3 Weeks in Peru - The Gringo Trail and the Inka Trail

When we started researching our trip to Peru we found that basically if you have three weeks to spend in Peru everyone does this "gringo trail" itinerary starting and ending in Lima. Here's my account of the gringo trail with my favourite (and least favourite) destinations in Peru and top tips.

Mar 24 - 1 nt Lima

We flew to Lima direct from NYC via LAN Airways on an overnight flight. We arrived in Lima, exhausted, in the morning and caught a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We had read about all kinds of taxi scams (like being required to pay 10x the going rate) and getting mugged at red lights (because the taxi driver is in on it!) at the airport so our spidey senses were tingling as we tried to get a taxi. As we came out of the airport there were plenty of higher end taxis for what seemed like $100 but we kept walking and as we left the airport found cheaper ones. When we agreed on a price  (I think it was the equivalent of $30) the taxi driver took us to his unmarked car and removed his ID. I could see my friend K cringe - her eyes went white. We got in the car anyway and realized how easily you could be mugged at red lights in this area since it was kind of deserted. Luckily nothing bad happened and our driver was quite competent. When we arrived at the hotel they informed us that when we want a cab to never hail one on the street as it's dangerous to do so. Instead we should ask the doorman to get a cab for us (which is what we did to get to the bus station the next day).

Our first Pisco Sours in the Hotel Bolivar bar

We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Bolivar (recommended if you can find a deal). If you're a fan of the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel you will love Hotel Bolivar. It reminded me of a more run down version of Las Ramblas in Barcelona but had it's own South American charm nonetheless.

Festivities were abound for Easter. There's tons to see in the city which is truly massive compared to my hometown in Canada. It was warm but comfortable in a light sweater around 20C. We stayed downtown but also made it over to the suburb of Miraflores which was a lot more affluent.

Easter festivities in Lima

On our first night  after wandering the pedestrian streets we came across a big Easter parade in the main square. As I was looking through my camera lens K wandered away and when I looked up she was NO WHERE TO BE SEEN. I figured she'd wander back but after 20 minutes of staying-where-I-was she was still not there. I started to panic and actually got up the nerve to ask the police officers (in Spanish mind you)  if they had seen a woman wander off. Oh my god she is dead in a ditch somewhere. We are in South America and separated on OUR FIRST NIGHT. What am I going to tell her family?? These are the thoughts that were running through my head.

Trying to distract myself by taking photos of the parade - it didn't work!
After a good 45 minutes of panicking I decided to go back to the hotel. It was about a 15 minute walk back through a populated area but it was dark so I was a bit nervous all the same. The entire walk back I repeated to myself she's just gone back to the hotel, she'll be there when you get back. When I arrived I desperately asked the front desk person if they had seen my partner come back. I received a confused look in return. Since she had our only key I asked the front desk person to let me into the room. To my dismay she was not hiding in the bathroom to surprise me ... or under the bed. After about 10 minutes of pacing the room the door knob rattles - K's killer come to get me too? K happily entered the room as if nothing had happened.  Clearly my paranoid brain is more active than her's. Oh I figured we'd meet up again here. She said, very unconcerned. I need a drink...  At least we had a good excuse to try the hotel's famous Pisco Sour at the bar that night. In less than an hour our third traveller L arrived safely from the airport - no taxi mishaps for her either.

Lesson of the day: stick close to your travel partner.

Our first day in peru at the Hotel Bolivar

Mar 25 - 1 nt  Paracas

We went to the local tourist centre in Lima and booked a bus to Paracas in the morning. In the afternoon we took a very nice bus to Paracas and overnighted there. It was very hot and sunny and we were in t-shirts and our quick dry pants (we all had matching Cloudveil pants, that you can see in the photo above, from Costco which did the trick for only $20 a pop). It was a very small town but very touristy so there were a lot of restaurants. Don't drink any fancy blended ice drinks - promise? We stayed at Paracas Backpackers House (not recommended, we had a crappy room with a broken window and the beds were broken as well). On
our tour of the town we met an outgoing guy named Alfredo who booked us a tour to Huacachina and Nazca for the following day. Alfredo convinced us that he was legit because he had a ton of reviews printed out from trip advisor about how awesome he was. I guess testimonies really do work because we signed up for the tour.

Huacachina dune buggy tour on the way to Nazca from Paracas.

