Welcome back to the revival of my annual trip series for Year 7! I just arrived back from Peru on Memorial Day after 10 days in the country. It feels great to check off yet another successful annual trip. If you’re new to the series, my older brother, Jake, and I started the tradition of traveling to a new international destination every year in 2016. Here’s where we’ve been for the past 7 years (despite a global pandemic — well-timed Years 5 and 6 kept this tradition alive). 

Year 1 (2016): The Pacific Northwest (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver)

Year 2 (2017): Cuba

Year 3 (2018): The Balkans — Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro (and London!)

Year 4 (2019): Luxembourg (and Paris!)

Year 5 (2020): Africa (South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania)

Year 6 (2021): Belize

Year 7 (2022): Peru

Here’s what went down on our most recent trip to Peru. 

Our Itinerary 

Thursday, May 19

  • Jake and Kelsey flew from Denver and Phoenix (respectively) to meet in Miami.
  • Jake’s originally direct flight was diverted to Dallas but he eventually made it to Miami for a 1:30 AM departure to Peru.
  • Jake booked both tickets into the Lima on Qantas rewards points and neither Jake nor Kelsey had assigned seats on their boarding passes.
  • We had a tense (but funny) moment while we waited for a seat assignment while boarding. We believe there was a non-zero chance that we could have been bumped. We fed our nerves with peanut M&Ms Jake had brought for the plane.
  • Once assigned seats, we sat next to each other on the plane.
  • Jake’s ticket had his Qantas rewards number but Kelsey’s just read “Frequent Flyer” – very applicable.
  • Kelsey slept the entire flight to Peru, and Jake didn’t wake her for meal service (rude!).

Friday, May 20

  • We arrived in Lima and had to go through customs before taking a domestic flight to Cusco. 
  • We had roughly 3 hours before our connection, which we spent in a Priority Pass lounge. 
  • The flight to Cusco was uneventful, and we took a taxi upon arrival for 50 soles to the Flying Dog Hostel. 
  • We grabbed lunch at Jack’s Cafe — hummus appetizer and breakfast food (egg toast + huevos rancheros).
  • We walked to see Plaza de Armas, Cathedral, La Compania, Inca Walls, and La Merced before going to our tour orientation at 6 PM.
  • We spent a relaxing 30 minutes at a fountain park near Plaza de Armas. 
  • We went to bed early to prep for our early departure and help adjust to the altitude.

Saturday, May 21

  • Our tour departed at 7:30 AM.
  • In the morning, we learned to tell the difference between llamas and alpacas as well as identify real baby alpaca products.
  • We also drove through the Sacred Valley and toured Pisac (an Inca administrative hub).
  • In the afternoon, we saw the ancient greenhouse rings of Moray, learned about the salt mines of the Marasal Company, stopped for lunch, and toured the Inca site at Ollantaytambo.
  • We grabbed a dinner of Peruvian soup and quinoa risotto before heading to the train station for our train to Aqua Calientes.

Sunday, May 22

  • We woke up around 5 AM for one of the biggest days of the trip — Machu Picchu!
  • We ate breakfast at the hotel and then took the 6:15 AM bus to arrive at the entrance around 6:55 AM.
  • Jake broke his streak of never paying for a bathroom because there are no bathrooms inside Machu Picchu (only before the entrance).
  • By 7 AM, we were in Machu Picchu, and we walked the site for the next 3 or so hours.
  • After the visit, we took the bus back to Aqua Calientes where we learned how to make Pisco Sours with our guide Pabel. We also ate a traditional Peruvian lunch at Mapachu Brewery. Jake ordered Aja de Gallina, and Kelsey ordered Lomo Saltado with alpaca meat. We said goodbye to Pabel after our meal.
  • We had tickets for the 3 PM train back to Cusco, but we had a little bit of time to kill. We walked to the main square and got a beer at a nearby cafe.
  • Kelsey slept for the first 3 hours of the train ride. Jake noted that was the most beautiful part (before it got dark). The river flowed on the left side of the drain, and eventually, the glaciers (one was the Veronica) went past on the right. The second part of the train ride was dark and long as the train was delayed roughly 90 minutes. The baby sitting across from us was not pleased to be on such a long train. 
  • From the train station, we hitch a ride with SAM Travel to the Flying Dog Hotel for the night. 
  • After arriving, we got dinner at an Italian place off of Plaza de Armas. 

