Taking the night bus/Peru Hop to Arequipa was the best decision because it saved money on one night's room stay and there was no one on the bus so I had a whole section/row to myself (I think it was about 8 hours). The bus dropped me off at my hotel in the middle of town at 5:30am and thankfully the receptionist let me in because I hadn't really been in contact with them about my arrival time and that was super early! But then he was really rude to me and told me I couldn’t fill up my water and tried to charge me the full room price without the Peru Hop discount. Thankfully there was a living room area where I could get organized and charge my phone because I had booked a 2-day tour that I had to leave for in about an hour. I packed my medium-sized backpack for the tour to Colca Canyon that day (one of the deepest canyons in the world) and then rested for 30 minutes before breakfast started. Thankfully I was able to use my free breakfast with the 1 night reservation the following day and I didn’t need it the next morning since I was going to be picked up at 5am for the next Peru Hop bus.
So I went to get breakfast which was buffet-style and the best ham/cheese, scrambled eggs, and fruit display. Then the minivan picked me up right on time which was filled with a family, 2 other solo travelers and 2 couples. The tour guide was this short chica from Arequipa and did a really great job at explaining everything in both languages. We stopped for snacks and then again to see these animals on the side of the road that I had never seen before called palcones - similar to deer. Apparently they’re half alpaca half valcone. They ran beautifully and were beige and white colored. Then we stopped at this spot where there were llamas and alpacas all in this one area with pink ribbons and it was very touristy and sad to see them all in this one little area just for tourists to stop and see them but that’s just what happens when you join tours like this. Then we stopped to view the volcanoes around us, there were at least 5 in the distance and you could see smoke coming out of one of them, all over 4km high. We arrived to the town of Chivay and had a nice buffet lunch where I started talking to one of the solo travelers from Florence, Italy, maybe in his late 50s and an eye doctor. We chatted about Italy and our travels, it was a nice convo over this huge buffet lunch. Then it was time to go to our hostels and check in. We had an hour until the hot springs so I got organized in my room and then walked to the plaza where there was a festival going on - apparently it was the 85th anniversary of Arequipa so they were celebrating. I saw some really neat birds called palcones and very different types of colorful party structures and decorations around the square. It was a very small religious mountain town with not much going on, certainly suburban ancient. After walking around a bit, I got picked up to go to the hot springs where it was just the 3 of us solo travelers. The hot springs were NOT natural and there were a good amount of people in them so I wasn't very pleased but had already paid for it so went in one anyway. It felt relaxing but not the best time, and then the tour guide asked if I wanted to participate in this ceremony called “banos de something” to get rid of bad luck and bring good luck as it is a tradition, so I decided to do it. I went to the place inside the indoor hot springs and the man cited some rituals at the same time as spraying some leaves on me with incense. It felt weird but glad I did tried it. Then we went back and had an hour until dinner so I showered and watched this parade happen right outside my door with a band playing and locals dancing on the streets with the typical Peruvian folk music. The dinner was set in this set-up touristy restaurant with 4 different groups and a stage at the front. I ordered creole soup and chicken rice dish and the band started playing. Then dancers came out and danced this traditional folk dance which was really neat. It was nice to see the different types of dancing and then it was time to leave so we all got dropped off…it was a lot of driving (picking up and dropping off everyone at different hostels-I thought we would all be staying at the same place but that wasn’t the case). Once I was finally in bed, the parade came back around and it was loud so I was really annoyed that it was happening that late since it was 11pm. I finally fell asleep and had to be up at 5am to get breakfast and continue on the tour. We stopped at this square filled with the locals dancing next to an ancient white Catholic church, the first stopping point out of many that I wasn’t really aware of that day. The next stop was at this other church and we tried the “sour chiclayo'' nearby which was what you would expect it to taste like and the surrounding place was filled with tourists (buses of tourists stopping at each stopping point) so I wasn’t really enjoying myself but was trying to embrace the culture. Then we finally were on our way to the Cruz Del Cantor viewpoint that was filled with even more tourists but we actually got lucky that day because we saw at least 3 condors (one of the largest wing spans in the world) so I was happy about that. It was a windy day so they kept coming out and it was beautiful watching them fly with their 3m length open wings. We were there for an hour and then stopped at at least 3 other viewpoints of the Colca Canyon which were pretty but I was tired of stopping and getting off and on the minibus constantly.
