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Trip Report Peru - January, 2012 - Trip Report

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Peru - January, 2012 - Trip Report

Many thanks to all of you Fodorites who offered me so much wonderful advice during the planning stages of our trip. We greatly appreciate your expert, helpful advice, as always. Muchisimas gracias.

We are 2 couples from NJ; (DFs = dear friends). Last January (2011), we all went to Buenos Aires together, and we had such an enjoyable and memorable time; so we decided to come back for more. My son’s (DS) raving reports and photos of his February 2011 trip to Machu Picchu and surroundings initially inspired us to consider this destination. What a fabulous journey it has been! The people of Peru are beautiful, both inside and outside, the scenery and sights are breathtaking, and the cuisine is outstanding! We all loved Peru!

I planned this trip myself, with all your input. Susana Sanchez, of Peru Tourism, did the bookings for me: hotels, domestic flights, trains, and private guides and drivers. I highly recommend her for her efficiency and reliability. The connections and details of our itinerary flowed seamlessly.

January 8, (the birthday of DF “A”), was our scheduled day of departure from Newark Airport. We all spent some time in the VIP lounge, and then boarded the plane for our 2:20 pm flight to Lima. After sitting on the plane for some time, everyone had to deplane due to mechanical problems (odor of fuel detected throughout aircraft). A few hours later, we boarded another aircraft. We were told that the airport in Lima has a curfew; but that it was being extended to accommodate our flight and “we would just make curfew”! The plane took off, and many hours later, the pilot announced that we were over Ecuador and it was evident that we would not make curfew; so we needed to turn around and be diverted back north to Panama. We eventually landed in Panama at about 1 am, went through customs, were transported to the Sheraton Hotel in Panama City, and checked in by about 3 am. After a few hours of sleep, we were transported back to Panama airport to check in early for our flight to Lima, on Jan. 9. We finally arrived in Lima, safe and sound, in the late afternoon, after an 18 hour delay. We were met by our driver, Luis, and driven to the Sheraton Lima. We quickly checked in, got ready, and went for dinner at Huaca Pucllana in Miraflores section of Lima. We dined al fresco, enjoying a beautiful view of the ruins, lit up at night. The various seafood entrees and Peruvian side dishes we had were fresh and delicious, and DF “A” ‘s first of many, (but delayed), surprise b-day dessert, complete with a make-a-wish candle, was quite memorable!

Although we lost a day, this was the only major snafu of our journey, thankfully. (We would have more time to enjoy Lima at the end). Our special evening served as a lovely intro to our experiences to come in Peru….

On January 10, we got up at 5 am and Luis drove us to the Lima airport at 6 am. We departed for Cusco on Star Peru at 9:05 am and arrived there at 10:15 am. The short flight was smooth, and we admired our first taste of the beautiful Andean scenery. We were met by a driver, and our guide, Wilfredo, and driven to Ollaytantambo (Olly) straight-away, in order to hopefully acclimatize to the altitude. (Cusco is about 11,500 feet, and Olly is 9500 feet or less). We stopped along the way to view various scenes which Wilfredo narrated. We checked into the Hotel Pakaritampu, a picture-perfect setting in the mountains, with resident llamas wandering the beautifully maintained grounds among the beds of colorful, hearty flowers. What a serene spot this was! Because this was “the rainy season”, we were told many times that’s why all the rolling hills, everywhere, were just so green and vibrant! We all really appreciated the splendid beauty of nature! However, boy were we lucky with the weather – hardly any rain at all to speak of during our varied daytime activities. (Yes, we did knowingly take a gamble with the weather in scheduling our trip).

We rode in mototaxis the very short distance to the old town and main plaza, and ate in Hearts Café at its new location. We enjoyed delicious quinoa soup, fresh bread, home-baked desserts with b-day candle (hee hee), and fresh lemonade, etc. Prior to our departure from home, we had read that profits go to support local people and programs, and that donations are also welcomed. So we brought some dental health items with us. We walked around the town for a while and then back to the Pakaritampu.
January 11 was Machu Picchu day – hooray! We had an early breakfast (6 am) at the Pakaritampu, and we stored our main luggage there. We each packed a small overnight tote for our MP trip. At 7 am, we walked one block to PeruRail station. We took the 7:45 am Vistadome train, and we arrived at 9:15 am at Aguas Calientes . (This is the small town situated at the base of MP, and the altitude is about 6700 feet). The train was very clean and comfortable; they served a light boxed breakfast . We really enjoyed the beautiful scenery through the domed windows. (Try to book the seats on the left side of the train, up front, (facing forward), for the best view going to MP, and on the return trip, the seats on the right side, up front, (facing forward). Upon arrival at Aguas Calientes station, we were met and greeted by Melba (a representative), and our small bags were taken to nearby El MaPi Hotel for us. Melba assisted us to a clean and modern bus bound for MP, about a 20 minute switchback ride up a steep mountain.
DF”A” and I were on our way to the ladies’ room at the station, (a reasonably nice, clean one BTW), when all of a sudden, I heard my name being called. I initially thought that it was my DH (dear husband) or DF”K”; but when I turned around, I saw my brother standing there! About a month or so prior to this trip, we found out that my brother and sister-in-law had coincidentally booked a trip to the Galapagos for January. When I said “that’s a fabulous destination, we were there a couple of years ago” (which of course they knew), and then “we’re going to MP in January”, he said “we bought an extension to MP too”. Long story short…. very, very coincidentally, it turned out that we would all be on MP on exactly the same 2 days, and only those 2 days – Jan. 11 and Jan. 12, 2012!! This was the first sighting. Our paths would cross a number of times, of course. What are the chances of that?!
Machu Picchu – highlight of journey – to follow soon. Stay tuned….

