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Trip report--slow travel style in Peru May 2008--Iquitos jungle, Cusco for Corpus Christi & Sacred Valley

Trip report--slow travel style in Peru May 2008--Iquitos jungle, Cusco for Corpus Christi & Sacred Valley

Jun 10th, 2008, 06:38 AM
  #1  
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Trip report--slow travel style in Peru May 2008--Iquitos jungle, Cusco for Corpus Christi & Sacred Valley

We’re back from our 15 day trip and had a great time. I have to say we’ve traveled internationally a lot, but I found this trip took much more planning and thinking than many we have taken in the past. I think it perhaps may have to do with the fact that there are so many different opportunities in Peru, and we had to continuously narrow down our choices so as to be able to fit them in a short two week trip. Also, we have discovered that for us, the slow travel methodology, or less is more, tends to be our orientation. Thus, for our trip we decided on only three destinations—the Amazon, Cusco and the Sacred Valley. We’d also given serious though to Lake Titicaca but heard mixed reviews so decided to skip that. We also thought about trekking in the Colca Canyon, but we decided against this because we wanted a contrast of types of activities, and a longer jungle stay would allow for this. Even though we were trying to lessen the amount of moving around, we still ended up switching locations quite a lot. Our trip ended up being first night Lima airport (a 22:00 arrival with a 05:00 departure the following morning), 5 nights at Tahuayo Lodge, 1 night Iquitos, 3 nights Cusco, 1 night Pisac, 1 night Aguas Calientas and 3 nights Ollyantaytambo.

Our usual mode of travel is completely do-it-yourself without the benefit of guides, drivers and/or agencies. However, we’ve decided that in more third world—or as my husband says is now the preferred terminology, developing—countries, we’ve learned that for some things guides and agencies are great. I planned the entire trip myself, and it ended up being just what we were looking for. We only had two major glitches. Continental left our luggage in Newark, and we were without luggage from the time we left home on a Wednesday morning until Saturday at noon. And, during this time we were in the jungle. Think rain, mud, sweat, gross, and all in the same clothes. We also had a major hotel error due to a poor choice on my part that I’ll go into later.

The trip was on a cash only basis. We used the ATMs to withdraw cash because that is what every place we dealt with wanted. Our credit card was only used before the trip for plane reservations, train tickets and to pay for our jungle lodge. I did save money on our LAN tickets by using the Spanish version site that originates in South America rather than the US version. It was a hassle, but I saved quite a bit.
julies is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 06:40 AM
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The Jungle

After much debate about the benefits of the Puerto Maldonaldo area vs. Manu vs. the Iquitos area, we finally settled on a lodge (Amazonia Expeditions’ Tahuayo Lodge) 90 miles from Iquitos on the edge of the Tamshiyacu-Tahuayo reserve. I had researched all of the different suggested options and itineraries for recommended lodges in all three areas, and, after a while, their itineraries all started to sound alike. That’s why I was so happy to discover this lodge that operates in a different manner. Our primary reason for choosing this lodge was the opportunity to have a private guide rather than be in a more tour-oriented group with a guide. We are so glad we made this choice; I can’t imagine trying to do the things we did if there were 10-20 of us. (Our guide had also worked at several lodges in the Puerto Maldonaldo area, and told us that there he was usually assigned to groups of up to 20 to guide.)

The only downside to choosing the Iquitos area is that it involves an extra flight because there are no flights from Cusco directly to Iquitos; you need to fly through Lima. I found that I got the best airfares by booking two separate roundtrip tickets—Lima /Iquitos and Lima/Cusco. We signed on for a 6D/5N package. The length of our package was perfect, although one day less would have been fine too. All the lodge’s services were excellent, and we have no complaints at all. The food was excellent, our guide was fantastic, everyone was very accommodating, and we spent our time doing what we were interested in doing.

We visited at the tail end of the rainy season when the river levels were continuously dropping—probably 4 feet in our time there—so we took lots of boat trips because the ground was still under water. Our typical day’s schedule was breakfast at 6:00, an expedition from 6:30 until about 11 or 11:30, lunch at 1:00, rest or siesta time in the hammock room until 2:30, another expedition until 6:00, dinner at 7:00, sometimes an evening excursion, and then typically bed around 9:00. Don’t expect to see perfectly still creatures just waiting for you to see them and take pictures of them, however. Glimpses of animals are fleeting and unexpected; this isn’t the zoo. We saw monkeys, more types of birds than I can remember, giant tarantulas, poison dart frogs, three toed sloths, pink dolphins, orchids, bromeliads, two local villages, and many other things. We did the lodge’s canopy zip line, fished for piranhas, swam, visited local villages, took night hikes and boat trips, had a weaving class/demonstration, visited the lodge’s research center, took several expeditions in dugout canoes, hiked through muddy swamps, saw local medicinal plants, were invited into a local’s house for soup, distributed pencils (only one per child was allowed) to local kids, and did many other interesting things.

