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Machu Picchu and Peru

Santo Domingo Priory in Lima
Santo Domingo Priory in Lima
  • Peru was always a dream trip for me.  So when I got the opportunity to go, I jumped at it!  It was every thing I expected, but also so much more.  I traveled for 8 days this December with my brother and have wonderful memories that will hold me until I can go back.

    Departed from Minneapolis at 10 o’clock this morning and arrived in Lima just after midnight. Once we arrived in Lima and went through both customs and immigration we took a taxi to the JW Marriott in Lima which is located in Miraflores area of Lima.  I was surprised there were so many people still out on the streets at one in the morning. We’re too tired to go out but it does appear to be a very lively area of town. Our room 2212 overlooks the ocean and all of the activity of the Malecon across the street.

     The next morning started with a tour of Lima.   We visited the colonial, pre-Incan and also contemporary parts of Lima.   Our tour began with a visit to historic downtown Lima, also known as “the City of the Kings”. Stops included the Main Square of Lima, upon which sits the Government Palace, the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the City Hall; next on the itinerary was a visit to the Santo Domingo Convent.

     Once finished there, it’s off to the modern district of San Isidro where on the itinerary is a tour of Huaca  Huallamarca, a Pre-Incan adobe pyramid; afterwards, we went to Miraflores, a district filled with tourist attractions, and stop off at the “Parque del Amor” (a sort of lover’s lane) and its incredible view of the Pacific Ocean.

    After the tour and a short rest, we explored the shopping center directly across from the hotel.   This oceanfront shopping plaza has many US –based stores and restaurants like Banana Republic, TGI Friday’s and Starbucks.  We found an oceanfront restaurant called Tantas for dinner but took the advice of locals and had a very light dinner so we would acclimate better to the altitude tomorrow.  Here we tried Octopus Wontons and a Chicken spring roll.

     Heading to Sacred Valley –

     It was a very early morning. We left the JW Marriott at 5 AM.  We took a taxi to the airport and checked in for our flight to Cusco.  A few hours later we landed in Cusco and our guide Juan was waiting for us along with our driver.

     

    Our tour started with the drive out of Cusco way up through a mountain pass.  I have to admit the drive made me a bit carsick and on top of that we reached altitude of nearly 13,000 feet.

     

    As we drove into the Sacred Valley, we visited Pisac first.  These ruins and terraces of the Incas are fascinating in their ingenuity and their hard work.

     

    Since it was Sunday we drove to the Pisac market where they have both the touristic market and the local farmers market going on.  Normally it is only a tourist market, but on Sundays the farmers bring their goods into barter.  You should’ve seen the wide variety of fruits and vegetables and corn kernels as big as a quarter.  The local population was there dressed in their traditional costumes living their lives as they have for centuries.

     

    After this stop we drove along the Urumbamba River which is the main river in the Sacred Valley.  Again I felt a little carsick the road is not very good. Our guide took us for lunch at a beautiful spot where they offered a traditional Peruvian dishes. My favorite was fried rice which is similar to a Chinese but crossed with Peruvian flavors and was very good.

     

    After lunch we drove to the town of Ollantaytambo. This ancient city was very lively on a Sunday with locals, a tourist market, and the ruins and terraces here are extraordinary.  I wish we had more time to spend in this town, but we were pretty tired at this point and ready to go to our hotel.  The town had few cars, very hilly, and most buildings were adobe with cobbled streets.  It was a very beautiful place to visit and also the location of the train station for our trip to Machu Picchu a few days later.

     

    It rained a bit while we were visiting these ruins and then we drove to our hotel located about 20 mins away in Yucay.  We checked in at Sonesta Pasada del Inca and got a quick tour of the hotel before we collapsed in our room for a quick nap.  Combination of the early morning start, lots of touring, long car rides and altitude and we were worn out.

     

    This evening we had a drink in the bar then ate dinner at the hotel.  We shared a Caesar salad and Neil ordered beef tenderloin in a Peruvian style and I ordered pasta with prawns in a chili cream sauce.  Both were delicious. But neither of us even got close to finishing our meals.   They say you need to eat lightly when at this altitude and it seems that your appetite goes away a bit too.

     

    Tomorrow is a free day and we plan to relax and enjoy the hotel and the beautiful surroundings. I am noticing that I’m a little short of breath. But haven’t had any major issues with altitude sickness except for a little headache.  Best of all we still had Wi-Fi at the hotel and were able to communicate with our loved ones back home.

     

    We enjoyed a relaxing day at our hotel; in fact we never even left the compound. The breakfast was included which was a lovely buffet and I was impressed to see that after the guests finished eating they invited their staff to come and eat the food that was already prepared.  What a great way to treat their employees and avoid throwing away food!

    The grounds of this hotel are beautiful and many local craftspeople set up shop up to sell their wares. There is a restaurant, coffee stand, and a lobby bar.  The hotel also has plenty of seating areas and lounge areas for guests.  We felt like we were the only ones there during the day as most guests were touring.

