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Trip Report From the Andes to the Jungle

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Travels included Ollantaytambo, Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. I plan to write a trip report, but in meantime, am posting pictures. I'd be happy to answer any questions

http://smu.gs/q3CJ3M

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    Just back from a 2-week trip to Peru with family. Some background: Travel companions included my sister (S), her husband (H), nephew (N) and his buddy (B); ages 25-61. Among the group, we have avid hikers and avid shoppers, street food eaters and foodies—a rather diverse group.

    My nephew is traveling around the world and he wanted us to meet up with him along the way. We originally planned for a trip to Croatia. After setting that itinerary, H suggested we instead go to Machu Pichu. So, it was back to the drawing board. In addition to that change, we had others who committed to join us only to drop out after I'd made reservations and purchased train tickets. Not a fun trip to plan. In the end, we spent 4 nights in Ollantaytambo, 3 in Cusco, 4 in Puerto Maldonado area. I made all arrangements for hotels, air travel, train tickets, and MP tickets. We hired Percy Salas as a guide.

    Day 1, Boston to Ollantaytambo: Left from Boston (note sea level) on 3:00 pm flight and arrived in Cusco 9:30 following morning on a combination of Lan and American Airlines. Two long layovers in Miami and Lima, but not long enough to allow us to go explore either city. We met up with nephew and his buddy in the Lima airport. Nephew was flying to Cusco via Star Peru. Their process requires making a deposit and then full payment at the airport. They would only take cash, no credit cards. Oh, oh..took most of my cash that I had to pay the guide.

    Just getting off plane in Cusco and walking to luggage area I could feel the effects of the altitude. I had a lot of pressure behind my eyes; they felt like they were going to burst. I was very anxious to get out of town. Read here many times not to underestimate the impact. So true.

    Percy was waiting for us in the parking lot with a van and a driver (non English speaking). The driver was to take us to Ollantaytambo with a couple of surprise stops along the way; Percy did not join us. One of the stops was to get cash from the ATM, or so I thought. We drove up to the ATM machine, but instead of going in, the plan was to exchange USD for soles in the street. There were several men hanging out on street carrying wads of cash. That's how you get the best exchange rates. I had no cash to exchange; don't know if I would have taken the risk if I had.

    Another stop was along the road where women were selling their wares, the other was the weaving demonstration near Chinchero. The weavers were fun. We spoke no Spanish, they spoke no English. They showed us how they cleaned, spun, dyed and wove the wool. Then they wanted to sell us things. Unfortunately, we weren't prepared to shop and had to leave with only giving them a small tip. They then dressed us up on their hats and ponchos for picture taking.

    After a 4-hour trek, we made it to our hotel, the El Albergue. The hotel is right at the train station. We had a triple standard room ($108/night) and a double superior ($94/night). The standard faced the train platform and was quite noisy. The double was a very nice room that faced the mountains and the gardens. Although I enjoyed our stay here, I would not recommend it if you can't get an inside room.

    We had lunch at the hotel's restaurant, Cafe Mayu. I had the pesto pasta and it was just okay as was everyone else's meal. We rested till dinner then ate at Heart Cafe where I had my first cup of coca tea, which was weak, but soothing. The Cafe was also just okay. I had a chicken casserole, water and tea for about $9. I found food to be pretty inexpensive. I budgeted $50/day for myself, but never came close to that. Could be the wine bill was pretty curtailed!

    The hotel had a nice breakfast of eggs or pancakes, fresh fruit, toast, granola and yogurt.

    Day 2, Sacred Valley Tour. Percy picked us up at 9 and we returned at 4:30. We started at the Temple of the Sun in Ollanta, then to the salt flats, Moray, the Chinchero church and market. We stopped in town to buy coca leaves. I think they helped, they definitely curbed my appetite. But, then I started having strange numbness in my face and chest. Don't know if it was caused by the coca or the diomax; I quit both.

    I really enjoyed the stop at the Sun Temple, despite the many, many steps. The salt flats were a long ride in on narrow paths with lots of switchbacks. Not sure it was worth it. There was rain off and on all day. We got to the Chincero markets late in the day. It was like no other market I'd ever been to. Other than the local vendors, there was no one else there. The wares, mostly woven goods, were on the ground and covered with tarps. When we arrived, the tarps were removed and everyone was after us to buy things. It was late and the day and we didn't have enough time to shop. Percy was after us to hurry along, otherwise I could have put a big dent in my christmas shopping. My sister thought he hurried us too much, but he said we'd be back at the hotel between 3 and 4 and we were not back until 4:30. I think we just needed more shopping time. The Chinchero market was my favorite and I wish we'd had more time there. No one was hungry during the day and we skipped lunch—I think it was the coca leaves we were all chewing.

