DCD's trip to Peru: what a beautiful country

Apr 30th, 2011, 03:31 PM
  #1  
dcd
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DCD's trip to Peru: what a beautiful country

I'm now at the Miami airport with a long layover and will start this trip report.

After a terrific Celebrity cruise to the Galapagos, my wife and I headed to Peru for a self directed tour.

We left Quito on April 25 and flew to Lima and then to Cusco where we were met at the airport by Percy Salas, a guide we hired after various online forum recommendations. I was the most nervous about this aspect of the trip so I will emphasize it, thinking many of you will be in a similar position of planning a trip to Peru and wondering who to hire.

I solicited bids from 4 or 5 guides and companies which came recommended on various forums. Percy's suggested itinerary and fees were the best. He had excellent reviews. So I hired him. I let him book the hotels and train tickets to Machu Picchu although I could have done that.

My concerns about hiring him were many: Percy, like many of the guides, has no website; about 6 weeks before the trip, I had wired his bank $1,000 toward his fee of $1,280 which covered his fees and 4 nights of lodging at 3 star hotels (he had recommended some and I selected which ones to use); he would be with us for most of the trip so we hoped we would enjoy his company; and I had no cell phone to call him if our flight(s) ended up being delayed.

Well, that was a lot of needless worry. My wife and I can't recommend Percy highly enough. The posters here and on trip advisor haven't let me down yet and that record remains intact.

Percy is terrific. He's 48 and married with 2 children (15 and 20). He was born in Cusco and still lives there. He is very kind, very knowledgeable about Peru and its history, very reliable, nonsmoker, and a great driver (Toyota Yaris). He has a degree in tourism and has been working in this field for 28 years. He became self-employed 3 years ago. He knows his stuff.

His English is very good, which one may not suspect based on his emails. By the way, he was a little slow to respond to some of my emails but he explained that when he is doing tours, as he has been lately, he often doesn't get the chance to respond as often as he would like. He will try to improve that. He has several other guides with whom he works in the event he should have a conflict, something unusual should come up, or it is cost effective.

For instance, on the Machu Picchu part of our trip, he arranged one of these other guides (Esmerelda) to meet us at the train station at Aguas Calientes and to give us a private tour. She was terrific, too. She is based there during the busier seasons and by using her, we were able to save some significant money by not having to pay for Percy to travel with us there.

Anyway, if you are planning a trip to Peru, you won't go wrong hiring Percy. If we return, he will get our business again. His email address is [email protected]. His cell phone number is 984-621152.

He picked us up outside the airport at 12:45pm (I had emailed him a photo of my wife and I so he'd recognize us), and we headed to the Sacred Valley to start acclimatizing to the altitude. Cusco is about 11,000 feet and the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu are lower, about 8,500-8,800 feet. We visited an Alpaca farm first (Awanacancha which is worth a visit) and then headed to Pisac for lunch he recommended (Blue Hearts) which was very good. (We bought his lunch although that was not expected.)

After lunch, we bought a multi-use ticket for entry to various sights for 130 soles each, which was cheaper than paying separately for each attraction. We visited the Pisac ruins (also well worth a visit) and then headed to Ollytamtambo where we stayed at Pakaritambo, which was very pretty and very nice. (This was the only hotel we stayed which requested that all paper, including toilet paper, be put in the trash can.) It is about an 8-10 minute walk to the Ollytamtambo square from there. Percy drove us to the hotel, arriving around 7:00pm. He made sure our room was ready and what he had booked, and then drove back to Cusco for the night (~1.5 hours). We ate dinner at the hotel which was very good. (The breakfast buffet the next morning was included and very good, too.)

Percy met us at the hotel at 9am, and we spent the morning visiting the Ollytaytambo ruins right in town (don't miss these!!!!!) and then went outside of town to visit the Moray ruins and the Moras salt fields. Both were fascinating and well worth seeing.

All of these attractions are in the Sacred Valley which is a gorgeous part of the Andes mountains. At least it is this time of year. In late April, when the 6 month rainy season is generally over, the mountains are a picture perfect green; however,by June or July, or well into the dry season, the mountains turn yellowish and then brown. We had no rain. Just a lot of sun. (Bring a wide brimmed hat and sunscreen!)

