Average $27.48 per day or $13.74 per person per day without the Inca Trail
We chose to include the $400 Inca Trail deposit in our Perú stats, even though we paid it back in August, before we even left for South America.
56% of our spending was on activities. Most of this was the Inca Trail but we also did several other things because there is just too much to do in Perú!
Food and Entertainment were the other significant budget chunks. They would be about the same percentage as Ecuador without the Inca Trail.
We barely spent ANY money on Lodging, which is awesome. In all we stayed in 3 hostels for free (Loki for a whole month), Couchsurfed once, and only paid for 4 short hostel stays, totaling only $106. Not bad for a whole 43 days in the country!
Overall, although Perú is the first country we blew our budget on, I think we did great! Considering how well set up Perú is for tourists, we could have spend A LOT more money on swankier hotels, gringo food, and even more tourist activities. We definitely could have spent less if we had skipped the Inca Trail and some of the other tours. But we came into Perú knowing we were going to do more touristy things and prepared for the cost. Everything was well worth the money. We were about 10 days behind on our budget entering Bolivia, but because everything is so cheap here, we are hoping to make it up quickly!
Has anyone been convinced to come join us for a cheap adventure yet????
As of January 27, we’ve been in South America for three months! That’s about 1/3 of the total time we’ll be down here (assuming money lasts) so it’s quite a milestone. Sometimes I feel like we’ve been on the road forever and other times it feels like it was just yesterday we landed in Medellin.
To celebrate our 1/3-iversary, let’s list some fun stats!
Days in South America: 95
Dollars Spent (not including flight): $3005
Countries Visited: 3
Books Read: 8 (Carrie), 7 (Zach)
Number of Laundromat Visits (not including hand-washing): 3
Bacterial Infections: 1 each
Things We’ve Lost
iPhone (Carrie)…The Infamous Bird Poop Incident
Water bottle (Zach)…just left it at a Couchsurfer’s house
Glasses (Carrie)…stupid lake
Sunglasses (Zach)…stupid ocean
2 rings (Carrie)…two separate places
1 shirt (Carrie)…I think this girl on our first WWOOF farm thought it was hers because she always wore orange!
Dr. Bronners soap (Zach)…”It’ll turn up!” he says
And now, since it is Awards Season, we hereby present to you….
The 1/3-iversary Superlatives…a.k.a. the Best Of “So Far”
The horrifying hour of 4am came WAY too soon. We had been dead to the world in our unexpected hostel bed and trying to pull ourselves out of bed was extremely difficult. Not only because of how tired we were, but because our leg muscles were practically incapable of motion after the grueling 22km of the day before. Considerably less than bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we met at the restaurant for breakfast and then took off. Half of our group had decided to tough it out and finish the trek on foot (including stubborn us), while the other half opted to take the bus for $8. This is the one aspect where I think Peru Treks failed us–our detour and change of plans caused us to have to foot the cost of a hostel room (20 Soles=$7) and the bus, if we chose. I know that Peru Treks had no control over the trail closure, but with how much we paid them for the trek, I felt that they should have been able to adjust with us and foot these costs. (More on the cost/value of the trek later.)
What we naively assumed about hiking from Aguas Calientes to the front entrance of Machu Picchu was that we would be walking up the same road that the bus took. Wrong. After a couple turns along the road as the sun was coming up, Juan pointed out the “short cut trail”–1,760 steps UP. Our jaws dropped. We were all feeling dead from the past three days and now THIS??? It was almost too much. But inspired by the unwillingness to pay $8 for a bus ride and the stubbornness of wanting to make it the whole way on foot, we started. One foot in front of the other, stopping for frequent breaks, and sweating profusely in the humid air, we progressed grumpily. I was so sore and tired and not in a good mood. By the time we finally made it (after about two hours of steps) I felt like crying and Zach felt like throwing up. All this to arrive at the main entrance of Machu Picchu along with all the lazy bums who took the train! We exchanged exhausted high-fives with our guides and the bus-riders from our group, who had beaten us there, and then entered. By the end, we had hiked 50.5km, 7.5km MORE than the normal Inca Trail! We basically rock. Arriving early definitely paid off…we got there around 7am, beating the crowds and the clouds! We hurriedly pushed ourselves up to the top of the ruins on about-to-fall-off legs in order to get the classic Machu Picchu photos. Despite all our bad luck on the trek, we were extremely lucky to be at the site on a clear, non-rainy day! Cheers to that! The site was stunning. I couldn’t believe I was finally there after so much planning and hard work, but unfortunately caring much about it was quite an effort due to how tired and sore I was. I think other group members felt the same way. You could definitely tell the hikers from the train-riders at Machu Picchu because we were the ones hilariously hobbling up and down the steps at the speed of arthritic grandparents. Percy gave us a two-hour tour of Machu Picchu, highlighting the most important parts. It was really interesting, and I wish I would have been more awake and alert for it! All in all, I think I personally appreciated having seen Machu Picchu more and more after the fact, as I recovered from the trek. I think that if there hadn’t been landslides and we would have stuck to the original route, we would have been much more energetic and excited to be there in the end. But what can you do? Woulda, shoulda, coulda, you can’t control the weather! Lest I come across like a total Negative Nancy, let me share our AMAZING pictures with you now!