I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to visit the local small settlements. For the most part this is a subsistence existence, and once again I was forced to rethink how privileged we North Americans are and how consumer oriented our society really is. One day when we were out for a trip, we dropped off a large bunch of bananas to a family who live in an isolated hut on the river. Apparently the lodge tries to provide some support for the local riverinos when needed. Our guide told us that this family (with lots of kids) primarily has a diet of fish and manioc/tapioca, so the bananas helped to supplement their diet.

We really enjoyed our jungle experience. But we have always spent a lot of time in the outdoors, used to camp quite a bit, boat a lot, and hike. If this isn’t your profile, you may find that this jungle experience is not for you. We had a screened room with private bath (cold water showers only) and a nice bed with mosquito netting around it, but in many ways this is more closely related to a camping experience than a hotel experience. The lodge has no electricity, no bar (there is an honor system cooler with beers and sodas), no snack bar etc. Also, there really aren’t many private places other than your room, and this is dark even in the middle of the day so you need a flashlight to even try to lie on your bed and read. We really liked hanging out with our fellow visitors in the common areas. If you need a lot of alone time this experience might not be for you either because you can’t even go off for a walk on your own because most of the ground is wet (at least at the time of year we went—mid-May). The entire lodge structure is set on stilts with covered walkways connecting the different buildings.

When our trip time was finished we were delivered back to Iquitos by speedboat about 4:00 pm. This gave us enough time to take a hot shower (welcome after a nearly a week of cold showers), walk around the town a bit (we felt these few hours were sufficient for us to see Iquitos), have a dinner and get to bed for our early morning flights to Lima and Cusco.

Next up Cusco for Corpus Christi.
julies is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 07:27 AM
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Looking forward to reading the next portion -- we won't be doing the Amazon when we go in April 2009, and will focus on Cusco, Sacred Valley, MP, and Lake Titicaca instead.

I have a local guide/operator developing an initial itinerary for us, and am still debating whether I will use his services to book everything or make the arrangements myself.
eenusa is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 07:35 AM
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Thanks for beginning your trip report. We also have ruled out the Amazon but we will spend time in the Sacred Valley, MP, Cusco, Arequipa and Lake T. I will be solo for 9 nights and I will spend this time in the Central Highlands.

Keep it coming!

Thanks!
eurotraveller is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 08:22 AM
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Definitely keep it coming. We leave in 8 days and are planning on SV, Cusco, MP, and Lake Titicaca. We are working with local guide David Choque...Can't wait to hear more!!!
shothyme77 is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 11:50 AM
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Cusco for Corpus Christi

We really enjoy seeing local festivals and events, so when I discovered that we’d be in Peru during Corpus Christi, I purposely planned our itinerary so that we would be in Cusco for Corpus Christi. We are very happy we arranged the trip this way, and being there to observe the Corpus Christi events added immensely to our enjoyment of Cusco. We had one complete afternoon and two full days in Cusco; for us this was about right.

Prior to our trip, our primary concern about Cusco was altitude sickness, and we read everything we could to try to figure out how to avoid this because we had had some mild bouts with this in the past. So, we started hydrating while still in the jungle, we didn’t drink any alcohol at all the first few days in Cusco, we took it easy, we drank lots of coca tea, and we took some precautionary aspirin or Excedrin migraine (I’d read on a travel forum that this can help). The first thing I saw upon entering the Cusco airport was a booth selling personal size bottles of oxygen, so this really increased my apprehensions. But, either we were lucky, or all our precautions paid off because, other than being winded very easily, we didn’t suffer any effects from the altitude.

We were staying at Piccolo Locanda and had arranged with them to have a cab pick us up at the airport. The cost was the same as just getting our own taxi, and we felt more comfortable having a driver who knew exactly where our hotel was located. At Piccolo Locanda we did something we haven’t done in years; we took a room with a shared bath. When we reserved, my first choice hotel was full. Then, at Piccolo Locanda the room I would have preferred was already booked, so I decided to try another room that sounded nice even though it was in a cluster where 4 rooms share 3 baths. This was a nice, inexpensive ($35 per night) hotel, but it is up a very, very, very long flight of stairs. Because of the altitude, we had to make a number of stops on the way up each time to catch our breath. About 20 steps further up from the hotel is the area of the Church of San Cristobal. Be sure to hike up there for a fantastic panoramic view of the city.

