For the past few weeks I’ve planned that my last major stop in Peru would be on a beach in Mancora, but something about that seemed too easy and relaxing; Peru is all about adventure so instead I headed for one last set of amazing ruins.

These are the ruins of Kuelap near a city called Chachapoyas in northern Peru, not far from the border with Ecuador. I also hiked to the Gocta Waterfalls, apparently one of the world’s highest.

Traveling Real story: the hike to the waterfalls is muddy so my guide suggested I rent boots. The boots looked inappropriate for hiking but I figured “when in Rome..” Well, in the beginning my feet were fine but as the hours passed I realized something wasn’t right- my feet were hurting like never before. And my guide, as friendly as she was, just didn’t understand my plight. She was telling me about her nonexistent love life in Peru and how amusing she finds it when Peruvian women are dating foreigners, and I’m trying to listen and converse all in Spanish, and meanwhile my feet are killing me. In short, a handful of my toenails are now a purplish bruised color so I will remember those waterfalls for quite sometime!

Kuelap

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It’s been awhile since Machu Picchu. And after plenty of hiking, plazas and long bus rides I’ve realized that in satisfying my traveling real desires — visiting Peru’s less known archaeological sites is a must.

I used the colonial city of Trujillo as my base to visit Chan Chan and Huaca de La Luna.

And perhaps the most surprising of the bunch was the Sipan archeological site near the city of Chiclayo not far from Trujillo. These are ancient tombs with skeletons of important figures!

Chan Chan

Huaca de La Luna
Sipan
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This mountain range contains spectacular beauty. Arriving in Huaraz, a gateway city to this area, is underwhelming. But that “underwhelmingness” added to the overwhelming awesomeness once I began my hike to Laguna 69, and camped overnight in Huascaran National Park. The plaza pics are the town of Caraz, a picturesque village I stayed in for a couple of nights. And the two minuscule figures by the lake are a couple I met along the way.

A Traveling Real story to this post is that I never meant to camp over night; my day hike turned into a bigger event because unbeknownst to me at the time, there was no transportation out of the park at the end of my hike around 5pm. If not for a friendly park ranger offering me a little food, and a mattress and sleeping bag for the night, I might have had to ask the friendly French couple I was hiking with to share their tiny tent because it gets cold!

Cordillera Blanca

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Arequipa. Staring at El Misti volcano in the background and a small, beautiful, old bridge in the foreground; watching the pedestrians walk along the bridge; and the river below as the water crashes between the rocks.

Arequipa

Oh Arequipa, the most beautiful plaza in Peru? And your volcanic white stone architecture; so handsome.

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In Colca Canyon (Colca Canyon) it finally occurred to me: I am Traveling Real. Maybe it’s because I’ve been traveling in Peru for a month and into the swing of things or, just as likely, it is literally being in Colca Canyon. This is a special place to be. Oh yeah, I can’t forget to mention I saw the most amazing birds — Andean Condors — in my life.

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Okay, so my daily routine wasn’t just about taking snapshots of nice plazas, streets, and long-distance views. It also involved food, like basic, inexpensive set meals at local restaurants; these usually come with soup as a starter and then a main dish of potatoes or rice and meat and vegetables.

Cusco, Peru

The following pics will include some meals; the huge market I shopped at; my “hospedaje” (lodging), which includes a pic of one of the helpful women working there and the rooftop view I got from my kitchen table; my shoes being shined; a new Peruvian friend and I (we were connected through a mutual friend who taught English in Cusco); my fav cafe; and a guy from the Peruvian Amazon staying at my hostal, making artesanĂ­a to sell in order to fund his travels. Que chevere!

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My appreciation for cities kept me in Cusco longer than expected. I found a nice place to stay and began living in the city for a couple of weeks.

Cusco, Peru

The following pics will include the main plaza (plaza de armas), picturesque neighborhoods, and nice views of the city.

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Ollantaytambo (Ollantaytambo ) is the town many people travel to in order to take the train to Macchu Picchu. It’s a couple hours from Cusco. I knew right away that this place deserved exploring, so after I returned I stayed a couple of nights.

Ollantaytambo is well set up for tourists but all it takes is a little meandering to immerse yourself in this beautiful place. It felt authentic here; the people, the inca ruins in the hills and the narrow, ancient streets will likely stay memorable throughout my travels.

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Seeing Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu)for the very first time was quite possibly the most awe-inspiring moment of my life. There is incredible beauty everywhere but very few places create this “holy shit I’m actually here” internal dialogue. It’s a magnificent place.

My Machu Picchu experience was heightened because I was fortunate enough to appreciate it with two other travelers I met on the train, one from Canada and the other from France. We woke up before dawn to hike up and arrived around 6:30am.

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In Lima I came across a chocolate museum. It’s always fun to come across the unexpected and it’s really a refreshing change from an art or history museum. Anyway, suffice it to say I ate some good chocolate that day. And the latest Willie Wonka movie was playing on a big screen to boot!

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