Peru | Machu Picchu: Exploring the Seventh Wonder of the World


It is difficult to describe the amount of excitement I felt when I found out I had the opportunity to visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Machu Picchu is one of those places I had heard about and seen pictures of but never did I imagine getting to explore it for myself. When visiting Peru, it’s nearly impossible to pass up the opportunity of visiting Machu Picchu. After traveling around Cusco and the Sacred Valley, I was ready for my adventure to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

Our trip began in the town of Ollantaytambo where we took a Peru Rail train to the trailhead of our hike to Machu Picchu. While there are tons of great routes to Machu Picchu, we decided to take the Short Inca Trail route (sometimes called the Kilometer 104 hike). To do this route it is very important to book far in advance. A limited amount of tourists are allowed on the trail and hiking passes sell out very quickly. Most groups need to book about 6 months in advance. If all the passes are sold out, it is also possible to book through different tour companies but these tours also tend to fill-up quickly. We decided to use the Sam Travel tour company for our trip that included transportation, accommodation, and several meals. To start the Short Inca Trail, we took the train from Ollantaytambo to the stop for Kilometer 104. From here we began the 8-mile hike towards Machu Picchu.

The Inca Trail was my absolute favorite part of our travels in Peru. This route is the same trail that the Inca used to access Machu Picchu from neighboring towns and the Inca capital, Cusco. We hiked up ancient, carved-stone steps formed centuries ago by travelers with the same destination as us. We gazed across incredible views of valleys and mountains as we hiked along jagged trails weaving through steep peaks. Along the way we passed through Wina Wayna, a smaller yet extraordinary archeological site made up of steep terraces leading up to a sacred temple. The final stop before reaching Machu Picchu is the Sun Gate (Inti punku). As we climbed up Inca stairs using both our hands and feet, my eyes fixated on the view of the valley ahead of us. Standing in these ruins was where I caught my first glance of the seventh wonder of the world.

We walked the remainder of the trail with a full view of Machu Picchu ahead of us. Instead of entering Machu Picchu on the same day that we hiked the Inca trail, we took the bus down to Aguas Calientes for only $12. Aguas Calientes is the central town for tourists traveling to Machu Picchu. Alternative routes include train rides to Aguas Calientes rather than hiking along the Inca Trail. We stayed the night in a cozy hotel called El Santuario in Aguas Calientes and made sure we got good rest before our early wake-up the next day.

The next morning we took the first bus to Machu Picchu. During peak season it’s definitely necessary to get in line as early as possible. It was a rainy day when we visited Machu Picchu but there were still plenty of crowds and over an hour-long line for the bus. After a short bus ride to the entrance of the ruins, we began our tour of Machu Picchu. Exploring this impressive, ancient architecture and learning about the sophisticated culture of the Inca gave me an immense appreciation for the historic civilization that ruled this region in the 15th century.

My group also decided to take the hike to Wayna Picchu, the neighboring mountain to Machu Picchu. This hike was much less busy than Machu Picchu and was certainly memorable. It was only a two-mile hike to the summit of the mountain but it is a very steep climb up high steps carved by the Inca. Those who are afraid of heights may not like this hike very much but the views at the top are undoubtedly worth it. To hike Wayna Picchu you have to buy separate passes far in advance and spots are very limited. Our group took our time to explore the ruins located at the top of the mountain but we started the hike at 10:30am and got back to the buses by 2:00pm.

After an amazing day of touring Machu Picchu, petting llamas roaming amongst the ruins, and climbing ancient steps to the top of a mountain, we took a bus back to Aguas Calientes where we reminisced about the incredible adventures we had and the many memories that would last a life-time.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | Brisas del Titicaca


Music and dancing are integral aspects of culture in Peru. Traditions have been passed on through generations that keep the culture of music and dance alive. Lima is a cultural hub in which people from all across Peru bring their unique traditions with them. In order to experience some of this rich culture, our professors brought us to “Brisas del Titicaca”. This lively center brings together traditions from all across Peru, creating a diverse performance of dance and music.

The artists here were not only extremely skilled but also expressed their passion and pride through their performance. The performers bring the audience through a journey to the various regions of Peru by portraying the folklore dance and music from each location. Every dance was energetic and bold with equally bold costumes and choreography. The audience sang along with popular songs and every dance ended with an exuberant round of applause. A mixture of colorful lights, costumes, movements, and sounds created a lively energy between the performers and audience members.

