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In Celebration of Retiring: A Luxe Trip to Peru


Nov 27th, 2014, 09:47 AM
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In Celebration of Retiring: A Luxe Trip to Peru

Peru has long been on my list of places to visit. In fact, it may have been the first place I put on my list a child. I read everything I could get my hands on about the Incas. So it seems rather odd to me that Peru became my retirement trip… shouldn’t I have gotten there long ago?

Some 25 years ago, I started planning a trip to Peru. I found a company that offered a tour that included two nights at Macchu Picchu – three days to explore the ruins! That became my vision of what I wanted to do in Peru.

So as I considered this trip to Peru, I wanted us to have ample time in the Sacred Valley and in Cusco as well as three days of entry to Machu Picchu. I also researched where I wanted to stay – Tambo del Inka was the place for us in the Sacred Valley, Sactuary Lodge at Machu Picchu. I looked longingly at the Hiram Bingham train. I’d always wanted to ride on one of the Orient Express Trains. As I looked at the price of the train, I decided we should do it – it’s the least expensive Orient Express Train journey in the world. While the Orient Express company has changed its name to the Belmond Group, it’s still the Orient Express to me.

I did a rough draft of an itinerary and a cost estimate based on prices on the web. Then I decided to contact a couple of local agencies in Peru for a bid. I sent off my requirements, and got the best response from Paul Jones at Totally Latin America. www.totallylatinamerica.com He and I corresponded via email and then spoke on the phone (the company has a toll-free US number) and quickly settled on an itinerary. Cheryl and I made the trip more affordable by using Marriott points for our hotel in Lima and our hotel in Cusco. I had Paul include all transfers and to include a car and driver for our entire stay in the Sacred Valley. We did not ask for any guides or tours.

The itinerary we settled on was:
3 nights in Lima at the JW Marriott
3 nights in the Sacred Valley at Tambo del Inka
4 nights in Cusco at the JW Marriott
2 nights at Macchu Picchu at the Sanctuary Lodge
2 nights in Cusco JW Marriott

First, a few general comments:

Weather: November is shoulder season, as the rains often start in November. We hoped the rains would wait until late November. The weather reports before we left were predicting daily rains. Fortunately, the predictions were wrong. Cheryl was drenched in a brief cloudburst in Cusco, but otherwise we had sprinkles (and one thunderstorm at night) and lots of sunshine.

Spelling of place names: There is much variation, for example, Cuzco/Cusco. I have tried to choose one spelling and stick with it, but I make no representiaon of what is “correct.”

Cell phones: We switched to T-Mobile early this year so we would have free data in over 200 countries. It worked just fine in Peru.

Food: The food in Peru is just fabulous. In part, this is because of the attention to the the use of fresh, local, usually organic ingredients. Even small restaurants in Cusco cited their own organic gardens in the Sacred Valley.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 09:48 AM
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The trip:

As we started making plans for this trip, I was pleased to discover how reasonably priced business class tickets are to Lima – under $2000 from Seattle. We flew from Seattle to Houston, then Houston to Lima, arriving just before midnight. Our driver was waiting for us as we left baggage claim. He drove us to the JW Marriott, making restaurant recommendations and recommendations for sight-seeing. The advantage of arriving that late at night was that there was very little traffic. Cheryl is a Platinum Elite with Marriott, so we got a beautiful, large room with a stunning view of the ocean.

How did we like the Marriott? The room and the view were great. The location was fine. But it was a business hotel, and very oriented to the business traveler. The Club lounge and its food offerings were not very interesting… but it was “free.”

The one thing we knew we wanted to do in Lima was to visit the Larco Museum. We had heard about Astrid y Gaston, so wanted to eat there. We had the concierge make us a reservation.

We took a taxi to the Larco Museum, arriving soon after it opened, so it was uncrowded. We really liked the Larco Museum, and highly recommend it. Their collection of ceramics is stunning. I spent some time in the open storage rooms, where you can see thousands of ceramics shelved in big rooms. I enjoyed wandering the aisles, looking at dozens of variations of bowls in cat motifs, for instance.

From the museum, we took a taxi to Astrid y Gaston. It turned out we had a reservation for the tasting menu. It was a geat way to start off this vacation! I did a brief report on our meal there, and Cheryl took photos (of course!). http://www.fodors.com/community/sout...odies-only.cfm

We walked back to the Marriott from our meal at Astrid y Gaston, so had an opportunity to see some neighborhoods and parks on the way.