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    I am interested in your aircraft story wkwb. As I said in my trip report below, our Continental flight from Lima back to Newark on January 9th was cancelled. We were all given different stories about why. I wonder if it had something to do with you landing on the 9th with the pilots having flown too many hours. That was one of several stories we heard. Another story was that the Newark-Lima flight on the 9th never left Newark.

    In any event I look forward to your trip report.

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    After the switchback bus ride up to the entrance to Machu Picchu, we met our excellent guide, Marcos. Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu was just spectacular! At each and every turn, the view was breath-taking. I kept imagining the almost impossible feat of building this “Incan city” all those centuries ago, using only ingenuity and man power. It is impossible to describe; one must go to see it for oneself!

    We toured with Marcos for about 4 hours, seeing and learning about all the remarkable highlights, not to mention oohing and aahing at the stunning green, natural background of the Andean mountains and the Urubamba River below. At certain points, there were llamas roaming around and nibbling the grass. Climbing and hiking was both challenging and rewarding. Surely Machu Picchu is one of the most dramatic sights I have ever seen! We had a buffet lunch at Sanctuary Lodge, which was a good, welcome rest for all of us. The weather was very cooperative: sunny and no rain – we were very lucky indeed! This was a perfect day and we were all very appreciative!

    We came back down to Aguas Calientes by bus, 20 minute switchback ride, and we had a short rest in the hotel. (They had collected our small bags from us at the train station and stored them for us). El MaPi, situated right in the center of town, is a comfortable and classy hotel, and it has a very nice staff and good service. We walked around town a bit and checked out the shops. Then we had an excellent dinner at Indio Feliz, recommended by DS. (He had told us that if we didn’t eat there, it would be a big mistake)! The décor is unique and beautiful, and the food was delicious. We enjoyed chatting with the owner, a Peruvian woman; her French husband is the talented chef. It was a yummy and fun evening, a perfect ending to a perfect, and most unusual, day.

    On January 12, we got up at 4:15 am and had breakfast in El MaPi. We took the 6 am bus (first one) up to MP in order to see the “sunrise”. We enjoyed seeing MP in the cloud forest. It was rather quiet there at that time and very tranquil. We perched on some massive rocks for a good, long while and gazed at the eerie beauty of MP under a moving cloud cover, and we “meditated”. Every so often when the clouds shifted, a ray of bright sunshine filtered in and illuminated the massive rock structures. We hiked around a bit and spent a very relaxing, enjoyable, and memorable morning. We had now had 2 very different approaches to MP, one very bright and sunny visit and the other more misty and abstract.

    We took the bus back down to Aguas Calientes and had a nice buffet lunch at El MaPi, and then we walked around town for a while again. We took the 4:22 pm Vistadome train back to Ollaytantambo. The scenic ride was once again very pleasant, and there was a fashion show set to local music, featuring woven goods of Peru. We walked from the Olly train station the one block back to the picturesque Hotel Pakaritampu and checked in again. (They had been holding our main luggage in our absence). After a brief rest, we walked over to Hearts Café and had a simple, tasty meal. We were all happy campers. We had certainly accomplished our main goal: exploring Machu Picchu, in glorious weather, to boot!

    Note: On our return to the U.S., I was thinking about the various steps necessary just to reach Machu Picchu…… plane to Lima, domestic plane to Cusco, ground transportation to Olly, train to Aguas Calientes, and finally (switchback) bus ride up the mountain. All more than worthwhile!!!!

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    We made our arrangements, including the driver, through Susana Sanchez of Peru Tourism. She did a very good job, and I would recommend her highly. Have a wonderful and safe trip; enjoy.