Not only were we able to enjoy this performance as spectators, we were also encouraged to participate in the dancing. Throughout the show, audience members were invited to enter the stage and dance. I was amazed to see that the majority of audience members eagerly approach the stage every time we were given the opportunity. Dancing with other audience members made the experience all the more immersive as there was no divide between the stage and the audience. This unique performance gave me a glimpse of the depth and diversity that resides within Peru and I hope to continue to learn about the traditions and culture in Peru.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | What to Wear in Lima


Mornings in Lima during the winter are usually crisp and foggy. During the day the temperature ranges from the high 70ºF to the low 50°F. However, the humidity in Lima makes it feel a bit colder than that. For a typical day going to class or walking around Lima, I usually threw on a pair of jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a light sweater, and a warm fleece or light down-jacket. My friends and I walked almost everywhere throughout Lima so I either wore comfortable leather boots, hiking boots, or tennis shoes.

For sight-seeing or excursions, I would fill up a bottle of drinking water at the hotel (you can’t drink tap water in Lima so this helped me save money on bottled water). I brought a thin fanny pack everywhere I went and wore the fanny pack under my clothes. I may have looked like an absolute tourist but it was definitely worth it to feel like my money, passport, phone, and camera where always safe. In addition to the fanny pack, I would bring a small bag to carry things like brochures, maps, and sunglasses. During our program we also often took trips to more remote areas and healthcare centers. For these outings I found it useful to have a small drawstring backpack to carry snacks, water, and a small notebook to take jot down information and reflections. For these locations it was also important to have shoes that I didn’t mind getting dirty and had good traction for walking through muddy areas.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | Introduction to Peruvian Food


For our first group excursion in Lima, our professors decided to take us out to a traditional Peruvian lunch. In Peru, it’s common to eat larger lunches and smaller dinners. Lunch may be a three-course meal with appetizers, a main course, and dessert. I had heard that the food in Peru was amazing but the mouth-watering, jaw dropping, taste-bud loving food that we ate far exceeded my expectations. When we sat down we were immediately served chichi morada: a common drink in Peru that is commonly served warm. Chicha is made from purple corn, lime, cinnamon, clove, pineapple, and sugar. I quickly gulped down several large glasses of this sweet drink and sense then have looked for chicha at every restaurant I go to. After we were served drinks, heaping plates of steaming food were brought out to us. What appeared to be a full meal was actually only the appetizers. Below is a list of all of the incredible appetizers we ate.

  • Anticuchos: Tender cow hearts marinated in vinegar and spices and served with Peruvian yellow corn
  • Causa Rellena de Cangrejo: Yellow potato rolls with avocado, lime, onion, and yellow chili pepper
  • Papa a la Huancaína: A common dish served cold with yellow potatoes, quail eggs, olives, and a popular Huacaína sauce made from ají amarillo paste, various white cheeses, garlic, and milk

Although the appetizers certainly satisfied my hunger, soon after we were brought more heaping plates of food for our main course. Our meal included:

  • Arroz con Pollo: Pulled chicken with cilantro rice, peas, carrots, and bell peppers
  • Lomo Saltado: Strips of steak cooked with grilled peppers and served over yellow potato fries
  • Ají de Gallina: pulled chicken serves with Huacaína sauce, and olives
  • Carapulcra: A modern version of an Incan stew made with tender pork, papa seca (dehydrated potatoes), ají panca, garlic, and cloves

Finally, our meal ended with a grand finale: dessert. Peruvian “dulces” are often very sweet and creamy.. I was overwhelmed by how incredible everything tasted. Here’s a list of some of the desserts we

  • Picarones: Fried dough made from squash and sweet potatoes
  • Leche Asada: Baked milk pudding made from eggs, milk, and vanilla
  • Pan Tres Leche: Sweet, moist, cake made with three types of milk (hence the name) evaporated mile, condensed milk, and heavy cream
  • Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra morada: Sweet, rice pudding served with thick, purple corn pudding
  • Manjar Blanco (Dulce de Leche): A sweet, carmel-like pudding made into a sticky dessert with milk, vanilla, and sugar