The next day we started the day with a walk along the ocean cliff in Miraflores. We opted for lunch at Alfresco, a seafood place recommend by many, including our driver from the airport.

After lunch, we visited the mud-brick pyramid in Miraflores, Pucllana, and were given an English-language tour.

Our time in Lima was short, and we missed the things most people recommend, but we did the things that most interested us. I do recommend that you choose a couple of great places to eat in Lima. The food is really a highlight.

Next up: The Sacred Valley.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 12:13 PM
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It was a short, uneventful flight from Lima to Cusco, about an hour.

Our driver picked us up as planned and drove us to the airport. She escorted us in and got us checked in quickly. Only as we were checking in did I notice that we were flying Avianca, a member of Star Alliance. Great! I’ll take as many miles as I can get. Our Star Alliance Gold Cards got us priority boarding on the flight.

Upon arrival in Cusco, we were met by our driver for the next four days in the Sacred Valley, Gilbert, and Paul Jones, the agent at Totally Latin America, who made all of our arrangements. We were glad to meet Paul as it had been such a pleasure to work with him.

We talked together about what might make sense for the day, and came up with several options.

Gilbert drove us to our hotel for the next three nights, the Tambo del Inka in Urubamba. The drive was about 90 minutes. We checked in, had a nice light lunch in the hotel restaurant, got a bit settled, and asked the concierge to make restaurant reservations for us for the next three nights at El Hucatay, 3 Karos, and Qanela. Every source I looked at recommended El Hucatay and 3 Karos, Kristina (thanks!) added Qanela. All three places were an easy walk from our hotel. We then met Gilbert for our drive to Salinas in Maras (salt pans) and Moray (circular terraces).

Our plan was to buy our 10-day Boleto Turistico ticket on this day, but it was late enough in the afternoon that the ticket booths were closed. We went to Maras first, and the woman at the entrance told our driver she wasn’t going to charge us because it wasn’t clear that we could get down to the salt pans. A large truck was stuck on the road. We drove as far as we could, then our driver said it would be about 15 minutes or so, but he expected them to clear the road. We later found out that the truck had been stuck for 3 hours, but Gilbert was right, they finished clearing the truck in about 15 minutes.

The salt pans looked other-worldly. We walked and looked, bought a couple bags of salt, and sampled the salted chocolate one vendor had. It’s fascinating to me that these salt pans, that have been here for hundreds of years continue to support several thousand families.

Next we went to the see the circular terraces at Moray. The circular terraces look so perfect, it’s hard to imagine just how they were built – but so much of what we saw in Peru was like that.

Gilbert drove us back to Tambo Del Inka.

We had 7 pm reservations at El Hucatay. This is 6 short blocks from the hotel, so we walked over there in the fading light. As this was our first day at altitude, we chose to forgo the Pisco Sour, though Cheryl did order a beer with dinner. After deliberating over the wonderful menu, we opted to each order an appetizer and split a main. I orderd coconut shrimp with a spicy mango dipping sauce and Cheryl ordered ricotta croquettes. As our main we ordered “giant” lamb and greens ravioli in a “chocolate sauce” – what we would recognize as a mole variation. The food was excellent!

As we walked back to the hotel, it started to sprinkle and we heard thunder. But the rain held off until we were back at the hotel. It poured much of that first night.
I know that a number of people have described this place, let me add my voice to saying how wonderful it is. We had a room on the 3rd floor (which is the floor on which you enter) overlooking the pool waterfalls. The rooms and the bathrooms are large and well-appointed. We left the sliding doors open all night to enjoy the fresh mountain air and the sound of the rain.

After talking with a number of people about Diamox (a medication to prevent altitude sickness), including our doctor and our pharmacist, we decided to start taking it. Especially convincing was the experience of a woman, a now-retired Spanish teacher, who had escorted many groups of high school students to Machu Picchu who we met in the Lima airport. She said more than half the kids (those who did not take the medication) had some altitude sickness.

Upon the advice of our medical providers, I took a sample dose before leaving home, as I am allergic to sulfa. Diamox has some sulfa compounds, but both my doctor and the pharmacist thought I could likely take it without a problem, I had no side effects from the sample dose, so Cheryl and I decided to take it at a half dose level and started it a day and a half before flying to Cusco. We both did fine, until that first morning in the Sacred Valley, when I awoke with a rash on my arms. A rash is a cardinal sign of an allergy, and I had been instructed to discontinue it if I developed a rash. So no more Diamox for me. I do think it helped with my adjustment to the altitude and Cheryl also felt it was helpful.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 12:16 PM
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More of the Sacred Valley

Breakfast was included in our room rate. The hotel has quite a buffet spread with all the usual suspects, but they also have a menu to order from if you would like to augment the buffet: omelets, french toast, delicious quinoa pancakes, even an Eggs Benedict variation.