Mar 26-27 -  2 Nts Nazca

In the morning we did the tour of Islas Ballestas in Paracas which was a little dissappointing since it was very touristy (like not in a good way - there were what seemed like hundreds of people lined up to see these islands) and the speakers in our boat didn't work so we couldn't hear the interpreter anyway. We took quite a nice mini bus to Huacachina where Alfredo had set us up to hang out in a nice pool area at a hotel in the oasis before a dune buggy ride. The pool was really appreciated since it was quite hot in the dessert. Plus after drinking the fruity blended ice drink in Paracas K was happy to have a place to hang out close to a bathroom. This was the first, but not the last, time we broke out the antibiotics and imoodium. The dune buggy tour was fantastic - it was like a roller coaster ride through the desert. It was totally worth it. Afterwards we took a much sketchier bus to Nazca where when we got on the bus driver said to me in Spanish "watch your bags and make sure your friends do too".  When the bus driver is saying his bus is sketchy I tend to believe him. 

When we arrived in Nazca we were up for more confusion ... there was no one there to meet us because we got an earlier bus than expected. We realized we didn't know the name of the person Alfredo had arranged to pick us up, we also didn't know Alfredo's number or the name of the hotel we were supposed to go to. Perhaps too trusting, we got in a guy's car that said he was the guy sent to pick us up by Alfredo! He took us to a hotel in the main square where we stayed the night. Thank goodness the dude took us to a hotel... any hotel. In retrospect it was quite dumb of us to get in the car. In the morning we awoke to find someone else waiting for us at the hotel who handed us his phone. It was Alfredo on the line and it turned out we were taken to the wrong hotel and this other guy was sent to take us to the right hotel. Alfredo implied the guy that owned the other hotel was a bit mad at the other dude for stealing his business.  

 If I were going to Nazca again I would probably try getting a fancier hotel here because we found the two hostels we stayed at to be really loud at night - either from dogs barking or people watching TV all night with the volume way up - what's up with that? If I were going back I'd stay somewhere upscale with a pool in Nazca because there doesn't seem to be many nice hostels here. It was also very hot so the hotel would be nice.

The highlight of our stay in Nazca was the plane tour of the Nazca lines and our tour of the cemetery with a local guide that had a masters in history. A top tip for Peru would be to always pay extra for a guide. They are usually very cheap and very knowledgeable, we never regretted paying extra but I did regret not getting a guide a few times in Peru.

Lesson of the day: write down the name of the hotel you're booked in at.

Our plane to see the Nazca Lines
Up in the air - I felt pretty sick since I was looking through the camera most of the time - even though I took gravol beforehand! Pro tip: wear polarizing sunglasses to see the lines - I literally couldn't see them without the sunglasses.
The view from the hostel in Nazca with the dogs across the street.

Mar 28-30 - 2 Nts Arequipa

 We took a fancy sleeper bus (worth the extra money! They feed you a nice meal and everything) to the high elevation city of Arequipa and over-nighted for 3 nights to acclimate to the altitude. It was slightly cooler in Arequipa but still warm. 

We started taking our acetazolomide/dimox on the first day and felt kind of drunk and had tingly hands and feet but were otherwise fine. We didn't feel like doing anything to strenuous so we recuperated at the hostel and did some light touristy stuff. The hostel we found (Arequipay Hostel) was really nice and had plenty of friendly backpackers that also didn't keep us up at night. The hostel even had a place for us to do our laundry. Pro tip: pack clothing for one week and plan to do laundry sporadically throughout the trip. Or just wear dirty clothes.

Near the main square in Arequipa with the mountains in the background.

Catching up on our laundry in Arequipa

Mar 31-Apr 2 - 3 Nts Cabanaconde and Colca Canyon

We took a bus to Cabanaconde (we actually had to get a taxi to the first bus stop since we missed it initially!) to go hiking in the Colca Canyon. It was nice and warm here and it wasn't overrun by tourists which was nice - and no one trying to sell you stuff when we got off the bus. Hiking was very tiring as we were feeling the altitude. We could only take a few steps before resting on the hike. 

Trekking poles are a must have for the hike because going down in the loose gravel is kind of scary. Up top we stayed at Pachamama (recommended, the pizza was fantastic) and in the canyon we stayed at El Eden, also recommended because it had a pool. The hike was much much more difficult, in my opinion, than the inca trail. It was probably the hardest trek I've ever done in my life. We loved it though because there were hardly any tourists and the views were incredible.

