What Are Your Favorite Things To Do In Lima and Cusco?

By Kaeli Conforti
March 26, 2014
Machu Picchu in Cusco, Peru

A few weeks from now, I'll be checking off the number one spot on my travel bucket list: Machu Picchu. I've pretty much been obsessed with this beautiful place ever since I was a kid and saw an episode of The Wild Thornberrys on Nickelodeon when the family visited Peru (and Tim Curry as Nigel Thornberry brilliantly taught his daughter how to breathe deeply while hiking the Inca Trail by singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" as they hiked—a scene I may have to re-enact when I visit!). The good news is, you can come, too! Follow along with my adventures as I post photos from the road to our Instagram page, @budgettravel.

I'm going to be living out my ultimate dream trip by taking the Machu Picchu Adventure tour with G Adventures, a small-group adventure tour company that offers a wide variety of trips around the world for people of all ages at super affordable prices. Not only do their trips guarantee departures (once you book, you're going!) and incredible inclusions (like guided tours of the Sacred Valley and the Ollantaytambo ruins, for instance), the company is also big on making a difference in the world. G Adventures' founder, Bruce Poon Tip, started the company in 1990 by maxing out two credit cards to follow his dream—G Adventures is now the largest adventure travel company in the world and features more than 1,000 tours on all seven continents. He recently wrote Looptail, a book that became a New York Times bestseller, about his company philosophy and how he reinvented the business model by focusing on the human element, karma, and happiness within the company. He also started the Planeterra Foundation in 2003, a non-profit that works to give back to the communities G Adventures tours visit and creates a sustainable travel network around the world—tours often stop at project sites, putting money back into the communities and allowing travelers to have a more authentic experience getting to know the local people who run them. The trip I'm taking includes lunch at a Planeterra-supported Sacred Valley Community Restautant in Huchuy Qosco village and a visit to a women's weaving project that the company started as a way to help support the area's indigenous community.

The tour starts in Lima and includes internal flights from Lima to Cusco, time in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo, Aguas Calientes (hot springs, anyone?), and of course, Machu Picchu. G Adventures offers a ton of Peru packages that include time in Machu Picchu and along the legendary Inca Trail. This particular tour actually offers an optional one-day hike along the end of the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu, something that must be booked far in advance so, unfortunately, I won't have a chance to do it this time around (lesson learned: always, always, always book early for sites that require permits to enter). But, I'll still be able to tour the site at another point during the tour, so it's all good. The trip ends with some more time to explore Cusco before hopping on an internal flight back to Lima for one more day of sightseeing, one of the perks of purposely booking a red-eye back to New York City.

This is also going to be my first trip to South America, so I'm really excited to be visiting another continent (three down, four more to go!), but also a little nervous about accidentally ruining my whole trip by being overzealous and eating the wrong thing on day one—let's just say I've been studying this Budget Travel article about how to keep your stomach safe while traveling and reading up on foods to avoid on the road, you know, just in case. My doctor recommended getting a Typhoid vaccine before traveling to the area since water can sometimes be questionable, but I'm told as long as I stick to bottled water for drinking and teeth brushing, there's not much to worry about. Altitude sickness was another concern, but my friends who have traveled to Peru said to just keep drinking water, take it easy, and when in doubt, do as the locals do and sample the coca tea that they use to help keep their own altitude sickness at bay. (Please feel free to share any tips or recommendations from your own Peru travel adventures in the comments section below).

While the G Adventures tour includes a lot of sightseeing, there is also a decent amount of free time built in. That's where you come in. Before I travel to a new place, I always ask my friends and family for recommendations for great places to eat, things I shouldn't miss, and other off-the-beaten-path spots that I'd never know about otherwise. Our intrepid Budget Travel audience has traveled all over the world and always has great advice, so now I'm asking you. What are your favorite places to visit in Lima and Cusco? What tips would you give to someone traveling to Peru for the first time? Sound off below!

