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Peru: Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon & Lima

Peru: Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon & Lima

Old Sep 22nd, 2009, 06:08 PM
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Peru: Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon & Lima

The following is a report of our trip to Peru in early May, 2009, including the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, Cusco, Amazon and Lima. I'm in my mid-50's and my husband is in his mid-60's and we're both very active, and prefer atmospheric accommodations...luxury without ridiculous prices.

We began our journey from the Quito airport, having just spent two weeks in Ecuador including the Galapagos islands. (See my earlier trip reports...Ecuador including Galapagos and Ecuador Mainland)

Our flight to Cusco, via Lima, on LanPeru, was delayed and finally cancelled due to heavy fog conditions in Lima. Apparently this happens often in early May. So, instead of spending our first night in Pisac, we spent it in the Lima airport. The airline did pay for our on-site hotel and meals. The next morning, heavy fog again blanketed the airport and the Cusco flights were delayed until the afternoon. I will spare you all the boring details, but suffice it to say, the airline check in scene is a zoo and the personnel are exceedingly slow.

SACRED VALLEY
I was able to cancel my hotel in Pisac (Royal Inka) without penalty. I was more concerned about our transfer to the Sacred Valley. We were supposed to be picked up at the airport by Percy Salas, the guide and driver I booked after learning about him in this site. We kept texting him of our delays and change in plans. I was afraid he'd get fed up and cross us off, since he lost a day of revenue. But, he showed up as promised, took us to the train station in Cusco because I needed to change my Machu Picchu tickets, and then drove us all the way to Ollantaytambo, via Chinchero. The views of the Sacred Valley were lovely, especially with the late afternoon sun. It was surprisingly warm although we were at about 10000 ft. Percy was very nice and spoke English well.

We arrived about 7pm. We checked into the lovely Hotel Pakaritampu, and walked into town to have excellent Lomo Saltado at El Chasqui restaurant, recommended by Percy.

Due to the lost day, we had to fit our touring plans of the Sacred Valley into just one day. The grounds at Pakaritampu were lovely, surrounded by mountains and with a distant view of the ruins. We watched several cute alpacas being fed. After a great buffet breakfast, we took a pedicab up the road to the Ollantaytamo ruins at 8:30am. We climbed the ruins up to the Sun Temple early to get the best light...quite a hike up with amazing views, and then met Percy at 9:30am.
He then drove us back to Pisac to tour the ruins there. The climbing in the heat was more strenuous than I would have thought, but it was a beautiful climb. I didn't have altitude problems but we stll huffed and puffed....your heartrate is a lot faster at this altitude.
Percy explained some of the building construction techniques, the religious philosophy of the Incas, and discussed how various crops grow best at certain altitudes...they have 1500 varieties of potatoes and 800 of corn. The mountains are very steep with a sugarloaf form, and cloaked with green patchwork farms extending to the top reaches.

It was now 12:30 and we were hungry...so ate at a small restaurant across from the Pisac market. We ordered, and then had 1/2 hr to explore the market. For lunch, I had planked trout that was excellent and my husband,quinoa soup.

Then, we drove out to Salinas to see the salt pans, where the Incas discovered salt mines in the mountains. Very extensive squares with salt drying, but I didn't think it was worth the drive to see it. We were getting pretty tired at this point.

Drove on to Urubamba to visit Pablo Seminario's workshop and gallery. I liked the ceramic items and they weren't very expensive.

Got back to Ollantaytambo about 5pm, but we were too tired to explore the town. Ate at El Chasqui again. Then, had to repack since we were only allowed a 11# bag on the Machu Picchu train the next day.

