The 20-Something Commitment-Phobe's Guide to Backpacking Southern Peru


 (spur-of-the-moment horseback ride in Cusco)

Don’t Plan Ahead

When I backpacked through Europe, arriving in a city sans hostel was often very stressful. It left me willing to settle on the first hostel I came across no matter the price or condition. Since I’d never visited Peru, and since we had a stricter schedule, we booked almost every single thing in advance — hostels/planes/buses/activities/tours. As it turns out, we didn’t need to do any of that, and luckily we were able to drop a lot of our plans and work through Peru much more freely.

Everyone wants to feed/house/help you somehow. In Arequipa, we arrived and just went searching for a hostel. There are an abundance of policewomen and we found them extremely helpful and generous. This is how we found our cheapest and favorite places…places that don’t have an online presence. 

Now I know searching for a hostel upon arrival isn’t everyone’s cup of coca tea (and I would never suggest doing that in Lima)…but there are many other ways to take advantage of this “travel freedom” in Peru. Local buses are an adventure. They seem to always be running to all cities and they are very reasonably priced (I took a 7 hour bus for $5 that I booked that very morning). Take buses, mottos, combis, and even taxis. Just be open minded, and know that, on a bus, you may not get a seat. 

As for tours, you can typically set up any tour a day or two before it happens…even to Machu Picchu. Tour groups can be very hit or miss though, so ask fellow travelers or your hostel if they have any recommendations. 


(the Colca Canyon)

Know what you want to do and when you’ll be in which cities, but besides that, travel and plan freely. ■

Speak Spanish

Okay, easier said than done I know. But seriously, this is a big one. If you can, take someone with you who speaks Spanish, or at the very least spend several weeks before you go brushing up on conversational Spanish. I’m talking simple things like “how old are you,” ”what do you do,” ”is it near or far,” ”what do you enjoy doing around here?” If you’re familiar with any romance language, you’ll be able to catch on easily. 

I traveled with my cousin, Austin, who is fluent in Spanish. It made a huge difference in our experience. (Almost) everyone we met was extremely nice and more than willing to help or just share their lives. As soon as someone opened up to us, it felt like a huge gap was bridged and it was easy to see that our lives aren’t so completely different. ■


(our sweet friend Mirabel who we befriended outside a restaurant thanks to a little Spanish)

Go Big at Machu Picchu

Since it was sort of obvious we would see Machu Picchu, I didn’t spend much time researching it. We bought our tickets from this website (after a lot of hassle), and only managed thanks to this wonderful step-by-step guide. We also purchased Huayna Picchu tickets just for the hell of it even though neither of us really knew what it was all about.


Two things to note here…1. Go big or go home. If you are seeing Machu Picchu, plan to either do the Inca Trail, climb Huayna Picchu (the big mountain in the picture above), or climb Machu Picchu (the mountain on the other side of the ruins). Don’t get me wrong, the actual ruins were amazing and we took a fascinating tour where we learned a lot of their history. But if we hadn’t randomly decided to hike Huayna Picchu, I think I would have been a little underwhelmed by Machu Picchu.

It takes a lot of effort to get there, including taking expensive (albeit lovely) trains, staying in the all but shitty town of Agues Calientes, and jumping through a few other various hoops. All I’m saying is it’s a trial in itself just to get to Machu Picchu so you want to get the best bang for your buck. Take a tour, climb the mountains, and sneak snacks in so you can spend all day there. Once you’re done and can barely move (like us), you can take a nap in a field with some llamas (while eating dried coca leafs from a nice German man and getting a knee-high sunburn on your legs). 


