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After leaving Arequipa and the Colca Canyon I headed back to Cusco where I waited for a certain Dane, who had just arrived in South America, to finish the Salkantay Trek. This was the first time in my Peru trip that I spent a whole week in the same city and it was a desperately needed break. However, I spent the entire time doing not much more than working and eating, which can be a dangerous combination.

Without the constant activity of hiking and biking and madwoman sightseeing that had been negating the effects of my increasingly unhealthy diet in Peru, I started to feel like a blob pretty quickly. One day I asked at my hostel where the nicest gym in Cusco was, and they directed me to a basement warehouse with one broken elliptical and some weight machines that felt like they were going to crumble in my hands.

Then came to the rescue. I’ve loved Stand Up Paddleboarding since I first tried it in Hawaii last year, but I haven’t been back on a board since my trip to Florida a few months later. I wouldn’t have imagined the highlands of Peru would be where I’d revive my long lost passion, but duty called — I was doing research for a Men’s Fitness travel section story and this was the perfect addition to the piece.

SUP Cusco was launched just five months ago by owner Alvaro Bedoya, an enthusiastic promoter of the sport. Cusco is known for being an active city, a place you can hike, bike, and raft to your heart’s content. However, SUP Cusco has added an exciting new aquatic option to the sports scene in the city. Originally from Lima, Alvaro is now a passionate resident of Cusco, intent on providing a unique experience to tourists and visiting athletes alike.

Our day started with a scenic drive to Lake Piuray, less than a forty five minute drive from the city center. When we arrived at the lake, I could understand Alvaro’s vision for starting a business here — a flock of birds grazed the top of the serene water, disrupting the reflection of the snow capped mountains in the distance.

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

SUP Cusco offers a variety of tours from fun paddling trips for the first timer to SUP yoga classes to intense fitness training programs that blend crossfit, yoga, and paddling. The latter is used by Peruvian athletes — such as the championship national soccer team — looking to have fun, boost morale, and take advantage of the benefits of training at such high altitude. Did I mention Lake Piuray sits at 12,500 feet/3,800 meters? SUP Cusco claims to be the highest paddling tours in the world — and I don’t think anyone is going to contest that. People skydive from this altitude!

Our own tour was made up of a perfect blend of all three trips.

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

Our quick meditation and yoga warm up was followed by a training session using resistance bands. I’m not overly familiar with resistance bands but was blown away with how, using nothing but our own body weight and some simple bands, we were able to work core, upper and lower strength! Many of the exercises emphasized balance, a crucial element of Stand Up Paddleboarding.

When I felt my sore muscles the next morning, I considered making one of those resistance bands an addition to my usual packing list.

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

When the gym session was over, we struggled our way into our wetsuits and made our way to the water’s edge for one more pre-paddle mini yoga session. I was reminded once again that wetsuits are not made for short people and felt a pang of longing for my Swish Suit, sitting sadly in my closet back in New York. (You guys remember that Meihoukai in Wanderland readers get 10% of all purchases using the discount code “Wanderland,” right?)

If only I had known I’d need a wetsuit for my trip to Peru!

I think one of the hardest parts of the whole day was paddling out through the reeds, algae and plants growing along the shores of the lake. Once we reached open water, we rose from kneeling to standing position, laughing as we almost lost our balance. I wasn’t yet hot from the combination of sun, sweat, and neoprene, and the chilly water did not seem enticing.

Our eventual goal was to make it all the way around the 5km circumference of the lake, but we stopped often to practice different paddle techniques, take yoga breaks, and appreciate the beauty of the colorful painting we seemed to be plopped in.

I was the only one outside the instructors with previous paddling experience, which I would love to say explained the fact that I was the only one who didn’t fall of my board — but I think in reality I was taking the least risks! What can I say, I’m what scuba divers call a warm water wussy.