Monday, May 23

  • We booked an extra day in Cusco to make sure we saw all the sights in and around the city.
  • We started the day at a coffee shop off of one of the main squares.
  • Walking through the San Blas neighborhood, we stopped at the Chocolate Museum and bought a chocolate bar for 9 sols.
  • Our next destination was Saqsaywaman, which are Incan Ruins overlooking the city.
  • In the same area, we saw Christo Blanco as well as some great views of Cusco.
  • Q’Enqo was another Incan ruin site that we visited about 1 kilometer down the road. 
  • We could see the San Blas neighborhood nearby on the map, so we decided to walk. We figured it wouldn’t be too far, and we didn’t need to get a taxi. Early into our walk, we came across 5 stray dogs barking at us, clearly marking their territory. Kelsey spotted some people walking down the hill about 20 yards in the opposite direction of the dogs, thinking that may be a better route. It was as we eventually hit tiled steps that made the walk down much smoother. 
  • Dinner that night was overlooking Jake’s favorite spot in Cusco, Plaza de Armas. If you’re in Cusco, be sure to check out Morena. We stopped at Molly’s Irish Pub for a nightcap afterward. 

Tuesday, May 24

  • On this day, we traveled from Cusco to Iquitos. 
  • We started the morning grabbing a bagel from The Bagel Cafe, which was a great Israeli place in Cusco. After breakfast, Kelsey got some work done back at the hostel while Jake read at Plaza de Armas. 
  • Around 11:45, we took a cab to the airport in Cusco for a flight to Lima and then Iquitos. Because of the flight paths, we had a long layover at the airport, which gave us another opportunity to enjoy Priority Pass lounges. 
  • The flight to Iquitos was moved up by 30 minutes. Neither of us had ever seen anything like that!
  • When we arrived in Iquitos, we had a bit of trouble with the taxi. We thought it would be a bit late because of the original flight time, but it never showed up. We ended up taking a taxi with one of the drivers who had been pitching themselves to us while waiting. “Not our best work” as Jake put it. 
  • We stayed at the Amazon Dream Hostel along the hostel in Iquitos. 

Wednesday, May 25

  • The next day we woke up early…we were heading into the Amazon. 
  • We ate breakfast at the Amazon Dream Hostel with food served by the owner, Chip. 
  • We boarded a boat along with others (Daniel from Germany, a couple from Peru, and a young guy from France). We spent two hours on the water — one of which was on the mighty Amazon River. Our accommodation was a lodge in the jungle on one of the many rivers that feed the Amazon. 
  • We ate lunch after arriving at the lodge and then received our room assignments. The lodge was not much better than camping, and Kelsey could have been more thrilled. However, mosquito nets were provided, which was nice. 
  • After lunch, we went on our first excursion. We visited an animal shelter and saw birds, sloths, anacondas, and turtles. We also visited monkey island and saw pink dolphins. 
  • As you may expect in the Amazon, we got soaked during an afternoon rainstorm. There’s a reason it’s called the rainforest! The “river roads” that our boat sailed through would fill up during these showers. 
  • We ate a quick dinner of fried fish, fried bananas, rice, and vegetables before we left for a night walk in the rainforest. We road the boat in pitch black for about 30 minutes using our flashlights to try and find animals. After we arrived at the desired location, we docked and departed on foot. We saw snakes, spiders, and other small creatures. A couple of highlights included a pink-legged and pink-bodied tarantula! 
  • Although the group didn’t last as long as our guide would have, the boat ride back was just as eventful in terms of the sights and sounds of the jungle. 
  • We ended the night by saying that we would wake up at sunrise if it wasn’t raining. Off to bed!

Thursday, May 26

  • The night in the jungle was one of the least comfortable night’s sleep of Kelsey’s life. It rivals an overnight bus she took in India where the road was so bumpy she was thrown into the air several times in her tiny cabin. She woke up with a sore throat and an unknown insect bite in her armpit. Jake seemed to fare better — always the case.  
  • It was pouring rain all night, including at 5 AM. We did not wake up to go see the sunrise and instead slept until 8 AM. Kelsey wouldn’t have woken up either way, and she told Jake this as they slept side by side in a tiny full bed with a single mosquito net. Nothing would’ve gotten her up and out into the jungle at the time. 
  • The primary activity after breakfast was pirana fishing. We also saw other sights in the jungle during this activity like massive lilypads. 
  • Jake thought fishing was a relaxing activity. Kelsey found it boring and didn’t last very long. The water was calm, and we used short lines with chicken skin as bait. Neither of us caught a pirana, but the rest of the boat was successful. 
  • The trick to pirana fishing is allowing the fish to start nibbling the bait and then pulling the line up quickly. This skewers the fish in the process. 
  • Though we never caught any fish (LOL), we were able to try some at lunch because the rest of the group was fruitful. 
  • After lunch, we hopped on the boat back to Iquitos. We originally paid extra for a transfer back at that time because we thought our departure was unique. However, it turns out that quite a few people were returning with us. After inquiring about this, Chip refunded us money and had a paid taxi waiting for us to go back to the airport. As good an outcome as we could have hoped for!
  • Our flight from Iquitos to Lima was uneventful, which was great. We had read that these flights could sometimes be unpredictable, but that wasn’t our experience. All of our domestic flights in Peru were on time. Kelsey called an Uber to go to the Fairfield Lima Miraflores, which would be our base in Lima. 
  • We grabbed dinner at a now-favorite spot in Lima — Trattoria Don Vito — right across the street. See below for more details! Kelsey had risotto, and Jake had the Lasagna Don Vito. 
  • We headed to bed after dinner in preparation for our day trip to Huacachina the next day. 

