Karen and Julie Just Back from Adventures in Peru

Old Oct 10th, 2007, 01:04 PM
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Karen and Julie Just Back from Adventures in Peru

My daughter, Julie, (26) and I (50 - yikes!) are just back from our 10-day trip to Peru (Cusco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Lake Titicaca). Thanks to everyone who offered advice before we went. As usual, you Fodorites came through with some excellent tips. I'll start my trip report soon and hopefully add some of my own tips to help others planning a similar journey. What an amazing country Peru is! In the meantime, if anyone has questions, feel free to ask.
Karen
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 06:18 PM
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Did you stay in Cusco or somewhere in the Sacred Valley.!?

What did you think at your very first look of Machu Picchu..standing up high and looking down!!!

Personally I was amazed ...no matter how many pictures I saw of it before.. My eyes still opened wider at my first look.!!

Okay , get back in the groove, pay your bills, wash your clothes, go shopping for food etc...and then start on the report.
Welcome back

Percy
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 06:43 PM
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Percy,
We stayed two nights in Ollantaytambo (loved it!) after our initial overnight in Lima, one in Agua Caliente, and two in Cusco. Then we headed to Lake Titicaca for three nights (including a one-night homestay).
And yes, I know exactly what you mean about Machu Picchu. That first look was awesome. My daughter and I literally stopped in our tracks and just stared - and then looked at each other in total amazement. We both had these big expectations and were afraid we'd be disappointed, but we weren't. It lived up to every expectation imaginable! The scale was immense; the details elaborate; the stonework an almost unbelievable engineering feat. It was beautiful, and there was an air of mystery just as I'd hoped! We were mesmerized.
More later. I'm tired but still on that high (although at least I can breathe again now that I'm back near sea level!)
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 07:12 PM
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Thanks for the quick reply.

I know what you mean about Machu Picchu and then looking way down onto the Urubamba River was so awesome(how did they get all those stones up there !!)

I hope in Cusco you had the chance to take some pictures of the Peruvian women with their little babies..all dressed in those very colorful customs...and the babies are soooo cute , they look as if they have 3 golf balls in each cheek.!!!

I think I took pictures of them at Sacsayhuaman Ruins..just up the hill from Cusco.

will be waiting for your trip report

Thank You
Percy

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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 06:52 AM
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I'm also anxious to hear about your trip. The places you did are exactly what we are planning for next summer. So many things to consider. How many days to stay in each place? I'm definitely not going with a tour company but will go with guides thanks to this forum. Staying in Sol y LUna or P)the one in Ollantaytambo)? Does it matter which? Taking the train to Puno or to hire a driver? I know I have 6 months to figure all of this out but am very excited now and on a mission!!! Hope you report soon.
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 11:00 AM
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Ok, here goes... I'll start with the big picture, then fill in the day-to-day details and experiences.

ITINERARY / HOTELS

Lima, 1 night at Mami Panchita. OK for an overnight, but not much more. $30. They picked us up at the airport(were waiting for us with our names on a sign - what a relief!) for $15. Our flight arrived at 10 p.m., so we just slept there and headed to the airport in the morning for our flight to Cusco (another $15 for the transfer). Definitely recommend arranging a transfer from your hotel in advance. I arranged both the room and the transfer via email. (Please let me know if any of you want links or email addresses or phone numbers for any of the places I mention.)

Sacred Valley - 2 nights in Ollantaytambo at Las Orquideas. Another basic place but very cute. Lovely grass courtyard with chairs, beautiful flowers. Our room had a view of the Inca ruins. $32 a night. Percy (our guide - more on him later) arranged it; he also picked us up at the airport in Cusco. The hotel has no email, so phone or in person is the only way to get a reservation.

Train to Aguas Caliente (reserved tickets in advance over the internet; Percy picked them up for us - charged a commission - well worth it to avoid the hassle of standing in line.)

Aguas Caliente - 1 night at La Pequena Casita. $45. Percy arranged it. We were happy with both the room and the location - just across from the train station and up from the bus stop to Machu Picchu. Clean. Comfy beds.

Cusco - 2 nights at Amaru Hostal. I had arranged it over the Internet before beginning to work with Percy. $35 a night. Clean and basic. Good location, 3 blocks off the main plaza (past the famous multi-sided Inca block).

