Hawaiian Mango Pizza

Over a year ago we took a family trip to Hawaii. We spent a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center and were unable to get tickets to their Luau dinner. Instead we walked around the Hukilau Marketplace and stumbled on Pounders restaurant in Laie, Hawaii. The menu looked good and we were all hungry from walking around all day. I ordered their Hawaiian Mango Pizza and I have been thinking about it ever since. Sweet and salty, creamy and delicious, this Hawaiian Mango Pizza was completely different than any pizza I’ve had before and utterly delicious. I knew I wanted to re-create it when I got home. A year later…I’m still thinking about the pizza from Pounders and finally figured out the perfect combination of flavors and ingredients.

Hawaiian Mango Pizza Ingredients

  • Pizza Dough: This pizza would work well with many pizza dough recipes. I love this sourdough version and this quick and easy version.
  • Mascarpone Cheese: Mascarpone cheese is spread in a layer on top of the pizza dough and gives the whole pizza a nice creamy base.
  • Prosciutto: Prosciutto is torn into small pieces and spread on top of the mascarpone. It bakes up crispy and salty, giving the perfect balance of sweet/salty to this pizza.
  • Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan is sprinkled on top of the mascarpone and prosciutto before the pizza is baked. It bakes up creamy and salty making the perfect pizza layer.
  • Honey: Honey is drizzled over the top of the pizza right after it is pulled out of the pizza oven for a signature sweet/salty flavor.
  • Arugula: Arugula is added to the top of the pizza right after the honey. Arugula adds a bright, tart and peppery flavor that pairs so well with the sweet/salty flavors in this pizza.
  • Fresh Mango: Freshly diced mango is put right on top of the arugula giving the signature flavor in this Hawaiian Mango Pizza
Original Pizza from Pounders Restaurant

Using a Pizza Oven or a Conventional Oven

Pounders restaurant uses a beautiful pizza oven to make their pizzas. For this Hawaiian Mango Pizza Copycat version, the pizza is best made in a pizza oven. I’ve made pizza many times in an Ooni Koda 16 oven. Pizza ovens give the best texture, taste and crispness using the high heat and baking stone of a pizza oven. If you don’t have a pizza oven, you can still make delicious pizza, though the crust won’t be quite the same. Crank your home oven up to the highest temperature it will go (550 Fahrenheit is the highest my oven will go). Place a pizza stone in the oven and let it pre-heat for at least 30-40 minutes. This long pre-heat is crucial to the texture of the pizza dough. Proceed with the recipe as written and bake the pizza in the regular oven for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is puffed up and baked through.

Pick the Perfect Pizza Dough

I am partial to a really good sourdough pizza crust, though it takes some planning ahead. I also love this quick and easy pizza crust that takes about 2 hours start to finish. You could also use this favorite recipe that we’ve used for years before we bought our outdoor pizza oven and it’s another great option for a conventional oven pizza dough. If you want to make it really easy, grab some pizza dough at the store and bake according to the package directions. This recipe makes 1 personal-sized 10 inch pizza. On our family pizza nights the kids almost always choose pepperoni or cheese, and the adults get creative with toppings. If you’d like to make a pizza larger than a one 10 inch pizza, increase the ingredients for the recipe toppings.

Assembling Hawaiian Mango Pizza

Once you’ve got your dough, get to work assembling the ingredients and the pizza. Chop/dice the fresh mango and set it aside. Cut or pull the prosciutto apart into smaller pieces and set aside. Stretch the pizza dough into a 10 inch circle by pulling and stretching it, being careful not to rip the dough. Once the dough is shaped, carefully spread the mascarpone onto the pizza dough. I had to do this part with my fingers to get it completely covered. Don’t worry if it clumps up a bit, just do your best to get it covered as much as possible. Sprinkle on the prosciutto and parmesan and bake the pizza. As soon as it comes out of the oven, drizzle on the honey and top with the arugula and diced mango. Enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

How should I store leftover pizza?

This pizza stores well in ziplock bags or air-tight containers in the refrigerator for a few days.

Can I substitute cream cheese for mascarpone on the pizza?

I have never tried this. Cream cheese has a little more “tangy” flavor than the mascarpone but it may work. The baked mascarpone reminded me a little of brie so I would consider substituting some brie if you don’t have mascarpone.

Can I drizzle honey on top of pizza before baking?

I like drizzling the honey on right after the pizza comes out of the oven. It doesn’t get your pizza oven all sticky and adds the best bit of sweetness to the pizza.

