To get from Bolivia into Peru we again used the 'Bolivia Hop' transfer, we were really happy with our transfer from La Paz so even though it was a little more than a regular bus we decided it was worth the extra cash. We arrived into Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu, at around 5am and one of the benefits of the Bolivia Hop is that as part of the transfer they have pre paid taxis waiting at their terminal to take you to your chosen hostel. Personally I think that this is a master stroke in their service as we both agree that arriving somewhere new, particularly as most bus stations are in the dodgy parts of town is one of the things we hate the most about travelling.
We chose the aptly named 'MilHouse' hostel as our Cusco base, a livelier hostel where if you want you could probably not leave for days as the in house bar and restaurant serves everything you need all on a tab system - could be a dangerous thing after a few pisco sours
Cusco town itself screams of tourism. In every ancient stone archway lies a tour operator or shop selling local alpaca products and the main square of Plaza de Armas even has a McDonalds and a Starbucks - both very tastefully incorporated into the existing architecture in all fairness! We decided to give the walking tour a try (shock) and met up with Nikki who was on our Salkantay trek. Personally we didn't think much to it, I felt like we came out of the tour not really knowing much more about Cusco than when we started apart from where Bono stayed, and I don't really like Bono
Another tour that can be done from Cusco is a day trip to Rainbow Mountain, a stripy hill made up of lots of different minerals that give it its spectacular colours. I had well and truly had enough of trekking and told George that I wasn't going to do it, especially as the hike goes up to the dizzy heights of 5300m. However knowing how much George wanted to do it, and not wanting her to do it alone, she twisted my arm! We booked on with the same operator as our Salkantay trek, KB Adventure Tours, for the bartered price of 80 soles each (£20).
Amazingly Rainbow Mountain has only been a tourist spot in Peru for the last 2.5 years after a French couple discovered it out hiking, took a photo and the internet did the rest. The mountain now gets over 500 visitors a day and it just doesn't have the infrastructure to cope; the trail is badly worn and every local is there trying to cash in selling everything from alpaca gloves to Mars bars along with horses that will take you to the top - if your legs can't be bothered to transport you. The lack of a proper trail also means the horses that cart the lazy tourists to the top trample the same track as the people walking which leads to a big shitty mud track, especially the first km or so.
This tour had an even friendlier start time of 3:30am (its just like being at work this travel malarky) with a good 3 hour minibus ride to our breakfast stop before starting the hike around 8am. Apparently it should take around 3-3.5hrs to get to the top and anyone who has been to a similar altitude will understand that 3 hours searching for air isn't an easy experience. To make matters worse, as we approached the summit the clouds rolled in and a full blown hail storm started. At the top you could literally see bugger all and there were almost tears (yes the mars bars were THAT expensive!) Climbing up to 5300m is hard and despite the sense of achievement we should have felt we couldn't help but feel a little sad about not being able to see what we had hiked up for.
After persuading George that we should set off back down, we reluctantly started the slippery descent (I fell over; George said she thought I was going off the edge - did she push me??) only for a small break in the clouds to give us a good 10 minutes of the glorious rainbow in all its glory. Result! George scampered back up the hill like a giddy kid on Christmas morning for a better look; I was happy with my current vantage point and stayed put.
The hike down was just as tricky as the hike up, mainly due to the slick mud (or/and poo) that covered the rocks, the hail storm obviously contributing the extra moisture that wasn't required. Cursing that I had literally only done my laundry the day before we climbed back into the van covered in mud and after a quick lunch stop (soup!!) we made the 3 hours or so drive back to Cusco.
We used our Milhouse stop as a bit of a break for a couple of extra days to do some much needed planning/flight booking etc. From here the original plan was to travel up through Ecuador into Colombia however after some deep deliberation and spending a bit too long in Patagonia we decided that we would skip Ecuador altogether to help fit our plans in the states better in the summer. You can't do it all!! We took a 22 hour bus with Cruz Del Sur (190 pesos £47) to Lima, hung out in Lima for a day and then took a 2am flight to Cartagena in northern Colombia via Bogota. All in all about 2 full days of travelling.