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Trip Report We went to Peru and Tipped the Pilot, December 2013

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My husband and I had great trip through Peru and feel we got to see a lot of the country in the 16 days we had.

This was a trip four years in the making. Well, not really. Four years ago we were three weeks from leaving when my husband had a car accident and broke his back. We went to France instead and saved this very active trip for later.

Both then and now we did our planning with Adventure Holidays Peru. Vidal was the contact person both times and he was wonderful to work with. Every single thing about the itinerary went as planned. Every guide/pickup was on time. There was someone to meet us at every drop off or pick up point. It was very relaxing to be taken care of so well.

We had a guide from the company for the Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu portion of the trip and he was exceptional. His name was Hubert and his English was superb (superior to many native English-speakers and lacking any of the idioms of other speakers we encountered on the trip). He was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We truly enjoyed our time with him.

Our itinerary was:
Dec. 13 Flying to Lima
Dec. 14: Arrive Lima ( free day Lima), Hotel: San Agustin Colonial
Dec. 15:Travel Nasca ( the bus takes approx 7 to 8 hrs), Hotel Alegria
Dec. 16: Flight to see Nasca lines and Palpa Lines then a night bus to Arequipa (approx 8 to 9 hrs)
Dec. 17: Arequipa walking tour in the city, Hostal Casa de Megar
Dec. 18, Chivay, Hotel Pozo del Cielo
Dec 19 ,Chivay visit to Cruz del Condor
Dec 20: Chivay trekking in canyon and bus to Puno, Hotel Queqatani
Dec 21 Lake Titicaca (home stay)
Dec 22: Lake Titicaca ( back to Puno)
Dec 23:Tourist bus to Cusco, Hotel Encantada
Dec 24 Walking tour in cusco and free afternoon
Dec 25 tour in the surrondings of cusco visiting tambomachay, quenco, sacsayhuaman
Dec 26 Sacred Valley visiting chinchero, maras moray and Ollantaytambo, Hostal Sauce
Dec 27 full day tour in Machupicchu ON Aguas Calientes Hotel Andina Luxuri
Dec 28 free day to explore machupicchu, and back to cusco by train
Dec 29: Free day in Cusco
Dec 30: Fly back to Lima and Depart from Lima

I'll be back to post highlights from the trip. I am not going to say anything specific here about the hotels as I have already reviewed them on trip advisor under this screen name.

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    Activities

    Nazca Lines - Here's where we tipped the pilot. And the guide. We debated whether to take the time for this site because it is so out of the way. Because we have always found them fascinating, we opted in favor of it and enjoyed ourselves. We flew in a four-seater Cessna on the tour from Alasperuanas that included both the Nazca and Palpa lines (we came all that way, we wanted to see all we could).

    The flight was excellent. The guide made sure to tell us what was coming up, gave clear indications on where to see the formation, and the pilot circled so both sides of the plane had equal views. It was outstanding and we saw each formation clearly. I did get airsick and vomit and the guide was very kind about it. We could each easily see out the other's window so if we knew about circling around so much then we would have asked not to as it was not necessary and and I might have felt better. But I still loved the experience.

    Dunebuggy Tour from Nazca - This was a time-killer tour. Our night bus didn't leave until late and we had the whole afternoon left in Nazca. So we raced around the desert in a dunebuggy with stops to see an Incan aqueduct and Cahuachi pyramid. It was a fun way to spend the afternoon but not something that you'd go out of your way for.

    Monestario Santa Catalina, Arequipa - This convent-city was fascinating. We had never seen anything like this and the guided tour was very informative.

    Juanita Museum, Arequipa - The museum consists only of artifacts found in the sites of the mummies from the area so it is sparse. And the majority of the tour is taken up with a long video explaining how they were found and what their sacrifices meant. It was, nevertheless, interesting and informative. And you can't miss seeing the incredible mummy!

    Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon Skip this if it is low season for condors. We didn't see one. We waited an hour and a half at the site. And it isn't a quick trip to get here. This day would have been better spent for us hiking in the Canyon.

    Hiking in Colca Canyon Completely beautiful. We had a wonderful and peaceful hike with a guide and thoroughly enjoyed it. We wish we had a couple more days so we could have hiked from town to town.

    Lake Titicaca tour of Uros Islands, Amantani, Taquile - This portion was subbed out to Jumbo tours and was mostly excellent. We did a homestay overnight on Amantani and loved it. First stop was Uros Floating Islands which was fascinating. Next we arrived at Amantani and met our host family. They were kind and welcoming and we loved being welcomed to their home. Our "mamas" took care of us for the stay, making sure we got around the island ok for the trek to the Pachamama site and back again. There was also an evening fiesta with music and where we were loaned traditional clothes to wear. It was fun and not as kitschy as I thought it was going to be. All our meals were delicious and vegetarian. The next day we departed Amantani and went to Taquile, which was not really worth the stop. We walked up to the main square and then just waited around there until it was time for lunch. Lunch was not included but we weren't given a choice on where to go (something we dislike and try to avoid as much as possible). The positive was there was an interesting demonstration of local soapmaking and weaving and an explanation of the islanders' traditional clothes. Then we walked back to the boat and returned to Puno. The boat always traveled with excruciating slowness but we have no idea why.