MACHU PICCHU
The next am, ate breakfast at 5:45am to leave by 6am to walk 5 min to the train station. The hotel stored the rest of our luggage for us. We got the 6:30am train to Machu Picchu...very comfortable train, and enjoyed the scenery as it became more and more jungly. We pulled into Agua Calientes 1 1/2 hrs later and were met at the train by a rep from Inkaterra Machu Picchu. Took our luggage, checked in, and we were off to buy a 2-day entry ticket to Machu PIcchu...about $41/day/person. And, roundtrip bus tickets to the site were about $14 each. Got the 9am bus and arrived at the top about 9:30am, after a beautiful twisty drive up. The scenery was much more lush and jungle-like than I expected.
We entered and walked up to visit the guardhouse and watch tower for the famous panoramic view of MP. It was more beautiful than I expected, ringed by mountains, everything was green, and a comfortable temp in the upper 60's with some sun and heavy clouds. It wasn't too crowded on a Thursday.

We had brought a guidebook of MP with us so didn't take a tour. It was fun just ambling around the ruins. By 11:30 we needed a break, so went to the Sanctuary for their $33 lunch buffet, which was excellent.

After lunch, it started raining, which cut down on the crowds even more. It was very atmospheric with the low hanging clouds, and we stayed until 4:30pm.

At the Inkaterra Machu Picchu, I was disappointed with our room #63. Granted, we had the lowest rate category Superior, but for $608/night (includes 3 meals and an excursion) you expect something pretty nice. It was small, no fireplace....but simply and nicely decorated. The bathroom was lovely. I called the desk to see if they could upgrade us but they said no. At this time of the year, it wasn't filled so they could have been nice about it. The "complete toiletries" that were provided were just shampoo, conditioner & soap. Since we had the 11# luggage restriction, it would have been helpful to include body lotion. There was no information in the room about the excursion options, which made it difficult to plan the next day. You had to go to a separate bldg to get info. No CD player in room (of course no TV) and not even a pen and notepad. Very spartan for $608!
But,the grounds are lovely, encircled by mountains with a river running below. Lots of steps to get to the accommodations.
We received a free pisco sour in the cozy lounge area, warmed with a fireplace. Dinner in the charming restaurant was excellent. Duck confit, grilled brochette with beef and chicken appetizers, beef tenderloin with berry sauce, quinoa souffle, and purple corn ravioli with smoked trout and camembert cheese, followed by a brownie sundae.

Because it had been rainy/cloudy the night before, we decided to sleep in and skip the Machu Picchu sunrise, so we didn't need to get up at 5am. We thought it would be a bust....wrong! The day was sunny and clear. After their breakfast buffet (nothing hot or cooked to order), we caught the 8:30am bus to MP. We basically retraced our steps from yesterday, but today we got a different impression with everything bathed in sunlight. Gorgeous! A little more crowded today, but not bad. We're so glad we're not with a tour group. Got the 11am bus back to AG...quick shower and checked out. Excellent lunch...no one else in dining room.

Then, we went on our free excursion...about a 2 hr. orchid tour. It was a lovely warm day and an interesting tour as we walked through the jungle grounds with our guide. He gave us magnifying glasses to view some of the orchids...that's how small some where. Also saw hummingbirds, waterfall, ancient rock paintings, etc.

We are liking Peru so much better than Ecuador. Wish we had skipped the mainland and spent more time in Peru.

Caught our 4:20pm train back to Ollantaytambo...picked up our stored luggage, and set off for the ride back to Cusco with a driver from the hotel. ($45) The drive through the Sacred Valley featured a beautiful full moon illuminating the mountains, and the driver had the most haunting, soothing contemporary type Indian music playing. I asked if I could buy his CD....and said yes, I asked how much....he said "One dollar". Of course, I paid him more than that, and it's one of my favorite CD's.

CUSCO
Got to Cusco by 8pm. Checked into the Casa Andina Private Collection hotel, which was lovely. Walked to Cicciolina restaurant. Highly recommend it. Started with some kind of passionfruit sour (Maricucha?} but prefer Pisco sour. Had excellent Alpaca tenderloin and husband had a great tagliatelle dish. Very reasonable prices.