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Great Getaways: Three Days in Quito, Ecuador

Snow-capped volcanoes. Whitewashed Spanish colonial houses. Narrow cobblestone streets that mount steeply upward, then just as steeply descend. A fantastic labyrinth of hidden passageways and noisy markets. Brilliant white sunlight that gives way in late afternoon to swirling mists coming in off dark mountain peaks. Soaring church interiors drenched in gold. Quito, Ecuador is all this, and more. A decade ago, the world's second-highest capital had a reputation for being disorderly and dangerous, full of panhandlers and thieves. Nowadays, thanks to government initiatives to clean up the downtown neighborhoods, the city is among the safest in Latin America with the added distinction of being one of New7Wonders' 28 candidates for World's Most Beautiful City. Add to this the immaculate condition of its historical landmarks—it was the first city chosen by UNESCO as a World Heritage site—and the perfect year-round weather, and you have an ideal weekend travel destination. To maximize your 72 hours in what locals call "the city of bell towers," check out the following itinerary. Be sure to bring your walking shoes: Quito's hills can put even experienced hikers to the test. Friday 9:00     This DIY walking tour starts with two of Quito's not-to-be-missed historical churches, the Compañía de Jesús and the Convento de San Francisco. The former is the Latin American baroque at its most dazzling: lofty cupolas, intricately carved cedar framing the side chapels, ceilings crowded with indigenous designs, and gold leaf everywhere. The latter is more somber and houses one of Quito's most famous statues, the Virgen Inmaculada by Bernardo Legarda. Note: Your experience of the Compañía will be greatly enhanced if you hire one of the excellent English-speaking guides that haunt the vestibule. If you're a souvenir junkie, the Tianguez market in the Plaza de San Francisco, just below the church itself, is popular but overpriced. 11:30   Two blocks from the plaza is the house of Quito's greatest revolutionary leader, Antonio José de Sucre. Hero of the Battle of Pichincha, which secured Ecuador's independence, Sucre spent just one year in this lovely 18th-century home before being assassinated. The stables, kitchen, salon, and dining room are elegant yet homey—you can still see the Mariscal's guitar hanging from the bedroom wall. 12:30   After all that history, you'll have worked up an appetite. To feed it, head to ¡Hasta la Vuelta, Señor!, located in a charming inner courtyard of the Palacio Arzobispal in the Plaza Grande. If you've never sampled Ecuadorian cuisine, seco de chivo (goat stew) and a plate of mixed empanadas are a perfect introduction. 2:30     Ecuadorian food can be rich, so while you're digesting, take advantage of your body's down time to hail a cab to the TelefériQo, the cable-car system that whisks visitors up the slopes of Pichincha Volcano to an altitude of 14,000 feet. The views of the surrounding valley are awe-inspiring. If there's a line, you can buy an express ticket, and near the exit there's also a cute amusement park for children (and their parents). 5:30     Next it's off to New Town, Quito's modern tourist district to the north, and the seat of the city's two main parks, Parque el Ejido and Parque Carolina. The former has a thriving souvenirs market; the latter features a beautiful lagoon with paddleboats for rent. Take a few hours to wander and soak up the Andean sunset. 7:30     For dinner, New Town's La Mariscal district offers many options. Among the best is Mama Clorinda, a small tavern that serves excellent fritada (fried pork) and seafood. Try the llapingachos, small pancakes made with potatoes and cheese. 10:00   Quito's nightlife scene isn't as raucous as that of other South American capitals, but the bars and discos around the Mariscal's Plaza Foch are lively enough. Every night is different, but Bungalow 6 and NoBar consistently seem to draw heavy crowds. If you want to get your salsa on, head to the underground Seseribó, a short cab ride away. Saturday 9:00     Ecuador means "equator," and no trip to Quito is complete without visiting Mitad del Mundo, the point through which (supposedly) the Big Line passes. Any one of countless buses will take you directly to the tourist complex. After snapping the requisite photos, check out the Inti Nan museum, which claims to be the site of the true equator and features interesting activities and reconstructions of native lodgings. For lunch, browse through the menus of the inexpensive restaurants just down the road. 2:00     The House of Oswaldo Guayasimin, Ecuador's most famous modern artist, is testimony to its owner's lifelong pursuit of beauty. Home to the painter's own impressive collection of South American masterpieces (his own and those from the pre-Hispanic period onward), it is also one of the most beautiful buildings you will ever have the privilege of entering, a true paradise of the senses. Next door is his magnum opus, the Capilla del Hombre, a memorial to the sufferings of indigenous peoples everywhere. 5:00     Late afternoon is a perfect time to see the Panecillo, the hill that overlooks Old Town Quito, and a former Inca site for sun worship. The best views to be had are from the observation deck of the Virgin of the Americas, the apocalyptic statue on the hill's peak. As the sun sets, the surrounding hills become swathed in mist. Be sure to take taxis to and from the hilltop site for safety. 8:00     For dinner, it's back down the hill to La Ronda, the most romantic street in Quito. A former red-light district, it underwent gentrification a decade ago and is now a mix of artisans' studios, bohemian cafés, peñas (supper clubs with live folk music), and criollo restaurants. Good options for dinner are La Primera Casa, Café Ferran, and Los Geranios. Don't forget to try canelazo, a traditional Ecuadorian hot toddy with cinnamon. Sunday 10:00   After sleeping in, start your Sunday with a leisurely American brunch at The Magic Bean in La Mariscal. Yes, the prices are a bit high, and it's full of backpackers, but the big breakfasts really hit the spot after a festive night out. 12:00   For a final, comprehensive look at Ecuador's long history, head to the Museo Nacional de Ecuador, near Parque el Ejido. There you'll find three wings dedicated to the pre-Hispanic, Colonial, and Modern periods, with abundant artwork from each. Highlights: one of the world's only statues of a pregnant Virgin Mary, and pre-Colombian animal sculptures that you'd swear were from Ming China. 3:00     For your final meal prior to catching your flight out, consider La Canoa in La Mariscal. This friendly diner serves excellent carne asada, fried fish, and of course, empanadas. A perfect ending to your perfect weekend in Ecuador's luminous capital. Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator who devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of South American Vacations, providers of tours to Ecuador and throughout all of South America.