Finally we were on our way back and arrived in Arequipa around 5pm. I checked into my room right away and then walked to the main Plaza de Armas at sunset and it was absolutely gorgeous with the white buildings all around the square and pink-colored sky. It was a Friday night so it was very lively with some bands playing live music and I got some of that famous "frozen cheese dessert" that was delicious with cinnamon on it and sat on a bench with the locals while I people watched for a bit. Then I went to dinner at Zig Zag that was recommended by the tour guide and also the Culture Trip Blog (which I normally looked into before arriving at any place). I ordered a salad for the first time in a while and it felt nice to have some fresh veggies again as it was a big salad. I really enjoyed walking around Arequipa that night. It was definitely somewhere I could go back to, even though the surroundings weren’t great so kind of difficult to get to. The town itself is the second largest in Peru and filled with nice people and lively shops and restaurants. I went back to my hotel and organized my things and did some yoga, took a hot shower and went to bed. Woke up to be ready for the Peru Hop bus and came to find out that there were tons of backpackers also in the same situation. We were all waiting out on the sidewalk for these Per Hop buses and the Italian doctor that was on my tour was also in the same situation. It was a mad scene trying to get on the bus, people were swarming to get their bags in the bottom and then find a seat on board (its not assigned). I got a good located seat in the front and we were finally on our way to Puno - the last town before the border to Bolivia. We stopped for snacks at this gas station where I got a nice warm quinoa drink to give me energy and some bread.
We arrived in Puno around 1pm where we all got dropped off at our hostels in a minivan. Puno was beautifully colorful right on Lake Titicaca and you could tell the town was going through some renovations with broken down buildings and construction everywhere, small tiny streets. This other backpacker got dropped off at the same hotel as me and we both checked in at the same time - come to find out he's Italian because he started speaking Italian to the receptionist. Afterwards he asked if I wanted to go get food with him since both our rooms weren’t available yet so we took a stroll together down the main street. We talked about where we were coming from and where we were going and then stumbled upon this very local, hole- in-the-wall-type of restaurant where you wouldn’t see any tourists. We were served "chifa" - chicken noodle soup basically but South American style and then fried chicken with rice and vegetables. We talked a lot about Italy and my time there and then tattoos (he already had many). He told me about his time in Buenos Aires for a year where he got a couple piercings and a tattoo and then some recommendations for when I go in a month. The way he talked and ate so slowly reminded me of being in Italy all over again with how slow everything is there (or I guess their mannerisms). I told him about my background and how I came to be doing what I’m doing and share my yoga inspiration and then we exchanged Instagram and Whatsapp. I had to be back by 3pm for the boat tour I had pre-booked to the Floating Islands of Uros and so we walked back and checked into our rooms. My room was large with a balcony and very luxurious, cost me $42 for a suite pretty much. I sat outside in the sun and took in the sunshine as I waited for the mini van to pick me up for the tour. I recognized one of the girls on the tour from another place, possibly Quito or Banos and we started talking. She’s from the UK and we sat next to each other on the boat and got to know one another as we enjoyed the scenery of the Floating Islands of the Uros - a set of approximately 80 islands built of totora, an aquatic plant that grows on the surface of Lake Titicaca. On the tour we learned about how the indigenous people of Peru and Bolivia made these reef islands over 500 years ago from the expansion of the Inca empire and it was pretty inspirational. After the tour, we got dinner in town and finally found a spot after being bombarded by restaurant people selling their menus left and right, and then had a deep conversation about life, society and politics and how we both feel about the importance of traveling. We both bought large bottles of water and said our goodbyes (one of my fondest parts about backpacking solo is the opportunity to spend a day with a stranger and have the most interesting conversations while experiencing something out of the ordinary and then maybe or maybe not speaking to them ever again). I had told the Italian we could meet up after my tour so we went to get a drink at this bar on the main street after walking past a group of indigenous dancers in front of a church (we thought it was odd) - I ordered a maracuya sour and he ordered a mojito. We talked a lot about family, politics, soccer, traditions, backgrounds and living in Italy - it was an overall really great conversation that lasted about 2 hours. We went back to the hotel and I got organized, took a hot shower, went to bed. I got up early to get breakfast, said goodbye to the Italian and then got ready for the Bolivia Hop bus to Bolivia!