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    On January 13, we got up at 7 am and had breakfast at the Pakaritampu. We had fun looking at the llamas grazing on the beautiful, well-manicured property. We checked out, and Carlos, our guide, met us in the lobby at 9 am. We had a nice, new, comfortable van with driver and guide. First we visited the fortress (ruins) of Ollantaytambo and did some climbing and exploring of the terraces. Then we walked through the stone streets of the quiet, old town and went into a very primitive one-room home, where guinea pigs were running wild! We went to a typical Andean bar, which was displaying a red flag outside, indicating that that the special corn beer (chi cha) was available. DF “K” won the local game called “Senor Sapo”; so now he has earned the name “Senor Frog”! He somehow was able to toss a brass coin a distance of about 10 feet or so, right into the mouth of a brass frog! The locals there said that he was the first American ever to accomplish this! We were so proud of him – what a hidden talent! At a place called Descanso, we saw a demonstration about making corn beer, and we learned about many different grains and vegetables. We enjoyed a buffet lunch al fresco at Alhambra, in a lovely garden setting. Afterwards, we wandered around on the property to see llamas, vicuna, alpaca, and macaws. Next we drove to Maras (small village) to see the nearby salt pans, Salineras, which were built by the Incas. The salt pans fill with salt mineral waters, and when the water evaporates, it leaves the salt deposits, fascinating. Then we drove to Moray to see the enormous circular agricultural terraces, dating perhaps from pre-Inca time. Each level provided a different climate or temperature suitable for the Incas to grow a different crop, very impressive. (This is no longer in use today). Our full day of touring complete, we were driven to Cusco. We admired beautiful countryside, Andes snow-capped mountains, green valleys, retreating glaciers, abundant fields of crops, a most enjoyable ride. In Cusco, we checked into the Novotel, a hotel just a couple of blocks off the Plaza de Armas. This is a restored colonial house from the 1500’s, still containing some of the original arches, columns, and paintings. We liked this hotel very much, and we would be staying here for 4 nights. It had an interior courtyard (covered by a glass dome) with an original fountain in its center, a nice spot for sitting and sipping their coca tea. After a quick rest, we had dinner at Inka Grill, on the Plaza de Armas. This was a wonderful, full day of touring, which we all greatly enjoyed. We had now slowly worked our way back up to 11,500 feet, (altitude of Cusco), hoping to have become acclimatized,ready for a good night’s sleep, and next up – exploring Cusco and environs .

    On January 14, we got up at 7 am, had breakfast in the Novotel, and met Carlos in the courtyard at 9 am for a tour of Cusco. First we visited Qorikancha, a structure built by the Incas during the reign of Pachacutec. Next we went to Tambomachay , an ancient Incan fountain, a few miles outside of Cusco. We explored Sacsayhuaman, (very close by to Cusco) where building began in the 1440’s, a very amazing feat of Incan construction, offering a beautiful view of the terra cotta colored rooftops of Cusco city. (BTW,I love rooftop scenes). Then we went to the famous Catedral on the Plaza de Armas, built in 1550. It has a large collection of colonial art. We saw the Last Supper. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at Cicciolina, a lovely Mediterranean restaurant, not far from the Plaza de Armas. Then we visited with some friends of DF’s, who were in Cusco at this time also. We had a casual dinner that night at Jack’s Café. Their comfort food provided just what we needed!

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    On January 15, we got up at 7 am, had breakfast in the Novotel, and met Carlos in the courtyard at 9 am. First we went to Awana Kancha, where we saw many llamas, vicuna, and alpaca on the property, as well as the entire process of dyeing and weaving the various wools to create beautiful products, which are for sale in the shop there. Our next stop was the colorful Sunday market at Pisac, where we bought hats, sweaters, and a silver pachamama pendant (the symbol for Mother Earth). We stopped for lunch at Sonesta Posada del Inca (in Yucay), another lovely setting for a relaxing outdoor buffet. Our last stop was Chinchero, at an altitude of 12,500 feet, (even higher than Cusco). Upon our arrival, to our surprise, it started to sleet, and then this abruptly changed to hail! Suddenly, the sun started to shine again and we explored the busy Sunday market, buying alpaca sweaters, scarves, and gloves, and hand-painted gourds. We returned to the hotel for R & R. In the evening, we walked 2 blocks to the Monasterio Hotel, and we sat in the lounge bar area. We had the most delicious pisco sours and a lovely presentation of cheese boards and freshly baked breads. What a relaxing and beautiful evening activity!