Lake Titicaca - 3 nights. Two in Puno at Posada don Georgio ($35 per night) with an overnight homestay on Amantani in between. Would recommend the hotel - again clean and basic with a good location. We arranged our overnight stay through All Ways Travel via their website. It was $27 per person and that included the boat ride, a stop at the Uros reed islands, the overnight homestay on Amantani (lunch, dinner, breakfast served by family), a stop on Taquile Island with lunch, and the boat ride back to Puno.

Except for the homestay, our lodgings all had bathrooms/showers in the room. All served breakfast. All were rather chilly at night - but provided extra blankets (wonderfully thick and warm) upon request. All served breakfast. Usually rolls, ham, and cheese. Sometimes fruit. Always coca tea (yum! and supposedly great for the altitude). Amaru in Cusco served wonderful granola with yoghurt and fruit salad, also eggs - cooked according to your preference. All the places felt safe. Would recommend all with the possible exception of Mami Panchita. It was ok for just going to bed and getting up - but I was cold there and the room was rather dreary. Plus it was in an unpleasant section of town.

Regarding the itinerary, we thought it was about right. If I had it to do over, would add a night in Lima, a night in Cusco, and a night in the Sacred Valley - just for the sake of slowing down and having more time for shopping! Would also like to have had an extra 3-4 days for Arequipa. Overall, though, given the number of days we had, I thought our itinerary was pretty much ideal.

That's all for now. Will start later tonight or maybe tomorrow on the actual ins and outs of our (wonderful) adventure!

Karen
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 11:16 AM
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heyjude - We didn't see Sol y Luna, although have heard it's very nice. The town of Urubamba, though, isn't as nice (in my opinion) as Ollantaytambo. The latter is smaller and much more quaint. Our hotel didn't compare with the luxury of Sol y Luna and I'm sure didn't offer the amenities! So it depends on what's important to you. If you choose Ollantaytambo, there are nicer places than where we stayed. Hotel Sauce looked quite nice. I'd try to stay in town near the main square and ruins rather than down near the train station.
Regarding bus vs train to Puno, I had read pros/cons to both. The bus trip is several hours shorter and also cheaper. We went on Inka Express ($30, including a buffet lunch and three or four stops to see tourist sites). I'm very glad we did the bus.
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 11:27 AM
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Gee if you had a guide called "Percy" how can you go wrong !!!!

But you said "more on him later"...usually all Percys are good !!

Waiting for your the next episode.

Percy
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 12:15 PM
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Before starting (am I keeping you in suspense?), I thought I'd share my packing list (including what I wore on the plane)...

3 pairs pants (1 jeans, 2 lightweight travel pants)
3 short-sleeved tops
5 pairs underwear
5 pairs socks
2 bras
1 set silk long underwear (used as pjs but wore the top one evening when it was cold)
1 lightweight pullover fleece
1 lightweight cardigan sweater
1 lightweight windbreaker
1 gortex parka
1 pair shoes (Keen's sandals)
toiletries
insect repellant (needed at Machu Picchu)
sunscreen - needed EVERY day
hat - didn't take one but another essential (Julie and I both bought one for about $3 or $4)
2 cameras, rechargers, extra batteries
paperback book
Lonely Planet guidebook
A fold-up duffle bag to bring home souvenirs
Wallet (lots of $1 bills), passport, ATM card, credit card

I brought about the right amount of stuff. Next time... would leave sweater at home (I bought 2 anyway!) and bring a long-sleeved t-shirt. The sun is merciless! A hat and sunscreen are absolute musts.
We had laundry done at our hotel in Cusco - cheap and easy.

Jul and I both took bags we could carry on our backs. Glad we did. The hike up to our house on Amantani for the homestay would have been extremely difficult with a rolling suitcase - although you could leave the rolling bag back at your hotel in Puno and just take a daypack to Amantani. We did leave some stuff at the hotel in Puno.
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 01:04 PM
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On the topic of things to take to Peru, be sure to bring chap stick or similar for your lips. It's incredibly dry and dusty. I also wished I had brought something for my eyes. I wear contacts and was constantly getting dust in them and they felt dry a lot.

