We were slated to hike the Inca Trail on March 29th, and as the date loomed, my nervousness began to grow in magnitude. Let’s just say that I’m not the most naturally athletic of people. The prospect of hiking 42km over 4 days did not fill me with glee and anticipation, like it does most people. For me, the feeling was more of trepidation. Or dread. Yes, dread pretty much sums it up.
My sister-in-law Melissa had a major bout of altitude sickness while trekking Kiliminjaro last year, which involved her vomiting, passing out and having to descend from altitude as quickly as possible. The consequences of not doing so? Dire. The fact that Melissa is at least 500x more athletic than me was not inspiring much confidence, despite reading that fitness level has nothing to do with getting sick or not. Apparently.
Needless to say, the last thing I wanted was to be suffering from altitude sickness on our upcoming Inca Trail trek. It would be like adding an unnecessary trial on top of an already physically demanding challenge…one that I wasn’t sure if I was up to.
The solution as I saw it, was to take lots and lots of time gradually acclimatizing to the high altitudes of the Peruvian landscape. So, after 2 belly filling days of ceviche and calamari in Lima, we headed further south and higher up…in altitude that is.
Situated on the bottom of a geographic triangle, with Lima and Cusco making up the other corners, the city of Arequipa, at 2335 metres, seemed like a safe bet, altitude wise. To acclimatize even more slowly, we decided to take a long distance bus. Beyond that, having read so many positive reports about South American bus travel, we were frankly quite curious about the experience.
The 15 hour overnight bus journey from Lima to Arequipa in Cruz del Sur’s first class, Cruzero service cost us just $55 each. It included almost fully flat wide sofa bed seats, a hot meal and a whole host of security features, like non-stop service and 2 drivers that alternate 4 hour shifts of driving.
We were a little hesitant about 15 long hours on a bus, but having done it, I can safely say that it was one of the easiest trips I’ve ever made. After watching a few movies and being served a hot chicken meal (decent, not amazing), I pushed my seat as far back as I could, covered myself with the blanket they provided and promptly fell asleep. I’m not sure if it was the motion of the bus, or just tiredness from so much traveling, but I was out, in a way I never am on a plane.
Fifteen hours passed while we slept soundly in our plush, leather seats, and before I knew it, we had traveled 1018 km and arrived in Arequipa safe and sound. I didn’t feel the trip at all.
During our time in Peru, we ended up taking Cruz del Sur on 3 separate occasions, and every time, the whole process of booking tickets was simple and hassle-free. In this instance, we had our hostel call and book the tickets for us, and Cruz del Sur delivered them, at no extra cost. Because we weren’t traveling in Cruzero class for our next journey from Arequipa to Puno (only 6 hours), we bought tickets at the terminal 15 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave. No problem.
On our final journey from Cuzco to Lima (23 hours!), we booked online in advance, to ensure that we would have the Cruzero class seats. We were able to reserve and pay for the tickets online and pick them up at the terminal with a confirmation code on the day of travel.
There are a million bus companies in Peru, and many of them are cheaper and probably just as good as Cruz del Sur. But with our Canadian currency, the difference in cost was pretty minor, so we stuck with what we knew, whenever we could. Sadly, we quickly become creatures of habit, even in foreign countries. 😉