    Chocolate Class, Choco Museo, Cusco/Ollantaytambo - We came upon this store by chance and learned about the classes. We were unable to go to a class in Cusco and thought we might try when we returned at the end of the trip. As it turned out we were able to take the class in Ollantaytambo. We loved it. It was such fun to learn about the process and then engage in it ourselves. We roasted, shelled, and ground the beans. Then the instructor (a delightful university student from France named Charlotte) mixed up different things for us to taste: cacao husk tea, Mexican hot chocolate, and European hot chocolate. We were also able to taste the cacao beans throughout. Finally we molded our own chocolates. The class was 2 hours and we had a fantastic time.

    More details next about our experiences at the Sacred Valley sites...

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    Inca Sites in Cusco: Tambomachay, Quenco, Sacsayhuaman - These are easily accessed from Cusco. We could have probably walked there from our San Blas area hotel, though we didn't. The sites are good precursors to Machu Picchu as you can really get a feel for some different styles of architecture. And Sacsayhuaman is so impressive with its massive stones.

    Moray - These concentric circles of terraces are thought to have been an agricultural science center where the Inca developed newer and stronger strains of crops to adjust them to the high altitude. It's pleasant to walk around and pleasing to view.

    Chinchero - We stopped here mostly to see the local women's cooperative demonstrate weaving. It was a great demo with no pressure to buy afterwards. We actually wanted to make a pretty large purchase but they didn't take credit cards. Not surprising, of course, but disappointing.

    Ollantaytambo This was a great site to climb around and marvel at how the Incas managed to get gigantic stones up sheer mountains. It is a beautiful setting and we had a particularly nice view of the mountains shrouded in mist.

    Machu Picchu - We debated a long time whether to dedicate the time to do the Inca trail. Ultimately, we decided against it for several reasons. First, we weren't sure we were that interested in what everyone we heard from called a pretty personally challenging experience. We attempted Kilimanjaro in 2005 and I had terrible altitude sickness. I just wanted to enjoy the site and we decided we could do plenty of other hiking in the trip (which we did). We were happy with our choice.

    The way we did our trip meant we were totally acclimatized when we got to MAchu Picchu, which was nice because the headaches I had in Chivay before I adjusted were unpleasant. We spend two half days at the site. The first was with Hubert simply walking the main trail through the site itself. He imparted lots of knowledge. The weather was highly changable: misty, then really sunny, and finally rainy. We needed lots of layers, suncreen, hats and raincoats. We had beautiful views of the site throughout the day. The crowds were THICK. We walked to the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge and then walked rather than bussed back down to Aguas Calientes, which made for plenty of physical activity for the day. I don't actually recommend walking down or up the trail to get the Machu Picchu--the trail itself if fine but the last mile to get into/out of AC is not at all charming.

    Our second half day we arose early to get one of the first buses up to the site You have to buy your ticket in AC as you cannot buy it at MP, and you buy a separate bus ticket to get up --anyway, we had a nice view and walk before the crowds arrived and we bought a ticket to hike Machu Picchu mountain and the gate opened at 7 so we were there waiting. We did the hike to the peak in an hour and twenty minutes. I was mildly disturbed by the heights and sheer drops in some parts but it was a nice hike overall and the view at the peak was incredible.

    We would have liked to hike Huaynapicchu, which also requires a separate ticket, but the tickets were sold out for the week. We did not buy them ahead (and it is a fairly new thing to have this ticketing system so I missed it when I researched four years ago) so make sure you do if that interests you. It is shorter than Machu Picchu Mountain but it has ruins on it and has some steeper drop offs apparently.

    If you are on the fence about the Inca trail like we were but want to make sure you get plenty of hiking in you could plan to do MP mountain, HP mountain, walk to the Sun Gate and walking either up or down to AC and feel like you had done a good bit of hiking.

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    You may not have been given a choice of where to eat on Taquile, but because of the economic and social setup of the island, it would not have made any significant difference where you ate - all restaurants serve the same menu and charge the same prices!

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    Food

    I was pleasantly surprised by Peruvian food. I thought it would be similar to Ecuadorean food which I didn't really enjoy. But there was a good variety of foods and a lot of vegetarian options.

    Most tourist restaurants just had huge menus of everything and were mostly fine. I don't think we had a bad meal.

    Didn't try cuy (I'm vegetarian and it didn't appeal to my husband).

    We loved Inca soup (veggie and quinoa soup). In Lima we tried and loved Arroz Zambito. We loved pisco sours, of course!

    I also found a vegetarian rotoco relleno and really enjoyed it.

    Taquenos!!!! Yum. Wontons filled with cheese and fried then dipped in guacamole. They were on menus everywhere. So we ate them everywhere.

    Restaurants of Note were:

    Hatunpa, Arequipa
    Andean potato dishes in a tiny little restaurant. You pick the sauces to accompany the potatoes. For two people we picked three sauces to try. Plenty of veggie options and an incredibly nice bilingual owner. (we also got to try chicha morada here--didn't care for it).

    Museo del Pisco, Cusco
    Good food and good pisco! We had a tasty lunch here and then lingered to enjoy the incredible pisco cocktails. My husband had a classic pisco sour and I had my new favorite cocktail with juice from the local golden berry. They also have tasting menus if you want to learn more about pisco. We tasted a couple and they really are all different.

    Korma Sutra, Cusco
    Just as we were burned out on the tourist menus we walked by this place. It was all curry dishes and it was sooooo delicious. A welcome change and a good one. We would have gone back a second time but they are closed Sundays.

    Altar Mayor, Lima This is just typical a tourist restaurant with set menus or a la carte so I wouldn't go out of my way to get there but if you are walking around El Centro and you see it in the little alley of restaurants, this is a great one. We had superlative service and the food was delicious.

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