After touring the ruins, we decided we had had our fill and headed back to Aguas Calientes to have one last lunch as a group. Aguas Calientes is an unapologetic tourist trap, like the Times Square of Perú. Anyone coming to Machu Picchu HAS to go there, and they definitely know how to exploit the gringos. Food and beer costs are nearly triple what they are in Cuzco. We didn’t really find anything redeemable about the town, although if money was not an issue for you, you could probably have some fun and some tasty food. Luckily our group had a whole restaurant reserved for us all day, so we hung out on the couch reading, writing, and napping until our train left at 6:45pm. The British-run PerúRail company has a monopoly on the railroad in Perú and thus is also a ripoff. The ride was unremarkable, highlighted only by obnoxiously yelling drunk people and free coffee and peanuts. We got off the train two hours later in Ollantaytambo, and spent the last two hours on the Peru Treks bus back to Cuzco sleeping. We finally got back to our hostel around 11pm, more physically exhausted than we’d ever felt before!
And here we are a week and a half later, finally finishing our recaps! Despite our complaints about the trek, we were so glad we did it and we would recommend it to others. Basically, it’s way more satisfying, and, we believe, a better value than taking the train! Just KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING INTO! It’s not easy; you must acclimatize; and you have to be in good-enough shape! You might struggle and get sick despite acclimatizing and being in good shape. The person in our group who had the hardest time was a former NFL football player. Also, be prepared for the fact that you might be too exhausted to enjoy it by the time you get to Machu Picchu. People who are more excited about Machu Picchu then they are about hiking and the Andean scenery should just take the train. We were equally pumped about both, so we’re for sure glad we trekked!
Cost/Value of the trek:
There is much debate on the effects of the commercialization and popularity of the Inca Trail. The trail was crowded but not unbearably so. The limit on the number of people on the trail per day is what makes booking so far in advance necessary. It’s also important to make sure you use a company that treats their porters fairly. Here is what we paid and what we ultimately thought about the value of our experience (all prices are per person):
Peru Treks total cost=$490
Included: bus from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo ($10), 4 days of hiking, guide and assistant guide, porters, Inca Trail and Machu Picchu entry permit ($93), 10 big meals, tents, water on Days 3 and 4, sleeping pads, Machu Picchu tour, bus ticket from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes ($8), train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo ($37), bus from Ollantaytambo to Cuzco ($10). (Breakdown info taken from Andean Travel Web.)
Not included: Sleeping bag ($20 to rent, we brought our own), personal porter to carry your sleeping bag and pad ($40, we carried our own stuff), breakfast on Day 1, lunch and dinner on Day 4, water on Days 1 and 2 (you can buy it for inflated prices along the way but we brought our own), snacks, coca leaves, walking sticks, tips for cook, guides, and porters ($25 minimum).
Extra costs we incurred due to landslides: Hostel on the night of Day 3 (20 Soles=$7, this was a decision our group made together; we could have chosen to camp and pay nothing but then it would have taken longer to get to Machu Picchu in the morning), Bus to Machu Picchu ($8, what a huge ripoff for those that didn’t want to hike anymore!).
Overall, I am totally impressed with the service, food and equipment provided by Peru Treks. I know they’re not making an enormous profit on these treks with all the expenses involved. Still, because of how much we shelled out, I can’t help but feel that Peru Treks could and should have included some of those extras, especially the three meals they are missing. We were picked up at 5:30am on Day One and didn’t get back to Cuzco until 10:30pm on Day Four, so the meals on those days should have been part of the price! Also, as I said before, I think Peru Treks could have shelled out some dough for our hostel and bus tickets due to our forced detour.
I also have one criticism of the Machu Picchu facilities. Despite the loads of money the park brings in, the bathrooms are absolutely atrocious. I am not usually one to complain about bathrooms (ummmm, hello, I’m Returned Peace Corps Tanzania, what can I say?) but what is the point of having modern toilets if you’re going to let them be so disgustingly filthy? There was no toilet paper in any dispenser and literally every single stall was covered in pee or poop splashes. Not what I expected from the most famous place in South America.