Our destinations on our first full day in the Sacred Valley were Ollataytambo and Pisac. Ollataytambo is at one end of the Sacred Valley, Pisac at the other end. Urubamba is in the middle, making it an ideal place to stay to see the whole valley. In our travels, we drove through Lamay, renowned for cuy, cooked on a skewer. We saw local women grilling these as we passed, and it occurred to me that this was likely the Peruvian equivalent of the rotisserie chicken the US – a ready cooked main course around which to plan your meal.

Both sites involved lots of walking and stair-climbing. I found the descent of the stairs more treacherous that the ascent. I used trekking poles and found them helpful (especially as I was having some dizziness from the altitude).

Both sites had extensive terraces, as all the places the Incas lived did. Both sites also had extensive Incan stone work. There has been some reconstruction at both sites. The best Incan stone work has perfectly fitted stones with no mortar, some areas that are Incan that use smaller stones and no mortar, just stacking, and some Incan stone work does involve the use of mortar.

We enjoyed both sites… it felt rather like a build-up to Machu Picchu. Indeed, that was how I planned it. I wanted to see a good variety of Inca sites before going to Machu Picchu so we would have points of reference.

At Pisac, a falcon was playing in the updrafts. Cheryl watched it and photographed it – it was as if it were posing for her. After 15 minutes or so of quite a show, it landed in front of her, then flew off. Another visitor stopped and commented on the falcon showing off for Cheryl.

That evening we ate at 3 Karos. The owner is a real character, and we talked with him for quite a while about his menu. Again, the food was excellent. We shared the asparagus, hearts of palm and avocado salad that Kristina described, then Cheryl had beef and I had lamb. Another great dining experience in Peru!

After another beautiful breakfast, we were ready for more touring.

Our destination for our third full day was Chinchero. This was our favorite site in the Sacred Valley. We walked through the charming village, noting that many walls in the small town incorporate the Incan stonework. This is one of the villages in the valley were the residents speak Quecha. At the end of the village walk is the church, but also the Incan temple of the sun. I was struck by the use of the in situ stone for a couple of the altars. There were very few people there when we arrived, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves – very unlike our other stops. We spent a fair amount of time just sitting and admiring the stone work, soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying the beautiful scenery.

We stopped at a weaving co-op next. The demonstrations were interesting, and the hand-made textiles were very high quality. These may have been the best textiles we saw. Cheryl accepted a cup of coca tea from a woman there. After one sip noticed that it was lukewarm, and stopped. But she had a brief bout of tourista later in the afternoon. So stop, watch the demonstrations, buy some things, but don’t drink the tea!

The weather predictions had been for rain, rain, rain, but while we had clouds and a few sprinkles, the only rain we had was our first night when we had a dramatic lightning and thunderstorm and torrential rains.

Our time was running out at Tambo del Inka, so we stopped in the bar there to have a Pisco Sour. The drinks there are very good, indeed, and the hand-made potato chips were` a great accompianment.

We ate that evening at Qanela. It was not as good as the other places we ate in Urubamba. The menu was less Peruvian – Cheryl had Lasagna, I had a chicken breast stuffed with proscuitto and cheese. The food was good, but not exceptional, unlike the other two places we ate in Urubamba.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 01:41 PM
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Signing on for more. Sounds like a great trip.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 02:14 PM
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Happy Thanksgiving and congratulations on your retirement! Peru is also on my list yet somehow, like you, it seems to be taking me a while to get there. I've created a few sample itineraries for possible trips which are similar to yours, so I'm looking forward to more.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 03:33 PM
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Thursdays and Femi, glad to have you along!

The next day after breakfast, we headed back to Cusco.

I forgot to mention that we bought our 10-day Boleto Turistico for 130 Soles in Ollataytambo on our first morning in the Sacred Valley. This worked out perfectly for us, as we still had a day left on our tickets when we returned from Machu Picchu. While some people complain about the price, I was glad to pay it. Peru does a great job of caring for their heritage sites and I want to support that.