Hawaiian Mango Pizza (Pounders Copycat Recipe)

Hawaiian-style Neapolitan pizza made in an outdoor pizza oven. Mascarpone, parmesan and prosciutto are baked to perfection in a pizza oven. The pizza is drizzled with honey and topped with fresh arugula and mango. Absolutely delicious. This recipe is inspired from the amazing Mango Hawaiian pizza made at Pounders Restaurant in Laie, Hawaii.
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 1 min
Course Main Course
Cuisine Hawaiian
Servings 1 10 inch pizza

Ingredients
  

  • 200 grams homemade pizza dough see recipe notes
  • 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 2 slices prosciutto chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup arugula
  • 1/4 cup mango diced

Instructions
 

  • Preheat a pizza oven to 700-800 degrees (see recipe note about using a regular oven) about 30 minutes before you plan on baking the pizza.
  • Dice a ripe mango into small pieces. Set aside. Chop the prosciutto into small pieces and set aside.
  • Spread a little cornmeal on a wooden cutting board or pizza peel. Stretch the pizza dough out to a 10 inch circle and lay it on the cornmeal.
  • Spread the mascarpone cheese over the dough, covering it completely. You may need to use your fingers to gently spread the cheese over the dough. Be careful not to let the dough tear, but do your best to make sure the mascarpone is covering the majority of the dough.
  • Lay the chopped prosciutto on top of the mascarpone. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Check that the dough is not sticking to the board (this can happen if you don't work quickly enough). If it is sticking, unstick it with your fingers, add a bit of cornmeal if needed and try again.
  • Launch your pizza into the pre-heated pizza oven with a quick thrust forward. Let the pizza cook for about 45 seconds, then using the pizza peel pull the pizza out of the oven, turn it with a fork and return it to the pizza oven for another 30-45 seconds. This ensures that the pizza is cooked on both sides. You can watch a video of this process here.
  • Right after the pizza comes out of the oven, drizzle the honey on top of the warm pizza. Top with arugula and diced mango. Enjoy warm!

Notes

Oven: This pizza recipe works best for a pizza oven. I’ve made pizza many times in an Ooni Koda 16 pizza oven. You will get the best texture, taste and crispness using the high heat and baking stone of a pizza oven. If you don’t have a pizza oven, you can still make good pizza with this recipe. Crank your home oven up to the highest temperature it will go (550 is the temperature I tested it at). Place a pizza stone in the oven and let it pre-heat for at least 30-40 minutes. This long pre-heat is crucial to the texture of the pizza dough. Proceed with the recipe as written and bake the pizza in the regular oven for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is puffed up and baked through.
Dough: I like using this pizza dough recipe. This sourdough version is also delicious. I haven’t tried it with store bought dough, but I’m guessing it would taste delicious too. 
Keyword hawaiian pizza, homemade pizza, mango pizza, mango prosciutto, ooni pizza oven

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a very small amount from qualifying purchases.

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread, like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook or follow me on Pinterest for more baking ideas. Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake.

One response to “Hawaiian Mango Pizza”

  1. Kris Avatar
    Kris

    Amazing! I think I need this in my life! The arugula must really finish it off nicely! 🍕🥭🌱😋

Leave a Reply

Quick Pizza Oven Pizza Dough (Ooni-style)

We love pizza night at our house. When my kids were younger, we often would have Friday night pizza night using this easy recipe. Nowadays we don’t stick to the same schedule, but we still make pizza a couple times a month – at least. When I plan ahead I’ll use my favorite sourdough pizza recipe but sometimes I don’t plan ahead and we are craving pizza…right NOW! This quick pizza oven pizza dough is perfect for those nights that you don’t plan ahead. It can be ready start-to-finish in about 2 hours, with the bulk of that time going to the dough’s first rise.

Quick Pizza Oven Pizza

Two Hour Neapolitan-Style Pizza

This Quick Pizza Oven Pizza Dough is a recipe for Neapolitan-style pizza. It is perfect for baking in an outdoor pizza oven. I use an Ooni Koda 16. Neapolitan pizza comes from Italy and is known for its thin and chewy crust. It bakes at a very high temperature (think 700-800 degrees Fahrenheit) for a short period of time (60-90 seconds). Many Neapolitan pizza oven recipes call for a small amount of yeast and a long rise in the refrigerator before baking in your pizza oven. This long rise time makes for a very flavorful pizza crust and if you have the time, it’s worth it! However, I love this quick and easy pizza recipe that only requires about an hour rise time for when you haven’t planned far enough ahead. This is my go-to quick and easy pizza recipe and I hope you love it as much as we do!