Corpus Christi is always celebrated on a Thursday, so we flew into Cusco late Wednesday morning in order to have all of Thursday free for the festivities. In the early afternoon on Wednesday we were in our room at the hotel getting organized and trying to rest a bit to stave off altitude sickness when we kept hearing bands playing. Finally, after about 20-30 minutes we decided to head on down to the Plaza de Armas (main square) to have a look around and see what was going on. People were gathering as the huge saints (perhaps eight to ten feet high) from each local parish were being carried around the square and into the cathedral in anticipation of the next day’s Corpus Christi events. Each incredibly elaborate saint—and they all had different themes-- was carried in on a wooden platform by a group of exhausted looking men, dressed in matching attire, struggling to carry the immense, heavy statue. The statue from each parish was preceded by elaborately embroidered banners announcing the parish name. Then came the local parish band playing enthusiastically and processing congregants from the parish who often were dressed in gorgeous, colorful, elaborate, traditional clothing. Some groups also were performing traditional dancing in the streets by the square; one group of men was doing a traditional dance that involves trying to whip each other. We settled in and watched; it was a fantastic, incredibly interesting, relaxing way to begin our Cusco stay. And, all in all, I think we both really preferred this day before Corpus Christi itself to Corpus Christi itself.

After spending several hours observing, we set off in search of some lunch. During our trip we stuck with our usual mid-price range array of places to eat, and, with the exception of a couple of pizzas, we tried to eat mostly typical Peruvian foods. All of our hotels included breakfast, so it was just lunches and dinners that we ate out. I can’t say we were terribly impressed by the food anywhere on our trip, and in Cusco we ate at a couple of highly recommended places—Ganja Heidi and Pachapapa. The rest of the day we just spent wandering around, trying not to exert ourselves too much.

The next day we arrived at the Plaza de Armas fairly early in order to get a good spot for the Corpus Christi procession. I’d read that 50,000 to 60,000 people come into Cusco for Corpus Christi so was surprised that the square wasn’t too full. It turns out that the day begins with a mass outside in front of the cathedral—let me tell you there is no priest shortage in Peru. This is followed by all the saints and the cathedral’s shrine processing very slowly around the square. As we found out, this goes on and on and on and on. Apparently the morning mass is the least attended of the festivities.

After several hours we left the main square to do some sightseeing elsewhere in the city. We walked around, left the main square area and visited Convento Santo Dominigo y Qoricancha. I know it is supposed to be one of Cusco’s most highly regarded sites, but it didn’t do much for us. We are not huge fans of ruins, which is a lot of what this place is, and we’ve done so much European traveling that the complex itself blended into all the other cloistered type convents we’ve seen. We tried to pick up our reserved train tickets for Machu Picchu but were thwarted because the day was a holiday, so the train ticket office was closed. This was something that had never occurred to us—a train ticket office being closed.

After a late lunch, we headed back to the Plaza de Armas. The square was MUCH fuller, and the processions and events were still going on full steam, but now there were food stalls in addition to the strolling vendors. We watched for a bit more and then headed off in the direction of San Blas to explore. I live in the heart of a major city and frequent an area that attracts young people, but Cusco seems to really attract those with the “alternative” lifestyle manner of dress. There are a lot of dreadlocked heads in Cusco and the Sacred Valley area. We are not really major shoppers, so we didn’t find the San Blas area as appealing as many who go there to explore the shops. It was interesting walking around for an hour or so, but that was the extent of its appeal for us. I guess once again I found something in Cusco that, for me, didn’t quite live up to its hype.

We had dinner that night at Pachapapa in the San Blas area and had to return through the Plaza de Armas area in order to get back to our hotel. There was a lot of “celebrating” going on (I’d say things finally quieted down by about 22:00), and one street next to most of the beer stalls could have been nicknamed “the peeing street”. On our trip we noticed that, apparently, many men in Peru don’t feel the need to visit the official facilities.

Our last day in Cusco we decided to first stop in the Centro Mercado near the train station and then to purchase our boleto turisticos and visit some of the locales included in its admission price. We love authentic local markets, so this market was definitely on our “to do” list. It was an enjoyable mix of primarily local food and restaurant stalls with a few tourist-oriented booths thrown in. We’d read to be very cautious here because of the possibility of pickpockets, so we were prepared. I had my daypack on my front, but we were still approached by a local policewoman who told us in broken English to be very careful with our bags and cameras. On our way back towards the center of town I did discover the one shop I really found exceptional in Peru—Werner & Anna in the Plaza de San Francisco area. Unfortunately, the one sweater I wanted they didn’t have in my size.

On earlier days we’d poked our heads in several churches and were intrigued. We could definitely see the Spanish influence, and in some ways being in the churches was reminiscent of being in Spain. The Iglesia y Convento la Merced was particularly interesting. With our boletos we visited Santa Catalina monastery which we also found thoroughly enjoyable. The nearby Inka museum was definitely worth the time it took to visit.

