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Closed Borders in Peru – What’s Happening?

So do you all remember that blog post I wrote in early March saying the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t hit South America and it was really nothing to worry about…..

Wow.

On March 15th, with only 70 known cases of COVID-19 in the whole country, President Martin Vizcarra went on TV at 8pm and declared that a State of Emergency would be going into effect at 11:59pm the next day (27 hours later..).  We didn’t realize it at the moment he was speaking, but this State of Emergency meant Peru would be closing not only all restaurants, stores, and tourist attractions, but also all domestic and international land, sea, and air borders.  Wherever you found yourself at 11:59pm on March 16th was where you were going to stay for the next 15 days.

Thousands of Americans and citizens of other countries could not get home.  Thousands of Peruvians both inside Peru and in other countries around the world could not get home.  With very little warning, President Vizcarra trapped us all in an effort to try and keep us safe from this growing pandemic.  And when the first 15 days didn’t have the desired effect, he extended the quarantine for 2 more weeks – through April 12th

For right now, things are very strict, but overall it’s not horrible.  I know there are definitely exceptions, but in general, there still seems to be plenty of food and water in most locations and the locals are friendly enough to try to help as much as they can.  The USA and other countries were able to bring in repatriation flights and get a lot of people home to their families.  For the rest of us, we

  • Can only shop at grocery stores and pharmacies;
  • Cannot leave our homes without a mask and gloves;
  • Can only send one family member to the store at a time;
  • Must stagger our shopping trips – only men are allowed out on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; only women are allowed out on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.  No one leaves the house on Sundays;
  • Cannot be outside the house between 6pm and 5am;
  • Have very limited access to local transportation – you must have a government issued permit to drive a car or take a taxi or the public bus.

It’s not an ideal situation here right now, but at First Step Expeditions, our hope is that people will not allow this to taint the image of Peru going forward.  While many of us don’t like the circumstances, the fact is that it’s working.  Peru may still have just over 2000 positive COVID cases and close to 100 deaths at this point, but with a population of 32 million people, imagine what that number would be if they hadn’t taken these steps.  This is a country with far less medical infrastructure than the US or the EU, so things could be much, much worse.

If you had to cancel your travel plans as a result of this situation, please know we will do everything we can to transfer your tickets and reservations to another date between now and 2022.  We’re committed to restoring the image of Peru and making people feel comfortable coming here again to have the amazing experiences we have been showing other tourists for years.  For the safety of our staff and customers, we’ve stopped selling trips until June 15th, but feel free to contact us directly if you have any questions about your current reservations or any reservations you want to potentially make in the future. 

We’re doing our best to keep the wanderlust alive and hope you stay safe and healthy enough to join us in the future.

Discovering Machu Picchu’s Backyard

If you’ve heard of Machu Picchu, chances are good that you’ve probably heard of the Inca Trail too.  It’s fantastic that this historic trail has gotten so much attention, but we’re finding most people now think that hiking the Inca Trail is the only way to get to Machu Picchu.  I am here today to tell you that’s not true!  There are many other trails that lead to Machu Picchu!

With the new regulations and limited permit availability for the Inca Trail, it’s becoming more difficult for people to get permits and it’s leading to disappointment among travelers.  If you want to hike to Machu Picchu and you a) can’t get a permit for the Inca Trail or b) would prefer to avoid the crowds, there are many alternative ways to get to there.  Eventually through our blogs we plan to tell you about every one of them, but today we will start with one of our favorites – the 5 Day/4 Night Salkantay Trek.

The Salkantay Trek begins from a town called Soraypampa (3 hours south of Cusco) and takes you over the snow-capped Salkantay Pass (elevation 15,091ft/4600m) through the cloudy forest and finally to Santa Teresa – Machu Picchu’s backyard.  Here are some of the things that make this trail great:

  • You will pass small villages and have the opportunity to interact with local, countryside people.
  • You will visit a coffee farm and have the freshest coffee of your life. You’ll see the process from the moment they pick the bean all the way to moment the first drop of rich brew lands in your coffee mug.
  • You have the opportunity to take a dip in some natural hot springs – they’ll be less crowded than the ones you’ll find in Aguas Calientes and you will get to feel all the benefits of the natural waters known for their healing abilities – perfect after 3 long days of hiking.
  • It’s mostly downhill! It’s not often the expression “all downhill from here” is welcomed, but after you reach the Salkantay Pass on day 2, the majority of the hike is all downhill.
  • You enter Machu Picchu from the back. This trail takes you around the mountain and into the Santa Teresa region – a part of the Andes that can really only be explored on foot.
  • It takes you through several microclimates – more than you would see on the Inca Trail. This trek has green valleys, snow-capped peaks (passing the 2nd highest peak in the Peruvian Andes), crystal clear blue glacial lakes, and the famous cloudy forest – a preview of what you would see in the Peruvian Amazon.

