Originally posted March 1, 2018
I was super excited to have my non-digital nomad friend Annie agree to leave Vilcabamba and head down south into Peru with me. Having a travel bud was a great change from just being solo. It helped that she’s someone that I really enjoy hanging out with, too.
We left Vilcabamba and headed back to Cuenca as most of the bus info we could find had us believe that the Cuenca to Máncora route was the best (not sure if this is actually true.) We arrived back in Cuenca, actually, it was Annie’s first time there, ate at one of my go-to lunch spots, Peru Mucho Gusto, found a cheap hotel to stay at for $20 a night then later walked around a bit and ate some fried chicken 🙂 (Annie jumped up when I told her I had a secret fried chicken spot in town…)
The next day after breakfast, we headed to the main bus station to catch the bus to Cajas National Park to do some hiking. I was really excited about this – in fact, I had waited a whole month to have someone to hike there with. The bus was easy to find, as it was simply called “Cajas.” I forget how much it cost but I think it was around $2-$3 each way. The bus meanders through town, making another stop before following one of the rivers out of town and up into Cajas.
(Cajas National Park)
As opposed to what we saw online, there’s no need to tell the bus driver where you want to get off if you’re heading to the main park ranger station. The driver will already be stopping there because it’s the main drop point for all the tourists going for a hike. Just hop off when you are next to an obvious park welcome building (you can see the lake and trailheads there, too) and the bus driver yells “Cajas!” a few times while confused tourist hikers look around dumbly.
It’s funny and sad, we almost didn’t do the hike because the local weather online said it was only a high of 41 degrees F and raining that day for Cajas! Maybe they have their weather equipment on top of the highest mountain peak because when we got there it was 65 and sunny – a beautiful day.
There are a number of short and long trails you can take, ranging from 2-3 hours to a couple of days. We opted for one of the shorter hikes with less elevation gain and it was plenty of hike for both of us. I won’t go into extensive details about the trek, other than that it was pretty awesome in my mind. The scenery was stunning and it was challenging enough to get our blood pumping and some sweat pouring, but not painful. We got a bit lost (my fault) and almost ended up on a completely different trail, but made our way back. I know I could’ve navigated us back to the highway regardless – but it was more of the extra energy exerted at that point.
Table of Contents
Taking the overnight bus From Cuenca to Máncora, Peru
Annie was eager to get out of dodge so we decided to hit the road that same evening after our hike. We hung out in town for a bit then headed to the bus station for our night trip. There was only one bus per day heading to Máncora, so we took what was available. It would have us arrive in the middle of the night, but it ended up being a pretty smooth trip.
Peru border crossing
(The route from Cuenca to Máncora, Peru)
We arrived at the Peru border sometime around 1 or 2 am and it took about an hour to go through customs and immigration – mostly waiting in line with our passports. Annie doesn’t really speak any Spanish so after I was done talking to the customs agent – who had just asked me if I was married or single – it was Annie’s turn and I blurted out “She’s single!” to try and be helpful. Annie had no idea why I was trying to flirt on her behalf with this border agent! She started to turn a little bit red in the face and got a tad angry until I explained the misunderstanding.
Yay, we’re in Peru!
It felt so cool to finally be in Peru! Even though it was the middle of the night and I hadn’t slept since I can’t really sleep sitting up with LOUD ASS PERUVIAN MUSIC PLAYING on a bus! Our bus driver must’ve been REALLY excited to be back in Peru. The music was actually really beautiful, just not that insanely loud at 2-4 am.
We arrived at Máncora sometime in the dead of night and upon stepping off the bus were swarmed by tuk-tuk drivers wanting to take us to hotels. Neither of us were in the mood to really haggle or put up much of a fight so we just took the first guy hounding us and agreed to go to a specific cheap hostel. On the way, he stopped at another, much nicer place and said it was just to see if we liked it. We actually did like it. It was only about $5 more per night ($25 vs. $20 for two people) and a private room instead of a dorm. I don’t remember the hotel name, sadly, and I don’t believe they had a website.
(Horses on the beach – Máncora)
Máncora is an interesting place. It’s basically a dusty little beach town aimed largely at Peruvian families and partiers with quite a few stragglers from other countries/continents as well. There are a ton of tourist shops selling all kinds of junk as well as a number of restaurants, for locals, local tourists, and foreigners. We had some pretty good sushi a couple of times (too much mayo for me though) and burgers a couple of times, but both of our favorite was this little skewer restaurant just off the beach! Man! We ate there like, idk, 5-6 times in a week?? LOL. Super good chicken skewers grilled right in front of you. Honestly, I can’t recall ever having chicken that juicy and flavorful before. Maybe they pumped the meat full of some kind of wet goodness… (Idk the name of the place but it is on THE main little road that goes from the highway to the beach in town. You’ll see a couple of people doing skewers. This one is relatively close to the beach and on the west side of the road.)
We ended up staying for 9-10 days in Máncora because we both just wanted to chill somewhere kind of cool and eat cheap and good food for a while. There is much ceviche there in Máncora, and we ate it, but I wasn’t that crazy about it. It was all kind of the same. Very simple flavors, a little boring (I’d still happily eat it again, though.) Also, there is a really awesome little cafe up on the second floor of the market, which is a block or two off the main road away from the beach in the local’s part of town. They specialize in milanesa. It comes with a really good salad and potatoes or other sides. Super good. Our hostel guy recommended it and we ate there a few times. The proprietor was so friendly.