    I enjoyed Percy as a guide. Between the 5 of us, all who move at different paces, we asked lots of questions. He had a lot of patience with us. It was obvious he takes great pride in his country and loves sharing its culture and history.

    For dinner, we went to Mayupata. It was pretty good; liked the atmosphere and the food presentation. Over half of their menu consisted of trout dishes and they were out of trout, so menu was pretty limited. I had chicken, coca tea and water; my bill with a tip was about $16.

    Day 3 Machu Pichu. We were on the 6am train up and the 5pm coming back. I think it was a 90 minute train trip and another 30+ minutes to find the buses and get to the site. It was a cloudy, overcast, windy, rainy day. The clouds gave the place a mystical feel. We went without plans for a guide, but one found us at the entrance. He said his English wasn't very good and because he wanted to practice his English, he was offering a special deal of $10 USD per person. We went with him. He was pretty good. We had tickets to climb the mountain (Huyuana??). My sister and I gave it a try. I didn't make it very far before turning around. The guys made it to the top in about an hour. They said it was quite steep and if you missed a step you could have gone over the side.

    Needing a bathroom by this time I went out to the entrance and once sitting down, had no energy to go back in. Later wished I had forced myself back. I thought I read here that there was no place to eat at MP other than the buffet lunch, but there was a snack bar that offered drinks and sandwiches. It wasn't very good and kind of pricey compared to ever other place I'd eaten.

    When the guys got back we headed into Agua Calientes to walk around town and thru the market. I didn't like the town and had no regrets about not spending the night there. We stopped and had a glass of wine at a local restaurant. Since we were early, we tried to get on an earlier train. It was a no go and we hung out and waited at the train station.

    Coming back on the train, we were treated to entertainment in the form of a fashion show and native dancing. It was kind of fun until they wanted to sell us the alpaca items from the show. They were a bit too aggressive and off putting.

    When we got back to town, we gave the Cafe Mayu another try. I had the stuffed chicken in a cream sauce . It was my favorite meal of the trip. The 5 of us ate for $55. Also discovered a Peruvian wine I liked. It was a Tacama, petite verdot. It comes with a black label. A small bottle in restaurant is $15, the same price you can find it for in a store.

    So ends another day. I think I was in bed, sound asleep, every night by 9pm.

    Going to end here for now.

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    I've been looking forward to reading about your trip & seeing your pictures. Looks like a great trip. We're going in May & have contacted Percy but haven't heard from him for over a month so feeling frustrated. Continue your report. I'm trying to learn from everyone's experiences.

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    Hey Jackie,

    Just read through your report and saw your pictures! Thanks for posting this! Right now we are slated to stay overnight in Aguas Calientes and I am wishing we weren't doing that now. I might still try and change it :)

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    Bluesphee, we loved our 2 nights in Aguas Calientes. Just don't hang around the plaza with all the touts. We wandered up and away from there and had fun chatting with the women on the market street about their different fruits and vegetables, and also enjoyed walking from the MP museum back into town.

    Later walked up to the hot pools. they were a disappointment, but the walk there was nice. Of course, we stayed at Sumaq, which provided fabulous meals and service, but even so, AC offers some good dining, and since you really can't do much besides MP, is a nice place to catch your breath.

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    bluesphee-so now you have two opinions about AC. I admit we did not veer much from the plaza area, just went thru the market area and walked the street parallel to the train tracks looking for a place to have a snack/drink. I agree that it you want to be at MP early, it would be best to stay the night before. Even being on the 6:10am train, it was around 8:30 before we went through the gates.

    On another thread, you asked what I would do differently--
    1) Cut 2 nights from Puerto Maldonado and split them between Cusco and Ollayantambo
    2) Carried more cash on me, being sure I had lots of 1 soles coins and small denominations
    3) Shopped more at the Chinchero market
    4) Packed less
    5) Packed the medication inserts for the diomox and antimalaria pills, so that I would know my reactions to them were normal
    6) Brushed up more on my spanish
    7) Spent some time at the gym on the step machine

    Idahospud--I had written to Percy about 2 weeks before we arrived to confirm our plans. When he hadn't responded after more than a week, I wrote again to say I needed a confirmation or I would make other arrangements. I heard back the next day.


    Back to my trip report:

    Day 4. Our last day in Ollayantambo, we hung around town. My nephew and his dad hiked to the top of the mountain with the antenna on it. Along the way, they met sheepherders and the man who maintains the antenna. Nephew said the hike and meeting the local was one of his highlights of the trip. He liked it so much that once we left him, he went back for a couple more days of hiking.