The Salkantay trek really is one you should consider if you’re planning to make the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu.  Even if this one might not be for you, we encourage you to consider any of the alternative treks over the classic Inca Trail.  Calling them “alternative treks” should by no means leave you with the impression they are inferior.  Any hike through the Andes will be an unforgettable experience you will never regret.

If you’re interested in joining one of our Salkantay treks, please contact us or check out our product page to reserve your space.

How to Avoid the Crowds on the Inca Trail

By now, everyone has heard of the Inca Trail – the legendary trek leading to the lost city of the Incas – Machu Picchu.  This incredible trail takes you through some of the most amazing scenery in the Andes and passes massive Inca sites you’ve likely never heard of.

Typically, people complete this trek in 4 days – 3 long days of hiking and the 4th bringing you into Machu Picchu.  Over this 4-day experience, the most common questions we get are “how much farther?” or “are we almost done?” and our favorite – “how many more stairs?

We’ve realized over time that it might be a common misconception among travelers that this trail has to be completed in 4 days.  What if we told you there is actually an option to spread the experience over 5 days?  Over this last year, we had more customers opting in for the 5-day Inca Trail and the response has been incredible.  Taking this extra day will help you avoid the crowds, make the trek less strenuous, and let you have more fun so you may even want to come back and do it again.

Here are some reasons we think you should opt for the 5-day Inca Trail if you’re considering making this life-changing journey:

  1. We take the trail at a much slower pace. The days are shorter and the campsites closer together, so you have more time to take breaks and photos.
  2. The trail takes the same path, but the campsites are different. You start your days later and further away from the 4-day trekkers which lets you avoid the crowds not only on the trail, but in the evenings when you’re relaxing and trying to sleep.
  3. You have more time to enjoy the trail and the Inca sites along the way. Many people don’t even realize that there are Inca sites other than Machu Picchu.  Taking the trail at this pace gives you a chance to really explore each site and understand their unique purpose. 
  4. You still have 3 nights camping under the spectacular southern Milky Way, but you have a 4th night at a hotel in Aguas Calientes. This gives you a chance to sleep in a comfy bed, take a hot shower, and reflect on your journey before returning to Machu Picchu on the 5th
  5. You have the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu twice. On day 4, you visit the city in the afternoon, and you go back in the morning on day 5.  With the new regulations at Machu Picchu, we can’t stay all day like we used to so this opportunity to visit twice with one ticket is unique (stay tuned for a future blog about the new timing regulations!)

Regardless of whether you choose 4 days or 5 days, taking this journey will be an experience of a lifetime.  This trail is meant to be enjoyed and we often hear from our customers that they hold more value in the journey than in the moment they step foot in Machu Picchu.  If this is something you’re going to do just once in your life, we hope you take the time to really enjoy it and appreciate every moment. 

If you’re interested in hiking the Inca Trail over 5 days this year, please contact us for availability.  We would love to be a part of your experience.

Mamacha Carmen – The Biggest Peruvian Festival You’ve Never Heard of

If you’ve been doing your research on Peru, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the huge sun festival called Inti Raymi that occurs every June.  But did you know there’s another huge festival down the road from Cusco in July?

There is a town on the eastern slope of the Andes called Paucartambo (pronounced: pow-car-tom-bo) that comes alive with its own folklore.  Just about 3 hours north of Cusco, this town has celebrated a festival as big as the Inti Raymi for centuries, and it remains one of the most excellent opportunities for travelers to experience the authentic, Peruvian culture in person. 

Origin –

The origin of this festival lies in the 17th century when K’apaq Q’ollas (llama traders), from the highlands would frequently travel to Cusco through Paucartambo offering gifts and merchandise.  On one of these trips, the face of the virgin appeared in a clay pot.  The people of Paucartambo were inspired by this apparition and created a larger image of the virgin.  Since that time, locals from the area have held this festival every year to honor and pay tribute to the sacred image.

Today –

While Cusco is obviously well-known for its history and is considered to be the folklore capital of Peru, Mamacha Carmen is an experience beyond a typical festival with just dancing and parades.  Each custom dress, mask, dance, food, and drink tells a story the Peruvian people are happy to share to those passing through.

This festival takes place every year from July 15th to July 16th beginning with a parade in the main plaza and fireworks in the evening that light up the sky.  On July 16th, the main day of the festival, there is a morning mass followed by a full day of performances of original, regional dances.  Finally, you get to witness the highlight – the grand parade of the virgin Carmen followed by dancers and worshippers behind her.

If you want to experience the Peruvian living culture for yourself, sign up here.  This can be combined with any of our other tours or treks to create the perfect itinerary for you.

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