Day three started with bad news. Our final campsite and last 5km of the trail were closed due to landslides. This meant we would have to hike an extra 8.5km (5 miles) and enter Machu Picchu though the front entrance with all the lazy people that took the train. There were two options: hike to the river, camp, then walk to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town) and take the first bus up to the ruins from there or hike all the way to Aguas Calientes (22km=14 miles), spend the night in a hostel and hike from town up to Machu Picchu in the morning, completing the trek on foot. Finishing the adventure on a bus sounded terrible so the group voted to hike all the way to Aguas. That decision changed Day Three from a relatively easy day into something brutal. We had never walked 14miles in a day, let alone hiked up and down hills and mountains at high altitude. To top it off we were super sore from yesterday’s uphill battle. I heard the question “Why didn’t we take the train?” so many times!
So after our usual awesome breakfast, we left camp in the rain. It had snowed above our camp the night before, covering the Dead Woman’s Pass that we had crossed the previous afternoon. The first hour was uphill and our legs were proving very tired already. We passed a few more ruins and reached the second pass where there was supposed to be the best view of the whole hike. Unfortunately it was still raining and cloudy. Our guide Percy, who was Quechua, had us bring stones from the river that we stacked at the top of the mountain in a spiritual ritual for good luck, then we began the decent.
The trail was nice in this section, gradual downhill most of the time. The trail wound through several tunnels and the vegetation was thick and almost jungle-like. After what seemed like forever, we made it to our lunch stop. It was still cloudy but the rain had slowed, thankfully. Not that it mattered since we were already soaked to the bone. From here the trail was down steep steps all the way to the river (8 km/5mi). At first it was not so bad, different muscles than we used up yesterday going uphill. But soon our knees started to quiver and our toes started to push into the tip of our boots, blistering. We relied heavily on our walking sticks and soon even our arms were tired. About halfway down the clouds cleared and we could see the town of Aguas Calientes. It was still SO FAR AWAY!
We finally made it to the bottom and sat down in the grass waiting for the rest of the group. Some of the other groups were camping there but we had decided to walk along the train tracks two more hours to town. After sitting, our legs were super stiff and everything was hurting. At least the trail was flat from here and we focused on putting one foot after the other, trying not to trip and hurt ourselves when so close to the finish.
Right as the light faded we saw the town. Dawn ’til dusk, what a day. Our Day Three definitely did not go as planned, and many of us agreed that it was actually harder than Day Two due to the long detour. Our cook fed us our last dinner, including a tasty cake, then we showered and quickly fell asleep in our hostel rooms. Wake up time: 4am to hike up to one of the most famous sites in the world.
After sleeping comfortably in our tents listening to the pleasant sound of light rain all night, we were woken at 5:50am by Assistant Guide Juan offering “room service” of coca tea, coffee, or hot chocolate to wake us up. We savored our hot drinks, then pulled on warm clothes and ventured to the dining tent for a delicious breakfast of fruit, granola, porridge, and pancakes! Some complained about not sleeping well on the “too thin” sleeping mats, making Zach and I glad to be seasoned campers who had slept hard! Thankfully the rain stopped just after breakfast and we set out on the much-anticipiated “Challenge Day!”
On this day we were to hike 12 km, first rapidly gaining 5,000 feet to go up to Dead Woman’s Pass, the trail’s highest point at roughly 14,000 feet, then descending steep stone steps for a couple more hours to get to our next camp. We began the hike around 6:30am and steadily plodded uphill until our first break, during which Guide Percy taught us how to chew coca leaves. The leaves are legal in Perú, and are neither harmful nor addictive. Coca leaves were actually considered to be more valuable than silver or gold and were used as currency by the Incas. Chewing the leaves lessons feelings of hunger, cold, and altitude sickness. What you do is take a pile of 10-15 leaves, sprinkle a couple drops of lime or ash (containing chemicals which activate the leaves) in the center, roll up the leaves into a sort of burrito shape, then stick between your teeth and slowly chew for 15-20minutes. If you’re doing it right, the leaves definitely make your tongue and lips go numb (just like novacaine at the dentist!) for a few minutes, but it doesn’t last for long. We chewed coca leaves all day on Day Two and they definitely helped! While chewing them we just felt less like we were at 13,000 feet! Our lungs felt more open and our heads clearer. Conversely, every time my leaves started to wear off, I felt a headache coming on. I just popped more in and away it went! Also, everyone in our group that chewed a lot of coca made it to the top first, and those who didn’t like it lagged behind! Interesting!
