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Trip Report Our report from 1 week exploring Cusco, Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu

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Our trip was only 1 week, (Sept 25 - Oct 3, 2007) so we focused on Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and of course, Machu Picchu. We did not hike to MP, we took the train (more about that later).
We are very independent travelers and always go on our own, without guides/drivers. It seems that, for Peru, most people use a driver, so it took a little extra work on my part to arrange this trip.
But we did it on our own and are glad we did! We had a great experience and had no problems.

Some of our favorite photos from this trip can be seen at:

Arrive Lima 10:20pm - night in Lima (Ramada Costa del Sol)
2 nights Cusco (Rumi Punku)
3 nights Ollantaytambo (Pakaritampu)
1 night Cusco (Torre Dorada)
day in Lima - red-eye flight home

I'll put detailed hotel reviews at the end of the report.

On Touring the Sacred Valley with our rental car:
We did indeed rent a car and are glad we did.
However, do make note, that you do NOT need, nor want a car while you are in Cusco. It is very easy to get around on foot or by taxi.
But once you are out of Cusco, touring the Sacred Valley, it is very easy.
When we were ready to leave Cusco we rented from Hertz and picked it up at their location on Avenida del Sol in Cusco, just a short walk south of the plaza, and immediately left for our tour of the Sacred Valley.
Let me say that the first 10-15 minutes of driving, getting out of the city center and on our way to Pisac were a bit stressful. Lots of one way streets without signs to let you know that they ARE one way.
But once we managed to get on the main road out of town we had no problems whatsoever.
There really is only one main road around the Sacred Valley. It is very hard to get lost.
The roads are in pretty good shape, with the exception of some large pot holes, here and there. Take your time, go slowly and enjoy the surroundings.
As for the actual driving, we decided that we actually felt safer in the nice Hyundai Sonata we had (with seatbelts!) than in many of the taxis we saw around the area.
While in Cusco, when we took taxis, it seemed rare to get a car with seatbelts.
And also, you are responsible for you, not someone you don't even know.
As with driving anywhere in the world, you need to use common sense and be extra cautious of other drivers.
Only you can decide if driving yourself is right for you, but after just completing our trip, we are very glad we did!
We returned the car to the Hertz location at the airport in Cusco at no extra charge.

We bought the boleto turistico ticket (Cost 70 soles, about $23) that includes entrance to these sites in Cusco and all thru the Sacred Valley:
-Museo de Arte Monasterio de Santa Catalina - Cusco
-Museo Municipal de Arte Contemporaneo - Cusco
-Museo Historico Regional - Cusco
-Museo de Sitio de Qoricancha - Cusco
-Museo de Arte Popular - Cusco
-Centro Qosqo de Arte Nativo Danzas Folkloricas - Cusco
-Monumento Pachacuteq - Cusco
-Sacsayhuaman - Cusco
-Q'enqo - Cusco
-Pukapukara - 7km north of Cusco
-Tambomachay - 8km north of Cusco
-Chinchero - 30km northwest of Cusco
-Pisac - 32 km north of Cusco
-Ollantaytambo - 97km northwest of Cusco
-Tipon - 23km southeast of Cusco
-Pikillacta - 38km southeast of Cusco

Days 1 & 2
We explored Cusco. It is a beautiful town and very easy to see on foot. Although there are lots of hills and steps and it is at a elevation of around 11,000ft. We did not get altitude sickness, but did have to take a lot of breaks because we would get winded walking up all those stairs. Just go slowly, take it easy and enjoy your surroundings.
Cusco is an amazing city! The Incan walls are so impressive and the architecture is beautiful. We also enjoyed seeing the ruins at Sacsayhuaman.
We found 2 days to be a good amount of time to see the sights.
Highlights were:
Plaza de Armes
La Catedral and Templo de la Compania de Jesus
Temple of the Sun
Walking the streets of Calle Loreto and Hatunrumiyoc to see the finest Incan walls in the city
Central Market
Wandering thru San Blas
Drinking chicha with the locals (chicha is an unusual type of beer made from fermented corn served warm, costs about $0.17 for a huge glass!...look for a pole with a red flag to find where they sell it)
Sacsayhuaman (we took a taxi up and walked the path back down to town).

Day 3
We drove from Cusco to Pisac, along the way stopping at Awana Kancha Exhibition Centre of Textiles and South American Camels.
We really enjoyed this impromptu stop. You get to see and touch alpacas and llamas and they give a tour to show you how they take the wool from the animals, and the steps they take to create various textiles.
Then we continued on to the town of Pisac. It was not a major market day when we went, but there were still plenty of vendors selling their wares. There are a few restaurants here.
We enjoyed wandering thru the streets and after a couple of hours, we drove up to the ruins at Pisac.
The site is huge and can take hours to see it all.
We just went to the lower area (where the Temple of the Sun is) and we hired a guide to explain what we were seeing (25 soles/ $8) and it took about an hour.
Next we stopped in the town of Urubamba to explore. We only spent an hour or 2 here. It was not one of our favorites, as it is not as scenic. We could've skipped it, looking back on it.
We continued on to Ollantaytambo, arriving around 6pm. Checked into our hotel, had dinner in the town and called it a day.

Day 4
Explored Ollantaytambo. We loved this town!!! It is a neat, kind of old-western looking town. Lots of neat streets to wander thru. A quaint little main square. Lots of shops and restaurants. And, of course, the ruins. These ruins are very impressive. We headed here first thing in the morning (before it got too warm in the sun), spent about 2 hours exploring these ruins.
Then spent a wonderful leisurely day exploring the rest of the town.
We even took a walk down to their football field and watched a local game (as it was a Saturday afternoon). We were the only "non-locals" there, but we were welcomed with lots of smiles. We really enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and seeing the people enjoying the fun and food with their families. This is the kind of experience we really enjoy when we travel.
After walking back to the main part of town, we were lucky enough to see a bride waiting outside the main church to start her wedding! This was another great experience as she and her family were gathered right in the street, and there she was in her white gown and veil, looking nervous!
These were two of our fondest memories!
You could certainly see the ruins and this town in less than a day, but we really enjoyed having the time to spend it leisurely. And it is so beautiful here! We were glad we had a whole day. We really loved this town and would highly recommend staying here!

Day 5
The Big Day...Machu Picchu!
I've dreamed of seeing the magnificent place for many years. It did not disappoint!!
We took the 7:05am Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo, arriving in Aguas Calientes about 8:15. Bought our entrance tickets at the INC office near the main square ($40 per person). There are signs at the bus station that say you MUST buy your MP entrance tickets down in town, NOT once you get up to MP!!!!
Got right on a bus at 8:30, no need to reserve ($12 roundtrip per person). Buses leave frequently. It's about a 15 minute ride up and we were thru the entrance gate by 9am. FYI, there are signs that say no plastic water bottles are permitted inside MP (only canteens) but this rule did not appear to be enforced. We saw lots of people with plastic water bottles and we had ours, too.
We did not use a guide. We had The Machu Picchu Guidebook ( by Ruth Wright & Alfredo Zegarra) which we had read before arriving. It was very helpful in explaining the site, but not as helpful as step-by-step walking tour. But, at least, we knew what we were seeing and what each part was used for.

The highlight of our day here was the hike up Huayna Picchu (that's the big peak you see in all the photos)! This was AMAZING and I can't recommend it highly enough! The view from up here is breathtaking! Of course, after you've hiked up that steep climb (it took us 1 hour to go up), you are huffing and puffing:)
Keep in mind, you have to check in to do this hike and last check in is at 1pm. They also only let 400 people per day go, if it's a top priority for you, do it early.
It is very easy as far as the scary factor. It's not death-defying by any means, just steep and hard on your knees, but in some places there are ropes to help pull yourself along. There are never places where you think you will fall off the edge, though.
Once at the top, you will not want to come back down! It's such a great feeling up there! We stayed for about 30 minutes, had a snack, and it took about 40 minutes to come down.
We spent a few hours touring thru the grounds. It is astounding to think about how they built this!
Before we left we spent a good 30 minutes back up the guardhouse staring back down at it and just soaking it all in. Do take the time to do this. It is an amazing, magical, mystical place. To be at 8,000 feet amongst all these mountains, you will marvel at this feat they created. Since it up so high, it is often surrounded by wispy clouds, or even a thin layer of fog, even though it may be sunny, as it was on this day. And I kept telling my husband that it almost seems like you are looking thru a dream. As if, if the clouds or fog disappeared, the whole site would disappear! It just seemed like a it couldn't possibly be real!! But it is!!! Unforgettable!!!!:):):)
Before leaving, make sure to get your passport stamped at the office on the way out! It is a special Machu Picchu stamp and a great one to have in your passport as a souvenir!!
At the end of the day buses are lined up waiting to fill up and take you back down. We hopped on a bus around 3:30, had a pizza back in Aguas calientes and took the 4:45pm Vistadome back to Ollantaytambo.

Day 6
We checked out of our hotel in Ollantaytambo and drove back thru the Sacred Valley towards Cusco.
We stopped at Moray to see the mystical ringed terraces. We got out and walked around for about half an hour. This was interesting, but we could have skipped it. However, the scenery in this area was beautiful. Huge snow-capped mountains in the distance!
Next we stopped at the salt pans in Maras (Salineras de Maras). This was cool!!!!
We'd never seen anything like it! It was one of my husband's favorite parts of the whole trip! Highly recommended! I think it costs only a couple of dollars. There is a snack/gift shop and you can buy some of the salt.
Then we drove thru Chinchero. We did stop, but it was almost like a ghost town. Not a whole lot to see at all. No place to eat.
We continued on to Cusco.
Drove right to our hotel, the Torre Dorada on the outskirts of town, so it was not hard to drive to.
Went back into Cusco for some last minute shopping and dinner and called it a day.

Day 7
Flew Cusco to Lima arriving Lima 1pm.
We stored our luggage at the airport for the day at cost of $17 since it was too early to check our bags as our flight did not depart until after midnight.
We took a taxi into the city ($15) and explored the Centro Historico on foot for a few hours. The main square area is nice with some beautiful buildings, but once outside that area, it kind of goes downhill.
We found the Museum of the Inquisition to be very interesting. It is in a beautiful old mansion and seeing the inside of that is worth the time (plus it is free).
We took a local bus all the way down to Miraflores, which took about 40 minutes, had dinner, then asked the waiter to call us a taxi. Taxi back to the airport also cost about $17.
So, back at the airport means our trip is over.

We found Peru to be a fascinating place. And we only got to scratch the surface. But we enjoyed our week and got to see a lot.
Hope you found this report helpful, if you've indeed gotten this far:).

Here are the reviews of the hotels we stayed in:

Ramada Costa del Sol Lima Airport
We stayed here one night after arriving in Lima at 10:20pm.
We had a flight to Cusco at 9:35 the next morning.
I searched high and low for a convenient inexpensive place to lay our heads that first night. I did NOT want to spend the night in the airport, which seems common. And I didn't want to go all the way into Lima (Miraflores, etc which is a 30-45 minute drive). I heard about the Manhattan hotel only a few minutes from the airport, which was really cheap, but it's reviews were hardly glowing and we didn't feel like dealing with transportation to/from the airport with such a short stay.

I found a rate of $160 US per night (including all taxes and breakfast) from a travel agency called Enjoy Peru. The rate from Ramada directly was much more, around $245. Not sure we would've done it had we not gotten the rate from Enjoy Peru. It was a bit of work going through them, but after a few e-mails they did contact me. Then we had to e-mail copies of our passports and our credit card. The rate was non-refundable, which I don't normally like, but I made an exception here since the alternatives were so limited. It did take about 2 weeks for the whole transaction to occur and get confirmation. It was a bit of a headache, but overall, I think it was worth the savings.

I would highly recommend this hotel!
It was worth it for the sheer convenience.
The hotel is literally right outside the door from baggage claim. We just walked right across the road, right into the lobby. Perfect, easy, especially after having traveled all day! We had our bags, checked into the hotel and were in our room 45 minutes after we landed!

The room was nice, large, well decorated, spotless and quiet. We never had an issue with airplane noise at all. The beds were comfortable. The bathroom was large with a good size tub/shower. The shower had plenty of consistently hot water! The outlet in the bathroom had both 110 and 220 volts.

The included breakfast was great! Lots of selections of fruits, breads, pastries, cereals, hot foods, such as scrambled eggs and meats, and coffee and juices.
There is an internet room with a few computers at no charge.

If you are looking for convenience, THIS IS IT!!
And if you can get the reduced rate, even better!
I highly recommend this hotel!

Rumi Punku
The rate was good ($60 US per night including tax). We actually had a triple room, one double bed and one single bed. We hated the beds. The double bed was as hard as a rock. The single bed was slightly less hard.
The room was a bit cramped. Not a lot of storage area, just a couple of shelves.
The bathroom was a decent size but not much space for toiletries.
I wasn't too pleased with the shower. The water temperature was totally schizophrenic. One minute it was nice and warm, the next it was scalding hot, the next it was ice cold. I did not like using that shower!!
There was a TV in the room.
The outlets were 220 volts, but accepted standard US plugs (no adapter needed). This was true of everyplace we stayed (Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo and even the airports in Cusco and Lima). So if your electronics work on 110/220 (as almost all do), you can leave the adapters at home.

The free airport pickup was a nice touch. There was a woman waiting right outside the baggage claim with a sign with my name on it. She used a taxi and she paid the fare. She asked if we had train tickets to Machu Picchu to pick up (which we did), so she had the driver make a stop at the train station. (We had reservations for the train from Ollantaytambo to MP, so we were not going to be taking the train from Cusco). It was nice to get that out of the way first thing so we didn't have to worry about it.
We just paid the driver 3 soles (less than a dollar) for the stop. He waited for us then we were back on our way to the hotel.

Another nice touch was cocoa tea she gave us as soon as we arrived, which is supposed to help with the altitude. Neither my husband nor I had any problems with altitude sickness. Just out of breath MUCH more rapidly than normally, like after one flight of stairs:)

The hotel had one computer with free internet use, but it hardly ever worked.
We got the impression that the computer had been having problems for a long time and they just didn't seem at all interested in fixing it. So, we didn't get to use that...a disappointment. No wireless in the hotel, or if there was, it didn't reach our room.

The breakfast, which was included, was very basic. A couple of types of fruit and cereal and one type bread. But they did make eggs to order. Good coffee and juice.

We loved the location of the hotel. Very easy walking distance to the Plaza de Armes and San Blas.
When checking out, we were able to hail a cab right outside the hotel easily without having to call in advance.

The setting of the hotel was also very nice and attractive with a central courtyard. However, it was a very noisy hotel. The setup of the courtyard makes it so that you can hear the comings and goings of everyone.
Not to mention that around 6am every morning the housekeepers started their sweeping, mopping, etc...lots of clanging and banging.
And Cuzco has a tradition of shooting fireworks in the evening and early in the morning to celebrate the neighborhood saint. Do not plan on sleeping in while staying here.

If you don't mind the noise, don't need internet, and just want a convenient place to stay cheaply, this might be for you.
But we'd try someplace else next time.

I was really pleased with this hotel!!
From the moment you drive up, it's hard not to ooh and aah!

The setting is spectacular! You are nestled among the mountains, the landscaping is gorgeous and there is a small stream running along the back of the property. There are a few areas to sit outside and enjoy your surroundings.
The hotel is made up of a few separate buildings and they are just beautiful. The decor is also really nice.

There is a restaurant (which we did not eat at) and there is a bar upstairs. (We skipped that also, although a nightly happy hour makes it reasonable during those hours).
There is a nice lounging room with books and a fireplace.
There is also a public TV room. There are no TVs in the rooms.

The people at the reception desk were very friendly, spoke English and were very helpful.
One complaint we had with them was that we asked for a wake-up call at 5am and they didn't call til 5:25. We thought that was pretty unacceptable, but we were using it only as a backup as we had our own alarm. So, if you need to catch your train make sure you have a backup.
The only other complaint we had was their charge to use the internet. There is one computer in the lobby and they charge $1 US for fifteen minutes. This might not sound like a lot, but the going rate all over Peru seemed to be about $1 US per HOUR and we just felt like they should charge what is typical for the area.

The room was very spacious and had great views! There was a safe in the room. The bathroom was nice and the shower was great! Plenty of consistent hot water (always a plus!) Our room had two double beds and they were pretty comfortable (the best of our trip).
The outlets were 220 volts, but accepted standard US plugs (no adapter needed). This was true of everyplace we stayed (Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo and even the airports in Cusco and Lima). So if your electronics work on 110/220 (as almost all do), you can leave the adapters at home.

The location of the hotel is down a road away from town on the way to the train station. It was about a 7 minute walk to town and about a 3 minute walk to the train station.
We had our own rental car and there is a secure parking lot on the premises.
The breakfast was included and was served in the large restaurant. It was a great assortment of fruits, breads, cereals, cold cut and cheese, scrambled eggs and a different meat and vegetable each day. Good juices and coffee.

We paid $94 US including tax.
This is a very nice hotel. I can't say enough about the setting...spectacular!! There is even a llama and an alpaca that live on the grounds!
I would definitely recommend the Pakaritampu.

Torre Dorada
We only stayed here for one night at the very end of our trip to Peru.

We chose it because we were coming from our tour of the Sacred Valley in our rental car and wanted to stay outside the city center. They had one parking spot inside the gate to the property where we parked our car. It was a very easy drive to the Cusco airport and took us about 10 minutes.

This hotel is a great deal at $65US per night including tax, breakfast, and also includes pick up and drop off at the airport and even to/from the city center.

The hotel is only located about 10 minutes drive to the Plaza de Armes in a residential neighborhood. And they really do drive you to town at no charge! We felt a bit guilty about it, but apparently, that's just what they do.
We only had to wait about 5 minutes after telling them we wanted to go into town. Then they gave us a card with their phone number on it, and told us to call when we wanted to be picked up. They picked us up at a spot right at the Plaza de Armes. We had the restaurant call for us at the end of our night when we were ready to be picked up. Allow about 15 minutes or so to be picked up.

The owner Patty speaks English well and was very helpful.
There is a computer in the lobby and they charged 4 soles per day (about $1.30 US)...very reasonable.
However, there was free wi-fi, but the transmitter was on the 3rd floor, and even though our room was on the 3rd floor as well, we found it to be very sporadic.
We just paid the fee and used their computer. We were able to print out our boarding passes for our flight home, which was convenient.

The room was nice. The bed was so-so. Lots of blankets.
There was a safe in the room and decent storage space. There was no TV in the room.

There were 2 complimentary bottles of water in the room. (I assume each day, although not sure because we only stayed one).
The bathroom was a good size with shower (no tub). Good shower!! Lots of consistently hot water!
The outlets were 220 volts, but accepted standard US plugs (no adapter needed). This was true of everyplace we stayed (Lima, Cusco, Ollantaytambo and even the airports in Cusco and Lima). So if your electronics work on 110/220 (as almost all do), you can leave the adapters at home.

The hotel was a bit noisy, as it is basically a house, not a hotel. The walls are thin and the wood floors throughout make it very noisy with people walking through the halls.

The breakfast was good but was served in a very small room. But we got to share a table with fellow travelers and hear their travel stories (always fun!!!)
Lots of great pastries, a couple of cereals, yogurt, bread, fruit and eggs to order. Good coffee and juice.

This is a nice place with friendly, helpful hosts.
If you're reluctant to stay in the city center (although I can see no reason to be), this is a pleasant option.

So, you're finally at the end!
Hope you found some useful information here.

Happy, safe travels!

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