    January 16 was a free day. After breakfast, we walked over to the Plazoleta Nazarenas and took a look at the only remaining cedar tree in Cusco (over 330 years old) in the Monasterio Hotel courtyard. Then we crossed the street to the MAP Café (which is inside a glass enclosed area of the courtyard of the museum of pre-Colombian art). We made a dinner reservation here. Next we went to the Museo Inka, (museum), where we enjoyed an informative tour of Inca history. Then we walked up the steep hill to San Blas, where we strolled around and shopped. We lunched at Panaderia El Buen Pastor. When we came back down the hill to Plaza de Armas, we saw a lively procession for a local saint. Then we did some more shopping on the plaza, and in a small store, I found a one-of-a-kind baby alpaca vest, which fit perfectly! It had been made by the owner’s wife, and it was a real find. We then enjoyed sitting in the inner courtyard of our hotel for a while. We had an outstanding 3 course prix-fixe dinner at MAP Café in the evening. Peruvian cuisine is served here, in an elegant and unique setting. I had one of the very best appetizers of my life: capchi de setas, (a signature dish) – Andean setas and mushrooms medley with fava beans, potato, and Paria cheese, topped with a quinoa studded puff pastry!! I could have stopped right there; but there were 2 more delicious courses to go. This was a culinary feast, a special and memorable way to cap off our wonderful stay in Cusco!

    Lima, our final days, up next….

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    On January 17, after breakfast in the hotel, we were driven to the airport in Cusco for our 1 hour Star Peru flight to Lima. We were met at the airport and driven to the Sheraton Lima, where we checked in. We walked the short distance to the Plaza San Martin and then to the Plaza de Armas, where we explored the local scene. We ate there in El Centro area at Tanta, Peruvian fare not far from Plaza de Armas. Amongst other things, we had a delicious dish of choclo, very large kernels of corn in a delicious sauce, yummy. Then we went back to the hotel for some needed R & R.

    On January 18, after 7:30 am breakfast in hotel, we took a taxi to El Centro and went to the Iglesia de San Francisco. We toured the beautiful church, including the famous catacombs beneath, very eerie. We all enjoyed this tour. Then we walked to the Museo de la Inquisicion, where we took the guided tour of the torture chambers of the Spanish Inquisition. We returned to the Sheraton, and then we took the hotel’s complimentary shuttle to Miraflores, the suburb on the Pacific Ocean coast. From there, we took a taxi down a short, steep stretch to the shoreline. We had an excellent lunch at La Rosa Nautica, a lovely restaurant at the end of a pier overlooking the ocean; what a fabulous setting!! We were fortunate to get a prime table right next to a window. We watched surfers and hang gliders galore while dining. The presentation on a lazy Susan of ceviche, scallops, and shrimp was both delicious and spectacular-looking. We indulged in café de popa, a wonderful coffee ice cream/liqueur dessert, actually served with both a spoon and a straw. The gorgeous and relaxing setting, coupled with delectable seafood, (and very good service), made this one perfect luncheon experience. We took the shuttle back to the hotel for a nice rest before our special “farewell dinner”.

    Astrid y Gaston, located in Miraflores, was the perfect finale for our visit to Peru! The magnificent high-ceilinged dining room with its collection of beautiful artwork created a lovely ambiance. Presentation was amazing and the attentive service was excellent. Our choices from the a la carte menu included: appetizers of crab salad atop puree of golden potatoes, scallops served on shells, potatoes in a box; entrees of butterfish with shrimp, scallops, and golden potatoes, butterfish with asparagus and creamy risotto, roast suckling pig; and desserts of house-made ice cream with chocolate sauce and crunchies, and once again a very special b-day dessert for DF”A”, accompanied by the wait staff singing a capella birthday greetings. An additional whimsical treat arrived at our table – a tall painted wooden chest which contained multiple drawers, filled with a variety of dainty and delectable desserts: chocolate truffles, macarons, alfahores, gum drops, etc! From start to finish, this was truly a dining experience to savor and remember.

    On January 19, after breakfast at the hotel, we packed. Then we took a taxi to Miraflores, and we strolled through Parque Miraflores and Parque del Amor. The latter was inspired by Gaudi’s Parque Guell in Barcelona, Spain. It has mosaic tile covered benches, a large statue of 2 lovers, and lovely flower gardens – all this overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We walked over to Larcomar, a shopping area built into a cliff, and we lunched at Café Café, enjoying a great view of the coast and the ocean. Next we took a taxi to El Centro and viewed the Palacio, the Catedral, and we took a final walk around the Plaza de Armas. We walked past the Plaza San Martin back to our hotel and got ready to check out. Our driver, Luis, drove us to the airport at 8:15 pm, where we stayed in the VIP lounge until our flight to Newark departed at about 12 midnight. Thankfully, this 8 hour flight home was uneventful. We slept through most of it, and we arrived safely home early the next morn.

    Our trip to Peru was truly filled with beauty: the vistas, the snow- capped mountains, the glaciers, the Urubamba River, the archeological sites, the people, the colorful markets, the fields of varied crops, the food, the quaint villages with cobblestone streets, the lovely handicrafts, the music, the architecture, the culture and spirit of the people…. Muchas gracias, Peru!

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    No, we didn't suffer from altitude sickness. We acclimated ourselves (see above) by leaving Cusco for lower areas, initially. We also drank coca tea and avoided alcohol until later in the trip.

    Glad you enjoyed the TR.

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