It started with goodbyes. I didn’t think it would be this hard to leave Chile, but it was. We came to Chile, not because it was on our bucket list, but to visit family. Israel’s sister has lived with her family in Santiago for three years and ever since she moved down here we thought it would be fun to visit especially since we now both have three boys. During our two month stay in the area we all really got to know each other. The little boys had a fantastic time playing with cousins close in age, and I got to know Israel’s sister and her husband so much better. I really cherish the time that we were able to spend together, but this made saying goodbye pretty difficult.
The journey began with a three hour flight from Santiago to Arica, the northernmost city in Chile. We flew there because flying directly to Cusco was well outside our budget, national flights within Chile are relatively inexpensive, and it cut out a 24 hour bus ride. We had no definite plan on how to get to Cusco from Arica. Six months ago this would have had me in a total panic, but I’ve learned that going with the flow and waiting for good local information is often the best recourse when traveling.We had done research, but in Peru, it’s hard to ascertain the best way to do things online. Online, it said bus times from Tacna to Cusco range from 11-18 hours, so we hoped the people at the bus station would have more accurate information.
After landing in Arica and asking around at the airport to find the best way to get to the bus station in Tacna, Peru, we decided to splurge and took a taxi to lessen the hassle. It was a 50km drive through the Atacama desert. This was the first time Israel or I had seen so many huge and dunes, they were amazing! Our driver was extremely helpful with the paperwork and the border crossing, so exiting Chile and entering Peru took us less than thirty minutes. The frontier from Chile to Peru has some similarities to the U.S.- Mexico border since there is such an economic disparity between the two countries. Our driver pointed out the landmines which lined the roadside close to the border, this really drove home the point.
With the border crossing we changed time zones by two hours, so it was around five when we arrived at the bus station. Finally it was time to decide, were we going all the way to Cusco that night or should we stop in Arequipa? Since it’s rain season here, the Cusco bus would have been 18 hours long, so that made the choice easy. We hopped on an 10:00 bus to Arequipa and arrived, delirious with exhaustion, at 4:30 am. We grabbed a taxi and asked him to find us a decent hotel in the center of town. Thankfully we all slept until 9 and felt refreshed enough to check out the tourist sites and then take another bus again that night.
Arequipa was not on my list of places to see in Peru, but I’m so glad we got a chance to check it out. The two must see places I read about in our guidebook were the Santa Catalina Convent, and the Museo de Santuarios Andinos. After eating brunch near the Plaza de Armas we explored the plaza and toured the Basilica. They made us take the guided tour, but it was worth the small fee for the informative guide. We got to go up on the roof for a great view of the plaza and the surrounding city. After the Basilica we went to the convent which cost a shocking $40 for the five of us to get in (uh, hello Peru is supposed to be cheap!). Inside the convent walls was a little city of its own where the nuns had been cloistered. The convent was closed off to the world for 400 years and only opened to the public in the 1970’s. We had a fascinating time wandering the little streets, seeing the tools they used, how they cooked, what they ate, how they washed, and envisioning how the nuns lived. It was definitely the coolest monastery we have ever been to, it was even worth the $40 entrance fee. After the monastery we went to see the mummy at the Museo de Santuarios Andinos which was interesting for us since we had learned a bit about the mummies that were found on these mountains at a museum in Santiago.
We left for the bus station around 7 that evening. This was our first time traveling first class and we were excited to learn that there was even a special waiting area in the bus station for us first class passengers. We felt very special. These bus tickets were not cheap, we were taking first class on the best bus line in Peru, but we were determined to get a good rest on the ten hour overnight bus. Well, it turns out, that no matter how much money you spend, or how tired you are, sleeping on a bus is just about impossible for our family. Even though the seats reclined 160º, even though there were tvs with a choice of movies on the backs of the seats, even though they served a halfway decent meal, it was a looonnng ten hours.
We arrived to Cusco as the sun was coming up. We got off the bus hungry, exhausted, and gasping for breath (Cusco is 11,000 ft above sea level!). Unfortunately, we arrived on a Sunday morning and everything was closed, but thankfully a taxi driver found us the only restaurant open at such an early hour on a Sunday. With some food in our bellies, it was time to make the final trek to our AirBnB. We decided to take a taxi due to our complete and utter exhaustion. Cusco is a pretty city, but the descent to the Sacred Valley, now that’s a sight. The mountains here are absolutely amazing! I know I’ve said this before, but these mountains are so majestic that words cannot describe their beauty, and neither can pictures really. This place is something that you just have to experience for yourself.