    My sister and I walked up to the center and stopped at Awamaki, the weaving coop. Prices were higher here than elsewhere, but since it was for a good cause, went ahead and made some purchases. Later learned that only a small portion of the funds actually make it back to the communities.

    Sister and her husband are beer snobs, so we scouted out the English Pub. After drinking the one and only brand of beer of Peru, she was excited to find Sam Smith beer and readily shelled out the 29 soles for it.

    We had pizza at pacha mama. It wasn't very good.

    Days 5-8 Cusco. Percy picked us up for transport to Cusco. Along the way, we stopped at the Pisac ruins and market, with lunch in the market. The ruins were at a higher altitude with many steps to the top. I found it more challenging than Machu Pichu, but managed to make it to the top.

    It was Sunday, so the local market was hopping. Sunday is the day the locals bring their produce to market for bartering. It was unique to see the colorful attire and variety of hats women were wearing as well as all the different types of produce on display. The other side of the market looked just like the one at Agua Calientas with the same products and was boring compared to the local side.

    We learned that there are over 1,500 kinds of potatoes. I don't know what they do with them cause except for one meal, french fries were the only kind of potatoes served. There is also many varieties of corn. But, the only time corn was on the menu was in the Pisac market. The kernals are humongous, the taste not so much. Trout is a common menu item here. I ordered it at the market as well as at 2 other restaurants. Each time it tasted very earthy and not what I'm use to. Maybe because it was from a trout farm and not freshly caught?? I gave up on trout after the 3rd time.

    From the market we headed to our B&B in Cusco, Second Home. Its in the San Blas area about a 10-15 minute walk from the Cathedral. Its pluses are that is is clean, spacious, offers a good breakfast, friendly service, and provides transportation to the airport. Negatives are that it is cold, offers no outdoor space and is noisy.

    Next day my sister and I went out with Percy for the half day tour of the City to see the 3 or 4 ruins offered on the multi site tourist ticket. For lunch we went to Pachu Papa. It was totally delightful. We sat outside with an electric heater in front of the brick pizza oven listening to live harp music. We split an avocado appetizer and calzone with a nice glass of wine.

    My brother-in-law spent the day alone exploring the mountains. We later learned he was trying to beat his own personal record for hiking at maximum elevation. This was a little disturbing because he was having difficulty breathing and some chest pain. He went back out on day 2, but this time my nephew went along to keep an eye on him.

    While he's hiking, my sister and I went out shopping for alpaca items. I think we went in every store; favorite one was Kuna. Went to Fallen Angel for lunch. Décor there is very unique, bizarre and gaudy. Food was very good. As we finished eating, she got sick and we went back to B&B for the remainder of the day.

    I would have liked another day in Cusco to try more restaurants and visit the sites in square. But, we were off to Puerto Maldonado in the am.

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    A tip for anyone visiting Pisac. You should arrange to be driven to the top (this is where most tours visit) Then you can walk DOWN into town. I wouldn't try to walk UP especially if it is hot (doesn't sound like it was) or if you are recently arrived. You can meet up with your guide/driver near the market (it used to be before the flood that they congregate near the bridge).

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    mlgb: Thanks for noticing that picture; it one that had me stop and pause as well. It was pouring when I took it and I worried about the camera getting wet. I was so mesmerized watching him rake over the salt, I stood in the rain snapping pictures.


    Finallly, the last leg, Puerto Maldonado...

    We spent 4 nights here, splitting up after the first 2. The boys and I spent 2 at the Anaconda Lodge and 2 at Posada Amazonas while sister and husband stayed at the Anaconda.

    Trying to decide how many nights to spend in jungle was a major decision in the trip planning. I’d been to the jungles in Belize and Costa Rica and they are some of my most adventurous experiences. The decision to split into 2 lodges was due to budget constraints and excellent reviews in Trip Advisor for the Anaconda. It was the first time I was disappointed by TA reviews.

    I’m just going to skip ahead to my stay at Posada Amazonas. I loved it. It was very relaxing and the activities were like meditation sessions—lots of sitting/standing to watch watch the trees and look for animals, birds. Our group consisted of 10 people. The average age was under 30 and I was the oldest person in the group. We got picked up at their office for a 45 minute bus ride to the Tambopata River and then a 45 minute boat ride to the Lodge. The boat ride was so enjoyable. Lunch was served on the boat, rice wrapped in a leaf. We were given a short rest to find our rooms and then brought back together for a short hike to the canopy tower. It is 120 feet high and anchored to trees. It was pretty shaky and I tried very hard not to think of it falling over with all of us on it. At the top you can see the emerging tree growth. The sun was setting and it was pretty cool. We walked back at night, but other than a taruntala, didn’t see much.