Percy dropped us off at the Ollytantambo train station at 3:00 in plenty of time for our 3:40 Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu.

More to come. Time to grab some dinner before our flight back to St Louis.
dcd is offline  
May 1st, 2011, 05:49 AM
  #2  
 
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Great report Percy Salas

David Choque and Yure Chavez

all get great reivews here.

Your selctions were very wise

many on line Scammers also on Galapagos Cruises

so many foreign expats.

Celebrity Xpedition and Linblad my 2 upscale favs.

Ecoaventura with guanguitagua.com was best local provider

for me got great deals there.

Agree totally that Peru Ecuador are 2 of the most

beautiful and ecodense countries in the world.

Just did a 2k roadtrip down there last fall ready to go back.
qwovadis is offline  
May 3rd, 2011, 09:01 PM
  #3  
dcd
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A couple of clarifications of my original post. The spelling is Ollantaytambo, and Percy's $1280 fee also included all expenses associated with the Machu Picchu part of the trip (the Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes and the train/bus combo back to Cusco; the bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes; the MP entrance fee; and Esmerelda's services). In other words, the $1280 covered everything except our airfare, meals and 130 soles for the multiuse ticket.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes around 5:00pm. The Vistadome train was a nice ride but as others have mentioned, there isn't much room for luggage so bring a small suitcase or backpack only. You will likely end up storing it by your feet. There are no overhead racks and limited space at the back of the rail cars.

Esmerelda met us at the train station and escorted us to our hotel, El Santuario, which was right on the river. It was very nice although the room was very humid even with the AC running, but Esmerelda said that was normal.

She met us at the hotel at 7am the next morning and after a 25 minute bus ride through a misting rain, we arrived at Machu Picchu. We made our way in and found nothing but fog. Then parts of the fog started to lift, giving us brief, teasing glimpses of what lay beyond. By mid-morning, the sun was out and the fog had lifted. What a sight! When the beauty of the surroundings are combined with the realization of what the Incas had been able to accomplish with so little, one is simply left in awe. On the WOW meter, Machu Piccu is way up there.

By 1:00pm, we had toured the ruins and walked to the Inca Bridge (that was an easy and enjoyable trail which took about 50 minutes total). We then headed for the exit and took the bus back down the mountain to catch our 3:30pm train back to Ollantaytambo where Peru Rail transferred us to a 12 passenger van (others were put onto luxury buses). The train normally would go all the way to Cusco but last year's Biblical floods damaged the rail line and it has not yet been fully repaired. Thus, even though you go on Peru Rail's site (perurail.com) and appear to be buying a train ticket from MP to Cusco, you're not, at least not yet. But that ticket is good for the train and bus portion of the return trip back to Cusco.

In 2 hours we were at the Cusco bus station where we were met by one of Percy's associates who drove us to our hotel, the Rumi Punku. It was very nice; probably our favorite. We then had a tapas dinner, including guinea pig, at Cicciolina which was an excellent restaurant. (They have a full menu as well and their small dining room was very romantic.)

The next morning, Thursday, Percy picked us up at the hotel at 9am and we were off for a very enjoyable 2/3 day tour of many Cusco sights, including Saqsayaman, Q'enqo, Puka Pukara, Tambomachay, and an Alpacca store where we picked up 3 Baby Alpacca sweaters. Percy gave me pointers on how to bargain ("try for 20% although you'll probably have to settle for 10-15% off"; I got 22% off!!)

At 1:30pm, Percy dropped us off at our hotel and we spent the afternoon visiting the Cusco Cathedral (ignore the offers from the guides near the ticket office offering their services because the price of the ticket includes audio head sets which are given out inside the Cathedral and were very good), the Temple of the Sun (Santo Domingo Church), and the Chocolate Museum. All were very interesting and well worth a visit. That evening we went to Pachapapa for dinner, another Percy recommendation, and had a wonderful meal, including marinated Alpacca.

Cusco is a city of about 500,000 and certainly has its charming parts. Although it's a little over 11,000 feet high, we didn't experience any altitude sickness issues. I think the key was starting our trip in the Sacred Valley and drinking lots of water when in Cusco. I also drank coca tea regularly.