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | Packing for Summer Abroad


Helpful Tips:

  • Roll all of your clothing so that it fits neatly into your luggage or buy packing cubes for good organization
  • Put all of your liquids into plastic bags
  • Pack light (most students brought one larger suitcase that they checked and one carryon backpack)
    • Note: for our program we went to Iquitos for a week. It’s helpful to have one smaller duffle bag or suitcase that can be used to pack your things for a week. Bringing a large suitcase or checking a bag is a bit of a hassle for shorter trips.
  • Bring a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and a hairbrush on the plane (it’s a long flight and especially if you’re on a red-eye these items are much appreciated)
  • Don’t forget to download music onto your phone (if you use Spotify this is especially helpful to remember before you leave Wifi)
  • Keep all of your valuables and an extra pair of clothing in your carry-on (incase you loose your luggage)

Fully Disclosed Packing List: (note that I decided to stay for the entire summer in Peru instead of just the length of the program so this list is for 3 months of luggage)

  1. Clothing
    • 3 pairs of jeans
    • 3 pairs of comfortable leggings
    • 1 pair of warm sweatpants
    • 7 long sleeve shirts/light sweaters
    • Several layers of warm jackets: a fleece or light down jacket are the most common layers that students brought
    • 4 t-shirts
    • Hiking pants
    • 2 hiking/workout material tank-tops
    • 1 good layer to keep mosquitos away: a thick flannel or light jean jacket is helpful
    • 1 rain jacket
    • 1 pair of jean shorts
    • Clothing for Iquitos (includes many of the items mentioned above)

I was fortunate enough to spend one week in the Amazon area of Iquitos. During July it is summer in Iquitos which is very hot and humid. Having light linen clothes helps the most with the heat but it’s also important to try to completely cover your skin as much as possible to protect from mosquitos. Most students wore leggings or linen pants, and a long sleeve shirt or flannel when we went into the Amazon. Hats, sunglasses, and a small day-bag for excursions were also very helpful.

  1. Shoes
    • Good walking shoes with traction; the streets in Lima are all polished cement and the morning rain makes the pavement slippery (sounds a little ridiculous but I fall an average of about twice every 4 blocks)
    • Comfortable boots; for going to nicer dinners and cultural events
    • Hiking boots (there are several great hikes nearby Lima and this is especially necessary for Machu Picchu)
  2. Toiletries (a lot of these items can be bought at the stores in Lima in case you forget)
    • Mosquito repellent
    • Anti-itch cream
    • Sunscreen
    • Toothbrush
    • Toothpaste
    • Shampoo/conditioner (the hotel has free shampoo and body soap)
    • Deodorant
    • Body/face wash
    • Medications (remember to bring enough to last the entire trip)
    • Pepto-bismol
    • Lotion
    • GermX
    • Contacts/glasses
    • Electronics
    • A small camera for videos and pictures
    • An adapter for outlets; most outlets work with phone chargers or regular two-prong plugs

When packing for me study abroad trip, I tried my best to make sure I was thinking of all possible scenarios I would be in and all of the different types of places I would need clothes for. Lima also has many shopping malls around Miraflores so if anyone forgot anything it was very easy to buy it in a nearby store. Around Parque Kennedy are several clothing and department stores that had many options for a relatively good price.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | Settling in to a New Home


After a stressful week of finals and many goodbyes to recent graduates, it was definitely as hectic as it was exciting to finally pack my bags and head to the airport for Peru. I arrived 2 hours early for my flight and wore a UCLA t-shirt so that other students in the program could pick me out of the busy LAX crowd. At the gate I soon ran into several of the other students who were on the same flight to Lima as me. After 8 hours of flying we landed in our new home for the month. Customs went quickly and getting our luggage was simple. Just outside of the luggage area we found the desk for the Green Taxi Company that our professors suggested that we use. It was only 100 soles (about $32) to take an hour-long shuttle for 7 students.

As we drove to our hotel we were able to catch our first glimpse of the city. Foggy white skies, sea-side cliffs blanketed in bright green vines, and crisp ocean air greeted us as we weaved through the urban roads. We arrived at our hotel about 5 hours early but they were extremely accommodating and checked us all into our rooms shortly after we arrived. The hot showers were a warm welcome after a long day of travel. Our goals for the first day settling in were to (a) exchange money (b) eat (c) buy large jugs of bottled water and (d) buy SIM cards for our phones.