Hiking into the canyon.

Our hostel in the canyon - the pool felt amazing after the hike.
Our hostel (Pachamama) and amazing pizza in Cabanaconde.

On the rim of the canyon.
Apr 3 - 1 Nt Chivay

 After Cabanaconde we took a bus to Chivay. We were planning on going to Lake Titicaca and Puno at this point but skipped it because we were sick and tired. Some of us had bad stomach issues and a few of us had a cold. We stayed at an underwhelming hostel and kind of got duped into going to the off-the-beaten-track sketchy hot springs that were still under construction (!?). On the long ride over we were all silently thinking why hadn't we gone to the regular hot springs like everyone else! And are we going to make it out of this alive? The sketchy hot springs were about 30 minutes away from town down a bumpy road in the pitch black. Eventually, when we finally arrived, the hot springs did feel great because our legs were aching from the hiking - even stepping up a few inches was hurting. Thank goodness we still had a few days to heal before the Inca Trail. As you can tell we were underwhelmed by Chivay.

Lesson of the day: Popular things are usually popular for a reason.

Not too many pics of Chivay - we were exhausted by this point.

Apr 4 - 6  - 3 Nts Cusco

We returned to Arequipa by a milk-run bus and booked a nice sleeper bus direct to Cusco. While we were waiting we had dinner at a chicken house (like a local version of KFC) down the street. The sleeper buses are very high security and you check your bags like at the airport. I attempted to take my bag on the bus with me and they denied me and I had to run back inside and check my bag. Purses are okay though so I would pack my purse with my essentials (take gravol because the roads are very windy and it's dark). The chairs are kind of like dentist chairs so they're pretty easy to sleep on and are much nicer than typical buses in Canada. I still liked the gravol to help with sleeping though. Sleeping on the bus isn't ideal but it's a bit of a two for one - transportation and a night's accommodation in one! 

We arrived in Cusco in the morning having gotten a bit of sleep but obviously not as nice as in a real bed. It was pouring rain so we got a cab to a hostel I had picked out in the book. When we got there it turned out they were actually full but they let us use the bathroom and their wifi to find a new hostel - it's so nice having a place to sit down when you're lugging all your stuff around. We managed to find a place (Samay) just up the road and they had space for all of us (we were 6 people at this point). It turned out they provided cold breakfast and you could even upgrade to a hot breakfast for a buck or two which of course I indulged in. The view from the balcony was unreal.

There's a ton of stuff to do in Cusco so even though we had skipped ahead in our itinerary by skipping Puno we had lots to do. We went on a day long bus tour of the sacred valley, explored the city, toured the ancient church and went to the local market. We were really tired - maybe from the altitude, maybe because we were cold or maybe just because we were starting week 3 of the vacation. I wanted to go to bed around 7pm every night.

We were lucky that throughout our trip there were all kinds of festivals going on for Easter and the harvest season. It was kind of chilly in Cusco since it's high in altitude. We were wearing jackets most of the time and at night were in our sleeping bags with blankets piled on top. We were happy for warm coca tea in the kitchen. 

By the way, the hostel staff informed us not even the locals drink tap water in Cusco so don't even brush your teeth with it. Only use boiled water for washing dishes and stick to bottled water for drinking.

The last night before the inka trail hike we had dinner at the

Lesson of the Day: Take gravol everywhere.

Celebrations for the harvest festival in Cusco.
Back in Cusco after our trek -  it was pretty chilly there but our hostel had such a great view!
Touring the market in Cusco. It was a little rainy that day!
Our sacred valley tour around Cusco.
The view from our hostel in Cusco.

The city of Cusco

Apr 7-10 - Inka Trail

 Inka Trail hiking with Llama Path. Weather was variable from stinking hot in t-shirts to cold wearing down jackets and rain jackets. It was usually lightly raining in the morning and then warm and humid in the afternoon. The food on the dike was the best I had eaten in Peru. The hike was difficult but not as hard as the Colca Canyon hike as the guides kept us at a fairly slow pace by stopping to talk about history. We also were at an advantage because we had already been in high altitude cities for about a week and had taken diamox. There were a ton of ruins and archaeological sites along the hike which were almost more special than macchu picchu because it was just us there. Most of us were feeling good but one was very sick from what we think was accidentally drinking the tap water back in Cusco compounded with the effects of altitude. 