We stayed at Hotel Pakaritampu
http://www.pakaritampu.com/ in Ollantaytambu. It is close to the train station and maybe a 5-8 minutes walk into town. We liked it and had no problem with the location. But if you don't like to walk, you would be better off at Hotel Sauce which is right in town. I agree that Ollantaytambo is a much more charming village than Urubamba.
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Old Oct 12th, 2007, 01:16 PM
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Yes, definitely chap stick! Also, extra wetting drops for my contact lenses (didn't mention those things separately as they were part of my toiletries - but it is certainly dry as yestravel says). Body lotion is also a good idea.
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Old Oct 13th, 2007, 06:03 AM
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hanks so much for the reply. Will definitely go for Ollantaytambo, maybe Hotel Sauce, and take the bus to Puno.
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Old Oct 13th, 2007, 03:46 PM
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We flew Continental from Baltimore to Newark to Lima, arriving safe and on time at around 10 p.m. It was the first time I'd ever been on such a long flight with no jet lag - because the time difference was only an hour.

Still, we were tired and glad to see the driver we'd arranged through our hotel, Mami Panchita. The drive through Lima late at night was depressing and kind of creepy. We obviously didn't see the pretty parts of the city, but what we did see didn't impress us - rundown buildings, scary-looking characters. I was glad we had arranged a driver. Maybe on another trip we'll give Lima a couple of days. Our hotel, as already mentioned, was adequate but not much more. It was in a rough neighborhood - a man started to approach us as soon as we got out of the car, but our driver hustled us to the hotel, where we had to ring a bell to gain admittance.

Our room was cold and the shower so-so (although there was hot water). Breakfast was typical - fresh orange juice, rolls, ham and cheese. Then it was back to the airport for our flight via Lan Airlines to Cusco. The place was packed - we wondered if we'd make our flight! But everything was well organized and before long we were on our way. We could see the Andes from the window of our plane - we were getting excited!

Once in Cusco, we were met by Percy, the guide we had arranged via email based on a recommendation from this board. He was wonderful - warm and kind, with good English skills and an easy, unassuming manner. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with him and felt as though we had someone to take care of us during our visit. I was so glad we hired him and would highly recommend him.

He drove us to Ollantaytambo via Chinchero, where we stopped for a look at the Sunday market. We got there toward the end of the action (mid-afternoon), but there was still a fair amount of activity going on. The locals trade without using money. Since I wasn't one of them, I had to come up with some soles to buy a gord - which the seller cut open while I waited (I wanted one where you could take the lid off), a little flute (actually called a quena) and a "zampona" - a common Peruvian musical instrument consisting of several bamboo reeds of different lengths that you blow into. I'll be darned if I could get a sound out of it OR the flute that sound anything remotely like music! But they're gifts, so I'm hoping my friend will be able to do so. The guy in the market who sold them to me illustrated by playing beautiful music, and I tried and tried, as did Julie, but to no avail. We did receive a few good-natured laughs for our efforts.

And I got a few pictures, as well. So it was a successful stop. We were both starting to feel a little light-headed and were ready to move on, so we got back in the car for the drive to Ollantaytambo. The Sacred Valley was incredibly smokey/hazy while we were there. Percy said farmers burn their fields at the end of the dry season and it's often smokey during that time. Even so, the scenery was phenomenal. I couldn't believe how steep the mountains are - they just soar almost straight up.

Ollantaytambo is a great little town. Would highly recommend staying here - much cuter than the other Sacred Valley towns we saw. There are several restaurants, a fair amount of souvenir shopping, and it's convenient to the train to Machu Picchu (a significantly shorter trip than from Cusco).

Our hotel, Las Orquideas, which Percy had arranged since they have no website or email, is in a great location just a couple blocks off the main square and a 10 minute walk to the train station. Once he dropped us off, we were on our own the rest of the day.

After a brief rest (our heads were still spinning just a bit from the altitude - Chinchero is even higher than Cusco and we hadn't yet come down from the initial high!), we decided to go find some coca tea. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but was delighted when the server at the little restaurant we stopped at brought out two mugs, put some leaves in them, and poured steaming water. We loved it - drank it nearly every day. Whether it helps with the altitude or not, we enjoyed it a lot!