By the end of the day I was exhausted and just felt like resting for a while. All the climbing of steps at that altitude definitely takes its toll the first few days. I was somewhat inclined to just eat at our hotel for dinner so we didn’t have to venture out again, but I really enjoy ethnic dancing so we left to go to the free evening dance performance that is included in the boleto touristico. I’m glad we made the effort; it was an enjoyable show that featured dancers in costumes from various regions around Cusco. Then, dinner and to bed to prepare for the next day’s departure for the Sacred Valley.

Coming next our 5 days in the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Ollantaytambo.
julies is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 12:48 PM
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julies - I am enjoying your report so far and look forward to your next installment. We are hoping to go to Peru next summer (probably focusing on Cusco and Sacred Valley). I am glad to hear you successfully planned everything yourself - that is how I like to operate also, but it seems a lot of folks have more trouble planning and booking in S. America based on other threads I have read.

What was the weather like when you were there? How about crowds?
sessa is offline  
Jun 10th, 2008, 04:37 PM
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julies, we were there in Cusco probably on the same day as you for the Corpus Christi festival. On the day we were there, everything was closed. The only time we got to see the cathedral was early in the morning when they had mass before moving the saints back out of the church.

sessa, we found Peru to be very easy to travel around in. You could book most things by internet from home, and don't need to pay anything up front. We felt pretty safe everywhere, except for some areas in Lima.

I also posted a summary of my Peru itinerary. Just click on my username.
JC98 is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 07:36 AM
  #9  
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Responses and then more trip report.

seesa--planning and booking your own trip is definitely doable. I should also tell you that this was a last minute trip for us, and we only booked tickets to Peru 6 weeks before we left. So, it is definitely doable if one likes to research and feels comfortable booking things in another country.

We had great weather for most of our trip. It wasn't nearly as hot or buggy as I'd expected in the jungle. But, it is the rainforest, and it does rain. Of course, the one day of rain we had otherwise was the morning we were at Machu Picchu. We definitely needed our fleece and jacket layers at night. Daytimes I sometimes went with a tee shirt and long pants, but my husband always had lightweight long sleeves on.

JC98--Reading your notes, I guessed we'd been there the same day.

eurotraveller--I'd also thought about the Central Highlands because it isa bit more off the usual tourist path. But, as always, time constraints dictated our decisions.

eenusa--You can do it yourself and save money. I know because I did get a few quotes from those who arrange trips for others.
julies is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 07:39 AM
  #10  
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The Sacred Valley

We are outdoorsy and do like to hike, so while planning our trip we kept discussing the idea of a trek since this is what everyone in Peru seems to do. We planned our trip too late to even think about the Inca Trail, but kept looking at all different trek options. We kept thinking about the Lares Trek because it offered an opportunity to see local villages. But, then we also were haunted by worries about altitude problems and being too old to actually do a super strenuous trek. Finally we decided that we would be better off with a series of day hikes. So, I looked at all the different agencies looking for something a bit different.

I decided upon Apus Travel because of their focus on more off-the-beaten path type opportunities. http://www.apus-peru.com/. I couldn’t have been more pleased. Ariana there was great to work with and very patient when I sent her yet another set of questions. We decided we wanted to do their Descending to the Sacred Valley option ( http://www.apus-peru.com/descending_sacred_valley.htm ) and the Weaving and Farming options ( http://www.apus-peru.com/weaving_farming.htm ). But, I wanted to do these on a Saturday and Sunday and include in some time to see the markets, not just the tourist markets but also the local produce-oriented markets. And, although these tours normally depart out of and return to Cusco, we wanted to set this up so that we could transfer our luggage to Pisac and spend the night there on Saturday and then end up at the Ollytantambo station Sunday evening. Ariana was able to reconfigure the normal itineraries for these two days so that we could do it all. Normally these tours use public transportation which would have been fine and a part of the experience, but since we needed to transfer our luggage and wanted to move around we opted for a private driver for an additional fee. We took the cheaper driver choice—the ubiquitous eight or so year old Toyota station wagon taxi that you will see all over the Sacred Valley—and it was fine although there were no seat belts in the back seat.

The day before we were to leave, Ariana met us at our hotel to go over the final arrangements and collect the rest of the fee we owed for the tours. Right on time the next morning we were picked up for our expeditions, and we left for the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is incredibly lovely with all sorts of terracing and old stone Inca paths. Different elevations are completely different because of the flora that can grow in different conditions and because the people who live there have adapted their farming practices to the different microclimates.
Saturday we first hiked in very interesting area where we also climbed up to see some several thousand year old petroglyphs. We had a stop in a small weaving village where we were given a demonstration and then, of course, all of their weavings (extremely high quality) were dragged out so I could think about a purchase. I always feel very awkward in such situations because I am not really a shopper and also because even if I were, this native style doesn’t fit into my decorating scheme. But, I ended up buying two very nice baby alpaca hats. We were shown around the family’s small place and shown the guinea pigs they keep for food. Then, totally unexpected to us, and probably because we’d bought some pretty expensive hats, we were invited to share lunch with the family. Lunch was three tin bowls set out on the ground. One bowl was filled with various kinds of boiled potatoes (these you peel with your fingers before eating), another had slices of a soft cheese, and the other was cut up grilled guinea pig. There were no plates or utensils. Everyone just ate with their fingers, putting the bones etc. in another tin bowl. We joined in, feeling most comfortable about the potatoes.