The highest pass of the trek - it was pretty chilly because it was high altitude.
The waterfall on the last full day of our inka trail trek.
The vistas along the inka trail.
Arriving at Macchu Picchu
All the gear that I hiked the Inka Trail with

Apr 11-13 - Cusco

Back in Cusco for two days before flying back to Lima then to NYC. 

Best Travel/Food Blogging and Youtube Cameras for 2016

Super Compact Cameras...

Sony RX100 Mark 4 - $1200
Ultra compact and good enough to rival DSLRs, this is on my wishlist!

This camera is for people that are willing to spend the extra money to get a pro look to their photos and videos but don't want the bulk of a DSLR. This little guy is small enough to pocket, has a flip up flash to get professional looking portraits and has a great zoom range from 24 to 70mm. Not willing to cough up over a grand? Look into a mirrorless camera by Sony below. You won't get the same low light performance and it's slightly bigger but you also will save some money on the purchase.

  • Flip up screen (good for seeing yourself when doing videos or taking photos from weird angles like up high or down low etc). 
  • Ability to use screen or viewfinder (viewfinder is good for full sun when you can't see the screen) 
  • 4K movie recording with slow mo features. 
  • Ability to connect to your phone. 
  • Ability to take photos while you're shooting video. 
  • Built in lens goes from 24mm to 70mm which is a good all-around range. 
  • Ability to flip flash up to the ceiling to create natural, pro-looking portraits. 
  • High quality lens similar to an DSLR (f/1.8) so low light photos will not be very pixellated. 
  • Small enough to fit in a pocket and discrete enough that it doesn't draw attention.
  • 20.1MP, Light sensitivity up to 12800 (excellent).
GoPro Hero 4 Session - $300
Waterproof, ultra compact, also on my wishlist

This camera is for people that love action and want to create some cool videos (or photos) at super wide angles (14mm). You can't really zoom with this camera but it will do a digital zoom (essentially cropping the frame) down to 28mm. This new gopro doesn't need extra housing to be waterproof so it's smaller than the typical gopros. You can see the viewfinder and control the camera through your phone which I think is a game changer in the go pro world. No longer are you flying blind taking videos. This little camera is light and durable enough to stick into a tree and start taking video - not something you want to do with your SLR. It also makes it a great camera for lightweight travel since it takes up just about zero room in your backpack. This isn't a portrait or food camera as super wide angles like this do wacky things close up.

  • No screen but can view and control through your phone. 
  • 1440p video. 
  • Built in features like time lapse or burst photos. 
  • Ultra wide lens so can record video in tight spaces.
  • Dual mic system to reduce background noises. 
  • Comes with easy to use video editing software to add music etc. 
  • Built in lens goes from 14 to 28mm which is super-wide -  good for fitness videos, landscapes, sports, wacky stuff.
  • 8MP, light senstivity up to 6400

Mirrorless (medium size and cheaper) options...

Sony Alpha a5000 16-50mm - $530
Mirrorless, medium size option

A cheaper option than most DSLRs or the RX100 but still has a lot of great features. Sony has added some mind blowing algorithms to deliver impressive low light performance into cameras with so-so specs. For instance in low light the camera will take a burst of photos then stitch them together to reduce noise. All in a matter of seconds. Quite amazing. This is the camera I recommend to most people that want to take better photos but don't necessarily want to learn the ins and outs of the exposure triangle. You can get those portraits with a blurred background and not have to learn how to get it - the camera will just guess what you want to do and do it for you. The only problem I've found with the camera is it can be hard to see the LCD screen in full sun. That, and the battery dies faster than an SLR.
  • Can control through your phone
  • 16-50mm a good range from ultra-wide to portraits. 
  • Tilting LCD. 
  • Lens not as good as the one on the RX100 meaning low light photos will be a tad pixellated. Sony has built-in algorithms and tricks to improve this though. 
  • Ability to buy new lenses and switch them up. \
  • Bigger than the RX100 but can still fit in a purse.
  • 20.1MP, light sensitivity up to 16000

Entry level DSLRs....