Type 00 Flour in Pizza Dough

I love using my Ooni pizza oven to bake pizza. Ooni’s instructions for the best Neapolitan-style pizza say to use Type 00 flour. Type 00 flour is known for making traditional Neapolitan-style pizza and it gives a crispy, thin crust while being chewy at the same time. In Europe, flour is categorized by how finely ground it is, not by protein content (which is what we use in America to categorize our flour). You can buy Type 00 flour used in Italian pizza crust in some stores (our local Kroger carries it now!) or on Amazon. For this pizza recipe, I highly recommend using Type 00 flour. It’s worth keeping a bag of flour on hand for quick, delicious pizza. If you want to make pizza using regular all purpose or bread flour, I would recommend making this sourdough version instead.

Knead the Quick Pizza Dough

This pizza dough comes together really quickly. Add the warm milk and water to the bowl of a stand mixer (my two favorites linked here and here). Pour in the sugar and yeast. You will smell the yeast start to activate pretty quickly. Add the olive oil and salt. Then turn your mixer on and start adding flour gradually. You are looking for the dough to be tacky but tender and for the dough to move to one side of the mixing bowl. Knead the dough for about 7-8 minutes, adding little bits of flour as necessary. Or you can knead by hand for about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a dishtowel and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size. Waiting for the dough to rise is going to be the longest part of the pizza-making process. If you want to speed up the rise, put the dough in a warm place (I like to turn my oven light on and stick the dough inside the oven–but don’t turn the oven on).

Shaping Pizza Dough Balls

Before you turn the dough out onto a countertop, go ahead and turn your pizza oven on. The pizza oven will take a little while to heat up to 700-800 degrees. I like to turn my pizza oven on before I shape the dough balls. Once the dough has doubled in size, spread a little cornmeal on a baking dish or baking sheet. Dump out the risen dough and separate into equal portions. I like to make smaller, personal-sized pizzas, so I use about about 175 grams per dough ball (it makes an 8-10 inch personal sized pizza). To shape a ball of dough, pick the dough up in your hand and gently pull the dough together as you turn it in your hand, forming a ball. Then take the ball and tightly move it in a circular motion on the countertop to seal the ball. You should be left with a taught, round ball of dough. Put the ball onto the prepared baking sheet to rest.

Watch the video below to see how I pre-shape pizza dough balls

Short Second Pizza Dough Rise

I’m not sure that I can actually call this a “rise,” because it is really more of a rest. Cover the shaped dough balls with a kitchen towel for about 15-20 minutes while you prepare the pizza toppings. This gives the gluten just enough time to rest and relax, which will make the dough much easier to stretch and shape into a circular pizza. The dough balls will puff up just a bit but won’t fully rise. Once the balls have rested for about 15 minutes, begin shaping the pizzas.

Stretching and Assembling Pizza Dough

I use a wooden cutting board to assemble my pizza. Spread a little cornmeal on the bottom of the board. The cornmeal gives just a little friction to the base of the dough to keep it from sticking and helps it “launch” into a pizza oven. Stretch the dough into a circle with your hands and place the stretched dough on top of the cornmeal. Press the pizza into a circular shape and top with pizza sauce, chunks of fresh mozzarella and any other toppings you’d like. It’s best not to overload the pizza with toppings – let the simplicity of the ingredients speak for themselves. Mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil with a bit of olive oil–perfection!

Tips for Baking in an Ooni Pizza Oven (How NOT to burn the pizza dough)

The more you make pizza in a pizza oven, the easier this will become. Before putting your pizza in the pizza oven, double check that your pizza is not sticking to the board (if it is, lightly lift it off and add a little more cornmeal to the bottom), and scoot the pizza toward the end of the board. Launch the pizza with a quick thrust of the board into the pizza oven. Do not stick your fingers into the oven! Have a pizza peel and a fork nearby. Once the pizza has cooked about 45 seconds and starts to look crispy, pull it out with the pizza peel, rotate it 180 degrees (one half turn) with the fork and bake for another 30-45 seconds until the crust is perfect. If your crust starts to burn, turn the oven down a bit AND pull the pizza toward the front of the pizza oven instead of in the back of the oven (back=closer to the flame).

Can I use this dough in a Conventional Oven?