Room is comfortable, if not luxurious. Paid $30/night for oxygen, but not sure it did anything. Just woke up with a slight headache. Room is on 2nd floor, overlooking 3rd courtyard, which I requested because it''s supposed to be quieter. All beds seem to have a baby alpaca throw at the foot....I want one of these!

Next am, after a great breakfast with omelets cooked to order,great bread, yogurt, fruit, muesli...we took off to explore Cusco. Close by is the Koriancha/Santo Domingo monastery...very pretty with Inca walls. Then, the Cathedral, La Compana, and walkin around looking at Alpaca stores and the various plazas. Had a great lunch at Inka Grill on Plaza Armas with view of La Compana....I had a traditional dish, Aji de Gallina, that was excellent, great Cusquena beer, husband had a delicious vegetable soup with Huacatay seasoning and we finished with their famous Cocoa Leaf Creme Brulee.

Then, we walked up the hill to San Blas barrio, visiting little shops. Got back to hotel by 5pm, napped and then toured the Museo del Arte Pre-Columbino before eating at the MAP cafe, on the premises. I froze walking around the museum because all the rooms are open to the outside and it was chilly....no one else there at night.

Then, we had a delicious fix prix menu at MAP cafe, housed in a glass enclosure. Started with a hot crayfish ceviche, (yum!) Filet with mushroom sauce..and my husband had thinly sliced alpaca in horseradish sauce and an excellent Lamb shank.

AMAZON
Picked up at 8:45a for ride to airport, plane on time, 45 minute flight to Puerto Maldonado.

Met by Reserva Amazonica rep and taken by open air bus to Butterfly Garden to check in and drop our stored luggage. We had repacked again so we could bring less luggage on boat transport.

After about a 45 min ride on about a 30' wooden squareback longboat with motor up the Rio Madre de Dios, a tributary of the Amazon, to our lodge, the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, we arrived and disembarked. The others on the boat would be in our excursion group for the rest of the stay. These included a couple from Australia, a couple from Lake Tahoe, another couple from Florida and us.

We had a Topolabampo Suite Villa # 10, nice end thatched roof villa next to the forest so we had a little more privacy, and a bigger unit. Two hammocks and two chairs on the screened in porch, a big king size bed draped in mosquito netting, and separate commode and shower. It's very hot and humid and the ceiling fan doesn't work so well through the netting.

After a fantastic 3 course lunch (similar to dinner), we met at 3p for a short walk around the jungle grounds, with Alan as our guide. Then, we rested briefly, had our free pisco sour, and went on an evening river cruise for an hour. They shone a spotlight on the banks looking for wildlife, but we didn't see much....a possum, a caiman(small alligator) and some birds. But, it was a beautiful evening with almost a full moon. During the day we had seen several agoutis, a cross between a larger rat & a squirrel. Went right to dinner afterwards without a chance to clean up. In bed by 9:30pm....no electricity at night, just keronsene latterns.

Next am came with a 5am wakeup call. Had a little difficulty sleeping night before because it's so warm and close....but the jungle noises weren't that loud. Got to breakfast by 5:30am and shoved off at 6am for our morning excursion to Lake Sandoval. First, we took a 30 min boat ride up the river, then they bill this as a 45 min- hr hike to the lake. Well, this was a 2 hr. horrible slog through thick mud, almost pulling off our wellies. We had to walk on the edges and then grab tree branches so we wouldn't fall in. That worked, until i grabbed a tree that fire ants live in and they proceeded to sting my hand. Several people slipped and fell and were encrusted with mud. One guy in our group was a retired naval fighter pilot and he said this was worse than anything he did in bootcamp! We did see some red howler, black capuchin and spider monkeys playing in the tree tops.

The reward for this torture was a boat ride on Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake to see wildlife. All we saw was a green parrot and a kingfisher.

The walk back took about an hour and a quarter. I had rolled my sleeves up and then got scratched by the branches and bled profusely. My husband used a bandana to stop the bleeding, but by that time our group had gone way ahead and we hurried to catch up. We were all soaked with sweat, muddy and hot and couldn't wait to get back about noon. A shower never felt so good!