Whales and Wildlife: The Best of Alaska's Kenai Peninsula

Alaska is a dream travel destination, and the Kenai Peninsula, located south of Anchorage on the southern coast of Alaska, encapsulates much of Alaska's natural wonders. Whale watching, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and wildlife viewing are just some of the adventures that draw travelers to "Alaska's Playground." It's also relatively accessible to visitors by Alaska standards, making it a popular summer travel destination. Many people visit the Kenai Peninsula on a cruise. Others drive along the scenic Seward Highway. No matter how you get to the Kenai, here are three not-to-miss things to do and travel trips to help you soak it all in hassle free. Wildlife and Glaciers Galore on a Kenai Fjords Boat Tour One of the best ways to see wildlife and glaciers is to hop on a boat and head out to the Kenai Fjords National Park. In the summer, boat tours depart from the Seward Harbor daily and motor through Resurrection Bay. Killer whales, puffin, steller sea lions and majestic bald eagles are just some of the animals you may spot. On my boat tour, I also witnessed the power of nature at Holgate Glacier, a tidewater glacier fed by the Harding Ice field, which, adding in the glaciers, covers approximately 1,100 square miles. That's enough ice to make the whole state of Rhode Island into a skating rink! As our boat floated close to this massive glacier, I thought for an instant that I was hearing fireworks, as giant icebergs careened off the side of the glacier and plummeted into the water in an awesome natural exercise known as calving. Top Travel Tips: If you tend towards seasickness, make sure to bring along or take the proper medication before your excursion, because the waters can be rough. Wear layers, because as you may expect, it gets cold by those glaciers! Exit Glacier Salmon Bake I had the best salmon I've ever tasted at the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake, a cozy restaurant and pub recommended to me by a local in Seward. Sit inside or out at this family style, rustic restaurant, located just outside of Exit Glacier, the only portion of the Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road. Whether you've spent your day hiking Exit Glacier or out on the water, this casual, popular restaurant with abundant portions will satisfy your seafood craving, and it can all be washed down with an Alaska beer. Top Travel Tips: Order the salmon! While the Halibut and Alaskan King Crab are also good, you've got to try the salmon. It was so fresh that it tasted to me like it was just caught, which it likely was. Chugach National Forest To get your heart pumping in Alaska nature, enjoy a hike or horse ride in the Chugach National Forest, the second largest national forest in the United States. There are a variety of day hikes that get you away from the roadways and into the wild. Consider the Russian Lakes Trail from the Cooper Landing area, which weaves through striking forests with a variety of scenic views, wildflowers and wildlife. This area is also well known for its outstanding fishing. I saddled up from stables in Cooper Landing along the Russian Gap Trail, a route that gold seekers from Russia traversed during the 1850s. After climbing up through a temperate rain forest, with soft foliage and wildflowers beneath our hooves, the views opened to a beautiful canopy of pine trees and dramatic, snow-capped mountains. I even spotted a bear, thankfully, in the distance. Top Travel Tips: The Chugach National Forest is a wild and remote, so whether you are taking off for a day hike or staying for a while in one of the forests' public cabins or campgrounds, make sure you share your route and when you'll return with a responsible friend, someone who's not on the hike with you! Encompassing over 15,000 square miles of pure nature, there are lots of other fun things to see and do on the Kenai. Summertime is peak season. You'll want to plan your travels well in advance, as accommodations and tours fill up quickly. One bonus, during summer in Alaska, it can be light for almost 24-hours a day, so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the great outdoors. About the author: Darley Newman is the globe-trotting host and producer of Travel Like the Locals with Darley on ulive.com and the Emmy-winning Equitrekking series on PBS. For more information on Kenai Peninsula visit their site.


