Solo Female Travel in Peru
***Author’s Note: Typically, I write about tips & provide guides for specific destinations. This post, on “Solo Female Travel in Peru,” is a little different: I recently ran across the journal I kept while in Peru, & one particular post, written on a stormy night at Lake Titicaca, seemed to capture the essence & feeling of Peru better than any “Top 10” tip-filled post could. So I’m reproducing the journal entry here, with the hope that it will help you feel what it’s actually like to be in a totally foreign land, by yourself.
Solo Female Travel in Peru…
It was a dark & dangerously stormy night.
When I was a kid, that’s how I used to start all my mystery “novels” ~ “It was a dark & dangerously stormy night….” The emotions that sentence evoked immediately took me to another place: one of danger, mystery, & romance. I could have been a heroine in a centuries-old mansion, or by myself in the midst of a forest on a dark night, about to embark on some fine adventure.
Cut to many years later: I’m alone in a modestly-furnished room with a tin roof, on a hill overlooking Lake Titicaca. It actually is a dark & stormy night, & I’m staying in a house with a lovely host family that I just met ~ who naturally don’t speak my language. And when I try to speak theirs, I usually just end up butchering it so badly (my Spanish lessons apparently haven’t kicked in yet), that I receive only quizzical looks in return.
I’m on Amantani Island, in the middle of Lake Titicaca ~ the highest lake in the world. There are no cars or taxis here. They’ve got electricity, but what lights there are are minimal, providing only the dimmest illumination. Enough to vaguely make out what lies at the bottom of my backpack.
It’s as though I’ve stepped back in time 500 years.
A Dark & Stormy Night in Peru..
And now, at 8PM on a Saturday night, there’s a terrific storm going on that is making this little tin hut simply shake, rattle, & ROLL! Lightning crackles, & the whole room illuminates as though its been electrocuted; the sound of thunder is so loud that it awakens something inside of me: that little kid who should be scared of storms, but she is not ~ secretly, she’s delighted by them. I’m alone in the room because my two female companions (who I’ve also just met) have gone to the “fiesta” along with the rest of our group, which is about 25-strong.
Sometimes when you’re traveling, you encounter people whose personality just rubs you completely the wrong way: that is my current roommate(s). The strong one, the unofficial “leader” of the two, is here to do volunteer work, which is great, of course; but ALL she talks about is how great she is for coming here to do volunteer work! And she has a voice reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher, which is further exacerbated by the fact that she speaks to everyone as if they’re a kindergartner. To put things simply: this chick is bugging the CRAP out of me!!! Good lord. So I opted out of attending the aforementioned fiesta ~ partly because I need a moment alone…but the larger part of me SIMPLY CANNOT handle any more time with these new “roomies.”
And that leaves me alone in the storm, wondering what in God’s name I’m doing in a tiny room across the world, by myself, on an island with no cars, no running water, & highly questionable new roommates, shivering under my covers..??!!
(Author’s Note, Years Later: This whole part of the entry makes me laugh. When solo traveling, sometimes you’ll meet people you LOVE, & instantly click with ~ but the unfortunate truth is, you will probably more often encounter people who annoy the hell out of you! Sad, but so often true. Take heart though: it is these situations that make for the best stories, & that you’ll laugh about years later. For I can still hear that girl’s voice in my head, even now….)
I’m shivering ~ not because it’s terribly cold outside, but because I have the most godawful sunburn on the strangest parts of my body: feet, forearms, hands, shoulder, neck. My feet are so sunburned, it feels as though a million little elves are pricking my feet with little needles. I alternate between feeling cold ~ then wanting to throw off all the heavy alpaca blankets from my aching body. (I think this sunburn is even making me a little loony…?)
Solo Female Travel in Peru
I skipped dinner (potatoes & potato curry soup) because the thought of eating makes me nauseous. And I skipped the fiesta because the thought of smiling & attempting to be nice to the overly-chipper people in my group seems too much to currently bear.
But when you lose something, or miss out on some experience ~ surely, you gain something else.
And what I gained was really my first moment when I felt entirely alone since arriving in Peru nearly two weeks before: in the middle of that island, in a tin-roofed room that echoed perfectly every note of the rain coming down ~ I felt really & truly alone, in a way that felt both exultant & only a little scary. (Author’s Note: I’d spent much of the prior two weeks in Cusco with my good friend Tasha, culminating in our amazing trek to Machu Picchu…which we completed with about 25 people; hence, why I hadn’t felt truly alone yet).
It was the first time all trip that I missed my dog Dylan so much, I could almost feel him curled up in a little black ball beside me.
In Peru, especially if you’re in the big cities or on the “Tourist Circuit,” as I call it (i.e. Machu Picchu, Cusco, Lake Titicaca, Arequipa, etc.), there are very few moments when you are really & truly alone.
In Cusco, fireworks go off at all times of day & night ~ whether it’s 8AM, high-noon, or midnight. As my Spanish teacher says, “Every day is a fiesta in Cusco.” And after being there on & off for over a month, I can tell you: this is 100% true.