We wanted a market experience in the Sacred Valley, but not Pisac. We wanted a less tourist-oriented market. Gilbert suggested the Chinchero Sunday market. So on our way to Cusco, that was our stop. There were lots of fruits and vegetables and only a small portion of the market was aimed at tourists. The produce was beautiful!

We arrived and checked in at the Marriott and received a warm welcome. The public spaces are beautiful, with places that show the Incan stone work. Unfortunately, our room was so small, there was just enough room to get out of bed. The man who checked us in found a double room slightly larger, but the bathroom was still tiny. We agreed to move there for one night until a suite would be available. They were happy to upgrade us to a suite for free, as Cheryl is a Platinum Elite.

The Marriott has an ideal location just a block off the Plaza de Armas, so everything was easy walking distance.

We walked around the Plaza de Armas, and had lunch at Greens. Both of us were feeling the increase in altitude, so took naps. We wanted something light for dinner, and Cheryl had read a good review of Sara nearby the Marriott. Unfortunately, our experience was not so good. Cheryl’s dinner arrived room temp – she sent it back and it came back hot this time, but now with overcooked meat and soggy veggies. My ravolis were ok – though had little in common with the desciption the waitperson gave. In the end, Cheryl ordered a bowl of soup and we were comped our waters and not charged for the bad main course. Cheryl disclosed that the positive review she had read was on TripAdvertiser. Never again, she says.

We were up early and packed our suitcases for the room move. Breakfast was nice, with a large selection of fruits, juices, breads, etc, and an egg station. After a light breakfast, we were off to see some of the wonders of Cusco.

Our first stop was the Museum of PreColumbian Art – beautiful collection, wonderful museum. Cheryl has some very nice photos of some of the items. After that we headed to the Museum of the Inka, almost next door. They have some interesting items, like the mummies, but the collection is not as professionally presented. On the way to the museums we found two places we wanted to eat – Fallen Angel and Cicciolini. We walked down to the Plaza, sat in the warm sun for a while, then went to Qorikancha. This was the temple the Incans had lined with gold plates and filled with gold statuary. The Spanish melted down all the gold they received to ransom the Inca, and then murdered him. The Spanish pulled down the beautiful Incan buildings and replaced them with substandard construction that gets damaged in quakes, while the Incan stone work remains intact. It is hard to visit many of these places.

We had lunch right next door at Café Qorikancha – lovely place, excellent lunch.

When we got back, our suite was ready and our luggage was in the suite– now this was more like it! We had a nice living room, a writing desk in the bedroom and a big bathroom. There was also a half bath off the living room.

We asked the concierge to make dinner reservations for all of our nights in Cusco, we made pedicure appts in the spa, and reserved a taxi to take us to three nearby ruins the next day.

We had an ok dinner at one of the places on our list that night. The décor was over the top – the food was not.

The next morning, I awoke with quite a headache. The altitude was getting to me. Hotel staff brought me coca tea. Then I became nauseous. We called down to the front desk, and they sent up a paramedic with an oxygen bottle. After 5 minutes of an oxygen treatment, I was feeling better. We also asked for oxygen to be pumped to our room. But as time went on, I was having increasingly severe gastro-intestinal symptoms. While it is very common to have nausea with altitude sickness, this seemed like more. After a discussion with the hotel’s paramedic, we both concluded that I must have eaten something bad, so I began treating myself for bacterial food poisoning. I always take along antibiotics, and this was one of the very few times I’ve ever needed them. I started to feel better within a few hours of my first dose. So with both food poisoning and altitude sickness, I curled up in our suite and Cheryl went out to explore.

Cheryl bought a pass for 30 soles that let her into a number of the churches on the square, including the Catedral. She also saw two other churches, Museo Arzobispal and Templo de San Blas. Since the admision price for the Catedral is 25 soles, the pass was a bargain.

After her day of churches and hanging out at the Plaza D'Armas, Cheryl ordered a room service dinner; I still wasn’t eating.

The following morning, I was still ill, but a bit better. I went downstairs for a croissant and a cup of tea. Cheryl went out and wandered around, stumbling across the San Pedro Market, which is somewhere she wanted to explore. The market is huge, and has everything for locals and the indoor market had more goods of interest to visitors, like textiles and such. But most of the market was foods – not only fruits and vegetables, but also meats, fish, cheese and household items.

I was well enough later in the afternoon to eat a late light lunch at Greens. I needed to be ready for the Hiram Bingham Train the next day.