Friday, May 27 (Happy “Birthday” Jake)

  • Our day started before the sun was up at 5:15 AM. We received a prepared to-go breakfast from the hotel. Our guide, Isabella, then picked us up by cab directly from the Fairfield. We ended up having to wait for the larger tour bus for a while on a main street while Isabella collected other portions of the group. An odd way to start the day, but it didn’t matter once we were on the bus. We had quite a way to drive, so we started by sleeping (Jake’s favorite). 
  • We stopped in Paracas on the way to Huacachina. We were supposed to see the Ballestas Islands (known as the mini Galapagos). However, the Peruvian Navy said that the seas were too rough to go to the Ballestas Islands. Instead, we took a shorter boat ride to another island with seals, penguins, and birds. The wildlife viewing was phenomenal! They also maneuvered the boat to make sure everyone got a great view while playing fun music to improve the mood. 
  • We grabbed lunch in Paracas before driving to Huacachina.
  • Huacachina was a highlight of the trip. It’s a desert oasis that is completely surrounded by sand dunes. 
  • Kelsey gifted this day trip to Jake for his birthday. Sandboarding in the dunes is part of the day trip. However, you also have the opportunity to upgrade to sand skis or sand boards. Jake opted for this option to make his “birthday” even better. 
  • Kelsey decided to grab a mojito before the buggy tour, which made it all the more fun. 
  • We gathered with the broader tour at 4 PM to head to the dune buggies. Our buggies had 8 other people — 4 from Baltimore, 2 from England, and 2 from another unknown location. 
  • Our buggy driver didn’t speak much English, but he was a professional. The experience could be closely compared to a natural rollercoaster. 
  • Sand skiing was fun. You had to wax your skis and board before each run for optimal speed. Jake found it similar to snow skiing but you lose speed much faster. Kelsey also got some real speed on the sled. 
  • Our driver let loose on the ride back to the entrance area. We were easily going over 60 MPH. 
  • Once back in town, we grabbed and appetizers and a couple of beers at a restaurant called Huaca Fucking China. We were enticed by a particularly enthusiastic promoter (along the lines of Ken Jeong) who had remembered us from an earlier wander past. 
  • We relaxed/slept on the 4-hour ride back and arrived back close to 11 PM with sand covering our bodies. (Kelsey still has sand in her shoes to this day!) Jake could’ve gone out on the town, but Kelsey convinced him to stay in. 😉

Saturday, May 28

  • Saturday was our big day to see Lima. 
  • We started out with breakfast on the 13th floor of the hotel with wonderful views of the city.
  • We walked to meet a Free Walking Tour in Miraflores. We expected the group to be small, but it was enormous (upwards of 50 people). We kept with the group as we saw the main attractions of the city: Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, St. Francis, the river, etc. However, with no end of the tour in sight and the big group wearing us down, we eventually bailed. 
  • We stopped to buy chocolate at the local chocolate museum and decided to go south to find a good place to call an Uber. Yet, there didn’t seem to be any good place. We found ourselves in the chaos of Chinatown on a Saturday. We walked through it until we finally found a quiet corner to wait for an Uber that took us to Parque del Amor in Miraflores. 
  • The park offered great views of the coast, and we stopped to get milkshakes de Nutella before walking 30 minutes back to the hotel to prepare for dinner. 
  • We passed clay tennis courts at Club Terazza, which had a clear country-club atmosphere. 
  • We ate dinner at Huaca Pucllana. Its draw is its view of pre-Incan Ruins. However, they didn’t give us great service. We had different waiters serving us, which made it confusing. We had one waiter who actually knew how to pour a beer (a rarity in Peru) and even noticed when Jake was brought the incorrect beer (regular Cusquena instead of Cusquena Malta) at one point in the meal. He gave him a beer on the house because of this. 
  • We continued the night in Miraflores with two drinks at an initial bar and then Kelsey found Lupulu Draft Bar, which is a renowned spot in Lima. 
  • We rolled back to the hotel and played some music before falling asleep (with the music still on in true Yurek fashion).