This pizza recipe works best in a pizza oven. I’ve made it many times in an Ooni Koda 16 pizza oven. You will get the best texture, taste and crispness using the high heat and baking stone of a pizza oven. If you don’t have a pizza oven, you can still make good pizza from this recipe, though you may want to check out this one instead. Crank your home oven up to the highest temperature it will go (550 is the temperature I tested it at). Place a pizza stone in the oven and let it pre-heat for at least 30-40 minutes. This long pre-heat is crucial to the texture of the pizza dough. Proceed with the recipe as written and bake the pizza in the regular oven for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is puffed up and baked through.

Quick Pizza Oven Pizza

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I refrigerate pizza dough?

Yes. If you want to make this recipe in the morning for use in the evening, go ahead and make the dough. Stick it in the refrigerator and pull it out to shape it about an hour before you’d like to use it. Alternatively you can make the dough, let it rise, shape the dough balls and then stick the dough balls in the refrigerator to use later in the day. If you want to make this dough a day or two ahead with an overnight, refrigerated rise, decrease the instant yeast in this recipe to about 1 gram (1/3 of a teaspoon).

How should I store leftover pizza?

Place leftover pizza in a ziplock bag or airtight container and place in the refrigerator for a few days. Re-heat before enjoying.

Do I have to use Type 00 flour for the Ooni Pizza Oven?

You don’t have to but I would only use type 00 flour for this recipe. I’ve successfully used bread flour (about 11-12% protein content) in recipes that call for a long and slow fermentation and rise. This sourdough pizza calls for a long rise, high hydration content and sourdough that helps to soften the gluten and produce a light and airy crust that mimics the type 00 flour.

Why do you use cornmeal instead of flour on the bottom of the pizza?

Cornmeal creates a little friction between the bottom of the dough and the board you are assembling your pizza on. This makes it easier to launch the pizza into the Ooni or other pizza oven. If you don’t have cornmeal on hand, you can try using a little extra flour.

Which is better: A Bosch Mixer or KitchenAid Mixer to knead pizza dough?

I love both of these mixers. If you are making a large batch of pizza dough, I would use the Bosch mixer. It has a very powerful motor and can mix large quantities of dough for a long time without over-heating the motor. For smaller batches I use a KitchenAid mixer. I think the clean up is a little easier on a KitchenAid, and it does smaller batches really well. Just make sure to watch that the motor doesn’t overheat–I’ve had mine for 6 years with no issues, but I have burned out a motor or two on a KitchenAid in my lifetime by over-kneading.

Hawaiian Mango Pizza
Find the recipe for this delicious Mango Hawaiian Pizza here

Quick and Easy Pizza Oven Pizza Dough

Pizza night can be any night of the week with this easy Neapolitan style pizza dough recipe, specifically made for your outdoor pizza oven. Chewy, crispy dough with delicious flavor and the whole process start to finish in under 2 hours…that's my kind of pizza night!
Prep Time 1 hr 40 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Course Main Course, pizza
Cuisine American, Italian
Servings 6 8 inch pizzas

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup water (240 grams) warmed to around 95 degrees F
  • 3/4 cup milk (160 grams) warmed to around 95 degrees F
  • 1.5 teaspoons granulated sugar (5 grams)
  • 1 Tablespoon instant yeast (9 grams)
  • 1.5 Tablespoons olive oil (20 grams)
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt (9 grams)
  • 4-4.5 cups Type 00 Flour (670 grams) see recipe notes
  • cornmeal for dusting

Instructions
 

Easy Pizza Oven Pizza Dough

  • To the bowl of a stand mixer, add the warm milk and water. Add the sugar, instant yeast, olive oil and salt. With the dough hook running, gradually add the flour until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. When the dough feels tacky to the touch and not overly sticky, stop adding flour.
  • Mix the dough for 7-8 minutes on low speed until smooth. Alternatively you can knead the dough by hand for 8-10 minutes until smooth. Transfer the dough to a bowl or container. Cover and let rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.

