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Trip Report Trip Report-Peru-Ayni Peru-Amazing Experience!

Hi everyone! My husband and I have returned from a three week trip in Peru with Ayni Peru (http://www.ayni-peru.com/ ), and had an amazing time. Many of the ideas for our itinerary came from this forum, so I wanted to post a little information about how it all worked out.

We visited Lima, Nazca, Arequipa, the Colca Canyon, Lake Titicaca, Cuzco (where we did a trek), Machu Picchu and ended in the Amazon (Tambopata). Ayni Peru was great throughout the planning process, and allowed us to choose the exact itinerary, tours and hotels. This was important to us, as there were certain places that we really wanted to see and that some other companies I contacted could not include. This was our itinerary:

Day 1: Lima -We took this day to rest and look around a bit. We had a long flight schedule arriving and didn’t want to de exhausted for our tours. Our hotel in Lima was Second Home Peru, and we were very happy with this choice; great location, pretty room, and a friendly staff.
Day 2: Bus to Nazca, overnight at Oro Viejo hotel. This was a fine hotel for spending a night, but nothing amazing.
Day 3: Flight over Nazca Lines and tour to Chauchilla cemetery. I would recommend visiting the cemetery, it was really interesting, and the flight over the lines is over quickly. We had a late afternoon bus to Arequipa, so it was nice to have something to see during the wait. Bus to Arequipa was long and no super interesting. If I were doing this trip again I would probably look into another option for getting there. Our hotel was Torres de Ugarte, which we loved.
Day 4: In the morning we had a walking tour of the historic area of the city. We had the afternoon free, which was great because Arequipa is a gorgeous city. We had dinner at Qaya, which I recommend.
Day 5: Colca Canyon tour: we appreciated the tour Ayni arranged for us because it was quite a bit different than the other tour groups we saw at different points. Our group size (four people total) was very small compared to the large buses full of tourists. We also got to stop at unique places (we were the only foreigners at some points) and took short hikes to look out points and ruins. Our hotel was Casa de Santiago, which was cute and clean.
Day 6: In the morning we returned to Cruz del Condor before anyone else was there, which was great. We also got to visit the opposite side of the canyon, where most tours don’t go. This is worth the higher fee! After lunch we boarded our bus to Puno. Hotel in Puno was Tierra Viva, which was very nice, but not like the smaller, family-run B&Bs we slept at for most of the trip.
Day 7: Day tour of Taquile & Uros islands. This was a tour I specifically requested because it visits more remote areas of the islands and is timed to avoid most of the crowds. We really enjoyed this tour, and Lake Titicaca was beautiful.
Day 8: We travelled to Cusco on the Andean Express train, which is significantly cheaper in this direction (rather than the reverse). The scenery and the train made for a great experience; really relaxing and a nice change from the buses we used for much of the trip. Our hotel in Cusco was Rumi Punku, which I definitely recommend. The location is right in the historic center, the hotel is lovely, and their breakfasts were yummy.
Day 9: In the morning we had a walking tour of Cusco. San Pedro market was probably the highlight, but the cathedral, Qoricancha and just walking around the old neighborhoods was fascinating. Our guide (who was our guide the entire time in Cusco) was extremely knowledgeable and very sweet.
Day 10: Today we visited the Sacred Valley. We stopped at Saqsayhuaman (recommended) and visited Moray and the Salineras, which are impressive. Instead of returning to Cusco, we spent the night near Urubamba, at Casa Colibri. This was my favorite hotel of the trip, with beautiful grounds and a delicious dinner. We didn’t want to leave! I would probably leave a rest day in the Sacred Valley before our trek if we were doing this again.
Day 11: Departure on the Lares trek to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail was sold out by the time we were ready to settle on our itinerary, so Ayni recommended trekking in Lares instead. I am really thankful for this recommendation! The scenery was gorgeous; snowy peaks and lakes, beautiful stars at night. We also visited a few small villages, which was a great experience. A few parts were challenging, but totally worth it.
Day 12: Lares trek day 2.
Day 13: Lares trek day 3. In the afternoon we travelled by train to Aguas Calientes for a tour of Machu Picchu the next day. Our hotel was La Cabana, which is a nice hotel. In general, the hotels in Aguas Calientes seem to be expensive for what you get, and I couldn’t find an option online that I was excited about.
Day 14: Machu Picchu! We left later in the morning for the ruins, since we had read that there are fewer people in the afternoon. It was still a little crowded, but hopefully better than earlier in the morning. Machu Picchu was beautiful and breathtaking. Even with a lot of other people around it was a special experience. We climbed Machu Picchu Mountain, which I would recommend for anyone that is up for a pretty tough climb. The views are great, and we were happy to have our guide along to point out and explain everything we were seeing. The downside of visiting the ruins later in the day is that we had to take a later train, and the trip back to Cusco is long. We ended up getting to our hotel after 11:00.
Day 15: Free day in Cusco. We slept in, walked around town and did some shopping. We also visited the Inca Museum, which is very interesting.
Day 16: Flight to Puerto Maldonado for 5D/4N stay at Tambopata Research Center. This was an amazing experience! The lodge is remote and rustic, so maybe not a great fit for everyone. However, it was perfect for us. We saw a good variety of animals, the staff was very knowledgeable and the food was delicious. There were several walks each day, and lectures at night.
From Puerto Maldonado we flew to Lima and met our flight home (had to spend several hours in the Lima airport).
Overall, this was among the best travel experiences I have had. Peru is such a diverse and beautiful country, and everyone was extremely kind and helpful. Ayni Peru was great too; we always felt safe and well taken care of, they were responsive to our questions and concerns, and the guides were excellent in each location.

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