Sunday, May 29

  • With our last day in Lima upon us, Jake woke up at 7:15 to run through Miraflores. He did a 2.5-mile run to the beach and dipped his toes in the Pacific. 
  • We got breakfast at 8:30, anticipating our COVID-19 tests at 9 AM. Unfortunately, the lab representative was delayed and the tests were rescheduled for 10 AM. After testing, we were told that we would hear back in 30 minutes. After making some calls, we got the confirmation we were both negative. Phew! 
  • Our main objective for the day was to get negative COVID tests. After that, all Kelsey wanted to do was return to Parque del Amor along the coast. We started by Ubering there, walking to the lighthouse, and getting milkshakes.
  • Jake wanted to see the Plaza de Martin (which we somehow missed the day before). We headed up to the historical city center and walked from Plaza de Martin to Plaza de Armas. Kelsey was feeling academic, so she got us entrance to the Cathedral with some of her last soles. You’re welcome, Jake!
  • We both wanted to have a fun, final last meal, so we headed back to Trattoria Don Vito. We had a lot of good meals in Peru, but its convenience and deliciousness were unmatched. We ate there one last time before going to the airport. Kelsey got risotto and Jake had Lomo Saltado. We also got bread service, Caprese salad, and a final Pisco Sour. We had to say goodbye to Peru properly!
  • We enjoyed a final airport lounge before taking a 9:55 PM American flight to Miami. 

Monday, May 30 (Happy Memorial Day!)

  • We woke up back in the states after another redeye. Jake gave Kelsey a hug as he flew back to Denver on Spirit and Kelsey flew back to Phoenix on American. 
  • Year 7 in the books! 

Memorable Moments

The time in the jungle was not my personal favorite of the trip. While being in the Amazon itself was a memorable experience (and a bucket list item), I’m not an outdoorsy girl. It was hot, humid, wet, and itchy. I was covered from head to toe in both clothing and DEET, and I still managed to get bitten by countless mosquitos and other unknown insects. 

During our nighttime nature walk, we were in the jungle for about 40 minutes or so (although the experience lasted much longer with the boat ride in and out). We saw animals that I’ve never seen in any form of media or heard the names of in my life. 

Our guide would suddenly spot something for us to take a closer look at and say, “Oh! My friends…this is one of the most dangerous creatures in the jungle…it’s poised to strike…” 

He would tell us all about it. He would detail how deadly it is and how careful we should be. He would finally finish his rant, and then he would say…

“…now, come and take a picture.”

No one in the group would move. Was he kidding? No one wanted to get up close to a spider “poised to strike.” But he seemed completely confounded by this. A couple of times, he even said, “Alright, well I can take it for you if you don’t want to.”

Sure, go right ahead!

Here’s one example of “the most dangerous creature in the jungle.”

A Year 7 Anecdote

Trattoria Don Vito was the home of an anecdote that will be retold time and time again. Jake and I are far from fluent in Spanish. Although we did our time at the Glendale Fire Station in the early 2000s, I’ve only taken one formal year of Spanish in my life (5th grade at Wesley Chapel Elementary). Jake took a few years in high school, some of which were online. Needless to say, we’re no foreign language experts. We muddle our way through situations that require Spanish, hoping for the best. 

During our first visit to Trattoria Don Vito, the hostess asked Jake a question in Spanish, which he very clearly (to Kelsey) didn’t seem to understand entirely. However, he responded with “Si” because fake it til you make it, right?

Jake’s single “Si” set off a flurry of activity. The hostess was rushing around. There was another male employee who look a bit annoyed and flustered and was walking in and out of the door making a bit of a scene. They were talking to this other couple in Spanish. All of this commotion was occurring, and we were just sitting there perplexed. 

Finally, after a few minutes, a woman came up to us. She had been part of another couple waiting to be seated. She asked if we spoke English, and we responded with an enthusiastic yes. She goes, “Oh, is that your car in the road? You can’t park there.” 

We blinked. “Oh, absolutely not. We walked over from the hotel across the street.” 

She laughed and said, “Oh yes, they think it is because you said yes.” 

Jake immediately looked sheepish. Oops! We started off our visit with a bang — learning Spanish is definitely on the list of life goals. 

Final Thoughts 

Thanks for a great trip, Peru! If you’re wondering where are we headed for Year 8, so are we! The jury is still out. Due to a booking mistake made in Year 7, there’s currently Latam flight credit available in Kelsey and Jake’s names in South America before April 2023…will this drive the destination of next year’s trip?