Low price - D90 $400 plus lens

This was my camera for 5 years and I still love it. It doesn't have many bells and whistles and they don't even make it anymore but it's a workhorse. I've dropped the thing too many times to count (sometimes on concrete). For a few years I used it without a case and just tossed it in my backpack (clanging around loose with all my other stuff!!). It's gotten wet, it's gotten sand in it, and it still just goes. The battery lasts what's seems like a decade. I took it to Europe for three weeks - shooting a LOT - and only charged it once. It's insane. Anything outdoors will be fantastic quality. Pair it with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8 and you're good to go for just about anything - food, landscape, action, star photos, travel, street, weddings. What it's not great at is indoor photos in low light. I had to get an external flash (SB700 ) which takes care of the low light problem while giving the photos a professional look. 

  • Older camera with no wifi abilities but will still take good shots in good lighting (helps to buy an external flash) and can do video but autofocus is not great.
  •  12.3MP, light sensitivity to a meager 3200

Mid-priced - D7000 $600 plus lens
Newer than the D90 with more features like autofocus in video and better image processor for less pixellation. 

After the D90 Nikon mixed up the nomenclature and started naming all of their cropped sensor cameras in the thousands. D7000 sits in the same spot that the D90 did - it's their best cropped sensor camera before jumping to full frame sensors. Though the cropped sensor lineup for both Nikon and Canon have tighter crops (hence cropped sensor) and the low light performance isn't as good, these cameras have a lot of benefits. They're smaller and lighter than full frames, they're cheaper (obviously) but the lenses and accessories for them are also MUCH cheaper so you can have a lot of fun trying out new lenses without breaking the bank. You'll save on other accessories too - for example the remote trigger for this guy is $15 and when I upgraded to a full frame I was looking at $150 for the remote trigger. WTF? If I were buying a cropped sensor today I would get the D7000 or D7200 since it has many of the features of the higher end full frame camera without the cost of the full frame. 
  • 6.2MP. Light sensitivity up to 6400

High priced D7200 - $1400 plus lens
 Newer than the D7000 and D7100 is, you guessed it, the D7200. Though I can never figure out the thinking behind how they name DSLRs (why is 700 better than 7000?) I do suspect the next one will be the D7300. This camera borrows a ton of features from the more expensive D750 without the $2500 price tag. It has the same pro-level specs like the processor, ISO light sensitivity, megapixels and even built-in wifi like the D750. The difference being the sensor is smaller so it won't be quite as nice in low light. It's a pretty cool to have crazy iso up to 25600 like the D750 but without the price tag. It even has the time-lapse and HDR features of the D750 and is the only cropped sensor camera in nikon's lineup to include the feature. The autofocus system is also borrowed from the D750 and will work in low light - even without the focus assist light.

  • Even more features like ability to control the camera through your phone and even see the image through your phone, you can also download the images straight to your phone without a computer if you're travelling or don't want to bother with editing. 
  • Better performance in low light than it's predecessors 
  • 24.2MP. Light sensitivity up to 25600 (that's damn crazy for an entry-level).

Lens (with no zoom) for the cameras above 50mm or 35mm- $200 - $230 

My vote on the cropped sensors goes to the 35mm. On a cropped sensor a 35mm will act like a 50mm which is the focal length with the least distortion so you can't really screw things up. A 35 on a cropped sensor is wide enough to take regular travel photos like architecture or the odd landscape photo and also won't look too far away when taking group shots or portraits. Everyone online says go with the 50mm which is a mistake that I made initially. I took a 50mm ONLY to Europe for three weeks and ended up with a lot of shots of half a building or would go for the architectural  detail shots instead. The photos I did take look fantastic but I was getting frustrated that I couldn't take a bigger variety of photos. After that trip I got the 35mm and it never came off the camera. When buying lenses aim for ones that are f/2.8 or f/1.8 as it indicates the quality of the lens and will give any camera you're using better low light performance - meaning you can take photos indoors.

Must-Haves for Women Hiking the Inca Trail

Day Pack - I wish I had packed a small backpack. I kept borrowing my friend's packable day pack because my back was getting so sore carrying around my cross body bag.

Small quick dry washcloth. - On the trek we were given warm water at morning and night to clean up and having my own wash cloth instead of sharing one would've been really nice.

Trekking Poles. The poles would've been really useful in the colca canyon and even though I rented them on the inka trail I wish I had my own.

Acetozolomide / Diamox - We were tired at high altitude but not sick so I'm glad I took these a few days before we got to Cusco. Spending a few days in Cusco before the hike was also a very good thing.