Shaping, Assembling and Baking Pizza in a Pizza Oven

  • Preheat a pizza oven to 700-800 degrees (see recipe note about using a regular oven) at least 30 minutes before baking the pizzas.
  • Spread a light dusting of cornmeal on a baking sheet. Punch down the dough, release from the container and separate into 6 portions, about 175 grams each. Taking one portion at a time, pinch the dough together into a ball shape and drag in a circular motion on your countertop to form a taught, tight ball. Check out this video for a shaping tutorial. Place the ball on the cornmeal dusted baking sheet and repeat with the other pieces of dough. Cover the shaped dough balls with a kitchen towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
  • On a pizza peel or large wooden cutting board, sprinkle cornmeal to dust the board. The cornmeal provides the friction needed to launch the pizza into the pizza oven. Take one piece of dough and stretch it with your hands to form a circle. Place it on top of the cornmeal and continue working it around in a circle until you a 6-8 inch pizza shape.
  • Work quickly to top the pizza with about 2-3 Tablespoons pizza sauce (favorite sauce recipe on this post). Tear mozzarella into pieces and place pieces on top of the pizza dough. Tear the fresh basil and sprinkle with parmesan if desired. Check that the dough is not sticking to the board (this can happen if you don't work quickly enough). If it is sticking, unstick it with your fingers, add a bit of cornmeal if needed and try again.
  • Launch your pizza into the pre-heated pizza oven with a quick thrust forward. Let the pizza cook for about 45 seconds, then using the pizza peel pull the pizza out of the oven, turn it with a fork and return it to the pizza oven for another 30-45 seconds. This ensures that the pizza is cooked on both sides. You can watch a video of this process here.
  • Repeat the process with the rest of your pizza dough, adding whatever toppings you desire and enjoy!

Notes

Type 00 Flour: Most recipes for Neapolitan-style pizza call for special Italian type 00 flour. Italian type 00 flour can difficult to come by in a typical U.S. grocery store but can be easily found on Amazon. I have recently been purchasing this flour (it’s worth the cost for amazing pizza) at my local Kroger, so it is becoming more common in the U.S. 
Oven: This pizza recipe works best in a pizza oven. I’ve made it many times in an Ooni Koda 16 pizza oven. You will get the best texture, taste and crispness using the high heat and baking stone of a pizza oven. If you don’t have a pizza oven, you can still make good pizza from this recipe. Crank your home oven up to the highest temperature it will go (550 is the temperature I tested it at). Place a pizza stone in the oven and let it pre-heat for at least 30-40 minutes. This long pre-heat is crucial to the texture of the pizza dough. Proceed with the recipe as written and bake the pizza in the regular oven for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is puffed up and baked through.
 
Keyword neapolitan style pizza, ooni, ooni dough, ooni koda, ooni pizza oven, pizza dough, pizza oven

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Disclaimer: I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a very small amount from qualifying purchases.

Follow me on Instagram @amybakesbread, like Amy Bakes Bread on Facebook or follow me on Pinterest for more baking ideas. Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake.

One response to “Quick Pizza Oven Pizza Dough (Ooni-style)”

  1. Kris Avatar
    Kris

    I can fortunately attest to the deliciousness of your pizza recipes! Thanks for sharing! 🍕🧀🍅🥫😋

Leave a Reply

8 Days in Peru: A Couple’s Trip

For many years, visiting Machu Picchu in the Andes mountains has been on my bucket list. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve read travel blogs and I’ve always wanted to go. With the events of the world the past two years, we are just now feeling comfortable to travel internationally again with vaccines available and as we watched the COVID case numbers decrease. Thanks to some awesome grandparents who came and helped with our kids, we were able to make this incredible couples trip to Peru happen. This post is all about the eight days we spent traveling in Peru and details our tips, tricks and favorite sites.

Wet Season or Dry Season?

When researching Machu Picchu, many websites talk about the wet and dry season in Peru. Wet season is typically November to March which is actually Peruvian summer. This means you can plan to expect intermittent rain showers and warmer weather (most days averaged from 50-70 degrees depending on our elevation). Dry season is typically from April to October with cooler, though still moderate, temperatures. Machu Picchu is open year round, but the Inca Trail closes during the month of February, so if you want to hike the trail, plan ahead. We arrived in Peru the last few days of February, acclimated to the elevation for a few days and hiked the Inca Trail on March 1st, the day it opened. We were one of only 4 small groups hiking the Inca Trail that day. It was incredible!

Sun Gate Tours

After purchasing our tickets to Lima (I like using Scott’s Cheap Flights—the free version for cheap airfare combined with Google Flights), I researched where we would want to go and what things we’d want to do. I found some amazing hotels but was having difficulty figuring out how to get from point A to point B over the course of our trip. Enter Sun Gate Tours! Initially I was planning to use them only for the Inca Trail portion of our trip but after seeing how accommodating, quick to respond and helpful they were, I asked them to quote us the entire trip. Sun Gate Tours gave us a reasonable price for a private 8 day tour of Peru with all transfers, admissions and some food included. They would have happily booked us hotels as well, but I was a little particular about our hotels and am so glad I was. Their tour guides always showed up 10-15 minutes early. They took very good care of us with safety precautions and were constantly checking in with us on how we were enjoying the trip. They booked us the best of the best: from picking the best side of the train to sit on to making sure we had delicious boxed lunches for all our excursions. The combination of Sun Gate Tours and the hotels we booked made this vacation amazing.