We then got in the car and on our way to Pisac stopped for the box lunch the agency provided. In Pisac we dropped our luggage at the Hotel Pisac (I’d booked this online from home), and it was a nice place with an open courtyard we could sit in and restaurant facilities too. Then, we were taken to the top of the Pisac ruins where we explored and then hiked down to the city itself with our guides. We’d taken our trekking poles which our guides kept referring to as our “sticks”, and we were really glad to have them. Frankly, my memories of the day’s hiking were more of the general area itself than the ruins. I had to look at my photos to trigger memories of the ruins themselves, so to me it is more the overall experience and ambience of the area that stick in my mind rather than the ruins themselves.

The guide left us at our hotel for the night, and we set off exploring the town of Pisac. We walked through the market stalls that were being disassembled for the night and then explored the small pueblo. There weren’t really any sights to see, but we really liked the overall ambience of the town and just wandering around its backstreets. It’s a pretty low-key rural place, and we especially got a kick of the pigs strolling through town on their way home. (Behind the closed doors there are many farm courtyards right in town). As far as the market itself, we also had a bit of a chance to explore early Sunday, and I don’t know if I think that I’d make the effort to get there on a Sunday versus any other day. It seemed to us that there were plenty of stalls on Saturday unless you are a die-hard shopper who wants to shop for hour and hours on end. We only bought two things. I bought some alpaca yarn, and my husband bought a small handmade chess set.

Sunday morning we had breakfast and another stroll around before our guides picked us up again at 9:00. I’d expressed an interest in seeing markets, so our first stop was the Sunday market in Urubamba—a fascinating locals only market. The town’s main square had music playing and a parade; it turned out that this was the day all of the local schools have a celebration of some sort. I loved seeing all the tiny kids marching in their uniforms, arms swinging in military type precision.
julies is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 07:43 AM
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As we left Urubamba we stopped at Las Chullpas, the hotel I’d booked for our last three nights in the Sacred Valley. The plan was to leave our luggage here overnight while we just took one small bag to Aguas Calientas. Everything I’d read about Las Chullpas sounded great. It was quiet, off the beaten path, and removed from the noise of the city. Their website mentioned the possibility of having dinners right there and also stated that they work with drivers so guests can easily get around the valley and to town for dinner. As we drove to the hotel, stopping frequently to ask directions, we started to become a bit concerned. This certainly seemed further away than the 3K stated, and the road was very slow, rough and bumpy. Then, we arrived and turned into the gates. My apprehensions vanished because it seemed quite nice with lovely grounds. The owners came out to greet us and, after giving us choices of rooms, stored our luggage in our room.

(Jumping ahead in my story, this hotel turned out to be our major mistake of our trip. We ended up never staying there, and I ended up having a nighttime shouting match with the owner. To make a long story short, I had delayed while trying to get our itinerary straightened out before booking our train tickets to Aguas Calientas. The day I went to book, the earlier trains we’d wanted were full, so we ended booking a train back that didn’t get into Ollytantambo until 23:00. I’d asked the guy at Las Chullpas to book a driver to pick us up from the train station, and he’d done so. We knew we were going to try to change this reservation and go with an earlier train. We were able to change our train reservation to an earlier train and then ended up hiring our own driver. So, we kept trying to reach Las Chullpas to tell them to cancel the driver and that we would be arriving earlier.

I even paid our hotel in Aguas Calientas to keep trying them all day while we were at Machu Picchu. When we returned from Machu Picchu, the people at the hotel in Aguas Calientas told me that Las Chullpas had not answered their phone all day, and one of the numbers on their business card was a phone in Lima that wasn’t even associated with Las Chullpas. They tried again for us. No answer. Finally, the desk clerk in Aguas Calientas got an answering machine at Las Chullpas, and she left a rather incensed message telling them that we’d been trying to reach them and to cancel our drive because we’d be arriving earlier. The clerk kept telling me this was a bad hotel if they wouldn’t answer their phone. So, we were never able to actually speak to someone to cancel the pickup they’d arranged despite trying for over 12 hours; we just left a message on their machine.