We had (obviously) cancelled our taxi to the nearby ruins and decided we would see those ruins after we returned from Machu Picchu.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 04:09 PM
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So sorry that you got sick!
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Nov 27th, 2014, 07:13 PM
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Good decision to take the antibiotics quickly. Our son did the same and it saved him a day or two.
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Nov 27th, 2014, 07:30 PM
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Good to hear you had a good time Kathie.following along with interest ( from Hanoi)
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Nov 27th, 2014, 09:49 PM
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Too bad about the illness. Good that the meds were effective.

I guess Greens was okay, since you went back?

I assume the reason you backtracked to Cusco from Urubamba, was in order to take the Hiram Bingham?

For those not doing that or hiking the Inca Trail, you can better mitigate altitude symptoms by going Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu (trains leave from Ollantaytambo, as well as a few from the Tambo del Inka), and ending at the highest altitude, Cusco.

Will be looking forward to the rest.

Isn't retirement great?
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Nov 28th, 2014, 06:52 AM
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Good to have you along, colduphere, Crellston and mlgb.

Yes, Greens was good. When I was trying to recover from being ill, it seemed like the right place to go.

Yes, we went to Cusco after the Sacred Valley, as we wanted to catch the Hiram Bingham from there - get the full journey. Also, I wanted to see as much of the Incan history as possible before going to Machu Picchu. But you are right about mitigating the altitude. I had been at altitude before without problems, but I was only at 10,000 feet or so. I was really surprised by how bad I felt.

I'll be back with more soon.
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Nov 28th, 2014, 09:27 AM
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Wonderful report. Waiting to hear about sanctuary Lodge - we stayed there in 2005. Also loved Chinchero -- we bought a lovely piece from a charming artist

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Nov 28th, 2014, 10:22 AM
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Hi Elizabeth, glad to have you along. I though I had remembered you had stayed at the Sanctuary Lodge on your trip.

Now to the heart of our trip: Machu Picchu

The next morning we were up early to prepare for our trip to Machu Picchu. This is the heart of the trip! One can only take one carry-on sized case, so we packed what we needed in our carry-ons and left everyhting else in our big suitcases to be stored by the Marriott. We had a light breakfast, knowing they would serve us brunch on the train.

Our driver and his helper arrived about 8:15 to take us the half hour to Poroy, from where the Hiram Bingham departs at 9:10. The helper had our train tickets and our admission tickets to Machu Picchu. When we arrived at the station, there were dancers performing in front of the station, with live music as well. They were pouring sparking wine. I took a glass, but was only up for a few sips. We were escorted onto the train, our luggage wisked away. The train was not full, they were using only one dining car and we had a four-person table to ourselves. Another advantage of not traveling during high season!

The train interior looked just like I had imagined – all polished wood and polished brass. There are comfortable banquettes for seating, small lamps on each table, and small lamps wall-mounted. The windows were huge, giving one a full view of the passing scenery. All of the staff were very warm and helpful.

There is a bar car in the back with live music. We sat there a while, but soon returned to our lovely table.

The train makes one stop at Ollantaytambo where it picks up more passengers. So the brunch service begins after that. The brunch consists of an amuse bouche plus three courses. There are excellent Chilean wines served, and picso sours are available as well. The food is perfectly prepared; the service is impeccable.

The scenery as we head toward Machu Picchu is gorgeous. There are snow-capped mountains backing the green of the Sacred Valley, beautiful cultivated terraces and fields, small towns. As we head into the mountains, the scenery changes. Soon, the train pulled into the station at Machu Picchu Pueblo, formerly called Aguas Callientes.

We disembarked from the train, crossed over the tracks on a pedestrian bridge, and got on a bus to the Sanctuary Lodge. Our luggage was taken care of by the staff.

I have heard people complain about this bus ride – I even heard of someone who found the ride so frightening they opted to walk back to town via the 3-hour trail rather than to ride the bus back down. I have to say I didn’t think the bus ride was bad at all. But then I grew up near the mountains, and rode and drove through mountain passes many times. I can remember as a child, my father driving visitors up to Stevens Pass on the old road – just one switchback after another on a narrow road. As people got nervous, he’s say – “don’t look down, look up – and watch for falling rock.” It became a family joke about people who found the mountains intimidating.

The bus dropped us off right at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. We went in and checked in, and went to our mountain view room. Our luggage was already there. We got ready for our first visit to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is a couple thousand feet lower than Cusco, so we were feeling good.