Next up is Lima.
dcd is offline  
May 3rd, 2011, 10:38 PM
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enjoying your trip report....
ncounty is offline  
May 4th, 2011, 07:31 AM
  #5  
dcd
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If I can figure out how to post pictures, I will try to do so.

A note on the coca tea. Our hotels carried it and offered it for free.

There's a terrific book on the Incas and the Sacred Valley. It's only 150 pages and has lots of full-page pictures and fairly large print so it's easy to get through. It provides the history of the Incas and their origins, at least what's been learned so far and that keeps changing, and discusses the various sights, ruins, etc in the Sacred Valley. It has a section on the flowers in the Valley in the back of the book. An easy and good read before, during or after your trip.

Percy recommended we pick it up from a vendor in Ollantaytambo and I'm real glad we did. It was $20.00. It's called "Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas", 2nd edition (2009) by Fernando and Edgar Salazar. Unfortunately, a google search didn't provide me with any results for it. You might see if you can find a copy when you get to Peru if Amazon doesn't start carrying it (they only have a reference to the out of print 1st edition at this time).

On Friday morning, Percy picked us up at the hotel (he was always on time) and drove us to the airport. It was tough saying good bye to our new friend. He really is wonderful. So nice and easy to talk to. We must have asked him a thousand questions about Peru, its people, customs, politics, religion, education system, taxes, health care, immigration, etc, etc, and he truly enjoyed answering all of them. He got a kick out of comparing his country and culture with ours (US).

One of the reasons I enjoy using private guides is to get a sense of the people of the place I'm visiting. Percy gave us that perspective in spades. By the way, we found the Peruvians to be very nice and accommodating.

We arrived in Lima around 11am and were met inside the airport by our guide for the day, Eduardo Ventocilla, the owner of limacabs.com. (cell: 51-990-292935) I found him through the travel forums and this was another very good hire. He was very prompt in replying to my emails.

He is 35, married and been in the tourist business for most of his adult life. His English is very good. He uses a 7 passenger van which is brand new.

His company's name is a bit of a misnomer. His main business is offering guided tours in and around Lima as well as providing transfers to and from the airport. In addition to himself, he has others in his company who provide the touring and transfer services. We thought his fee was very reasonable ($140) but, like Percy, the word is out so if you want him, book as early as possible.

He's an excellent driver, crucial for Lima which is a one big traffic nightmare. There are 10 million inhabitants and the roads are constantly crammed with cars around the clock, per Eduardo. The traffic lanes, and there are lots of them, are apparently just suggestions of where the cars should be. Yet the locals know the "rules of the road" and do just fine weaving in and out of those lanes on a regular basis. We quickly learned that the honking of the horn is a normal part of the driving experience. After a brief while, we weren't bothered by it. Bottom line, I wouldn't want to attempt driving there, and I've driven the streets of NYC, Chicago and LA in rush hour.

Eduardo drove us around for the next 6.5 hours and took us to the historical district where we spent most of our time. It was architecturally beautiful with brightly painted plazas that were huge. He was very knowledgeable about the history. As with Percy, we asked tons of questions about everything Peruvian and he, too, enjoyed the interaction. He was very personable and friendly. Would hire him again in a heartbeat.

We had our best meal of the trip when he took us to Tanta in the historical district for lunch. There are apparently four of these restaurants in Lima. (http://www.foodandwine.com/restaurants/tanta; http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic...Lima-Lima.html) The tuna ("atun"), which looked like a thick tenderloin and was perfectly cooked (rare) and the beef ("lomo saltado") were outstanding. But very little English is spoken here by the waiters.

In our Peruvian travels, we learned that the locals eat their big meal of the day at lunch which begins in earnest around 1pm and eat a light meal for dinner which starts around 7-7:30pm. We also learned that the portions tend to be large and could be split. Trout is a favorite there and is very good. Interestingly, the worldwide obesity epidemic hasn't hit Peru yet.

We ended the day with a trip to Miraflores where we drove through the business district and along the Pacific Ocean.