The driver we’d hired picked us up at the train station when our earlier train arrived and drove us to Las Chullas. It was about 9:00 at night and there wasn’t a soul around, just a couple of barking dogs. As this was going on, our driver kept telling us this was a bad hotel if there weren’t any people around. By this time, my husband was incensed and remembered the room our bags had been put in. He marched over, got them out of the unlocked room, and brought them to the car. We decided we were going somewhere else. At this point the owner ambled out from somewhere in his stocking feet. We told him we were not staying and why. He was furious and was screaming at me telling me what bad people we were and that it was absurd to leave his hotel just because he didn’t answer his phone. I tried explaining about our changing train reservations to an earlier train, that we hadn’t been able to contact them, and that we didn’t feel comfortable in an isolated place where there appeared to be no service whatsoever for guests and no one even bothered to answer a business phone. He screamed. We left. Booking this place was a big mistake on my part. I learned I will never again book lodging at a remote place unless we are completely independent as far as transportation and communication. If we need drivers or people to communicate for us, we will be in a small town.)

Now, after my digression back to where I was. Then, it was off to Chincheros (set at a very high elevation) where we explored the church and village before taking a long hike down to the valley floor and the main road where our driver picked us up. We had a picnic lunch while waiting in the area outside the church because there was a wedding mass going on—three couples at once. The church itself was unique and lovely as was the small town. Then we set off on our downhill hike through a narrow valley gorge cut between two mountains. This was a beautiful hike for an afternoon. As we started walking through the village near the bottom, our guides explained the significance of the red plastic bag hanging outside a house. This is a chicheria or place where they have just brewed chicha for sale. We stopped and bought a glass for all of us. I was able to manage a few sips, my husband maybe three swallows, and our guides polished theirs off. It was really gross, and then, we also started to worry about the water it had been made from. (In a restaurant in Cusco we had chicha de morada which is made from purple corn, is non-alcoholic, and was actually quite good.)

After these two days of hiking which weren’t even full days of hiking, having the route of the Lares trek pointed out to us, and our climb of Huayna Picchu, we were so glad we hadn’t signed on for a multi-day trek. We just hit sixty and have decided we are just too old for extremely strenuous backpacking type trips. The day hikes were a nice compromise. We ended up the day with a dinner in Ollyantaytambo and were dropped off to catch the 7:00 pm backpacker train for Aguas Calientas.

Next installment Machu Picchu.
julies is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 09:03 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
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These posts are great and helpful as I leave in a week!

JC98: You mentioned that you felt safe except in some areas of Lima. We're planning on staying at the Sheraton in Lima Centro. Do you think that's a bad choice???

shothyme77 is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 09:20 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
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I'm not JC, but I wanted to share my feelings on Lima and safety. My husband and I have travelled all over and live in a big city. I would consider us city savvy in terms of safety. Lima was one city we had uncomfortable feelings about walking around at night. We stayed in Miraflores and never made it to downtown. But even walking any distance in Miraflores at night was not comfortable. As a result we took cabs a few times at night when normally we would have walked. I can't give a specific reason we felt a bit unsafe, but we both noted it in spite of the guards everywhere...or maybe that contributed to the feeling. We felt safe elsewhere in Peru.
yestravel is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 10:12 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
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julies - and anyone else who may have done a two-week trip - can you give me an approximate idea of your total trip cost and whether that included domestic airfare? Just trying to figure out the ballpark numbers we should be looking at.

Thanks.
eenusa is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 11:16 AM
  #15  
 
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shothyme77, we also stayed at the Sheraton in Lima. The drawback there is it's not safe to walk to any plazas from the hotel at night. There's one stretch of the road where it looks kinda scary. All the shops were closed and you saw some shady characters around. We walked through that street to get to a plaza (forgot the name, but it's happening and safe there), but returned to the hotel by 9 p.m. The alternative is to take a cab. But if you care about cost, don't let the concierge get one for you as that's like 5x-10x more than the going rate!

But the Sheraton does provide a free shuttle to the Miraflores area. It dropped you off at the big shopping mall by the ocean. But all the major sights are actually in Lima Central, not Miraflores. Miraflores is nicer but kinda boring to us -- like some parts of CA.

So, if you have a choice in hotel, it's probably better to stay in Miraflores and take a cab to Lima Central in the day time for sightseeing. And you can hang out at night in Miraflores, which feels very safe. But if you got a good deal on the Sheraton, then staying there is not too bad. In the daytime, you can easily go to all the sights in Lima Central, and take the free shuttle to Miraflores.