The Hiram Brigham train furnishes a guide for a two hour overview of Machu Picchu. There were only four of us for the English-speaking tour, Cheryl and I and a couple from Scotland. This was a fine size for a group tour as far as we were concerned. Our guide, Carlos, was excellent. He have us three hours rather than the two, and we covered a lot of ground. He also made recommendations about where we should go the next day on our own. I took my trekking poles in the first day, but found I really didn’t need them so didn’t take them the next two days. The paths and stairs at MP are in better condition than those at the Sacred Valley sites. Also, I was better acclimated to the altitude so didn’t feel so unsteady on my feet. While there are all kinds of rumors that trekking poles are not allowed, there was absolutely no problem taking them into the site.

We went into the ruins, through the Temple of the Sun with its remarkable semi-circular wall and cave-like “mausoleum” below, the multi-room House of the Inca, and onward to the Sacred Plaza with the Temple of Three Windows. Next, we climbed up to Intiwatana (the iconic finger-like carved stone). We went all the way to the entrance where one climbs Huayna Picchu, at the far end of the site.

As we worked our way back to the entrance, Carlos gave more information about current thinking on the site and gave suggestions about what to see in the following days. He was an excellent guide, and the information he gave was consistent with our extensive readings. It was a great start to our time at Machu Picchu.

He got us back to the Sanctuary Lodge in time for the afternoon tea for guests on the Hiram Bingham Train. The tea was lovely – quite a spread. There were little tea sandwiches like chicken and peach, or avocado, tomato and egg. There were petits fours, tiny fruit tarts, scones… pretty much all the traditional accompianiments, beautifully done. There were iced teas as well as hot tea.

Most of the people on the train returned the same day, a few stayed one night at the Sanctuary Lodge. We were the only ones who stayed two nights.

The Sanctuary Lodge is an old property. It’s a very valuable proprty because nothing else can be constructed so close to the ruins. So when the Orient Express/ Belmond group purchased the property, the best they could do was to remodel what was already there. The one downside to the rooms is their size – they are all rather small. But everything has been prefectly updated, the be linens are absolutely silky and the beds very comfortable. There are big, plush towels in the bathroom and lovely, Peruvian cotton bathrobes. The staff at the Lodge are excellent, the service is superb.

While the Hiram Bingham train is pricey - $322 pp each way – it includes everything: two full meals on the train, transport from the train station to Machu Picchu, entrance to Machu Picchu, a guided tour, afternoon tea, transport back to the train station, all wine and drinks on the train, live entertainment on the train. For us, it was one of those experiences well worth the price.

While the other guests returned to the train, we strolled the grounds of the Sanctuary Lodge, then returned to our room. Dinner was at 7. The room price at the Lodge is all-inclusive: a buffet breakfast with eggs available, an a la carte lunch and dinner, all drinks and wines. The Lodge offers a “hands on” class on Pisco sours at about 6, then a slide show about Machu Picchu at 6:30.

We had a lovely dinner. The menu is extensive and everything we tasted was excellent. Again, all of the food is fresh, local and organic.
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Nov 28th, 2014, 11:09 AM
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Fantastic report. I'm just going to copy your trip. The whole thing from hotels, cities and the train. Done! Planned! You did a great job with your choices and your report is excellent!

But so sorry you got sick and so happy you recovered to enjoy the highlight of your trip. Was Cheryl able to stay on the meds the whole time? Did it work fully against altitude sickness for her?

Take care.
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Nov 28th, 2014, 11:55 AM
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Lolazahra, Cheryl was able to take the Diamox the whole time and felt it was very helpful. Nonetheless, we were both glad to be back at sea level! Even on the medicine, you will still feel winded climbing hills or stairs or even just walking around, but it does take care of the headache and some other altitude sickness symptoms.

The next morning, we were up early, hoping to beat the crowds at the Guard House. We were inside the gates about 6:30 and headed directly to the guard house. Unfortunately, that is what everyone else was doing. The area right by the guardhouse was packed with tour groups of 20 or so. There were people lined up 50 deep to get their photo taken on the flat rock near the guardhouse. We went up past the guardhouse to the Kallinka (an open air gathering place, like the Roman arenas), and the terrace of the ceremonial rock, which was fascinating. Just trying to get back down was a hassle, as there were so many people. Here is the downside of visiting Machu Picchu: so many people go there, some times it is difficult to enjoy the place. And a great many people go in tour groups, which makes getting around them harder.

After the Guardhouse, Cheryl hiked up to the sun gate, while I went back into the main part of the ruins. I was able to find places I could just sit and enjoy being in the ruins.