Antibiotics, Immodium and Rehydration Tablets - I went to the travel clinic and got antibiotics for Gastrointestinal issues. I'm glad I did because we all got sick.

Warm Clothes & Rain Coat - The Inca Trail and Cusco can get really cold and wet - I think it might've been 5C on some nights. I get cold easily so I was glad I brought warm clothes, a down jacket and a winter sleeping bag with me on the trek. It does get hot during the day so pack some lighter clothing as well.

Good Shoes that are Broken in - Don't go out and buy shoes the day before you leave for Peru or you'll be crying at the end of day one. Also don't assume that you need hiking boots for the trail. I prefer hiking shoes and my Merrell trail runners worked great.

Doggy Bags - I'm not talking about take-away bags - I'm talking about those opaque bags they sell for picking up after dogs. They should hand these out to people at the beginning of the trek because you're not supposed to throw paper down the toilets on the trek (okay it's a hole in the ground). The little doggy bags that come on a roll would be perfect for sticking your used TP in and then throwing it in the trash.

She-wee - This one's for the ladies. I didn't know what a she wee was before the trek but I wish I had brought one because, I hate to break it to you, there are no toilets on the trek. You're going to be squatting into a hole in the ground which is a little difficult after a long day of hiking. Having a she wee would be much easier. Just bring a bottle of water with you to the loo to rinse it off after using it. Also roll up your pants before heading to the toilets - it gets a little wet (and gross) in there.

Lain's Peru Backpacking and Inca Trail Packing List for April to May

- 2x quick dry Cloudveil hiking pants (wear one on plane)
- 1 icebreaker long johns (wear in cusco)
- 1x icebreaker tank tops (wear as camisoles)
- 1x icebreaker longsleeved ribbed shirt
- 1 icebreaker fancier long sleeved grey top (wear on plane)
- 1 tank top
- 1 fancier cardigan
- 1 Button up quick dry Longsleeve (for sun protection)
- 4x wool socks (wear on plane)
- 1x Patagonia Down Jacket) (wear on plane, cusco and pillow on inca trail)
- Icebreaker zip up fleece sweater
- 1x Arcteryx Gortex rain Jacket (day pack)
- 1x LL Bean Rain pants
- 1x Lululemons (as PJs & extra pants) (day Pack)
- 1x Lululemon racerback tank top
- 1x Patagonia quick dry shorts
- 1 bra + 1 sportsbra
- 10x underwear (all thin - minimum amount of cotton)
- Bikini (for aguas calientes etc)
- Quick Dry Dress (I don't think I ever wore this to be honest)

- Toms
- Merrell Trail Runners for hiking
- Flip Flops (showers and around camp)

- Waterproof Osprey Pack Cover
- Timbuktu purse (doubles as camera bag - on the trip I found a cross body bag hurt my back - I wish I had brought a small day pack or the lowepro hiking camera bag for my camera)
- Wallet (waist belt security wallet for passport, credit cards & ID, Photocopy of Passport in backpack)
- Headlamp + Batteries
- Daypack / carry on? (I didn't actually bring this but I wish I had!)
- Quick Dry Hat
- Sunglasses
- Camera - Nikon D90 and zoom lens
- Camera Charger
- USB cord for camera
- Mini Tripod (I brought a kind of large tripod on this trip but in the future I'd take the Manfrotto Mini Tripod)
- Winter Sleeping Bag (Mountain Hardware Lamina -18C) & Silk Liner
- Thermarest (probably not necessary since Llama Path provided sleeping mats)
- First Aid Kit
- Travel Towel - sea 2 summit Medium
- Travel face towel - small enough to dry on outside of bag (I didn't bring this but wish I had)
- Snacks - Pack of Cliff bars (probably not necessary, we got so much hot food on the hike)
- Hiking Poles (rented - I wish I had brought my own though )
- Toilet Paper / travel kleenex / hand sanitizer (Many restaurants don’t give you TP or soap)
- 2x Ultralight Compression Sacks (1 for clothes and 1 for sleeping bag)
- Ziplock bags for organization (or eagle creek ultralight packing cubes)
- Smartphone & Headphones
- Digital Watch.
- Travel Combo lock for hostel lockers

- Tylenol, Advil, Immodium, Gravol, Benadryl, Antibiotics (prescription from travel clinic for travellers diarrhea)
- Aquatabs
- Hand Sanitizer
- vaseline
- female supplies