He then drove us to the Ramada Costa del Sol in the Lima airport where we spent the night. A little pricey but worth it for the convenience of being just a minute's walk to the airport. On the 2nd floor, there's a walkway which takes you over the street below and directly into the concourse. It was very reassuring being right there and not having to worry about fighting the Lima traffic to get to the airport on time. Book online and get a AAA discount.(http://www.ramada.com/Ramada/control...opertyId=16013)

My wife and I were very glad we included Peru on this trip, our first to South America. Percy and Eduardo made it affordable and we saw and learned so much. And it's natural beauty made it an unforgettable experience.
dcd is offline  
May 4th, 2011, 11:59 AM
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Great report! I'm going next week, and will be staying at several of the same places --Pakaritampu, Rumi Punku, Ramada. Nice to hear you enjoyed them.
lcuy is offline  
May 4th, 2011, 09:49 PM
  #7  
dcd
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Here are some photos of the sites and of Percy Salas:

https://picasaweb.google.com/DavidCo...NmI09PHkM-DYQ#
dcd is offline  
Jun 10th, 2011, 06:31 PM
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Loved your report. I have been pondering our trip to Peru but quickly became a bit overwhelmed with the itinerary. Your trip report made me very comfortable at contacting Percy. He replied within a week & gave a great itinerary. I told him we'd love to spend 2 wks there & include the Amazon jungle plus Lake Titicaca. We're really looking forward to our upcoming trip next April. Thanks again for writing such a wonderful journal of places seen, places to stay & where to eat. The pictures were great.
Idahospud is offline  
Jun 11th, 2011, 06:20 AM
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Thanks for your report and helpful tips. I am going in Oct and hired Percy as guide without getting quotes from other guides. I thought his pricing was on high side, but glad to hear it was the best and that services were excellent.
Jackie is offline  
Jun 11th, 2011, 12:39 PM
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We also found Peru a wonderful country,dcd.

I was, however, surprised that you singled out Pakaritampu's bathroom rules. Every hotel we stayed at (including Rumi Punku, and Costa del Sol at the Airport) had a sign to that effect or had a bin labelled accordingly. Many of these old cities worldwide want their sewers treated gently. Turkey, Greece, Cambodia all come to mind.
lcuy is offline  
Jun 13th, 2011, 08:15 PM
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Were you able to fly from Lima to Cusco without overnighting there? Looks like the airfare within Peru is a bit expensive. Did you find that to be the case? You mentioned to only take a backpack to Machu Picchu. Did you leave your suitcase at the hotel?
Idahospud is offline  
Jun 14th, 2011, 01:08 PM
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International flights to Lima often arrive at midnight-ish, so often there is a 5-6 hour wait for the first flight to Cusco the next morning. You can wait at the airport (24/7, one of the nicest in South America), walk to the Ramada Inn (rather expensive) or go to a less expensive airport area hotel (not a great neighborhood) for a few hours in a room.

Airfare for domestic flights can often be added to the international ticket for a reasonable cost. If that isn't an option, you can use Star Peru or Peruvian Airlines to cut domestic flight costs. There is also an airpass if you arrive into SA on LAN or a One World partner.

Yes most hotels hold luggage there is also storage at some of the train stations.

A good website to browse (beside Fodors of course) is www.andeantravelweb.com
mlgb is offline  
Jun 15th, 2011, 12:56 PM
  #13  
dcd
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Hi lcuy, well, we looked for signs in the other hotels but didn't see any. We were fully expecting to, but they weren't there.

Idahospud and Jackie, you just made a great hire. Please tell him Dave and Joyce from St Louis say "Hola".

Idahospud, there are lots of LAN flights departing Lima to Cusco, usually twice an hour in the mornings and then leveling off but continuing well into the afternoon. (TACA Air had far fewer flights to Cusco; there is one other airline - STAR- which I avoided based on forum reviews and it too had only a couple of flights.)

We were doing a Quito-Lima-Cusco trip all in one day (we'd been on a Galapagos cruise). We took a 7:25am TACA flight on 4/25 (a Monday) from Quito and arrived Lima at 9:35am and then took a 11:00am LAN flight to Cusco (takes about an hour). Those 2 flights had us concerned but in the end, everything worked out well. They were both on time; we got thru customs quickly; and there were no weather issues (fog).