     

    They offered a buffet lunch and for dinner we just ate at the bar and shared a couple of sandwiches. We had a Royal burger with a fried egg bacon and cheese and a club sandwich that also had fried egg and bacon. These were delicious sandwiches that really hit the spot.

     

    Although this hotel has zero curb appeal, inside it is beautiful and I will highly recommend it.

     

    Going to Machu Picchu

     

    Another early morning as we departed to our hotel.  We got up at six had a little breakfast at the buffet which was included, then met our transfer at 7:50. I guide was right on time and he, along with the driver, transferred us to the rail station in Ollantaytambo.

     

    Michael was the guide from Lima Tours and he expressed great concern about the amount of luggage I had. He said the train won’t take my luggage to Machu Picchu and asked me who was going to transfer it to Cusco. I had not planned to forward my luggage so had not packed a small day pack to bring with me to Machu Picchu. I asked if there is anyway if I could bring my luggage.  He worked with the rail station and another guide from Lima Tours, and they were able to get the luggage with me on our train for no charge. At one point he said it might cost me $2USD per Kilo ($40 approx.), but again, I wasn’t asked to pay this.

     

    This is good information for future guests that most trains don’t take a lot of luggage. I asked about my return train to Cusco and he joked that the Hiram Bingham doesn’t have limitations you could bring a freezer on board if you wanted to.

     

    Once we arrived at the train station there were many shops and people selling stuff.  We were escorted to a waiting platform and our train arrived about 10 minutes later.   We boarded our Vistadome train at about 8:53 AM and had seats right in the middle on the left side of the car looking forward.    I do believe these are the best seats to have on the train from a Ollantaytambo to Aguascalientes.  We shared the train car with a group traveling from Israel with a guide from Condor Travel.

     

    I took lots of pictures on the train and the scenery was beautiful.  The train went along the Urubamba River which had rapids at some points.  As we traveled along the floor of the Sacred Valley, gorgeous mountains covered by mist and clouds surrounded us.

     

    The train was a little over one hour and very we were served a drink and the small sandwich complimentary.

     

    Once we arrived in Aguascalientes we departed the train and my luggage was waiting for me. We walked through security and both our hotel rep and our tour guide were there to meet us. The hotel then transferred all of our luggage to the hotel and we went directly with the guide into town to board the bus for Machu Picchu.

     

    Our guide took us to the bus stop and made sure that we had the tickets we needed for both the bus and entrance into Machu Picchu. It is very important to know that you need to purchase your tickets for Machu Picchu in town because once you arrive at the entrance you would not be allowed in and there is no way to purchase tickets at that point. We had arranged for our tickets to be purchased ahead of time and they are specific to your name and also to the date you were entering.

     

    There are buses to transfer people back-and-forth from town about every 10 minutes.  You need bus tickets for both the trip up to Machu Picchu and back down. The bus ride takes about 20 minutes and around some pretty rough roads with lots and lots of switch backs going up the mountain.

     

    The scenery was gorgeous on the trip up there and either side of the bus will give you great views as you traverse the switchbacks. Along the road we see where the hiking path crosses and people take steps to walk up the nearly 1000 feet to Machu Picchu.  I was surprised to see how many people hiking this trail instead of taking the bus.

     

    As we arrived at the top, and we disembarked the bus and our guide took us to the entrance to Machu Picchu. Here is the last stop for bathrooms or purchasing water. I think Neil paid one Peruvian Sole to use the bathroom there.

     

    The security at Machu Picchu requires you to show both your passport and your ticket for today’s date.  They do look closely at your passport and the ticket to match the names and the date.  After going through security you can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp.

     

    We walked into the city and up a few steps to get our first glimpse of the ruins of Machu Picchu, which are stunning.  Our guide took us on the route to the left, which is up the mountain towards the Sun gate and Sun Temple and give you the best view of the city. This was a long uphill hike for me. And I had to stop and rest many times along the way. I was exhausted when I got to the top but it was totally worth it.

     

    Our guide Adrial gave us wonderful information along the way and was very supportive even offering to carry my water and letting me use his walking stick.

     

    We took many pictures and the rest of the

    hike was much easier as it was a few steps down and then flat and then a few steps down and then flat and so on.

     

    We learned a lot about the ruins and the people who lived there as well as its rediscovery several times over the last few centuries.   We learned about its orientation to the sun and moon and also the compass.

    It was a beautiful sunny day and I feel so lucky to have been able to experience at all.

     

    Our total time that first day in Machu Picchu was about 2 1/2 hours.   When we returned to the entrance, we had lunch included at the Sanctuary Hotel, which is the only hotel at the entrance to Machu Picchu. This was a very nice buffet but I have to admit the cold beer that we ordered as we sat down with the best beer I’ve ever had after that hike and experience.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and boarded a bus back to town and stopped at our hotel Sumaq on the edge of Aguascalientes.

     

     

    The hotel was waiting for us and had our luggage that we had left with them at the train station. It is a gorgeous five star hotel. The staff was very attentive to us, and welcomed us with cool towels, a welcome drink and lots of information about our stay.