    Overall, the food was just okay. Some meals were too spicy I couldn’t even eat them. The dining room was huge, but there were only two groups of people there, ours and a large party from Copenhagen. The bedrooms were interesting. One wall is wide open (screenless) and there is no ceiling over each room, just a thatch type ceiling over all the rooms, so you hear everything. There is no electricity in rooms, but there is hot water. They do light kerosene lamps in the hallway. When the lights went out it was pitch black. Should also mention that they don’t allow you to go out hiking on the trails alone; you must be with a guide at all times. Other miscellaneous info--I never saw any mosquitos, they don't take credit cards at bar or in gift shop, there are lots of steps to negotiate between the river and the activities, and I thought the 3 day/2 night package was just about right.

    Second day there was a 4am wakeup call to go to Oxbow lake and watch for birds and animals. The reason for the early wakeup call was because that’s when the animals are out. Getting there was another boat ride, a hike and getting on a “catamaran”. We saw monkeys, giant river otter and different kinds of birds, fished for parana and had the opportunity to eat termites and get stung by fire ants. We got back from there and then took another hike to a clay lick and sat for a long time watching scarlet macaws. Back for lunch and then there was a rousing soccer game between the guests ( the guys from our group of 10) and the staff who were from the native community of Inferno. The staff played fierce and as if they were in an international championship game. The guests looked timid next to them. My nephew thought it was the highlight of the lodge experience.

    After that, we went to visit a shamin. Um…A boat ride and a tour of the garden with an explanation of the different plants, some that treated Parkinson’s, cancer, arthritis, erectile dysfunction…We had samples of the ED and arthritis potions. Learned about the hallucinogenic ceremony they do, but there were no takers for the experience.


    Next morning it was breakfast and time to head back to the airport. While waiting to depart, had an interesting conversation with my nephew. He had cancelled his flight back to Cusco in favor of taking the bus. While staying at the Anaconda, he and his buddy went into town to purchase the bus tickets. They were approached by a very “friendly stranger” who helped them decide which bus company to use and what time to leave. In return for his help, the buddy bought him a beer. In so doing, he put all his money out on the table. The stranger knew exactly how much money they had and then proceeded to continue ordering beers to the point where the boys had no cash left for a taxi requiring that the stranger drive them back to the lodge. While sharing drinks, ALOT of personal information was exchanged including that they were leaving the next day for the Posada Amazonas. In the Posada office the next morning, the stranger showed up, spotted nephew, but did not initiate a conversation, and then walked out placing a phone call. I don’t know if it is paranoia or not, but when I heard the whole story, the hair on my neck went up. All I could picture was a robbery; his parents were thinking worse. Nephew said he worried about it all weekend and had a bad feeling. He decided he would check availability of seats on the Lan flight back. I knew then just how worried he was. Fortunately, there were seats and he arrived safely back in Cusco.

    Getting home was a 36+ hour adventure. Our midnight flight out of Lima was delayed until 8:30 am. Wouldn’t have minded had we known early and had an opportunity to go into the City. At customer service, they gave us the option of going to the Lounge or going to a hotel in the City. We chose the hotel. It was very time consuming to undo our immigration papers, get vouchers and a taxi. Got to hotel at 12:30 and had a 5:00 wake up call. We should have taken the Lounge option.

    I’m still digesting the trip. I most enjoyed the beauty of Ollaytantambo and the peacefulness of Posadas Amazonas.

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    Jackie - thanks for the report.

    We are doing the IT in late December. I noted what you said about having small denominations/coins. We were told the same thing for Cairo but had a heckuva time getting any when we were there. Were small bills/coins hard to come by in Peru?

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    colduphere--you are brave souls doing the IT.

    Small denominations were hard to come by. I didn't see any banks in Ollantatambo and in Cusco, only recall banks of ATM machines without tellers. There are lots of money exchange booths at the Lima airport, you could try getting small denominations there. Or even contact your guide/driver ahead of time to have him/her stop someplace. Our driver stopped in the streets of Cusco for us to exchange USD to soles (by streets, I mean a man standing on the street, not a bank!).

    I found that if I bargained for an item and didn't have correct change, I lost out on the bargain because they weren't giving me the coins back. In one store, I handed them a 20 soles bill for a bottled water and they had to go to another shop for change.

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