- Eye Mask
- Neck pillow
- Ear Plugs
- Gravol & Vitamins
- Snacks (cliff bars)

The Best Backpack for the Inca Trail

What Backpack to Take on the Inca Trail

At the end of the hike - the view of Macchu Picchu.
 I was very impressed with my Talon 44L from Osprey. It was comfortable and held a ton of stuff. I managed to fit everything on the list including my sleeping bag if you can believe it and the pack still looks and feels like I'm just going for a day hike. The bag also has a lot of mesh which made it great for the humid weather on the inka trail. As we found out, when hiking the Inka Trail you should avoid tank tops. A t-shirt or long sleeved lightweight shirt is best or you will probably get chafing -  no matter what kind of bag you have (at least two of us had chafing from our bags even when they weren't fully loaded). I used the bag as my hiking bag on the inka trail which was lightly loaded with one change of clothes, water in my platypus, and my DSLR. Despite the hip belt being on the verge of being too big and the shoulder straps being a bit scratchy I still think this is the best bag for hiking the inca trail. One of the guides even said it was a perfect choice. If you're carrying a DSLR camera I would consider the Lowepro Photosport or the Jack Wolfskin Photo Pack Pro as a day pack.

Whatever bag you choose make sure it fits you well - put some weight in it and walk around your neighbourhood for an hour and see how it feels. It shouldn't make your lower back ache if it fits you properly (I know from experience!). If you don't like the idea of carrying everything with you then give your stuff to the trekking company and they will get a porter to carry it. Don't feel bad about making someone else carry your stuff - this is the local's livelihood.

It was so hot at Macchu Picchu I had to forego my UV shirt. 
My Peru Daypack - or lack thereof

I also took a cross body mini messenger bag from Timbuk2 that I put my DSLR camera in most of the time. I got a bit annoying when hiking however and made my back ache when I was carrying it around town. If I could go back I would bring a smaller day pack (with TWO shoulder straps) for my camera. I do really like this mini messenger for carrying around lighter stuff. I especially love it for airports because I can keep boarding passes in the secret stash pocket in the back that's really easy to access. It's the perfect size for my airplane necessities too (e-reader, earplugs, headphones, neck pillow, down jacket, snacks and eye mask).

Osprey Talon 44 Review for Hiking and Backpacking

The first trip I took my Talon 44 was the Inca Trail, I ended up loving the bag. It was comfortable and held a ton of stuff. I managed to fit everything on the list including my sleeping bag if you can believe it and the back still looks and feels like I'm just going for a day hike. I love the size because to put it in overhead bins or navigate through crowds I don't feel like I'm going to smack anyone or drop the bag on my head.

Without anything in it the bag is light as a feather but includes a rigid aluminum frame.

This means when you have the hip belt fully tightened the bag feels even lighter because the weight is transferred to the hips which is lower in your center of gravity. The bag also has a lot of mesh which makes it nice in hot weather but also means if the straps are on bare skin they can feel scratchy. As we found out, when hiking the Inka Trail you should avoid tank tops. A t-shirt or long sleeved lightweight shirt is best or you will probably get chafing no matter what kind of bag you have (at least two of us had chafing from our bags even when they weren't fully loaded). I used the bag as my hiking bag on the inka trail which was lightly loaded with one change of clothes, water in my platypus, and my DSLR.

 So why would I get the Talon (mens version) instead of the Tempest (womens version). 

Well much to the disbelief of sales persons my back is actually so long I don't fit into any womens bags - even the womens bags that claim to be adjustable. I have denied this reality in the past and purchased womens specific fit bags and consequently suffered an aching back after just 30 minutes of wearing it. If you're really interested in your torso size get fitted for a road bike you'll probably get a more accurate measurement than from a sales person guessing what bag you'll fit based on your height and sex. I for one am 5'4" so most sales people fit me as a women's small which is about 4 sizes off. When I say I'm actually a mens large they usually tell me "well this womens bag is adjustable and it's a prettier colour". Don't go for the pretty colour people! I do wish they sold womens bags in larger torso sizes, however, because the hip belts on the mens bags are usually too big for me. Despite the hip belt being on the verge of being too big and the shoulder straps being a bit scratchy I still think this is the best bag for hiking the inca trail. If you're carrying a DSLR camera I would consider the Lowepro Photosport or the Jack Wolfskin Photo Pack Pro as a day pack.
The Talon 44 from Osprey is a great travel pack for backpacking.
Being a tourist with my Osprey Talon 44 lightly loaded (the rest of my stuff was in compression sacks back at the hostel)

The Talon 44 from Osprey is a great travel pack for backpacking.
Being a tourist with my lightly loaded talon 44.