     

    We were shown to our room and took a few hours to relax and look through our pictures and talk about our day at Machu Picchu.

     

    We had dinner at Sumaq as it was also included and was delicious.  I had a veal stew and Neil had I had rainbow trout.  Both meals were fantastic.   This hotel has a spa but there just wasn’t time for us to use it. They also offered us a cooking class. It is too bad we can’t stay here another day.

    After a great night sleep we had an easy start toward day. I got up at seven worked on repacking and around 830 enjoy breakfast buffet at our hotel.  We left our hotel around ten and they held our luggage and transported it all to the train station for us at 5PM that evening to meet our train. We walked into town buy another bottle of water and boarded the buses to Machu Picchu for our second day.

     

    Around 11 AM we departed Aguascalientes for Machu Picchu. We didn’t have a guide for the second day, but we had pre-purchased our tickets and bus tickets to and from the site.   Once we arrived, we used the lower path and went to many sites we had not visited the day before.

     

    This was a more leisurely stroll and it was very quiet and overcast and we found ourselves having many peaceful moments to reconnect with Pacha Mama or Mother Earth.  It was not as crowded and I really enjoyed a second day to go back and take the time to soak it all in.

     

    In total we spent about three more hours including our bus rides to and from the site.  When we returned to Aguascalientes we enjoyed lunch at an outdoor patio. Neil tried the Cuy, guinea pig, and I played it safe with some chicken.  He did give me a taste of the cuy which was much like rabbit or dark meat chicken.

     

    cuy

    Aguascalientes

    The guinea pig is a delicacy in Peru it is roasted on the spit whole and they used a little bit of cheese to cover the face of the guinea pig but the teeth and little claws were still evident. This is not something I feel very comfortable with.

     

    We took a very leisurely afternoon in the town I did a little shopping. We had to kill some time so enjoyed a couple of beers and walked around this town that has no cars only the rail running through it.  All of the workers carried wheelbarrows up and down the steep terrain.

     

    Our train back to Cusco departed at 5:50 PM but we were asked to arrive by 5:20. Our luggage was transported from our hotel to the train station where we picked it up and enjoyed a luxurious waiting area for the Hiram Bingham train.  This train is part of the Orient Express line and the service was impeccable. The train was luxurious it was all inclusive of a seven course meal and beverages including many wines, Pisco sours and more. They had entertainment in the bar car and also in our dining car.

     

    When we arrived in to Poroy station, our van was waiting to take us to our hotel in Cusco. It is about a 20 minute drive and we checked right in to our hotel at the JW Marriott Cusco.

     

    Cusco

     

    JW Marriott Cusco is a gorgeous hotel but it is not cheap. We paid about $30 US per person for breakfast buffet. After breakfast our guide Juan from Condor Travel met us in the hotel lobby.

     

    He was the same guide we had on our full day tour in the Sacred Valley a few days ago. He took us for a tour of the incredible colonial city, whose buildings the Spanish constructed on top of the foundations of Incan palaces. We began at the Korikancha, the Temple of the Sun, to witness the exquisite stonework achieved by the Incas. Next stop was the Main Square for a tour of the Cathedral to see its fabulous wood carvings and impressive altars and the lovely Church of La Compañia de Jesus.  Following that, we went upwards to Sacsayhuaman, a fortress located in a strategic spot high above the city with a view that is absolutely stunning. We also visit some other archaeological complexes such as Kenko and Tambomachay, and you will have a panoramic view of Puca Pucara.

     

     

    After our tour we came back to the hotel and enjoyed a fantastic lunch in the bar. We ordered wonton and bacon wrapped shrimp, Peruvian chicken wings and potatoes with chorizo. The meal was very good.

     

    We were told there was a 6 PM hotel tour to talk about its history so we went down at 5:45 and sat outside in the courtyard.  At 6 o’clock I asked the front desk about the tour and was told that there was no tour today. So we took a tour on our own and went into the basement exhibit archive room where they showed some of the pre-Incan walls found during excavation along with artifacts recovered.

     

    We did a little shopping on the streets nearby and then back to the hotel to enjoyed another Pisco drink at the bar before dinner.  I ordered a organic black quinoa appetizer.  For entrées Neil had a sweet potato ravioli with shrimp and I had a Caesar salad with bacon and egg and cheese.

     

    For our last day in Peru, we had a flight to Lima, a tour of the Larco Museum and the beginning of a long travel day.

    Larco Museum

     

    The Larco Museum in Lima was an impressive history of Incan, Colonial and the pre-Incan civilizations in Peru.  Amazing and informative exhibits and I would highly recommend a stop here.

     

    Our return flight to the USA, departs at 1:45 AM.  We were dropped off at the airport after 9PM, but check in did not start until 10:45 so we had a lot of time to sit around.  After checking in, we went to the VIP lounge, which was so busy, and full of people we barely got a seat.  Our flight boarded after 1AM and I went right to sleep and woke up refreshed in Atlanta.  A few more hours to wait then back home with lots of pictures and amazing memories.

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