We stayed at the Club Floor, and got free breakfast. It's a good place to try the exotic fruits and some Peruvian cuisine. We didn't get any stomachache.
JC98 is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 11:58 AM
  #16  
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eenusa--

We had four internal flights for a total of around $800 for two people. Our Amazon lodge experience definitely pushed up the total trip costs because that was around $1700 for two people, and $400 of the airfare was to get to Iquitos. If we hadn't done this, the trip would have been really cheap. Everything else--lodging, meals, transportation, admissions, guides--for the entire trip came to around $1000. We are typically frequent European travelers but chose South America this time because of the poor state of the dollar against the euro. I can see that people can travel really cheaply in Peru is you just stick to the basic hotels, meals and transportation without a lot of add ons.
julies is offline  
Jun 11th, 2008, 12:01 PM
  #17  
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Machu Picchu

We had so many difficulties trying to put together a reasonable itinerary that we ended up taking the backpacker train to Aguas Calientes both ways in the dark. Perhaps we missed some scenery on the way, but I figure I’ve seen lots of mountain streams and mountain scenery in my life. Actually, we ended up dozing most of the trip as even reading would have been difficult because of the rather dim light. We arrived at Aguas Calientas and hiked uphill to our hotel la Cabana. I’d kind of been expecting that someone from the hotel might be there to meet us, but this was kind of a mixed up booking and it wasn’t to be. We were upgraded to a triple room that was very nice, and I’d recommend the hotel. Breakfast was the usual lukewarm buffet with scrambled eggs on request. It was nice to have a larger breakfast than just toast and jam and fruit before setting out for the day.

Our plan, of course, had been to take the first bus up and be at Machu Picchu for sunrise. It rained much of the night, and when our alarm went off at 5:00 it was absolutely pouring. We opted to try to go back to sleep, but we couldn’t. So, we were at Machu Picchu by 7:30 or so, in the rain in our plastic ponchos along with all the other people in their ponchos. It made a pretty miserable start to the experience, but we had hope because we were told that the day before it had been exactly the same and had cleared up by 9:30 or 10:00. Despite the rain, we hiked around and took in many of the observation points. The rain started to let up, and it was really interesting to watch the clouds roll in and out, sometimes completely obscure our views. Actually, I got some fantastic and eerie looking photos during this time. Comparing my photos of the rainy, misty, foggy time to those I took later on in the day when it was bright and sunny, I much prefer the ones from the rainy morning. Another issue for those wanting to take photos in the later afternoon hours is that many of the interesting shots lower down are directly into the angled sun.

We had wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, so as it seemed the rain was going to let up, we headed over to sign up for the climb even though we were a bit apprehensive because we had read not to climb it in or after a rain because of the treacherous conditions. On a rainy day at 10:00 we were number 200. For us, this was a harder climb than we’d anticipated, and we were definitely among the oldest people making the climb up. At one point on our way up, a guy who was climbing down stopped my husband and told him that now he’d be the oldest guy at the top since the former oldest (the guy talking to us) was now on his way down. We took it slowly and paused to let those who wanted to go up faster pass us. You also need to try to step aside to let those coming down pass you on the narrow trail. At one point you need to climb through a tunnel effect in the rocks, taking your daypack off because you won’t fit through with the pack on. For some people this whole endeavor of climbing the peak can be quite scary. At some places there are cables in the side of the cliff as a handrail, and they are definitely needed. Right before the actual summit you need to pull yourself up by some ropes. Actually, we found the part just prior to the peak itself to be nicest with the best perspectives and views. The top is a pile of huge boulders with everyone scrambling to pose there for a photo. We didn’t stay long up here.
We stayed just down from the top for a good while admiring the views, taking photos, resting and eating a few snacks we’d brought along. The way down didn’t leave us breathless as did the hike up but was probably actually more scary because of the possibility of slipping on the wet and muddy rocks. At one point I did slip, and it would have been all over for me if I hadn’t had a firm grasp on the cable. Fortunately, I came out of it with nothing worse than a 8” by 6” bruise on my arm for two weeks. My husband also slipped at one point, and we were wearing regular hiking boots.

Back down at Machu Picchu we were pretty tired and, after a bit, decided to go over to the snack bar for lunch before continuing our exploring. It’s a pretty pricey place considering prices in Peru--$10 for one sandwich and one soft drink. After all the climbing we’d done earlier in the morning and then climbing Huayna Picchu, we decided we would minimize our climbing around for the rest of the day. Even though we had originally intended to stay until closing, we were done exploring by shortly after 4:30 and took the bus back down into town. There, we dealt with our train tickets, picked up our suitcase, tried again to reach las Chullpas, and left.

I think we probably chose the worst possible way to time our visit (two evening train trips). If I had it to do all over again, I might just stay in Ollantaytambo and take the 5:30 train up in the morning and then a late afternoon train back down, skipping Aguas Calientes altogether. I really don’t think you’d miss that much by getting there 1 ½ hours after opening rather than first thing. This would be my suggestion if you didn’t plan to hike Huayna Picchu and are just the average person with an average interest in ruins. Or, if you want to hike and/or are a super fanatic fan or ruins, I would arrive in the evening as we did, spend two nights in Aguas Calientes, and then take an early morning train back to Ollantaytambo. This way at the end of a long day at Machu Picchu you could retreat to your room for a good shower and a bit of relaxation. This had been our original plan, but we scrapped it thinking that perhaps we might be able to sleep in and wouldn’t want to get up early to catch an early train after a long day at Machu Picchu.