Since hiking the Inka Trail I've also taken this bag to Europe which it easily gets carried on the plane or into checked baggage where it has held up well. My only complaint - too many straps hanging out everywhere. I would like a place to tuck the straps when the bag isn't very full like in the photos here.

The Talon 44 is the perfect backpacking bag since it's lightweight, compact, compressible and still comfortable for long walks to the train station with all your gear. I love the size because it makes it easy for a short person to put it up on a high baggage compartment or it even fits under the seats in an airplane!
Hiking with the Talon 44 loaded up.

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Lowepro Photosport 200 Review for Travel and Hiking

The best bag for outdoors and photography enthusiasts is the Lowepro Photosport 200.

It's pretty neat because it allows you to access the camera without taking the bag off (you just swing it to the side). I've tested this swing to the side method in many situations and it actually works really easily. When you have to do some tricky maneuvering over rocks or scree you just stash the camera so you don't have it swinging around. It also has some hiking and travel-specific features like a pocket for your hydration system, a stash pocket on the front for a quick place to put your jacket, water bottle holder (which doubles as a tripod holder), straps for your sleeping mat (or another place for your jacket), bungees for your hiking poles, a place for a blinky light (maybe you want to cycle with the pack), reflective detailing (maybe you're exploring a new city at night), a convenient pocket on top of the lid (although it's a little too small for my liking), a small pocket on the bottom of the lid, and a small pocket inside the bag next to your back which is big enough for an e-reader (I will call it the e-reader pocket). There is even a rain cover stashed out of the way on the bottom of the bag.

What do I use the LowePro PhotoSport 200 For?

I personally use this bag as an overnight bag, a travel day pack, a hiking bag and as my main camera bag. Since I like to take my camera with me into all sorts of situations this bag is great because it fits my laptop (in what's supposed to be the hydration pocket).

The laptop sits in the exterior back pocket which makes it really easy to get out when you're at airport security.

 It also fits a DSLR with a zoom lens attached and another small prime. The downside is there's not another spot for your other lenses unless you want them just loose in the bag. I can fit a very small nifty fifty lens in the e-reader pocket but it's a tight squeeze. I have been known to take this bag to weddings as well but it doesn't really fit in too well. It definitely brings the outfit down a notch!  While I'm hiking I use the beefy hip belt and chest strap and it keeps the bag nice and secure. When I want to take my camera out it's super easy to swing it around and get a quick shot. I really like it for travel too because the colour scheme is fairly neutral so it doesn't look out of place in the city. If you want to take only one bag on your travels try the larger photosport 300. I bet I could pack for a 3 week trip in that baby.

Snowshoeing with my Lowepro photosport 200

How Durable is the Lowepro Photosport 200?

I have had this bag for 3 years and really put it through the ringer. I stuff it full of heavy stuff like zoom lenses, my DSLR, my ancient (and heavy) laptop and then top it off with water, clothes and an e-reader and sometimes even my manfrotto tripod. Even with all the weight the straps and material have held up really well. The bag looks close to new. The bottom of the bag is a heavier material and the rest of the bag is a lightweight, semi-waterproof durable material. The water bottle holder and the sides of the stash pocket are a super stretchy material.

 I have lugged this bag through field work in the Canadian Arctic, travel around Europe, airports, and even Sable Island. 

It's even had seabirds poop all over it which washed off easily since the fabric is water repellent.

How Comfortable is the Photosport 200?

I've lugged this bag through airports and even hiked for 8 hours up Mt. Whiteface with this bag and I can assure you it's very comfortable. 

That being said everyone is different and you should fit the bag to your own torso size. The bags rigid back and beefy hip belt effectively transfer weigh to the hips making it more comfortable for longer periods.
Hiking Whiteface with my Photosport packed with hiking poles, hydration pack, camera equipment and a thermos (I need my coffee in the morning!

So there you have it, one of my favourite bags is the Lowepro photosport 200. And this is coming from someone who has a large bag collection.

Walking around Cusco with the Photosport 200.

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