After another great lunch, we met at 3pm for the jungle canopy walk. Now this was fun!
Got to wear our tennis shoes and walked about 30 min to the 80' tower. Climbed up and we were at the top of the tree canopy....cool! Then, one at a time, we walked across swinging bridges made of wooden slats, and steel cable railings, with a net inbetween. There were 6 bridges in all. Very fun, but again, very hot with no breeze. A boat took us back to the lodge and our group met for pisco sours in the lodge.

Next morning, we got to sleep a little later...up at 6:40am, breakfast at 7:30am and we're off at 8am on a large wooden boat to Gamitana Creek, about a 45 min ride. Then, it was a 2 hour hike through a jungle....no mud, but climbing over twisted roots and fallen logs. That was better (we also saw wild pigs and a tarantula), until I was a little slow climbing over a log and before i knew it, a host of army ants swarmed up my pants, biting me with circle of blood coming through my pants! I frantically was trying to smash them against my thighs to kill them....finally, I had to take my pants off (after telling the rest of the group to go ahead) to get the rest out. Several had made it up to the back of my neck and were biting me! Luckily, I didn't have an allergic reaction, and the pain subsided.

After that, we took a 1 1/2 hr canoe ride up the creek and we had to row a very heavy paddle. The guys tried fishing for catfish or piranha with a bamboo stick, piece of string and a simple hook. My husband was the only one to actually catch anything....a small catfish, but that made his day! The boat ride was pretty boring too...just saw one small caiman.

Stopped for lunch about 1pm for a picnic lunch, but it wasn't very good. We haven't been very happy with our guide, Alan, either. Others seem much better.

Back to the Lodge by 3pm and I had a lovely massage in a room overlooking the Amazon. Tomorrow we're on a 12:50 pm flight to Lima, via Cusco.

LIMA
Stayed at Casa Andina Private Collection in Miraflore...quite nice and they upgraded us free to a suite. Very business type hotel, though.
Went down to Plaza Major and saw the Cathedral, Presidential Palace and San Francisco Monastery and toured the Catacombs with all their skulls and bones.

Then, took taxi to Larco Museum, which was wonderful and their erotic pottery gallery quite interesting. Had the best thin crust pizza, tried a ChiChi Morada, and the best chocolate dessert at their outdoor cafe. Then, headed back to Miraflores for shopping the little boutiques around the area. Had excellent dinner at "Astrid y Gaston", a couple of blocks from hotel. To bed early because we have to get up at 3am, to drive to airport (about an hr away) and check in for a 7am flight.

Lima airport sucks! Of course, our flight was cancelled due to the heavy fog...again! In fact, they close the whole airport down and there's a mass of humanity trying to get rebooked at the airline counters. So, they gave us another free room at the on-site hotel, we checked in, slept a little, and decided to take a taxi back to Miraflores and shop at Larcomar, since our flight was leaving the next day. Then, we walked up to the Indian Market and did more shopping.
The next morning, got up at 5:45 am...in line by 6:30AM, and of course, the flight was delayed from 9am until we actually left about noon.
We are so ready to go home!

You can view my photos at: http://peru6.shutterfly.com/
barefootbeach is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 03:16 AM
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Great report! Thanks for posting.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 03:41 AM
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Thanks for posting. I gather you would recommend early May? We were thinking of visiting Sacred Valley and hiking the Inca Trail mid-May, hoping for not too much rain, but still green and lush.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 07:14 AM
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I thought the weather was almost perfect in early to mid May....just had a little rain that one afternoon in MP....and the crowds are less that time of year. We also didn't experience the biting bugs that I read could plague MP. And, it was very green and lush. Have a great trip!
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Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 08:07 AM
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Excellent trip report and some great detail.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 01:50 PM
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Enjoyed reading your report.