I’m always amazed by what a fantastic workout Stand Up Paddling is. It looks fairly simple when you’re watching from the shore, but when you’re up on the board? It’s the perfect storm of balance, strength, and cardio — all in low impact form, and basking in the restorative powers of the sun and water. While I paddled, I dreamed up a plan to buy a second hand board to keep at my mom’s house in Martha’s Vineyard and waking up early every morning I’m there to start the day with a SUP session. I can’t think of a better workout for mind and body.

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

I’m not a religious person, but I feel a connection to the water that can almost be described as spiritual. I had been missing the ocean as I traveled through the highlands, and this day on the lake was exactly what I needed. The indigenous Andean people believe in a spirit called Pachamama, or mother earth. I felt her too, on this day.

Photo courtesy of SUP Cusco / Edited by me

I never expected I’d have an aquatic adventure so high in the Andes! What’s the strangest place you’ve worked out?

Tours leave 3-4 times per week from Cusco. Half day paddling trips cost $60USD and include transportation, all equipment, and healthy snacks. A fitness program is $95 USD and includes everything from the paddling tour a fitness circuit and lunch. Contact for more details and for information on races, lake clean up days, and personalized programs! I was a guest of SUP Cusco in order to include them in an upcoming Men’s Fitness article. As always, you receive my thorough and honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.

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43 Comments...
  • Sally
    December 16 2013

    I’ve never tried stand up paddling before, I enjoyed kayaking in the Bay of Islands so this is something I’ll definitely have to try when I get back to NZ, I imagine keeping balance can be quite challenging though!
    Sally recently posted..

    • becky hutner
      December 16 2013

      Ah, this brings back good memories of stand up paddling in Mexico & most recently, the Philippines. I too was surprised by the workout this last time — didn’t feel it in the moment but my legs were sore for 2 days after! I should really do it in my home of California but like you Meihoukai, I am a warm water WUSS!!
      becky hutner recently posted..

      • Meihoukai
        December 17 2013

        Those sound like two dream destinations for SUPing! All that beautiful tropical blue water!

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      It really depends on your board and your body of water! I just went SUPing yesterday in open ocean and it was HARD! Quiet bays or lakes are a better place to start… and ask for a big board πŸ™‚

  • Annie of TravelShus
    December 16 2013

    i would LOVE to do this! looks awesome.
    Annie of TravelShus recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      I wish it was something I could do when I’m in NYC…. but I don’t think I’d want to paddle on the Hudson πŸ™‚

  • Krystle
    December 16 2013

    Hi Meihoukai!
    I feel that same connection to the water. There’s something about it that is so calming. I’m hoping to try SUP in Maui in a few short weeks! πŸ™‚
    Krystle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      That sounds amazing! I wish I had tried it out in Maui… I didn’t get on a board until Kauai, my last stop!

  • Kathryn
    December 16 2013

    The resistance training looks awesome! Keep working on that scheme to score a secondhand paddleboard….

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Tell Miller to keep an eye out for me! I know he loves to bargain hunt…

  • Emily
    December 16 2013

    Ever cool! Maybe we’ll try that out when we’re there! And I love the second last photo πŸ™‚
    Emily recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Definitely give it a try, Emily! It’s blissful.

  • Hogga
    December 16 2013

    i’ve always wanted to try this!

  • Andi
    December 16 2013

    You are amazing for doing this! At 12,000 feet I’d be throwing up!!! I feel a very spiritual connection with the water as well.
    Andi recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Well, I had plenty of time to acclimate, and while the altitude often left me out of breath and panting I never got ill! After hearing so many horror stories I realize I’m a lucky lucky girl!

  • Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    December 16 2013

    Awesome!! Don’t you think you would have been just a little chilly in your shortie?? Now that I have gained the expat 15 and no longer fit in any of my wetsuits, instead of working out (which is really bad after diving…right!) I think I’ll just buy myself a Swish suit that fits for Christmas πŸ˜‰
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Ha, perhaps I would have been a little cold… which is why I need the FULL SWISH TOO! And a sherpa to carry it for me at all times. πŸ™‚

  • Gaelyn
    December 16 2013

    This looks the perfect combination of exercising in beauty. Water brings on such good energy.
    Gaelyn recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Definitely beats staring at the wall of a smelly gym πŸ™‚

  • Erica
    December 16 2013

    SUPing is HARD! I did it when I was in Guatemala (and didn’t manage to fall off!). I felt much more stable on my knees paddling around.
    Erica recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Was that on Lake Atitlan? If so, that sounds dreamy!

      • Erica
        December 17 2013

        Actually on the Rio Dulce. There are hidden coves!
        Erica recently posted..

  • Mindy
    December 17 2013

    Although I hate falling in the water, SUPing will have to be something I try… one day. If I end up trying it Cusco, I’ll have to first recover from the inevitable altitude sickness! πŸ™‚
    Mindy recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      Definitely give yourself a few days of light sightseeing before attempting this one πŸ™‚ Luckily when I first arrived I just had mild-hangover like symptoms for the first 24 hours or so. Then I felt fine — if a little out of breath!

  • Chris
    December 17 2013

    I love this story. It is one of those great, random and unexpected adventures in a wondrous location.

    Perhaps I should forward it on to my cousin for a look? He runs SUPRacer.com πŸ™‚

    I think he’d love to see SUP so high in the Andes!
    Chris recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      I can imagine as a SUP enthusiast he’d love this! I’ll have to check out his site!

  • Jessie Festa
    December 17 2013

    Ah! I love SUP but have never experienced anything quite like this. Am hoping to go back to Peru in the semi-near future. Will add this to my list.

    PS: Come back to NYC! πŸ™‚
    Jessie Festa recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      I’ll be there at the end of March πŸ™‚

  • Steve | Live Smart Not Hard
    December 17 2013

    You’re not kidding on the workout. Just a few minutes is intense!

    • Meihoukai
      December 17 2013

      And the crazy thing is, people make it look so easy!

  • Emily Roth
    December 18 2013

    Wow! You go girl πŸ™‚

    I trip and fall standing on solid ground. Lol

    • Meihoukai
      December 20 2013

      I do too πŸ™‚ Which is what makes the fact that I can SUP all the more miraculous!

  • Monica
    December 18 2013

    Gorgeous pictures! I love standup paddle boarding and was also surprised how hard it is. It’s a good kind of hard though – the kind where you don’t really notice how hard you’re working until you stop (or fall off!)
    Monica recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 20 2013

      Or until you feel your sore muscles the next day!

  • Camels & Chocolate
    December 19 2013

    This looks like the most fun SUP experience ever! I’ve done it several times but always just traditional SUP, no strength training, yoga, etc.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 20 2013

      Definitely try it with the yoga sometime! SUP Yoga is my absolute favorite. It makes the most simple poses a challenge again thanks to the added balance element.

  • TammyOnTheMove
    December 23 2013

    I have never tried stand up paddling, but it looks like great fun. What an unusual idea to combine it with yoga as well. If we settle down in Cuzco for a while I might give it a try.
    TammyOnTheMove recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      December 26 2013

      You definitely should Tammy! And SUP Yoga is definitely gaining popularity around the world but it’s still rare. I’ve seen classes advertised in Hawaii and Florida as well.

  • Daniel Rose
    March 8 2014

    I love this, I have having been SUPin all over Australia and need to include this on my list!
    Thanks again for the info
    Daniel Rose recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      March 8 2014

      This should be on the bucket list of any SUP enthusiast! Thanks for reading, Daniel!

  • I love SUP! This looks like a great spot to go for a spin–such a beautiful area! That’s cool they do a work out before as well–always nice to get warmed up a bit!
    Jenna @ Green Global Travel recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      May 25 2014

      It was, Jenna! And seriously, at 12,500 feet, any and everything feels like an intense workout!