(a) We immediately found a bank located just across the street from our hotel. Buuut, unfortunately we realized that it was a Sunday and all of the banks were closed. Luckily most restaurants and stores take Visa and Mastercard and we were able to easily exchange money at the ATM the next day.

(b) There were plenty of food options very close to our hotel in the neighborhood Miraflores. We decided to eat at a restaurant near Kennedy Park, about a 20-minute walk from our hotel. Kennedy Park is in the center of Mira Flores and is surrounded by an assortment of cozy coffee shops, lively sports bars, and restaurants with traditional Peruvian food.

(c) As we are Americans whose stomachs can’t handle the tap water, we immediately needed to buy a lot of bottled water. There was a grocery store just across from our hotel where we bought groceries, snacks, and toiletries.

(d) Many students in our group, including myself, decided to buy Peruvian SIM cards so that we could communicate, call Ubers, and use our google maps without Wifi. Buying a SIM card is definitely one of the cheapest options compared to some of the international plans for Verizon and AT&T. The journey to buying a SIM card was a bit of an adventure… After wandering through Lima fora an extended period of time, we finally found a Claro phone store near Kennedy Park where we could buy SIM cards. We all received our Peruvian numbers using a data package that included unlimited Facebook and Whatsapp Messaging along with 4GB of data. All of this cost no more than $10. The address for this phone store is listed below:

LIMA, Av. José Larco 652, Miraflores 18, Perú

The first couple of days in Lima were filled with a lot of wandering, getting lost, meeting new people, learning new social norms, and practicing some rusty Spanish. Despite the small hiccups in navigating a new city, I immediately felt comfortable in the beautiful neighborhood of Miraflores. With the ocean only a 15-minute walk from our hotel, surrounded by countless incredible restaurants, and accompanied by 25 adventurous UCLA students, I felt nothing but excitement for the next 4 weeks living in Lima.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018:

Peru | How I Ended Up in Peru


On the morning of our first day of class, everyone in our program met in the dining area of our hotel to enjoy breakfast together. I sat down to a breakfast of fresh fruit, mango juice, scrambled eggs, french toast, grilled sausage with vegetables, and a large cup of coffee. Our teaching assistants for the class met us in the lobby to show us the direction of the university. Brisk morning dew coated the streets as we made our 15-minute journey to the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, our new campus for the summer.

Our professors greeted us at the doors of the university before giving us an overview of the goals of their courses and the schedule for the next four weeks. Our first course would begin with an introduction to global health concepts, important themes of global health, a brief history of global health, and current strategies and actors in the field. The purpose of this course was to give us the context and language that would allow for a critical analysis of the global health interventions we would be seeing first-hand in Peru. The second course for the summer would focus on how diversity and disparities impact health in a global context. To create an in-depth and meaningful understanding of these topics, our group would also take visits to clinics in Lima and Iquitos. These excursions would allow us to apply what we learned in the classroom to the specific cases of health interventions in Peru.

While my professors explained their intentions for the class, I felt my excitement grow as I began to see how truly unique the opportunity before me was. I chose this program because I felt a need to see exactly what global health meant in action. Before my study abroad experience, I found that reading textbooks and learning about interventions in far-away places never satisfied my curiosity. I couldn’t ignore my desire to experience and see what I was learning about come to life in the real world. When I came across the Summer Travel Study Global Health Program, I immediately saw that this was my opportunity to gain unique and meaningful experiences in the field of global health. This was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

Upon my arrival in Lima, I found that Peru far exceeded my expectations. Lima is rich with color, art, music, dancing, incredible food, and extensive opportunities to learn about the history and culture of this incredible country. I realized that this program was much more than just learning about global health. I was learning about a new culture, discovering new perspectives, and experiencing sights unique to the neighborhoods I was surrounded by. All of this gave breath and depth to the academic terms and themes I was learning about. Global health began to take on a new meaning for me as I conceptualized what it means to bring healthcare to individuals on a global scale.

Mika Nagamoto studied abroad in Lima and Iquitos, Peru, in summer 2018: