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Trip Report Peru - so much to see and learn!

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We recently returned from a fantastic trip to the Galapagos and Peru, organized by Nina Fogelman at Ancient Summit (www.ancientsummit.com). Normally we organize our trips ourselves since so much can now be done with the internet, however since it was our first trip to South America, and wanting to make sure we get the most out of our time there, we looked for someone who could give us good advice and take care of the details. Based in Miami, Ancient Summit really specializes in Peru - Nina has lived in Peru, travels there frequently, and has lots of great contacts there - but also organized the Galapagos portion of our vacation as well.

One of the challenges when organizing such a trip is how long it takes to travel between places, how long to spend at each location, and where best to stay. Nina developed our itinerary specifically for us allowing us to visit all the places we had hoped to - the Peruvian Amazon, the villages of the Sacred Valley, Cusco, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca with just the right amount of time in each location. And at each location we were taken care of superbly, no hassles with airports and always exceptional guides. For the most part (other than in the Amazon) we had a personal guide and driver which allowed us to learn a tremendous amount about Peru past and present.

We were in Peru from April 1 to April 15 and found that at this time of year the weather can be variable - its right at the end of the rainy season. However the hotels not overly busy so we had excellent service, and the sites we visited were not overly crowded.

Our trip originated in Toronto, Canada, and all of our flights except from the Ecuador mainland to the Galapagos islands were on LAN Airlines. I was not familiar with LAN which is a network of regional South American Airlines including LAN Chile, LAN Ecuador, LAN Peru and others. It was brought to our attention by Ancient Summit largely because the price for all of our connections to, and within Peru, was far less expensive than any other option. It turns out LAN has a very modern fleet of aircraft and excellent service. The flight from Lima to Toronto was on a Boeing 767 with the best entertainment system I've encountered, and all other flights were on Airbus 319 aircraft.

From the Galapagos we connected to Lima and after an overnight stay at the Costa del Sol Airport Inn (which is right at the airport and very convenient for our purposes) we left early the next morning for Puerto Maldonado and the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica.

The Inkaterra is approximately 45 minutes down the Madre de Dios River, and right beside the Tambopata National Reserve. The Reserva Amazonica is very comfortable and well equipped - and the food is excellent!. The electrical power is provided by an onsite generator, and power is available from about 5:30am to 2pm and from 6pm to 10pm.. There's no air conditioning, all cooling is from ceiling fans (which obviously aren't operational when the power is off) but everything is sufficiently well ventilated, and there's sufficient breeze off the river that its not a problem. All accommodations are individual cabanas, with netted beds, and a lovely sitting area with hammocks. Many of the expeditions start early in the morning, and while the staff will come around to knock on the cabana get you going, the job has usually been done by the wonderful sound of weaver birds.

The Inkaterra provides a wide selection of excursions of varying lengths and always with excellent guides that are included in the price of the stay. Our first excursion was to Lake Sandoval in the Tambopata reserve. This is a fairly lengthy outing - starting with a boat ride up the river for about 20 mins, a 3km hike to the lake, about an hour on the lake in a canoe, 3km hike back to the river, and the boat back downriver to the Inkaterra. This one had to start at 6:30am.... Now, when we were there (April 2 -5) it was the end of the rainy season, and each day had some rain. So the jungle paths were VERY muddy and the hiking was good exercise. Fortunately the hotel provides rubber boots - we saw others on the trail who weren't so well equipped and they had mud up to mid calf. It was a great (though taxing) excursion and we were treated to sightings of butterflies, toucan, the Hoatzin bird, and the Giant River Otter snacking on piranha.

We also took advantage of an excursion to Gamitana Creek, and the canopy walk at the Inkaterra - a series of suspension bridges giving you a great view of the jungle canopy. I'd highly recommend both of these.

From the rainforest we next flew to Cusco where we were met by our local guide, Jimmy, and driver, Roberto, who did an exceptional job of taking care of our travel and "education" over the next 10 days, and took us to the Sol y Luna hotel in Urubamba in the Sacred Valley. The next day We visited the Inca ruins at Pisac, had an excellent Peru lunch at the home of a good friend of Nina and the following day took the train up to Machu Picchu arriving early in the afternoon and staying overnight at the Sanctuary Lodge - which is right at the gates to the site. The Sanctuary Lodge is certainly more expensive that many of the other options, but it is a beautiful hotel with most rooms having patios that overlook the Andes, and a lovely Orchid garden. Because it is right at the entrance to Machu Picchu you can spend time in the late afternoon (it closes at 5pm) when most of the other visitors have left, and of course in the morning you can be first there.

The Machu Picchu site can only be described as spectacular, and the iconic photographs do not do it justice, the magnificence of Andes, the variations in light, and the wispy clouds make it a wonderful experience.

Returning to the Sacred Valley we spent a couple of more nights at the Sol y Luna, relaxing, enjoying the gardens, and taking advantage of the horseback riding available at the hotel. From there we proceded to Cusco, stopping at the Salinaras salt pans and the Moray archeological site. We also had a very special visit to the community of Ubamba near Chinchero where we were treated to a demonstration of local weaving - from the cleaning of the wool using a soap from local plant roots, to dying the wool with dyes from native plants, to hand spinning and weaving it into wonderful patterns - and a visit to the local school. The school is part of a special project of Nina's and provides the local children with a school they can attend in the afternoon after the regular school - kind of an after school school.

Cusco is a great city to walk around, has lots of good restaurants and if you plan on buying some alpaca there are many shops to choose from! We stayed a the Novotel, centrally located near the Plaza d'Armas and constructed in a Spanish colonial style, and visited Sacsayhuaman, Q'enqo (an interesting site believed to have been used for embalming mummies), and Qorikancha, a wonderful mix of Incan and Spanish cultures. For all of these visits it makes a huge difference to have a guide.

From Cusco we were driven by Roberto and Jimmy to Puno on lake Titicaca (12,500ft), a full day drive, stopping at another interesting and less visited Inca site at Raqchi, and enjoying the wonderful scenery (and Alpacas) of the "altoplano" (high plains). At its highest the drive passes 14,250ft. Our stay in Puno was at the Casa Andina Private collection, which has beautiful views of the lake, its own dock for boats to the islands, and even oxygen if you need it. The tour of the lake - Uros islands and Taquile island was delightful including seeing a young Condor waking after a cool night.

Peru is a beautiful country with a wide variety of landscape, climate, and vegetation and a rich history complementing a dynamic contemporary culture that makes it a fascinating place to explore.

For a visual dialog, we've posted some of the vast number of photographs we took...


Peru Part 1 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8koljMwK14

Peru Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtTYnHgA00g

Galapagos - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gm76NBpZbio


They’re particularly good in 720p (HD) mode and full screen….

The pics are also at http://gallery.me.com/knkembry

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