A good caution to everyone to allow extra days whenever you are flying between Lima and..anywhere! Especially to the Sacred Valley, it is worth more than a day!

I was lucky, I had my return Cusco-Lima delayed by 3 hours but no cancellations. On my way in, there were a lot of people on the flight who had been cancelled the day before.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2009, 02:22 PM
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mlgb...you're right! I'm telling people not to schedule time in Lima because they'll probably get stuck there anyway! I was very disappointed to lose a precious day in the Sacred Valley....we should have scheduled 3 whole days there anyway. I liked it better than Cusco.
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Old Sep 24th, 2009, 06:45 AM
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Sure it's more comfortable to fly; however, I was in Cusco in May as well for a couple of weeks. I wouldn’t have had anything against staying there for a couple more weeks, such a nice place. Bought a lot of alpaca clothes just before arriving to Peru from Bolivia (by bus). Some good quality stuff actually. Thought I’d put up a bunch of stuff on americanlisted.com but ended up keeping it all.
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Old Sep 25th, 2009, 02:15 PM
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I enjoyed reading your report. I guess hiking in the Amazon is something I do not need to do. Your time in Peru sounded wonderful and I will use some of your recomendations for my trip in May. Thanks for posting.
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Old Sep 26th, 2009, 08:58 AM
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Thank you for posting your informative trip report and your fantastic photos! I am now even more anxious to go to Peru!
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Old Sep 27th, 2009, 10:50 AM
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Thanks for the kind remarks!
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Old Sep 29th, 2009, 02:16 PM
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We will be spending 2 nights in the Sacred Valley. We will visit Ollantaytambo and Chincheros with a guide. Do you think a guide is necessary for the Pisac ruins, and Maras and Moray? After doing some reading I think I can do those sights on my own by taxi. What do you think? Also, did you visit any of the sites on the outskirts of Cusco? Where did you buy your Billeto Turistico?
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Old Sep 29th, 2009, 03:14 PM
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I really don't think you need a guide for anything. However, we wanted a driver that spoke good English and that would take us around the Sacred Valley in a good car with seatbelts, and that's why we went with a driver/guide. It was nice to have a guide for one of the ruins to help explain things. We didn't see Moray, but Maras was a bit of a drive and not that exciting. You just walk around the salt pans so you don't really need a guide for that.
We did Ollantaytambo on our own because we were staying there, and that's where we bought our Billeto Turistico. No, we didn't see anything just outside of Cusco. We had seen three ruins and that was enough for us. We were supposed to visit the alpaca/llama farm on the way to the Sacred Valley, but that got cut when our flight was delayed.
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Old Oct 2nd, 2009, 07:42 AM
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I am planning a trip to the same places youvisited in may 2010. Did you plan the trip yourself or through a travel agent of some sort? I have researched somewhat but I do not know how to book guides, rooms, train etc. I am in my early 60's traveling with someone in their early 50's. We are both in fair to good condition. Can you advise how to or where to get help in booking this trip. I am from the Chicago, Il usa area.
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Old Oct 2nd, 2009, 04:14 PM
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Hi Carrie07,
I booked the trip myself. The guide I used, Percy Salas, was much recommended on this site. His email is "[email protected]" and his cell is 9621152/9780661 and he's based in Cusco but drove us all through the Sacred Valley. If you wanted a guide in Machu Picchu, he could get one for you, but we didn't use one there, or in Cusco.

The hotels I booked online, after researching them in several guidebooks and online. You can do a Google search and you will get their email address. Most accept a credit card, but some require a deposit.

The train I booked online on PeruRail...you need to pick up your tickets at their main office in Cusco. I also booked LanPeru on their website for the flight from Quito to Lima, from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado, and from Puerto Maldonado to Lima. It was easy to use.

On the other hand, I'm sure there are good travel agent reviews on this site. I would recommend that you book with a U.S. agent, rather than a Peruvian agency. It's easier to get ahold of them. Hope this helps!
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