Wow what a ramble…I forgot what my #2 was…no seriously… oh yeah, doing Machu Picchu without a guided tour. There are many tour agencies that will book everything for you so you can go enjoy Machu Picchu with much less thought. We decided to do it by ourselves so we could go at our own pace/choose our own hostels/be without a large group/etc. And though it was a bit of a hassle, I think it was the right choice. But if you are going it alone just to save money forget it. We probably only saved $100 in the long run. There is really too much to say on this subject so If you have more questions about doing Machu Picchu alone, please email me. ■ 


(just hanging at the crest of Huayna Picchu (“Young Mountain”); this really is a once-in-a-lifetime view)

Don’t Feel Bad if you Don’t Love the Food 

Clearly I love food…more than half this blog is about eating. So I was extremely excited about trying Peruvian food. I went really hard the first 3 days and even took an awesome cooking class. I was popping alpaca and alfajores and potatoes like there was no tomorrow. And then tomorrow came…and I was gonna beat some ass if I found one more fry in my rice. 


(1/5000 types of potatoes in Peru)

Peruvian food is very heavy and often very fatty. A very common meal is alpaca saltada (or a version of that) which is white rice with french fries mixed in, plus alpaca and vegetables. After my three days of binging I couldn’t even look at the stuff, and I spent many subsequent meals eating some delicious pasta and some mediocre pizza. 


(el mercado - Cusco)

If you get a little burnt out, don’t worry, there are many delicious options. Do take advantage of all the fresh food Peru has to offer. Exotic fruits and vegetables abound. Might I suggest the lucuma (tastes like cookie dough), maracuyà, grenadilla, and the chirimoya, to name a few. Almost everything in Peru is organic. Take a stop at the juice stands in the markets; they’ll mix anything together for you. 

There are also some delicious sandwich places that will make you feel like you are dining at a trendy spot in NY, but for Chick-fil-a prices. Jack’s in Cusco and especiallyLa Lucha in Lima (I seriously can’t recommend this last one enough) are some great options. I could go on and on about food though so feel free to email me if you have specific question.

And eat the picante Inka Chips…and then send me some because I’m having painful withdrawals ■

Skip Puno 

This sounds harsh. And if you have time and money, yes, you should see the floating islands. All I’m saying is if you are sitting down right now, thoughtfully planning out your trip to Peru and find yourself needing to scratch something off the itinerary…make it Puno. To be brief, the town is ugly and seemingly seedy. There’s nothing to look at besides the lake which didn’t even blow my mind. And the floating islands leave a BIG something to be desired. They come off as very fake…especially when, during my 2 hour tour, approximately 4 minutes were devoted to history/explanation, and the rest of the time was spent shuffling us around to the “president’s” shop, and the cafés, and the markets. 


(freezing on the floating islands)

Anyways, everyone says you should go to the Bolivian side of the lake instead. ■

Beware of Lima

Yes, safety in Lima is an issue and we did find ourselves in a less than satisfactory situation our first night there…but this isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m saying beware of what the guidebooks say about Lima. This is when I wish Rick Steves did a series on South America…he’s always honest. If a place is worth skipping, he’ll tell you. Sure that place probably has some great things, but if you have a limited amount of time, it’s good to have an honest opinion. Guide books have to write something nice…and yes Lima can be nice. We stayed in Lima proper 1 night (do NOT bother unless you’re going to stay directly in the center) and in Miraflores for 2 nights.

I was excited to see Miraflores but when we got there I felt less like we were in Peru, and more like we were in NYC. It wasn’t the Peru I’d grown to love for the previous 3 weeks. We saw the beach, and watched some paragliders, and ate at the best restaurant ever…but in terms of time spent enjoying and experiencing the Peru I love, it was a waste. If you can skip it, I say do it. All flights from America will take you through Lima, but in my humble opinion, you should just book a flight right back out of there. ■

Try to Stay Healthy

We had a very hard time staying 100% healthy during our stay. Most of the time we had sinus issues and coughs, and one day I was sick in bed. But here are a few words of advice. 1 – Be easy on yourself. You’ll want to push yourself to do and see as much as possible while in Peru. But listen to your body and try to avoid staying in places for only 1 day. Traveling too much really takes it out of you. 2 – Be careful with the alcohol drinking in high altitude places like Cusco. Seriously, two drinks will put you out of commission the next day. Now is not the time to test your boundaries here. 3 – Drink lots and lots and lots of water, and then some. ■


(Colca Canyon - make sure you are healthy and well rested before attempting this guy)

Soak It In

It’s going to be a truly unbelievable experience! ■


(on the ruins in Ollantaytambo)

Cinque Terre + Basil Pesto Gnocchi


It’s almost been a year since I left for my 3 month long trek around Europe. Man, was I nervous that day and so on edge during the whole 9 hour plane ride. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. My boyfriend came with me for the first three weeks, and I was even more of a wreck when he left me alone in Switzerland to return to America. But of course, it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m so so so happy I went. 