For dinner that night we ate at Mayupata. Shared a bowl of cream of asparagus soup (wonderful) and each ordered a pizza. Because they were so cheap, we thought they must be personal size pizzas, but no, they were more like a U.S. medium pizza. We both ate exactly half - so splitting would have been perfect. Oh well, live and learn. It was excellent pizza! Don't remember the cost, but it was cheap. I'm thinking we spent about $15 for two pizzas, the soup, and two Cokes.

Then it was back to the hotel for some reading and sleep! The room seemed cold to me, so I requested extra blankets - ended up being plenty warm.

More tomorrow!
Karen
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 07:04 AM
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DAY 2 - Sacred Valley Tour

Percy picked us up at 9:30 (we wanted to sleep in a bit and he was coming from Cusco, so it worked out well for both of us) for our tour of the Sacred Valley.

Julie felt a little queasy that morning, so she slept a little extra while I got up for an early morning walk. The town was gorgeous in the morning sunshine - definitely the time to take photos of the ruins.

Breakfast was the usual rolls and coca tea. I don't think they even had ham and cheese. I was Julie's hero by taking some to the room for her.

When Percy arrived, we set off for Moray. It's off the beaten path - quite a ways on a dirt road - but worth the effort to get there. No one's positive what the huge concentric circles were used for, but the main theory is that the Incas did agricultural experiments to test crops at different altitudes. You could feel the temperature rise as you walked down toward the center. Each terrace is supposedly its own microclimate. From the top, we could see a guy lying spread-eagle in the middle at the very bottom - a special place where energy is concentrated, Percy told us.

We didn't go all the way down inside - and glad we didn't. I got nauseous on the way back up and had to sit on a rock for a few minutes. Julie said I looked kinda green (and it ain't easy being green!). Still not used to the altitude. There was an entrance fee, by the way - a couple of dollars, I think. Get a driver or cab to take you there - definitely worth a look. Unlike anything we saw anywhere else (and the scenery along the way was incredibly beautiful - the landscape is just gorgeous).

From Moray, we went to the salt pans - likewise unique and beautiful, but in a totally different way (and likewise not easy to get to - another few miles on a rough dirt road). Upon arrival, we were greeted by hundreds of rounded-corner rectangles filled with various shades of white water - all nestled in a valley surrounded by craggy peaks. It was a white, gray, and brown quilt in terraces, and it was amazing. The pans have been in use several hundred years - since the height of Inca times - for collecting salt. They fill the pans with spring water from the mountain, and as the water evaporates, the salt is left behind. The scale is enormous - I have no idea how many "pans" there are, but certainly hundreds, and each one is maybe 10 feet by 12 feet or larger. Got some great pics (which I'll share once I get them posted).

It was there that we discovered the dried corn and beans in little packages. You see them all over Peru - they make a yummy (and healthy!) snack. They're very cheap.

Next stop was Pisac and although it was Monday, an off-market time, the entire main square was filled with souvenir vendors. (I guess it's the local market where farmers sell their produce that happens on Sunday.) For us, it was great. Not crowded, yet plenty of stalls selling everything from gloves and sweaters to ceramics to jewelry. I'm not great at bargaining, but the stuff was inexpensive anyway. We bought a couple of large handbags, a wooden bowl painted by the husband of the woman who sold it to me, and some jewelry.

When we first got there, Percy walked us over to a couple of women selling large ears of corn and a wedge of cheese. We each got one and ate it as we shopped (Percy turned us loose and left us on our own for the shopping). The kernels were so large that you just pulled one off at a time and ate it - quite good.

When we finished shopping, we were hungry (it was 3 or so by this time) so we stopped a little outdoor restaurant right on the square and had ham and cheese sandwiches.

Because we spent so long in the market, there wasn't time to see the Pisac ruins. We definitely needed another day in the Sacred Valley. That way we could have done Moray and Salinas (salt pans) in one day, and Pisac the other - and done so much more leisurely. Plus, I wouldn't have minded a raft trip, although the water was pretty low when we were there.

Still, it was a great day. We returned to Ollantaytambo, had dinner at a tiny restaurant just up from our hotel (sorry, don't remember the name), and strolled around town a bit before going to bed.

