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Owen

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101 Things to Do In and Around Cusco: The Ultimate City Guide

By Owen / November 27, 2017

When you travel long term, one question you get asked a lot is: “What is your favourite city?”

For 6 months, I never had an answer because there are so many cities worth visiting in South America.

That is, until I came to Cusco – and stayed for more than 5 weeks.

Many people will say it’s the most touristic place ever (it’s true) and shun it, but that is one of the reasons I love it there.

Touristic cities are brighter, more colourful, and usually safer. These may not seem like attractive enough reasons for you, but after being on a continent with very similar history and architecture long enough, you’ll appreciate these subtleties.

Touristic cities also have more things to do. Here are a few.

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Gocta & Kuelap: Why You Should Visit Chachapoyas

By Owen / October 26, 2017

My tour guide Jeffery turned to me and said, “I’m gonna first explain in Spanish to the group, and then in English to you.”

“Because you’re the only non-Spanish speaker.”

I was on my way to the Kuelap ruins but that statement pretty much sums up my journey in Northern Peru – a part that is still off the typical tourist circuit.

Most visitors to Peru stay primarily in the south: around Cusco for Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley, to Puno for Lake Titicaca, and to Arequipa for the Colca Canyon. They might include the Nazca Lines on their way to Lima.

It is a pity because the North of Peru has so many ‘hidden gems’ like the waterfalls and Lama castle in Tarapoto and the Kuelap ruins and Gocta Falls near Chachapoyas.

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Tarapoto: Of Waterfalls and Medieval Castles

By Owen / October 24, 2017

“Hi, can you take a photo?”

The Peruvian girl in her teens asked in Spanish.

“Sure,” I replied.

I stretched out my hands, ready to receive her camera but she stood next to me.

“Oh,” I realized then that she wanted to take a photo with me.

Her friends took turn to stand beside me, posing for photos.

I felt like a Korean superstar at that moment with my legion of giggling teenage fangirls surrounding me. I looked around – I was the only Asian there. Scratch that, I could be the only non-Peruvian there at the Ahuashiyacu Waterfall.

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Nevado Mateo: My First Alpine Mountaineering Experience

By Owen / October 5, 2017

I held on firmly onto the ice axe on one hand and stretched the other to pick up the metal hook my guide dropped.

Firmly wasn’t firm enough when you’re tired.

The ice axe slipped.

So did I.

It was one of those dramatic movie moments when I slid down the ice wall, panicking and fumbling. For a few meters, all I could think was: Fuck, fuck, fuck!

In an instant, I managed to lock the ice axe right into the ice wall and stopped the fall. It’s what they call self-arrest, I believe.

Phew. That was the most intense thing I’ve experienced.

This was my first mountaineering experience and it was up the 5150m Nevado Mateo in the Andean mountain ranges of Peru.

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Santa Cruz Trek: A Natural Beautiful Exhaustion

By Owen / October 3, 2017

I slipped on the rock and fell.

My trekking pole snapped in half.

I lifted my bottle to drink, only a few drops came out.

I looked around – I’m all alone.

Is it possible to feel depressed in such natural beauty?

The Santa Cruz trek is described as one of the most beautiful in the world, but here I am, feeling… meh.

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Chavin de Huantar: Peru’s Forgotten Civilisation

By Owen / September 29, 2017

I like to travel not just to see and experience new things.

But to understand and relive the experiences of ancient cultures.

From the mysterious Nasca Lines to the enigmatic Tiwanaku ruins, I find myself getting more and more amazed with how seemingly impossible things could be achieved.

This curiosity with the unknown brought me to the ruins of Chavin de Huantar.

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Pastoruri Glacier: A Song of Ice and Snow

By Owen / September 27, 2017

Snow pelted against my poncho.

Thunder rumbled in the skies.

A curtain of white blanketed the landscape.

I cursed at the weather, lowered my head and continued walking towards my destination: the Pastoruri Glacier.

“The weather up there at 5000m is like my ex-wife,” said Roger, my guide. “Crazy and unpredictable.”

It’s true. It was hot and sunny just an hour ago but at the glacier, my hands were freezing.

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Laguna 69: Day Hike to The Lake Without a Name

By Owen / September 26, 2017

There is something about waterbodies:

The reflection, the tranquillity, the way they are naturally placed among surrounding mountains and valleys that make them so alluring.

Throw in some animals grazing on the grass and the whole scene is postcard perfect.

Waterfalls, lakes, rivers… They always make me stop and stare.

The Laguna 69 in the Cordillera Blanca mountain range of Peru is one of them.

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Flying Beyond Nazca: The Mysterious Palpa Lines of Peru

By Owen / September 18, 2017

“And on your right, is the famous Paracas Family,” the co-pilot announced over the speakers as we flew over the image of the ‘cutely-drawn’ family of 5.

Or was it 6? It wasn’t clear.

There’s the man – the head of the family – with a huge mane, like the rays of the sun and holding on a stick; a woman with her long hair till the waist, and two children who look more like rabbits to me.

Separated from the group is a small person, presumably the baby of the family.

The pilot circled around the family to the left, giving the passengers on the other side an equal chance to see the Family.

Now this is not something one gets to see every day, not even on the famous Nazca Lines flight. This is the lesser known Palpa Lines.

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Choquequirao Trek: The Real Lost City of the Inca

By Owen / September 13, 2017

“I’m not going to Machu Picchu. I refuse to be around thousands of other tourists,” said Antonio, my tent mate during the Choquequirao trek.

Rumour has it that there is a set of ruins near Cusco that is almost as magnificent as Machu Picchu, but far less crowded.

Popular guidebooks noted that there are fewer than 30 visitors to Choquequirao per day, compared to the over 3000 at Machu Picchu.

Why?

The only way to get there is to do a two days’ trek across and down a valley, and up the other side, and two days to get out. There is no road access to the site.

There are plans to build a cable-car connecting the hard-to-reach ruins to the masses in a few years’ time. Then, Choquequirao would receive thousands of visitors each day.

Plus, the Choquequirao trek is touted as one of the hardest trek in the Cusco region. Call it a challenge, call it pride, call it whatever you want. Knowing all these, I had to do it.

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