A European City in South America!

Buenos Aires isn't Europe, but the architecture, museums, street life, and plentiful cafes and late night restaurants make it feel like a big city in Spain or Italy. Most city residents, called porteños, trace their origins just a few generations back to Europe, mostly Italy and Spain but also Russia and Eastern Europe. The city's gorgeous architecture is an eclectic mix, though to view much of it you'll have to walk on gritty streets and ignore the graffiti. A highlight is Teatro Colón, the lushly decorated Beaux-Arts performance hall that is home to the opera, orchestra, and ballet. The guided tour in English is worth the 130 pesos (discounts for seniors & students), and you might be lucky enough to glimpse performers rehearsing. A better way to appreciate its great acoustics is to book tickets to a performance in advance of your visit—unless you are willing to try standing room. Recoleta Cemetery is a must-see. The Cemetery is like a tiny city built for munchkins, with sculpture-covered mausoleums 20 feet high and grouped closely together along narrow paved walkways. Admission is free. Fifteen pesos gets you a map to the 4800 tombs of the elite, and also to the cemetery's biggest draw, the grave of Eva Peron, the Argentinian First Lady from 1946 until her death in 1952. To learn more about Evita's decidedly non-elite background, visit the Evita Museum (admission fee), housed in a mansion Evita converted into a temporary shelter for rural women migrating to the city. The museum features photographs from her early career as an actress and magazine pinup, newsreel of her good works, and a sampling of her gowns. Eva Peron still has a hold on Argentine people. Her image is used in ads for current political figures, appears on restaurant facades, in public art, and in graffiti. Visit the Latin American art museum, MALBA, to see a Frida Kahlo self-portrait, be introduced to other Latin American painters and sculptors, and enjoy the light and air of its soaring modern interior and glass-walled cafe. (Admission 45 pesos, discounts for students & seniors, half-price Wednesdays.) The decorative arts museum, housed in the luxurious former palace of a family that lost its fortune in the 1930's, also has a lovely café with indoor and outdoor seating. A quirky museum is Zanjon, an urban archeological site, with guided tours in English for 120 pesos.  Zanjon is a gutted 19th century mansion that, after the yellow fever outbreak of the 1870's, served as an overcrowded tenement shared by immigrant families. Its cisterns, artifacts, and underground tunnel give a glimpse into three centuries of urban life. By contrast, the Immigration Museum is a missed opportunity, a single room that barely skims the surface of the immigration story that has shaped Argentina, and has no English explanations. One legacy of Buenos Aires' Italian roots is its delight in ice cream. It is such an integral part of Buenos Aires life that ice cream shops often stay open after midnight and on major holidays such as Christmas or New Years Day and - incredibly—many will even deliver to your door. Dulce de leche is not just a rich caramel flavor but its own food group. It crops up in morning pastries, as a topping for coffee, in desserts, and most memorably in ice cream. Expect to see at least five varieties of dulce de leche ice cream on the menu. Good ice cream chains include Freddo and Persicco. Better yet, try one of the artisanal heladerías that make small batches, such as Faricci, also with multiple locations. Cadare is a hole in the wall that may make the best ice cream in the world. Try the bittersweet chocolate (chocolate amargo), samboyón (like eggnog), chocolate chip (chocolate granizado), and of course dulce de leche. Reflecting their Spanish roots, Buenos