Now going home, we did fly Cusco to Lima and then overnighted there out of an abundance of caution so we wouldn't miss our flight back to the US the next morning. But that also allowed us to see some of Lima which was well worth doing, since we were in the hood anyway........

Whether you need to overnite in Lima probably depends on when your flight arrives/leaves there.

Airfares inside Peru can be expensive. I don't recall what we paid (that info is at home). Apparently there are prices for Peruvians and different, higher prices for non-Peruvians.

Regarding MP and the luggage issue, we gave our extra bags to Percy who then took them to our Cusco hotel where they were waiting for us upon our arrival from MP. It helps that he lives in Cusco!

I found the tripadvisor forums to offer invaluable tips and insights into travelling in Peru. Perhaps you've already discovered them. If not, here are some links:

Machu Picchu:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum...ed_Valley.html

Cusco and surrounding areas:
http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum...023-Cusco.html

Have a great trip!! Wish we could have spent 2 weeks there and hit the Amazon and Lake Titicaca.
dcd is offline  
Jun 15th, 2011, 09:56 PM
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Great report. It is amazing when the fog lifts at MP, isn't it?

I also did a "fly by" in Lima and am glad I did. it is a great way to spend time during a layover. Was the Yale/Machu Picchu exhibit still at the palace? (Yale just returned most of the "borrowed" artifacts and they were on display for a couple weeks before heading to Cusco for storage until the new museum is ready)

And regarding the toilet paper--even the five star hotels we stayed at requested all paper, including toilet paper, go into a bin and none into the toilet. We laughed and said that while the beds might better, we all share the same egalitarian sewer system. : )

Look forward to seeing more photos.
BostonHarbor is offline  
Jun 16th, 2011, 04:40 PM
  #15  
dcd
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BostonHarbor, the fog was amazing. Some of my favorite shots are of the photographers and their tripods silhouetted against the fog. But to tell you the truth, I was just thrilled the fog did lift as I understand there are no guarantees.....

The pics in the link above were taken by my wife who is just getting into photography. She's not quite the rabid shutterbug you and I are. At least not yet. She did a very nice job.

I don't know if the Yale exhibit was in Lima when we were but if it was, we missed it.
dcd is offline  
Jun 16th, 2011, 05:26 PM
  #16  
dcd
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Idahospud, I found my master card receipts for the airfare. Our roundtrip flights from Lima to Cusco cost $410.00 per person.
dcd is offline  
Jun 16th, 2011, 05:53 PM
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Great report, very much enjoyed hearing about your trip. Count me as another Percy fan. We used him several years ago and thought he was wonderful. A good guide can make all the difference!
althom1122 is offline  
Aug 20th, 2011, 05:42 PM
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What kind of clothing is needed for May? It looks like it gets to 72 but drops down at night. Haven't heard from Percy lately so hopefully will soon so we can finish up our plans.
Idahospud is offline  
Aug 21st, 2011, 10:02 AM
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May will be cold enough at night that you will want something warm to wear, and possibly to sleep in. May in Lima can be very much like San Francisco, foggy enough that the sidewalks get dangerously slippery. The good part of that weather pattern is that you can sleep with the windows closed if your Lima lodging has no A/C.

That is also a time of year when fog can affect arrivals and departures at Lima airport, so I would not try to the do the Cusco-Lima-international all in the same day. And as others have said, Lima is a worthwhile stop, even if just to eat and visit the Rafael Larco Museum and the Plaza de Armas.
mlgb is offline  
Aug 29th, 2011, 04:10 PM
  #20  
dcd
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Idahospud, just saw your post. Pack in layers because of the variable temps. We'd often start out with a light waterproof jacket (Marmots are great), a T shirt, a long sleeve shirt and zipoff (long) pants. But by mid afternoon, we might be down to rolled up long sleeves and no jacket. We wore zipoffs because they dry quickly in the event of rain and because, if we needed shorts, we could easily switch. I think we stuck with long pants primarily to protect our legs from no-seeums and other biting bugs, especially at the higher altitudes.

Don't forget a wide brimmed hat to block the sun!!

Hope you've heard from Percy. I sometimes had to wait a week or 2 when he got busy with prolonged tours.
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