Later, a friend joined me and one of the places we visited was Cinque Terre. We went in late October when most of the tourists were gone, but it was still warm enough to enjoy the water. We stayed in Riomaggiore, and visited the 4 other “terres.” I had one of the best meals of my life there — pesto gnocchi. We sat outside enjoying the night air, drinking liters of wine that cost 1 euro, and enjoying the best olive oil, pesto, and pasta I’ll probably ever have. They gave us olive oil in to-go pouches just like ketchup and I’m still holding on to mine. 


I bought a basil plant the other day and I knew it was time to recreate a piece of this memorable Italian meal. Now of course my pesto wasn’t as good as theirs. . . I mean, how could it be? But it was delicious, and it was fun to travel back to that special moment in time. 


We swam here and we could go out so far and so deep without getting into rough waters or feeling unsafe. It was truly incredible.


{1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (packed)♥  1/2 tsp salt♥  1/2 tsp pepper♥  1/4 cup parmesan cheese♥  2 tbsp pine nuts (I didn’t have any so I used pistachios)♥  1 tsp minced garlic♥  1/2 c extra virgin olive oil♥  1 package gnocchi}


In a food processor, combine everything but the oil and process for a few seconds. While processing, add the oil in a thin stream. 

Cook gnocchi according to directions on the package. Mix the pasta with the pesto and enjoy!

World's Best Pizza

I’ve been working on a list of the World’s Best Cheese Pizzas for a couple years now, and I’m finally ready to unleash it. I also have a whole wheat pizza recipe to share with you, and while it doesn’t make it onto the list, it is pretty darn good and really fun to make. 


1. Pizza Roma - Prague, Czech Republic

I discovered this pizza when I studied abroad in 2010. I went back to Prague in the fall of 2012, and returned to Pizza Roma to make sure this pizza was still, in fact, the best in the world. Pizza Roma is just a little hole in the wall shop. It’s all underground, with brick walls and no windows, and it’s just got a great rustic atmosphere without having tried to achieve it, you know? You get a large cheese pizza for about 5 bucks. It’s paper thin, with a perfect layer of sauce and tons of cheese, oil, and spices. But somehow all those toppings don’t weigh down the paper thin crust. It really is wonderful—even die-hard ABJC’s (anything but just cheese) prefer this cheese pizza to those with meat. 

2. KontikiSint Maarten

I certainly wasn’t expecting to find the second best pizza in the world in this particular location. We were in a fairly touristy spot near Orient Bay, and I expected them to serve pretty generic food. But boy, was I surprised. I was with my family and they all agreed that this pizza was exceptional. 

3. Burke Street Pizza - Winston-SalemNC

This is my hometown but somehow I never ate this pizza until I was 17. You know how delicious pizza always looks in cartoons? All thin and cheesey and when you take a bite of it the cheese drapes for like a foot before it breaks. This is exactly what this pizza is like – your favorite cartoon pizza come to life. 

4. Lilly’s Pizza- Raleigh, NC

I kind of hate that this place is on the list because they seem pretty pretentious to me. The atmosphere of the shop is definitely not for everyone. But this list is purely best pizza and nothing else so, alas, it takes spot #4. Every single one of their ingredients is special in some way. It’s like they harvested all the tip top meats, cheeses, and vegetables and then found the best recipe for crust ever. You can’t go wrong with anything you get here, although, of course, I prefer just cheese. 

