once you get used to it it's quite humorous. Without going into too much detail, and the ins and outs of plumbing in Peru, don't throw anything, including toilet paper, into the toilets. So you have to throw everything into a trash can or dustbin in the loo, but that's better than breaking the toilet and it overflowing into your room. This nearly happened to me when I was sick and throwing up in Puno. Not worth the added stress I can tell you. Also bring extra toilet paper and hand sanitizer for toilet trips on the road. Some locations will also ask you for a little bit of soles too.
Inca Trail and Machu Picchu - Take water and a few snacks with you for the hike. Protein bars etc are helpful. The guides will inform you how much water to take with you and you do get lunch on the trip. I found the snacks helped me keep going though. Each to their own. Get bugspray too. Some of the girls wearing shorts got eaten alive by bugs, and one had a visit from the doctor it got so bad. I would wear long pants on the trek as you are hiking through the jungle. We had really great weather, it shined, but wasn't too hot, and a lot of the trail was in the shade by the time we got to the hotter hours.
Speaking English - A couple of Spanish phrases will help a lot. In the big cities many people will speak a little English, but it helps a lot when you understand a little bit too. Your tour manager helps, but we also had a guy who could speak some Spanish on our trip, and he was very helpful!
Lastly... if you get the same tour manager as I did, rest assured, you are in incredible hands. Gaby is a fantastic manager, making sure all of us were happy, healthy and having a good time. We learnt a lot about her country and she shared so much of it with us. She has a passion for sharing her culture and Peru, and she is fantastic and a lot of fun. She made sure that our trip was incredible, and reminded us to always have a positive and open mind. Peru is different, but a beautiful and incredible country.
To this day, Peru remains my favorite country to have visited so far. I learnt so much and experienced so much. It is an amazing country, with a rich history and friendly, lovely people. And the food is incredible. I would highly recommend a trip with Contiki to Peru, and if you have the money to do so - do the Peru Uncovered instead, as it includes a trip to the Amazon which I was very sad to miss out on.
Have you been to Peru or on a Contiki before? Are you thinking about doing this trip and have questions? Put them in the comments below :)