Tomorrow - Machu Picchu.
Hope I'm not boring you with the detail!
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 07:25 AM
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althom -- the more detail the better. Peru is next on our list so I'm loving your trip report. Thanks for taking the time to do this.
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 12:53 PM
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Thanks for sharing your trip w/ us.

I, on the other hand, went to Peru in June and have been a slug about putting together a trip report. I really appreciate those who take the time to put one together.
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 02:02 PM
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DAY 3 - Machu Picchu - YAY!

We were up early to catch the 7:05 train to Agua Caliente, just a short walk from our hotel. It was really smokey/hazy that day, but the scenery was still gorgeous. My original plan had been to take a late morning train, spend the afternoon at MP, get up the next morning for sunrise, and then catch an early afternoon train back.

But it didn't work out that way. Getting train tickets on Peru Rail can be a hassle! I arranged them over the internet and at first was told there were no tickets for the days I wanted -even though it was a month in advance! Then tickets became available, but apparently only for the first train out in the morning and the first train back the next morning. Based on other stories I've heard, I'm not sure that was true, but it worked out fine anyway - and I wanted to ensure we definitely had tickets!

The train ride (Vistadome, not backpackers) came with breakfast and great scenery for no extra charge.
If you have a choice, sit on the left side - the view's better. Our seats were originally on the right, but there were seats on the left and we switched.

The ride from Ollantaytambo is significantly shorter than from Cusco (about an hour and a half), so we were in Agua Caliente before 8:30. Percy had arranged our hotel, La Paquena Casita, and they were supposed to meet us at the station - but they weren't there.

I figured it couldn't be that large a town, so we set off and found it rather quickly. It was a good location - just across the bridge from the train station (over the road), and down the hill a little ways, a block or so up from the bus station to MP.

We dropped off our stuff and headed out to get MP tickets and bus tickets. The 20-minute bus ride was up, up, up - back and forth and back and forth. The drop-offs were unreal! And then we were there!

I hadn't planned on hiring a private guide for MP, but a woman approached us at the entrance asking if we wanted a guide. At first we said no, but after discussing it, decided it would be a good idea. She charged 120 soles but was so good I gave her 130. Sonia was another university-educated tour guide. Her English was good and she was pleasant to be with. I'm sure you could do it with a good guidebook, but we thought she enhanced our visit.

As I've already said, that first glimpse of the ruins is amazing - takes your breath away. It's just like it looks in pictures - only more so, if you know what I mean. So real. So huge. So intricate. So... amazing!

We saw beautiful rock walls, learned about Inca astronomy and their use of sun dials, and just soaked up the atmosphere. We had a wonderful time...

and I'll add to this later!
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 04:40 PM
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Wonderful report, althom1122!

I would really love to go to Peru next year and was thinking about early to mid-October as a possible timeframe.

Sounds like you had warm weather with cool nights and some hazy days. Did you get any rain while you were there? How were the crowds at the places you visited? I'm a big fan of traveling during the shoulder or low season when I can!

Can't wait to read the rest of your report, and I hope you will share your photos once you've had a chance to get them organized online.
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 05:14 PM
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cmerrell - no rain at all until we got to Puno. There we had a bit of rain the first night we were there (on our way back from dinner) and also on our last evening after returning from our stay on the island. Percy had told us we might get rain there - he said the rainy season tends to start a bit earlier in western Peru. Fortunately, we had no rain at all that interferred with anything we wanted to do! I wouldn't go much later than mid-October, though. I think the chances for rain start increasing.

Crowds were not bad. At Machu Picchu, we certainly weren't alone, but the crowds weren't overwhelming either - and we were there at peak hours.

Yes, the days were warm (hot at times) and the nights chilly. Bring a hat. And sunscreen. They're essentials.

I, too, usually try for shoulder season, and I think it worked out well in Peru. We had such a wonderful time (as I'm hoping you can tell!).

Will definitely post my photos, hopefully by next weekend. Thanks for the encouragement! Peru is wonderful - I love sharing!

Karen
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Old Oct 15th, 2007, 11:05 AM
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Thoroughly enjoyng your report. Do you thnk guides are usually readily available up at Machu Pichu. Sonia sounded great. Did you get an email address for her?
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