Our Itinerary

  • Day 1: Depart Kentucky. Flight to Atlanta. Overnight flight to Lima, arrive around 5 AM.
    • Airport Tip: If you are planning a domestic connection from Lima, give yourself plenty of time to get through customs at the airport. We landed in Lima shortly after the airport opened and it still took us 1 1/2 – 2 hours to clear customs with many flights arriving at the same time (very long lines)!
  • Day 2: Flight from Lima to Cusco. Check in to hotel and walking tour of Cusco.
    • Tip: We booked our flight from Lima to Cusco ourselves with LATAM Airlines. Give yourself plenty of time in the airport to get in between flights.
  • Day 3: Tour of the Sacred Valley: Pisaq, Lunch, Ollantaytambo
  • Day 4: ATV adventure to Moray ruins and Maras Salt Mines
    • Tip: Wear sunscreen on all exposed skin–even on your hands! We put sunscreen on our face and neck and wore long sleeves, but forgot that the tops of our hands were exposed while on our ATV adventure. With the high elevation, you will get sunburned with much shorter exposure time.
  • Day 5: Train to Km 104 and hike on the “short” (one-day) Inca Trail into Machu Picchu
    • Tip: Wear hiking boots (my favorite for my sensitive feet/heels) here and use a walking stick! Ask your guide if they will provide one for you. If not, bring one. It was invaluable to us on the rocky terrain. I cannot stress enough how helpful it was for getting up and down the terrain especially in some areas that were wet and slippery. Our guide Richard had collapsible versions for us that were very light but sturdy.
  • Day 6: Tour of Machu Picchu, Train/bus back to Cusco
    • Tip: Pack ponchos! The weather can be unpredictable and it was nice to have the ponchos when we needed them. We had rain jackets but the ponchos helped even more, especially to cover our backpacks during rainy periods.
  • Day 7: Hiking Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain
    • Tip: This excursion overall was about 10 hours long, with 3.5-4 hours one way by car. If it’s raining, the colors may not be as vibrant. On the city outskirts as you leave Cusco you will pass an area with a lot of local bakeries. Be on the lookout and ask your guide to stop and grab some fresh bread if you’d like.
  • Day 8: Tourist Bus from Cusco to Puno
    • Tip: Hopefully as tourism increases, the train will begin running again from Cusco to Puno. You also have the option of flying.
  • Day 9: Tour of Lake Titicaca
  • Day 10: Flight back to Lima, overnight in Lima
    • You would probably have enough time to tour Lake Titicaca and still take an evening flight back to Lima on the same day. I would check that out if I was looking to save a day. The airport is located in Juliaca (about an hour outside of Puno).
  • Day 11: Morning flight back home from Lima to Kentucky via Atlanta

Hotels

I typically prefer booking hotels on our own. This way we can get the location and amenities that are important to us. We stayed at one hotel booked through the tour company and while it was totally adequate, it didn’t compare to the hotels we picked ourselves. If you use a service to book your trip, like we did, they will provide you with hotels they use and pricing. We preferred to pay a little bit more for nicer hotels because this was a couples trip. Being able to come back to beautiful accommodations after long days of site seeing and hiking were worth a little bit extra money to us. Below are our favorite hotels from the trip:

  • Cusco Hotel Antigua Casona San Blas: This hotel was the perfect location right in the older part of Cusco. Rooms were very clean, the courtyard beautiful and the service was top notch. The hotel supplied filtered water in jugs in the bathrooms to brush teeth with and drink as well as filtered water in the lobby to fill up water bottles. They also held our luggage for us when we hiked on the Inca Trail. Breakfast was delicious (more on the hotel restaurant below), and we reserved the spa one night for a massage, which was incredible.
  • Ollantaytambo: Las Qolqas Eco Resort: Another absolutely amazing hotel, nestled right into the Andes Mountains. Located about 10 minutes outside of Ollantaytambo, this resort is picture perfect and has incredible gardens. The service was once again amazing and the location could not be beat. We enjoyed meals made from their gardens, beautiful views, a wood burning stove to keep us warm at night as well as a beautiful spa. I highly, highly recommend this little piece of paradise! Note: Wifi was only available in the lobby of this hotel.
  • Lima: Wyndham Costa Del Sol Lima Airport: This airport hotel was nice, but the real reason it is listed here is the location. It is literally steps away from the airport, which makes it very easy if you have an early morning flight or if you get in late. We went when it was not crowded, but I’ve read to book this early during busy seasons because it fills up quickly.
The hotel is literally across the street from the airport.

