Anna Grant and Jillian MacDonald are best friends: they grew up in the same town, lived together after graduating from college, and love traveling with each other. Exploring new places has always helped them solidify their friendship and fall in love with the world, one piece at a time. But today, Anna lives on the East Coast and Jillian lives on the West Coast — so when they found out that Acanela was offering a two-for-one discount on its classic Peru expedition, they jumped at the chance to visit South America together. After their trip ended, Anna told us a little more about traveling to Peru with her best friend. Here’s what she had to say.
We mainly chose to go to Peru because of the timing. We have a running list of destinations we’d like to visit, ranked in our priority order, and organized by best time of year to go. So when we knew we were looking to plan a trip in August, Peru was high on the list. One of us had gotten a random email from Acanela and forwarded it to the other... After a little procrastination, we finally read it over to find a two-for-one deal! August! Peru! All the key spots we would like to hit! No planning required! Deal ends today! We bought it without much more thought.
Since we flew to Peru from different airports, Jillian arrived first and took on Cusco for a few hours by herself. She ate dinner alone and had the best lentil soup of her life. I can confidently say this, as I heard about nothing else the rest of the trip. She proceeded to email the restaurant for the recipe, and just last month, we tried to recreate it at home. What great memories that meal brought back.
Though I arrived second and missed the original “life-changing soup,” we experienced amazing moment after amazing moment together. It’s hard to choose the highlights. It's especially hard to not be cliché, since Machu Picchu is the obvious answer — seeing our elementary school textbooks (literally the pages we shared in class as children) come to life! Hiking up under the stars, earning the view, seeing the sunrise AT THE SUNGATE, before all the other tourists took it over? Having a personal guide so we could really hear the history as we witnessed it with our own two (well, four) eyes? It is as much of a wonder of the world as it is made out to be, and it definitely makes the list of top highlights.
Beyond that, our tour guide gave us star treatment. One day on a whim, we asked if we could alter the itinerary to hike Rainbow Mountain; he said, “Sure, but we are going later in the day after all the tours are gone so you can have the place to yourself.” The next morning, we found a quiet Incan terrace nestled in the mountains of Ollantaytambo where we listened to natural streams and practiced yoga before getting our Rainbow Mountain request granted (sound ideal?).
We can also not go without mentioning the family farm in the Sacred Valley where we participated in an alpaca wedding — what? Yeah, that's what we said when we found out what we were doing. But it was an amazing experience. The entire ceremony was centered around Mother Earth: what she gives us and what we can give her in return. It was authentic and wholesome, and I had never felt more centered and at peace than in the Sacred Valley at the home of these wonderful people.
All this was even before we got to the Amazon! Once we got there, we slept in the coolest treehouse lodge we could have dreamed up. It was an entirely different adventure and the perfect way to cap off the trip. (I also ate a termite in the Amazon — do as the locals do, right?)
I find it important to note that all of the people we met on the trip made the entire experience one we will never forget. Peru has an extensive history with so much culture, and we were very lucky to get a glimpse of it. It was amazing to see the traditions and ancient beliefs upheld, and we loved how welcoming and open the families that we met were.
All of the people that we met on the trip made the entire experience one we will never forget. Peru has an extensive history with so much culture, and we were very lucky to get a glimpse of it.
I can illustrate that point, about how the people made the experience so incredible, by sharing a specific story and photo (see above). We were driving through the Sacred Valley and going to a family farm for the alpaca wedding. We saw a woman on the side of the road and decided to give her a ride, not knowing who she was or how we could communicate with her. She was warm and smiled brightly, and we wanted to know — no, needed to know — about her life. We got out of the car and followed her through her farmland to her family with her alpacas, where we learned about life and connected with the earth. This is a picture capturing a moment in time right before we felt most in tune with the culture of this country.
Looking at this picture now reminds me of our state of mind while traveling. Most of the time, we do not know what is happening currently or what is going to happen next. But we are filled with memories that we are desperately trying to engrave in our brain and capturing mental pictures as accurately as we can.
My advice for people visiting this area in the future:
Do not take the bus up to Machu Picchu! The plan was originally for us to take the bus per the itinerary, but our guide knew better. If you are willing and able, the climb is worth it (sweaty, breathless, but worth it) because you get to the top before the buses — before the people — before the sun.
We added Rainbow Mountain instead of another day exploring ruins. It was a sacrifice of one experience for another, but Rainbow Mountain was unique in our minds, and this seemed like our chance to see it. Again, our tour guide knew best and knew when normal tours went, so he took us after the crowds when we would be the only ones there. And it was incredible. (Note: we love to be active and hike.)
Ok, altitude IS A REAL THING. The first couple of days we were very. out. of. breath. Take the altitude medication and be careful drinking alcohol (I’m speaking from experience here).
This is a recommendation for not only this trip, but it’s especially prudent for this one: be careful with pictures. What I mean is you want them, you'll want them later to look back on the trip — but there is nothing like the real thing. We saw so many people huddling behind cameras and taking pictures and not soaking it all in. As a tip, I bring my GoPro to film, so that I don't have to be looking through the lens. It lets me be in the moment but means that I still have memories captured for the years to come.
The entire trip was an adventure from the beginning. The trip sounded great at a high level the day we were sold on it, so why dive into the details? We signed up and decided we would find out as we went. Surprises are great. Traveling to Peru was great.
Thanks for your beautiful review, Anna! It sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and we’re so happy that you got to enjoy it with Jillian.
If you’re reading Anna’s post and wondering how you can have an equally incredible experience, you’re in luck. Book our Peru & Machu Picchu or Inca Trail & Machu Picchu trip, and get to know this wonderful country for yourself!