Aires eats dinner late: 10 p.m., 11 p.m., even midnight. While restaurants open at 7, few locals arrive before 9 and you may have better luck getting a table at 7:30 or 8. A visit to Buenos Aires must include grilled beef. Steakhouses, called parillas, are plentiful. While the highly recommended parillas Don Julio and La Cabrera were booked during our visit, we lucked into thoroughly delicious steaks at a nearby restaurant that did not specialize in beef, LeLe de Troy. If you go to the parillo Chiquilin, which was good but not great, skip dessert and walk a few blocks for outstanding ice cream at Cadare (see above). Wash all that steak down with Malbec, an Argentinian red wine. Every grocery store, even tiny ones, have a wine aisle, about $5 a bottle. Buenos Aires is a great walking city in part because there are plenty of welcoming spots to rest. You are never more than a block from the next café. An espresso or café con leche comes with a gracious extra—a tiny cookie or bite of corn bread. And the many parks are rejuvenating nature breaks. The tranquil Japanese Garden is especially lovely, with koi ponds, tiny bridges, benches studding the walking path, and landscaped grounds that somehow muffle noise from the street. Admission fee of 40 pesos; the ice cream kiosk and elegant tea house are extra. There is no admission fee for the slightly down-at-the heels Botanical Garden, which features outdoor sculptures, a green house, flowering shrubs, and shade trees, plus park benches and imperious stray cats lounging in the sun. Also free is wandering the Parque Tres de Febrero, shaded by trees and used by picnickers, joggers, and families. Kids may enjoy the many small playgrounds that dot the Ricoleta and Palermo neighborhoods. Different neighborhoods (barrios) have distinct personalities. For cafes, restaurants, and boutiques, both glamorous and funky, visit the tree-lined streets of the Palermo barrios—Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho, Palermo Viejo, and Palermo Chico. Lining the streets of Recoleta are upscale apartment buildings built in lush early 20thcentury styles. The Once neighborhood is home to observant Jews and has kosher restaurants, like the family-friendly Romini Pizzeria which serves up thick crusted pizza with gobs of gooey cheese, and Kehot, which sells Judaica. Chine is a miniature Chinatown, with Asian grocery stores, tea houses, sushi, and other restaurants born out of recent waves of immigration. The subway (subte), at less than a dollar per trip, is a quick way to jump between neighborhoods. At first we resisted going to a tango show because it seemed too touristy. But ultimately I was glad we did see one, and glad we waited until we had some cultural context for Argentina's sexy signature dance—like that tango originated in the immigrant slums of Buenos Aires and became "respectable" in Argentina only after Parisians embraced it in the early 20th century. The Esquina Carlos Gardel, an elegant 500-person theater, showcases pairs of professional tango dancers. It also serves dinner. This splurge can be more affordable if you skip dinner and buy tickets only to the show, then ask for a discount for paying in dollars rather than pesos. Key tips for travelers to Buenos Aires: Bring U.S. dollars. You may get discounts if you pay in dollars instead of pesos and the black market exchange rate is much higher than the official rate. Since Buenos Aires is in the southern hemisphere, the seasons are the opposite of the U.S. Our winter is their summer. January-February is the equivalent of July-August and temperatures can reach 90-100's. Porteños love their dogs. And the sidewalks, littered with dog poop, are proof. Watch your step.   Sarah Ricks is a Clinical Professor at Rutgers Law School-Camden and a lifelong travel junkie.