That afternoon, after another lovely lunch, we spent time in the garden, enjoying the orchids and watching the hummingbirds. My sister gave me a book 15 years ago when I started planning a trip to Machu Picchu on the orchids at the Sanctuary Lodge. We relaxed in the garden and enjoyed a soak in the hot tub overlooking the ruins.

For our third day entry to Machu Picchu, we had several agendas. I wanted some more time at the Temple of the Sun, Cheryl wanted to re-visit Intiwatana. Cheryl wanted some more photos of the site, I wanted to find the Temple of the Condor. I also wanted some quiet time at the Sacred Plaza and the Temple of Three Windows. We were able to coordinate our plans so we each did some things individually, some things together. It was a satisfying end to our visit to Machu Picchu.

By the way, our agent included an entry to Huayna Picchu and an entry to Montana Picchu in our entry tickets. We opted not to do either one, but is was nice to know we had entry if we had wanted to do so.

After lunch, we spent more time with the hummingbirds and orchids in the garden, then joined other Hiram Bingham Train guests for tea. This was a completely different experience than our first tea. They moved it to a larger roon beause there were many more guests. We stayed only briefly and went back outside. As it neared time for the train, we boarded a bus and went back down to Machu Picchu Pueblo to catch our train. It was Saturday night and there were lots more passengers, so an additional dining car and bar car were added. The atmosphere was entirely different from our first ride. There were plenty of people who were on the train just for the free booze. A couple of US college guys sat near us and regaled the couple from Rio de Janeiro sitting across the aisle from them with their stories of drinking too much. A Frenchman sitting across from us asked them not to be so loud, which helped, but it wasn’t until they abandoned the dining car for the bar car that it felt better. My recommendation is not to take the HB train back on a Saturday evening.

Nonetheless, we had an excellent dinner with excellent wines. There is no scenery to observe on the return trip as it is dark for the whole trip. Also, there is no “fashion show” that many people complain about on the other train.

The HB Train staff checks with everyone about a half an hour before the train gets in to make sure they have transport, otherwise they will call a taxi for you. Our driver was waiting for us at Poroy. Our luggage magically appeared, and we were off to the Marriott again.
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Nov 28th, 2014, 12:26 PM
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Hi Kathie,
We have never been particularly drawn to Machu PIcchu, but it is now high on my list. Great trip report! I'm sorry you got sick, glad you got better, and disappointed to hear about your allergic reaction. I am allergic to sulfa too (but don't remember why--whatever happened it was in 1966), but hope to use Diamox when we go to Nepal and Bhutan next year. What was the difference between the dose you took at home and the one you took in Peru?

I have a close friend who stayed in some special hotel in Machu Pichu where they were able to explore the ruins all evening after the tourists had left (I think they brought headlamps for hiking)? Could that be where you stayed and did you try it?

Congratulations on your retirement--I assume this means we will all be in for more trip reports!
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Nov 28th, 2014, 01:01 PM
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The same dose of the diamox I took was the same dose as I took while in Peru. My allergic response to salsa and likewise been so many years ago, I didn't remember exactly what it was. It was reasonable to try the diamox. We are never anywhere high enough in Nepal for altitude sickness to be a problem, and we had no problems in Sikkim, but Cusco is at 12,000 ft.

At one time, you could go from the Sanctuary Lodge into the ruins after dark, but no longer. The same opening and closing hours apply to everyone.

We were exhausted when we arrived back at the Marriott. The man who had been so helpful to us when we first arrived had arranged for us to have the same suite we liked so much. Our luggage we had stored at the Marriott was already in our room. We opted to have them pump oxygen to the room to help forestall any altitude problems.

Our first morning back in Cusco, we wanted to go out to Saqsayhuaman. This was the last day our 10-day Boleto Turistico was good. We made arrangements with a taxi driver to take us out there and wait for us.

We both loved this site. The monumental stones so perfectly fitted together were simply amazing. Yes, much of the site was dismanteld by the Spanish to acquire building stone for their own projects, but enough remains to give us a hint of how spectacular the place once was. We spent an hour wandering the site, then had the taxi driver drop us off a few block from our hotel.

We were very impressed with the beautiful Peruvian cotton napkins at evey restaurant where we ate. We wanted to buy some for ourselves, but never saw any. We asked the concierge where we might find some, and she suggested a store a few blocks from the hotel. After the taxi dropped us there, we discovered that the store was closed. We browsed other stores nearby, but came up empty-handed. We spent some time at the Plaza D’Armas, just enjoying the sunshine and people-watching. There was some sort of parade going on, a photo op for Cheryl. On our way back to the hotel we stopped at Incanto for lunch.