Note: The hotel we stayed at in Puno was not our favorite. We stayed outside of the city a bit and would have preferred staying in the city.

Favorite Eats

All the food we ate in Peru was delicious. We love trying local food and though we never ate “cuy” or guinea pig, a specialty in Peru, we still ate a lot of local food. Our favorites were lomo saltado, chicken in a yellow sauce and stuffed peppers. Our absolute favorite restaurant we ate at was in Cusco. Piedra & Sal was the in-house restaurant at our hotel, and we highly recommend eating there, even if you don’t stay at the hotel. Everything we ate was incredible. We are still dreaming about the lomo saltado and their amazing house-made pasta. We also enjoyed a few delicious meals in Ollantayambo at our hotel there. All of the food was made fresh using produce from their gardens and it was delicious.

One word of caution: Be careful eating anything that has been washed in tap water (potentially lettuce/other fruits and vegetables). Most of our hotels had water filtration systems but some did not. I found out the hard way about this at the end of our trip when I thought the lettuce in my sandwich would be okay to eat. It was not and I ended up with food poisoning the night before we were leaving.

Elevation

This is the most common question we got asked, “How was the elevation?” The elevation is manageable. Cusco is actually higher than the Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu, so it is recommended to arrive 2-3 days before going to Machu Picchu so you can acclimate to the elevation. I had a dull headache for the first two days that went away with some ibuprofen/tylenol but after that was fine. My husband drank the coca tea that they offer everywhere and said that he thought it helped him. All in all, I would recommend spending a couple days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley to help acclimate yourself before hiking on the Inca Trail. The highest point we reached on our trip was 16,000 feet at Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain. We planned this toward the end of our trip so the elevation change wasn’t as difficult, but we took the hike nice and slow.

Don’t Miss This On Your Trip to Peru

We booked all of these “excursions” with Sun Gate Tours. They took us on a private tour; just us, our guide and a driver to all of these sites. Sun Gate Tours will plan exactly what you want your vacation to be and give a reasonable price.