Tips For Visiting Angkor Wat

Evoking dreams of an exotic past, the temple of Angkor Wat is the number one attraction in Cambodia. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world's largest religious monument. Cambodia has taken Angkor Wat as its national symbol; a depiction of it even appears in the flag. Originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat remains crammed with stone reliefs and statues of Vishnu, Ganesh, Shiva, Hanuman, and the mystic dancing girls, the Apsaras. After the disintegration of the Khmer Empire it was eventually repurposed as a Buddhist temple. Throughout the centuries, the temples have remained in use and they are still the stage for ceremonies and observations for both Buddhists and Hindus. In the 12th century, King Suryavarman ordered the construction of Angkor Wat as his official temple and royal capital city. In the Khmer language, Angkor Wat means temple city. The location was central, strategic, and fertile, and it fit into celestial alignments. The arrangement of the structures relates to the positions of the earth, the sun, moon and the stars, and to the seasonal equinoxes. The central temple symbolizes Mount Meru, the Hindu home of the gods. The surrounding moat represents the sea. The four sides face the cardinal compass points. Angkor Wat is one of many temple complexes near the modern city of Siem Reap. These include: Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Bayon Temples, Phimeanakas, and the Terrace of Elephants. Ta Prohm Temple is instantly recognizable. It was a key setting in the hit movie, Tomb Raider, chosen for its exotic, overgrown state. Tourists love to pose for photos before the gnarled jungle roots and branches that have grown into the carved rock over the centuries, disassembling the work of ancient artists and masons. The temples are a circuit of several miles that could take years to fully explore. Seam Reap (the city nearest the temples) in the Khmer language means "defeat Siam," the enemy of the Khmer for a millennium. They overran Angkor Wat in 1431, and the site was forgotten by the outside world. During French colonial times, explorer Hermi Mouhot publicized the ruins. Restoration of the site has continued ever since, interrupted by War and reign of the Khmer Rouge. Today Angkor Wat draws half a million visitors a year. The Angkor Archeological Park (A World Heritage site) has one day admission fees of just $20. The site is open from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. When I arrived in Cambodia, fellow travelers were eager to offer me advice and to share their temple experiences. The guidebooks I had read suggested walking through the temples in the morning to avoid afternoon heat. This would take a minimum of five days. Temple veterans were quick to dismiss this strategy and advised me to rent a bicycle in Seam Reap. I could see all the temples in a couple of days and the cost would be minimal. Another advisor believed a bike would be too strenuous in the heat of the Cambodian plains. A tuk-tuk could be hired for the entire day for $20. Another option was a bus tour, offered at most area hotels for a similar price. The easiest way, if you are with a two or three other visitors, is to hire a car and driver. In Phnom Penh I found a driver to take my two friends and me the five-hour ride to Siem Reap, and then all the next day drive us around the temples; all for $130. Split three ways, it was an unbeatable deal and a great convenience. By one o'clock the temperature was hot and humid. Properly seeing the main temple, Angkor Wat, involved walking three or four kilometers across the moat, around the sculpted galleries, and climbing the steep stairway to the top of the artificial mountain. I couldn't imagine walking or riding a bicycle another five kilometers to the next temple complex. Instead, at the appointed hour, our driver was waiting near the gate. Waiting in the air conditioned sedan were iced towels and bottles of water. As we refreshed ourselves on the way to The Terrace of Elephants, our driver explained it was a viewing stand from which the royal Khmers watched parades and processions. The life-sized stone carved elephants were complete with their Mahouts (drivers) and ceremonial garb. Later at Bakhent Temple, the stone elephants came to life for us. A circuit of the temple aboard an elephant was offered for $10. It was a break from walking in the afternoon heat and a unique, high vantage view of the ruins, a perfect way to end the day's tour. This article was written on behalf of Tucan Travel, providers of tours to Costa Rica and throughout Latin America. Born in The Hague, Andrew Kolasinski arrived in Canada as a small child riding in the luggage rack of a DC-7. Since then he has felt at home anywhere. As the publisher and editor of Island Angler, Andrew spends half the year fishing for salmon and trout, and in the off-season, traveling the world looking for a story.