Next--two final days in the Sacred Valley and Ollaytantambo

julies is offline  
Jun 12th, 2008, 03:38 AM
  #18  
 
Join Date: Feb 2004
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Thanks for the cost info and the breakdown. Reading your report with interest and looking forward to the next section.
eenusa is offline  
Jun 13th, 2008, 05:29 AM
  #19  
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The end of my looooong trip report. I'd also be happy to answer any questions people might have about areas we visited and things we did.

Ollantaytambo, Maras and Moray

We’d liked our driver that Apus had provided so much, that when our trip with them ended we decided to ask Sergio if he’d like to drive for us our last couple days in the Sacred Valley. He speaks a little English, and I speak extremely basic Spanish, but we were able to communicate, and we came to an agreement. The arrangement worked well for us, and we feel having a driver was a nice way to operate. We’d briefly thought about the idea of renting a car and doing it ourselves—our usual mode of operation—but decided against it. I think driving yourself would be easy in the Sacred Valley, but it was very nice to have someone who knew his way around, knew the shortcuts, could make suggestions, and my husband enjoyed being able to just sit and look out of the window rather than just pay strict attention to the road.

As I mentioned earlier we had a hotel fiasco on the outskirts of Urubamba. After leaving las Chullpas at 10:00 at night, we had Sergio take us to Ollytantambo so we could get a place to stay. Especially after the disaster las Chullpas turned out to be, I am so glad we chose this option; we really enjoyed having an interesting small town to just stroll around in the early evening and early morning. We ended up at the Hotel Munay Tika which was nothing special but definitely acceptable and cost about $40 a night. Be sure to request a quiet room; the first night we were in a room that was on the road to the train station and there was quite a bit of traffic noise. Then we switched to an interior room off the courtyard which was a much better option. As far as the ruins in Olly themselves, they were nice but something you could live without seeing if you are short of time. Nothing else really compares to Machu Picchu anyway.

One day we had Sergio drive us to the concentric agricultural experimental rings at Moray, and it made a nice trip. He was able to tell us a little about them and the experiments the Incas had done there. We thought the town of Moray itself looked quaint so we stopped there and strolled around the streets for 20-30 minutes taking photos. Then, it was on to the saltpans at Maras. These were unlike anything we’d ever seen before, and it was a unique experience to just walk through them. From the salt pans there is a nice hike of maybe 45 to 60 minutes back down to the valley where the river is. We then had a late lunch at one of the many buffet restaurants, aimed at the tourist buses, strung along the road in Urubamba (not a recommended experience). Then, we had a stop at Ceramico Semanario where you have to ring a bell to be admitted. I thought there would be demonstrations of some sort. There weren’t. It was basically just a shopping experience. Nice stuff if this is your style; it’s not mine though.

The next day we wanted to be driven up from Ollytantambo towards the weaving village of Huilloc where the inhabitants still dress in native costume. This experience wasn’t nearly as interesting as I thought it would be, and the village itself seemed more modern and didn’t compare to some of the more authentic other villages we’d seen on our trip. Afterwards we had a picnic lunch we’d brought with from Olly. Then, we had Sergio leave us several miles up the dirt road from Olly and walked back into town. It is a beautiful area for walking, and a nice environment to spend some quiet time in.

The next morning Sergio drove us to the airport for our flight to Lima. The drive itself is just over an hour and has nice scenery along the way. This is the first time I have ever gotten a hug from a driver when we parted. We had had fun together because it was an opportunity for me to try my Spanish out a bit, and Sergio was very interested in working on his English. I had a tiny Spanish/English dictionary with me that he’d been very interested in and would read while waiting for us to hike. I left it with him, and I think something like this might be a good gift/tip for the right person.
julies is offline  
Jun 13th, 2008, 05:31 AM
  #20  
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Lima

Our flight schedule was such that we had 10 or 11 hours in Lima before our midnight departure. From the research we’d done, we didn’t think we’d particularly like Lima, and we were right. On the recommendation of some at Tripadvisor, we hired Monica to meet us at the airport and show us the city. She was waiting when we arrived at the airport, and we stored our luggage for the day at the left luggage area. With Monica we saw the colonial heart of the city, drove to see San Isidro and Miraflores, did a tiny bit of shopping in the artisan market, had dinner at Alfresco, and were returned to the airport. For, us this was more than enough of Lima, and I know we won't return. (In fact, my husband says he’d just sit at the airport if we visit Peru again.) It cost a little over $100 to use Monica, and this isn't the type of thing we usually do, but we felt it was a worthwhile and efficient use of our time. Here is her contact info. (511) 999430796

www.monicatoursperu.com.

All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip and definitely recommend Peru to those who like places that combine an interesting native culture, history, and great outdoor activity possibilities.
julies is offline  

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