  • Cusco City Tour: This was a great introduction to Peru, the Incas and the Andes mountain region. We visited Qorikancha, a local market (my favorite) and the Sacsayhuaman ruins. Our driver would drop us off, we would walk for a bit with our guide and then get picked up and taken to the next location of the tour.
  • Sacred Valley Tour: We drove from Cusco about an hour down into the Sacred Valley (about 1,000 feet lower than Cusco in elevation) heading toward Ollantaytambo. On our way we stopped for a breathtaking small hike in Pisaq. You can just walk around the site or you can do a small hike from here. We thought the hike was definitely worth it with beautiful views and it helped prepare us a bit for the Inca Trail we would be hiking a few days later. After Pisaq we had a delicious lunch (included in our tour) and then drove the rest of the way to the ruins at Ollantaytambo. The driving time from Cusco to Ollantaytambo was about 2 hours. The Incan ruins and terraces were worth the climb, and we ended our tour in Ollantaytambo.
  • ATV Tour to Moray/Maras Salt Mines: We took this excursion, also booked through Sun Gate Tours. We were picked up from our hotel and drove about 45 minutes away to get on the ATVs. We rode through beautiful fields to the ruins at Moray. Make sure to use sunscreen especially on sunny days, even on your hands (or wear gloves). After the ATV ride, we were driven to the local salt mines and enjoyed learning all about the history of these unique mines. We had such a fun day and would highly recommend adding this to your trip if you have an extra day on your itinerary.
  • Inca Trail One-Day Hike: We woke up early, met a car (all arranged by Sun Gate Tours) who took us to the train station in Ollantaytambo and transferred our luggage back to Cusco. We carried with us all of our things for the 12 kilometer hike and an overnight in Aguas Calientes. After about a 1.5 hour train ride we got off at Kilometer 104 and met our guide (tell the conductor you are getting off at KM 104 and they will help you to not miss it). We spent the whole day hiking up stone paths built by the Incas into the mountain. We hiked through waterfalls and the incredible ruins of Winay Wayna until we reached the Sun Gate, from which we could see beautiful views of Machu Picchu. The hike ended by walking down into Machu Picchu shortly before it closed and taking a bus down to the city of Aguas Calientes, the city closest to Machu Picchu. One of the benefits of this hike is we had the opportunity to visit Machu Picchu twice–when we arrived directly from the trail (close to the site closing time), and then our ticket was valid for the next day to tour the whole archeological site. The short Inca trail was a difficult but very rewarding hike, especially with the higher elevation. We were glad we did not bring kids (teenagers could probably do it) but we were so grateful we did it!
    • Tips: I highly recommend wearing hiking boots (these were wonderful for sensitive feet). They saved my ankles multiple times on this hike! A hiking stick was also invaluable (our guide brought them for us, check with your guide or bring your own). We also liked these ponchos as we experienced a little rain on the trail.
  • Machu Picchu: Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the world for a reason! It was absolutely breathtaking. We took a bus from Aguas Calientes back up the mountain to the entry point. You are required to have a guide take you through Machu Picchu. You can find a guide in the city, but we had our awesome guide Richard from Sun Gate Tours. When you arrive you can only enter once (and bathrooms are OUTSIDE the entrance, so be sure to go to the bathroom before entering). It used to be that you could walk wherever you wanted around Machu Picchu. Due to COVID, different paths have been organized to reduce crowding. You now choose a path you’d like to follow (the guides know) and take time walking around on your path. You are not supposed to backtrack on your path. We enjoyed gorgeous views and learning more about the history of such an amazing place. You can also choose to hike up Wayna Picchu directly from Machu Picchu, if tickets are available. We skipped this and just enjoyed a leisurely visit. After our tour, we took the bus back down the mountain, ate lunch and then took the train to Ollantaytambo and a bus back to Cusco. It took us at least 4 hours to get from Machu Picchu back to Cusco. During the dry season the train usually runs from Machu Picchu all the way to Cusco. During the wet season the train only runs to Ollantaytambo and a bus shuttles you the rest of the way.
  • Tip: We rode on the Peru Rail expedition train and on the Vistadome train. The Vistadome train had a “show” specifically for tourists and souvenirs for tourists to buy. In non-Covid times I think they have food too. The windows are a little bigger on the Vistadome train but overall we preferred the expedition train and wouldn’t choose to pay extra for Vistadome.
  • Palcoyo Rainbow Mountain: Talk about a highlight! This is an all-day excursion from Cusco. We left early in the morning, were provided a box lunch and drove about 4 hours to Palcoyo. The last hour of the drive was beautiful going through the Andes Mountains and seeing hundreds of alpaca and local farming communities built into terraces on the mountainsides. Once we arrived, we had a gentle hike (much easier than the Inca Trail hike, though the elevation was much higher about 16,000 feet) to see a beautiful range of colorful mountains. We hiked on an overcast day, but the colors were still stunning. This area is not yet very built up with tourists, but we expect it will become very popular with its sheer beauty and relative ease of the hike. It was cold at this high elevation, so it is helpful to bring gloves and layers as well as water for this hike. In total we spent about 2 hours at Palcoyo before returning back to Cusco. On our drive home, our guide had us stop and check out the local baking area of Cusco. It was fun to see how much of the bread in the region is made.
  • Tourist Bus to Lake Titicaca: I don’t think this is a necessity, but it was a convenient and interesting way to get from Cusco to Puno. We did not have the option of taking a train, and we preferred seeing more of the country instead of flying, so we choose to take the tourist bus. The sites were interesting, but nothing i would go out of my way to see. It included lunch and it was a comfortable ride. The bus goes both directions: Cusco to Puno and back. We only used it one way and would recommend it as a good option instead of flying. However if we had the option to take the train, we probably would have.
  • Lake Titicaca: Lake Titicaca is the world’s highest navigable lake (elevation of 12,500 feet) and is shared by Peru and Bolivia. It is right near the city, Puno with Juliaca being the closest airport in Peru. Lake Titicaca is home to the Uru who live on floating islands. You can choose to stay on the floating islands or just visit them. We enjoyed a day trip boat tour where we learned about their way of life and how they build and maintain the floating islands. We then took a boat ride to Taquile island where we learned about a whole different group of people, walked along the beautiful island streets and watched people celebrating Carnaval. We also enjoyed a traditional lunch with beautiful views of the lake. Because we happened to be visiting over the Carnaval holiday we got to witness the local festivities including parades throughout the town. This tour was unique and a must-do when visiting Puno. Once again, we booked with Sun Gate Tours. If you’ve learned anything from this post, it’s that we were blown away with our tour company: Sun Gate Tours! One of the best tour companies we’ve ever worked with.