5. Big Cheese Pizza- Wellington, KS

Admittedly, this probably slides into spot #5 for sentimental reasons as well as delicious flavor. They are a local place that does mostly deliveries. And while it is pretty rundown and maybe a little dirty, the pizza is awesome. And their other pièce de résistance is their chocolate dessert pizza. Maybe one day I will attempt to recreate this sinfully delicious masterpiece. 


Read more to check out the whole wheat pizza recipe. And let me know what your favorite pizza places are! 


{1 packet active dry yeast♥  1 cup warm water♥  1 tbsp brown sugar♥ 1/2 tbsp olive oil♥  1/2 tsp salt♥  1 cup whole wheat flour♥  3/4 cup all-purpose flour}

1. In a bowl,combine the warm water, yeast, brown sugar and oil. Let sit for about 10 minutes while it gets foamy.


2. Add in the flour and salt. Mix with a spoon at first, and then knead with your hands. If it’s too sticky add in flour a little at a time. 

3. Form a ball with the dough, and brush lightly with olive oil. Set in a bowl, covered with a damp towel, and let it rise for about 1-2 hours. 



{ finely minced garlic♥  mozzarella cheese♥  oregano♥  olive oil♥  rosemary♥  grape tomatoes}

Obviously, use any ingredients that you want but these are my personal favorites. Whatever you use, load it up though, because we all know whole wheat dough can be a tad dry. The more cheese and sauce the better!

4. Heat your oven to 400 F. 

5. After the dough has risen, roll it out pretty thin with a rolling pin.

6. Top with your chosen ingredients, and bake for about 15 minutes directly on the oven rack.



I spent about two weeks in Croatia during my latest European adventure. It was one of my favorite places. We swam in the Adriatic every day and for some reason it was a swimming experience unlike any other. We could swim out so far and deep without any fear - which is so unlike swimming on the East Coast here. I swear it washed away all my worries.

My friend and I “worked” our way through Europe - helping families in exchange for food and housing. We stayed in Stobreč and honestly our host was awful. She was a slave driver who cared little about us and our Croatian experience. She just wanted her house cleaned and cleaned perfectly. BUT the one great thing she did was introduce us to a wonderful Croatian desert called Krempita. The best way I can describe it is a sort of thick, fluffy, sturdy, yellow custard in between two thin pastries.


I found a recipe, altered it a bit, and tried it this weekend. The custard turned out really delicious but not exactly the proper texture. This is more creamy and jiggly when it should be more fluffy and sturdy. But the taste was right! It was very nice to have a bit of Croatia at home. 

Here’s me thoroughly enjoying my new favorite place to swim. 


And here’s a nice authentic Krempita. You can see it needs to be quite a bit fluffier. But I’ll keep trying! 


[ingredients for a jiggly krempita: 2 sheets puff pastry | 3 cups milk | 2.5 ounces cornstarch | 1 tbs vanilla | 4 egg yolks | 4 ounces sugar | 4 ounces whipping cream (whipped with stabilizer)]


Let the puff pastry sheets thaw and bake according to directions. Once cooled, cut them to the shape of an 8 x 8 inch pan. Then, cut one sheet into serving-sized squares. This will be the top of your krempita. This step is very important! 

For the cream - mix egg yolks with sugar until they become frothy. Add 1/2 cup of milk and corn starch and mix well. Boil the remainder of the milk with the vanilla. Once it comes to a boil, mix in the yolk/sugar mixture and stir for one minute. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and let cool completely. Whip the whipping cream with a stabilizer (I used corn starch) and then add to the completely cooled cream. 

Assemble with whole pastry on the bottom, then cream, then the pre-cut squares on top. Refrigerate for a few hours dust with powder sugar and serve! A little Croatian delicacy at home! 

greetings from abroad

Wow. It’s been a long time since I posted! Life has changed a lot. I ended my two graphic design jobs in July, and started a new adventure in Europe. I’ve been here for over a month and have seen many many wonderful places. But now I am settled in France for a while, living in an old French farm house equipped with a few of the infamous Poitou Donkey. 

 I’ve even had enough time/space to bake…

and jam!