We spent part of the afternoon packing up, as the next day we were flying to Lima, then home to Seattle.

We had dinner reservations at Cicciolina, a block uphill from the Marriott. This was our best dining experience in Cusco (since we had to cancel three dinner reservations due to my illness). The food was excellent, the place was packed. After a wonderful dinner of Peruvian accented Italian food, we walked back to the Marriott.

We had a nice, leisurely breakfast, our last morning in Cusco. Then we tried again to find some of the beautiful table linens we saw everywhere in restuarants in Peru. We returned to the store the concierge had recommended, but they had none. I think we would have had to buy them in Lima.

The Marriott gave us a late check out, so we had our room until our driver picked us up about 12:15 to go to the airport. I should mention that each time we had a transfer, we didn’t just have a driver, but also a helper who made sure we were checked in properly and managed the baggage handler.

At the check-in desk, we again pulled out our Star Alliance Gold cards to make sure our frequent flier numbers were entered. We wanted to see if we could buy an upgrade on this domestic flight. I have found that in many places in the world, you can get an upgrade for $20 or so. So I asked how much it would cost to upgrade. The agent spent a long time at her computer and finally said yes, you can upgrade, but we can’t give you a first class meal. I said that was fine. How much? “Free,” she said, tapping our gold cards. We thanked her and headed to our gate.

Our helper walked with us to security. On one hand, we didn’t really need all of this hand-holding, on the other hand it was rather nice. We bid her goodbye and headed to our gate.

Our flight to Seattle was scheduled to leave after midnight, so our agent included day use of a room at the Ramada at the airport. That was a nice little extra. The hotel is connected to the airport by an elevated walkway. We had time to relax, shower, and have dinner before our flight.

We returned to the airport a bit before the two hour check-in recommendation. All of the customers at the counter were looking distressed, and no one was moving. Finally, we got to the counter (there had only been one person ahead of us) and discovered the problem. They were “probably” going to cancel the flight because of a malfunction on the incoming aircraft. So they had to re-route everyone on the plane. They re-routed us on Delta, Lima to Atlanta, Atlanta to Seattle. In the end, we arrived only 45 minutes later than we would have on United.

We had a great trip, but were glad to get home to Seattle, even though it is dark and rainy here.

So, knowing what I know now, what would I have done differently? Not much. I am glad I scheduled a lot of time for us in Cusco, as I was still able to see the things I most wanted to see there, despite my illness. I would have moved our Machu Picchu trip by a day or so to avoid the Saturday return on the Hiram Bingham train. But we were very happy with our trip and felt all of our planning paid off. We also much appreciated having booked with Paul Jones at Totally Latin America. He did a great job making all of the details fall into place. It was nice having all of our transfers pre-arranged. Every bit of the trip went smoothly.

What can I recommend to others? Go soon. There is always talk of limiting visitors to Machu Picchu. One person told us they were talking about a timed ticket system, and allowing visitors only a limited time in the park. Some one else told us there was talk about a scaffolding system, so people don’t actually walk on the site. The one thing that will soon change that everyone agrees about is that there will be a new international airport built at Chinchero. I shudder to think of wiping this little town off the map. It was our favorite place in the Sacred Valley.

People feel differently about how much time to spend at Machu Picchu. A number of people responded with surprise that I wanted three entry days. And I’ve read plenty of reports of people who were perfectly happy with a daytrip to Machu Picchu. My answer to this is the classic planning mantra: Know Thyself. As someone who was fascinated by archaeology from childhood, I knew I wanted lots of time there. I’m also someone who values being able to soak up the atmosphere of the places I visit. So the three days was perfect for me. I’m well aware it would not be perfect for everyone. Fortunately, Cheryl feels as I do about these places, so it was also the perfect amount of time for her.
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Nov 28th, 2014, 01:38 PM
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Again, excellent. I think I will consider this trip for Spring Break 2016. My oldest child has it on the top of her wish list after Japan which we are doing in June.

But as for you, where to next?
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Nov 28th, 2014, 02:02 PM
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I'm glad my report is helpful to you in your planning.

Where next? I really don't know. We have talked about lots of possibilities but haven't settled on a next place yet - oh, except we always spend three weeks in Kauai in Feb/March.
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