For most of our stay, we were over in this little gulch kind of neighborhood at the western edge of the main town area. We stayed at Casa Naranja and at Casa Máncora. They were both nice. Casa Naranja has kind of a better area for chilling and hanging out but a little smaller rooms for the price. Next door, we got a huge nice bathroom and it was less money. Both are good and we liked that area.
Vichayito Area – The Fancy stuff
(The super lux Arennas Máncora resort where we had lunch)
I didn’t really know much about Máncora aside from what I read in this Vogue magazine article. It describes how Máncora just has one road linking all the bohemian resorts and stuff. Well, that’s not really accurate. Máncora is a bustling, dirty, poor (but seemingly happy) little town with many streets. But, just south a couple of km on the beach is Vichayito, which surely was what the Vogue author was describing. This area sits completely within a gated security perimeter and you’ll understand why as soon as you start going past the extremely lux vacation homes and resorts. Annie and I walked down this beach quite far, enjoyed the awesome views, did some active meditation courtesy of Tony Robbins*, ate lunch at a fancy resort, took a fun tuk-tuk ride back to town, and got super sunburned (me) in the process. It was a great day 🙂
*I found out about the morning meditation Tony Robbins does every day to get motivated and inspired. It’s part yogic breathing, relaxation, visualization, and some other good stuff. Highly recommended! Here’s a youtube video of Tony Robbins teaching the meditation at a live event.
Taking the bus from Máncora to Lima, Peru
(The Cruz del Sur “Confort Suite” bus – Piura to Lima)
Annie wasn’t too happy about the idea of spending 16 hours on a bus from Máncora to Lima, but when I showed her a picture of the superlative business-class sleeper bus I found out about, she became stoked. This bus was just a little more expensive than some of the other bus options, but it was miles above and beyond a normal bus seat.
First-class travel on a bus?
(Cruz del Sur 180 degree lie-flat seats – Piura to Lima)
Not sure if you’d call it Business or First class, but these completely lay-flat seats/beds with personal widescreen TVs were pretty fricking awesome! I’d say it was pretty much the same as business class on an international flight. The leather seats do in fact lie completely horizontal allowing someone like me to toss and turn and stretch out every various body part for hours on end (I mean that in a good way.)
(Cruz del Sur Peru luxury bus interior – Piura to Lima)
We actually had a traumatic experience switching from the cheap local bus to the awesome bus in Piura. Annie either left, dropped, or had stolen her iPhone which had her ID, debit card, and cash in it as well… Really shitty. We were in a taxi pulling up to the other bus station which was 15 mins across town in Piura when Annie realized she didn’t have her stuff! Like an awful scene out of the show The Amazing Race, we frantically had the cab driver turn around and take us all the way back, meanwhile, I was looking at the time and quietly freaking out because our bus was set to leave in less than a half-hour and I didn’t really care to get stuck in that hectic little city for a day or two.
We hurried back and tried to find her phone and belongings but apparently, our previous bus had already left for another destination and no one reported or turned in her stuff… It was a stressful little moment. Annie wanted to stay and try and track down her device (to get online somewhere) but after our taxi driver took forever getting us to the supposed nearest cafe with wifi, we had like 7 mins before our Lima bus was to leave and Annie was like “fuck it. Let’s go.” So, we jetted over to the station and got on board – traumatized, stressed, and shaken, but on our way and not stranded in a strange place with little money.
Lima – First Thoughts
(Miraflores area – Lima)
We arrived in Lima very rested the next morning despite being a little bummed about what just happened. The bus was so nice that it kind of partly made up for the bad experience. We grabbed a taxi over to the Barranco District where our hotel was and proceeded to relax and unwind a bit. It felt really good to be back in civilization – in a major city. The old colonial buildings covered in graffiti were a welcome sight to me. Along with all kinds of people and food everywhere. Those things, AND being right next to the beach cliffs (I know, more beach) and I was kind of in heaven. Lima had always held some kind of attraction for me. I’m not sure if it just seemed really far away and exotic, or what. In spite of hard-to-grasp levels of economic/social disparity as seen from my bus window when passing through the slums, then later when walking past incredible mansions and glass high rises, I really felt a great affection for the city. I definitely need to go back and see and do more, both in Lima and also the rest of Peru – for the moment though, I was too ecstatic to be heading to South East Asia, starting with Bali.
Peru for Digital Nomads?
(Barranco District, Lima sunset via Google)
Obviously, from this account, I only saw a tiny sliver of all that Peru has to offer. I spent a week and a half in the chill beach town of Máncora, then just a few days in cosmopolitan Lima. I would say that both of these places are adequate for doing basic internet stuff that doesn’t require uploading too much video or other taxing tasks. Lima, of course, would have better internet options and I could see going back for a month or more to live and work there. A great thing about Peru is that they give U.S. passport holders four months to stay without a visa! That’s pretty generous and would allow you to really get to know the country. If I go back, I’d like to head to Arequipa and the Sacred Valley, both places look really pretty and have good reputations (just in general not for nomadding necessarily.)
So, yes, I would say Peru is a great country to work online in as long as you don’t need super blazing internet speeds. If you do, I think you could still find that in Lima.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned for next time! I’ll be sharing a little about my awesome month in Bali and moving on to Singapore and Kuala Lumpur!
So long dear readers (all seven of you).
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – Feb 2018