Nevertheless, Day Two was definitely a challenge. After a few hours of gradual uphill, we stopped for a “second breakfast” since lunch wouldn’t be served until we made it to camp. While we ate, we watched the porters ahead of us climbing up the trail which wound steeper and higher until it was out of sight. The rain also returned while we ate. The hardest part was ahead. Ready or not, we threw on ponchos and raincoats and set off. It was slow going. Eyes on the rocky path of steep steps, we slogged our way uphill through the rain, passing and being passed by the same hikers over and over again as we all stopped for frequent breaks. The scenery was gorgeous as we passed a green field full of llamas below and climbed into the cloud-shrouded peaks. I tried to stay positive as I huffed and puffed, reminding myself “Look at where you are! What a privilege to be here! You can do this!” I never once doubted that we would make it, but as the altitude increased and the air got thinner, I felt like we were moving at a tortoise’s pace and began to get frustrated. We could see the top of the pass ahead but it just never seemed to get any closer! As usual, Zach was my rock and encouragement, always managing to stay positive no matter how much he was struggling himself. After what seemed like hours (but I think only took about 1.5), and many breaks to just breathe and pop in more coca leaves, we stopped for one last breather within sight of the top! “Five minutes,” I said, “and then we’ll make it!” And we did! After grinding our way up the last few meters of granite steps, we made it to the top of the pass just behind the faster hikers in our group; we were the first ones up carrying big backpacks! (Everyone knows it’s not a competition but in your brain, you know, it kind of is. At least for an incredibly perfectionist and competitive person like me, it felt good to be in the top 50% of our group.) We were supposed to wait for the whole group at the top to take a picture if the weather was nice, but it definitely wasn’t. The group on top had taken a 10-minute break up there and were now all freezing. It was cold, so we shot a quick video and continued down without even taking off our backpacks. Coming down was the complete opposite challenge of going up. The stairs were still steep and uneven and we relied heavily on the walking sticks we had bought in Ollantaytambo for 5 Soles ($2) apiece. At least breathing was not as difficult while climbing down! Gradually regaining my breath and the rain slowly stopping made the last few hours of downhill relatively breezy. We also broke out of the heavy hiker-traffic after crossing the pass and had the peaceful trail almost to ourselves for awhile. We were both ecstatic at having completed the hardest part of the trek! “We did it! Now I know we’re going to make it!” I exclaimed! We felt “on top of the world”, literally, hahaha.
As we rolled into camp around 3:00pm with all the porters clapping for us (they did this for everyone, every time someone made it, which was quite silly but nice) we were ready to EAT! One effect of the coca leaves I never felt was reduced hunger, that’s for sure. But when you’re burning around 4,000 calories per day hiking, the delicious food provided, and lots of it, is absolutely necessary. I ate loads of food every meal and was always starving by the next meal time! Understandably, we had to wait for everyone in our group to eat lunch. So we sat around drinking tons of tea, congratulating ourselves on making it, and discussing how sore and tired we all were! We finally ate lunch around 4pm once everyone made it to camp. Then a two-hour nap before dinner, more stuffing our faces, and bedtime! We were all exhausted but victorious!
We woke at 5am in Cuzco and were picked up in a bus by our tour company (Peru Treks). Today was the day to start Inca Trail Trekking. As soon as we were out of town the Andes started to show in the distance, the largest peaks I have seen in my life– sharp and snow covered. The bus took us, our two guides, and the 14 other trekkers in our group to Ollantaytambo, a quaint Quechua town where we ate breakfast and bought our final supplies. After breakfast we rode for another 30 minutes to the start of the Inca Trail where they checked our passports and completed other final paperwork. It seemed to us that it was harder to get onto the Inca Trail than to enter Perú. We were both nervous having only spent two days acclimatizing, but once we started hiking we found the pace comfortable and our fears quickly diminished. During the first section before lunch we passed several ruins and our guides, Percy and Juan, explained about the sites and the Inca culture.
The trail was well maintained and we found the day flying by. In the early afternoon we stopped in a beautiful clearing and a tent was set up for us to dine in. It was amazing how much stuff the the porters (called “chaskis” in Quechua) brought up the trail–40 pounds each. Most trekkers in our group had hired their own personal chaski ($40 extra) to carry their sleeping bags and other gear, and only carried small day packs themselves. Being poor however, we carried everything required ourselves in our big backpacks. Lunch was amazing: avocado and cheese appetizer, potato soup, and then trout for the main. Everyone was very impressed and we stuffed our faces. After lunch we took about 30 minutes to let it digest and drank some tea. I even took a quick nap in the grass.
Following lunch we hiked for another few hours and it started sprinkling a little bit. It was amazing how fast the weather changed on the trail. One minute it was sunny and hot, the next cold and on the brink of snow. We had brought jackets and ponchos and our cameras were in dry sacks, so the light mist didn’t bother us but was actually refreshing. We passed above another large Inca ruin and eventually came to our campsite where we would eat dinner and spend the night. Dinner was again very good and we went to bed with full stomachs, feeling pretty good about how things had gone so far. It got COLD as soon as the sun went down but our tent was warm and sleeping bags comfy. We slept great on our sleeping pads on top of the soft grass. The first day was definitely a confidence-booster, but we were still apprehensive because the guides kept reminding us that Day One was “Warm-Up Day” and Day Two was “Challenge Day!”