Dogs bark. They roam the street in packs, scavenging or just touring local cafes, seeing if perhaps they might get lucky. On crowded buses, you’re elbow-to-elbow with the elderly Peruvian lady with the beautifully-crinkled face, who’s wearing the traditional skirt & tall, Pharrell-looking hat. People nearby speak loudly, rapidly in all languages: French, Spanish, Italian, & others I don’t understand. My ears are assaulted by all the different languages & at some point it all jumbles together into one big, nonsensical foreign mass ~ my brain is tired from trying to comprehend (but not comprehending at all) that it goes into a near-catatonic state, raising a white flag & saying, “Enough!”
That, is Peru.
The Benefits of Taking a Hard Left Turn…
That’s on the tourist track though: there is yet plenty of quiet to be found in Peru, too ~ but you have to seek it out. You have to get off the tourist circuit.
And this is where I differ greatly from my current roommates & most of the people in my current travel group. One Australian guy actually said the following to me, on our boat journey across Lake Titicaca: “You know, in each country, there are only about three or four things you really need to see ~ & then it’s time to move on.”
This statement was so bizarre to me, & one that I so vehemently disagreed with ~ I still remember that conversation today, years later. That’s like saying there are only about three or four things of interest to see in the United States…..or France….or Brazil…..ummmm whaatttt??! These are HUGE countries!! A person like that will never get off the “Tourist Track.” They’re totally fine traveling with a bunch of tourists to all the “popular” sites in any given country, then moving along with these fellow tourists to the next “hot” spot. I don’t know why, but I found this idea just odiously offensive & wrong.
Wrong for me, anyway.
And it established within me a deep desire to move away from the tourist track; to step away from the “expected” route I was supposed to take in Peru, & settle down for awhile in a place that no one at home would ever have heard of. And to hopefully meet locals who were a little more humble than my current travel companions.
(Author’s Note: I took a break in this particular journal entry, & now the second part still takes place at Lake Titicaca, but I’ve moved “off-the-beaten” path, to a phenomenal stone lodge called the Posada Santa Barbara, just outside of Puno, in a small town called Chucuito.)
Off-the-Beaten Path in Peru
And so I’m in a place of quiet now, a place that encourages contemplation & restoration. I’m still perched above Lake Titicaca: but this time, I’m in a wonderful old stone posada (the Spanish word for hotel or inn), windows open, with a stone table under my journal, an extinguished coca tea to my right, & a vista so wide & lovely out the window, I feel like a princess high above in a stone tower. A tower, it turns out, that was made entirely by hand, by the delightful owner of the inn: a man in his 60’s who is so spry & agile, he took me out horseback-riding today on his private steeds (which went well for him….& not so well for me)!
And though I may feel like a princess in a tower: I am not looking to be rescued. Quite the opposite, really. I’m here to be alone, to write, to revel in this particular moment, this beautiful vista that no one else can see right now but me, & to breathe in the smell of juniper as it comes through the window.
Taking a Moment for Yourself
There’s something particular to my personality: if I don’t have at least a moment alone, even if it’s amidst a sea of fun & adventures; if I cannot capture at least a little moment to myself, a moment to exhale & say, “Here I am,” if I can’t do that ~ then in some way, it’s almost like it didn’t happen at all. The memories turn into one big hazy blur. I don’t know if it’s an “introverted” thing, or if it’s the mark of a writer, or a “rugged individualist,” as Americans in particular are known (not so much in Latin culture, for I believe they feel the opposite: if they aren’t experiencing something with other people, it’s almost like it didn’t happen at all). I don’t know exactly what it is that pulls me towards carving out these delicious little time-outs, these delightful moments that are just for me, & me alone. It makes me sad to think that some people may never experience feelings like this, for they are too afraid of being alone.
So many people told me that I “should be afraid to travel to Peru alone,” or anywhere in South America, for that matter. How I wish they could sit beside me in this peaceful, beautiful place; all I see is the countryside spread out before me, waters of the lake in the distance, trees surrounding this stone building, with the family who built it still here & helpful, ready to answer any questions ~ or simply & perhaps best, to just let you be.
For this: the peace, the sense of space, the feeling of being at home in a foreign land ~ this is what I came half-way across the world to see.
Solo Female Travel in Peru
And that is where my journal entry from 2016 ends.
In case you’re wondering, here are some other places in Peru where I felt like I really got off the “tourist track,” & found the tranquility (& lack of tourists) I was looking for: the beautiful grounds of El Albergue Hotel, where my friend & I enjoyed a traditional “Pachamanca” lunch ~ which involves cooking meat & vegetables in the ground! And in Pisac, a lovely town that’s located in the Sacred Valley, near Cusco, I discovered the backside of incredible ruins that rival Machu Picchu (in my opinion); & with far fewer people.
That experience, in particular, gave me that grand sense of discovery that a true traveler is so often searching for.