Peru Sacred Valley Trip - Family of 5

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Jul 6th, 2016, 07:19 AM
  #1
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Peru Sacred Valley Trip - Family of 5

My family of five (kids: 20, 16, 13) just got back from Peru (June 23 - July 4). We did:

Lima 3 nights
Ollantaytambo 3 nights
Machu Picchu 1 night
Cusco 4 nights

It was a great trip, planned from info on this blog as well as books and other blogs. We did not use any tours as we like to go at our own pace and aren't fond of crowds. We are experienced travelers although this was our first trip to South America. Before I get into the day to day trip report, I thought I'd go over tips/general things I learned.

1. Taxis: This is what people most want to know about traveling in Peru. One of my questions was how easy was it to get one for 5 people. The answer is easy if you don't mind squishing. Since my 13 yr old is skinny and the rest of us average sized we squeezed into cars all over Lima and Cusco. Drivers didn't care and didn't charge us more. Taxi's in Lima cost between 20 - 40 Soles; taxi's in Cusco cost between 10 - 20 Soles. HOWEVER, if you prebook a taxi using taxidatum you will have to book a van which cost more. We did this for our two legs between Ollantaytambo and Cusco. It was nice to have a comfortable van waiting for us each time and because it is a 1.5+ hour winding trip. That cost ~ 110-150 Soles. Also, taxis are everywhere. At the airport and train stations there are always many taxis waiting, also in all Plazas and at tourist sites in Lima. You need only know your numbers to negotiate. Its easy!

2. Write down your hostel/hotel address on slips of paper to give to your taxi drivers. Even the name of the tourist site you want to visit. One of the best tips I had learned before hand.

3. It is cold in Ollanta & Cusco at nights/mornings! We quickly bought some alpaca sweaters and wore them everyday because we weren't warm enough. But as soon as you are in that bright intense high altitude sun you get very hot. So make sure you have a small backpack to carry your sweaters and waters each day!

4. Yes the altitude is a real issue. We stayed in Ollanta before Cusco which I highly recommend. But even so we were always out of breath going uphill in Cusco, were always thirsty, had some headaches, needed to rest every afternoon. And the sun is intense so wear hats!! and use sunscreen whenever visiting ruins.

5. Which leads me to...schedule downtime most afternoons. Its a good general travel tip, but especially with the altitude we all enjoyed time in our hostel most afternoons to rest. We needed it and it kept the family happy!

6. Water was an issue...we had to buy bottles everyday. Individual wet wipes from home were good. ATMs are everywhere, although only in Aquas Calientes did we find one that allowed us to take out more than 400 soles per transaction. Which was unfortunate since there was a 13-15 Soles fee per transaction.

Next up...Lima!
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Jul 6th, 2016, 08:41 AM
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Lima

We arrived at the Lima airport at 10:45pm. I had read horror stories about the lines etc. but we had a very easy and relatively quick time with immigration/customs. Hit the ATM in the airport. I had prebooked a van (5 of us) thru taxidatum and they were waiting for us at the airport. At that time of night traffic was minimal and it only took 30 minutes to get to our hostel in the neighborhood of Barranco. A smooth first night.

Day 1: The previous day had been a long day of travel so our first day was to be easy. We ate a fabulous breakfast (with teenagers I booked hostels with great breakfast reviews!) and were out to wander around Barranco. The neighborhood is really cute with so many painted wall murals. We took in the neighborhood, held our breath across the bridge of sighs, listened to street musicians, and had a nice lunch. We went back to our hostel to rest, and then walked down to the beach in the afternoon. After dinner we took a cab to the Magic Fountains. We were all blown away by the fountains. Even before the show (7:15, 8:30, & 9:30 pm) the fountains continually dance to colorful lights and music. And then the show, well it was amazing. Words and dancing pictures on the spray of water in addition to the colorful dancing fountains.

Day 2: After breakfast we took a cab to Central Lima, or Plaza de Armas. There are several beautiful cathedrals there, and we watched the changing of the guards at 12. We did a nice tour of the Church and Convent of San Francisco. We enjoyed the magic fountains so much we went there again. Taxi back to Barranco where we had dinner. So a relaxing two days in Lima before heading to the Sacred Valley!
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Jul 6th, 2016, 10:47 AM
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Thank you, looking forward to more.

Glad you found time for Barranco and Lima.
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Jul 6th, 2016, 11:05 AM
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Great report. Thank you for sharing. We return to Lima next month and I am now encouraged to check out the magic fountains this time.
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Jul 6th, 2016, 02:31 PM
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Yes mlgb, I'm glad I decided to go ahead and see a bit of Lima while we were there. Barranco was perfect for us.

Ollantaytambo

Day 3: We had a 10:50 am flight to Cusco, so we ate then caught a cab back to the Lima airport. Of note, the airport is apparently strict with cabs and number of passengers so we had to get two cabs to take the 5 of us rather than squishing. At the airport our gate kept changing and then our flight left an hour late. This seems to be pretty normal unfortunately.

Next we needed a taxi to take us to Ollanta, with a desired stop at Chinchero on the way. I did not prebook and ended up negotiating with one of the taxi stands inside the Cusco airport (because i didn't realize how many taxi drivers were standing outside the airport - i could have gotten a better deal. Oh well.). But, I did get us a comfortable van for the nearly two hour drive to Ollanta with a lengthy stop in Chinchero for 150 Soles. And the driver, Ismael was amazing. We loved him. He talked much of the time telling us history and interesting tidbits. My 20 yr old daughter's spanish is pretty good so she interpreted for us.

We stopped in Chinchero, altitude 12,300 for lunch. Then Ismael took us to the weaving coop which is what I really wanted to see. It was awesome. The ladies took us right into a demonstration about dying the wool. They gave us tea and the lady was very interesting and quite hilarious actually. All of the family really enjoyed it. Then we went out to were they sell their goods and it was all great so we bought a ton. Also, we were learning that it is really cold in the Andes so we wore our new Alpaca sweaters all week. Finally we arrived in Ollantaytambo. We checked in, went out to dinner and hit an ATM in the square. We huffed and puffed back to our hostel - the altitude is 9,100. But we are sea level people. Sooo glad we didn't try to do Cusco first thing!

Day 4: I have teenagers, so I let them sleep in so they will be happy. It also gave me time to post pictures each morning. So after a good sleep and breakfast we head out to see the Ollantaytambo Ruins. Ollanta is tiny - it takes under 10 minutes to walk anywhere. Unless you are walking uphill and then it takes longer! So we were at the ruins around 9 am. Which was early enough to be fairly empty. It was overcast and cool. We really loved those ruins. They were our first and we were surprised by how big and spread out they were, and spent a couple hours exploring. We encountered our first llamas at the bottom, including a 2 day old baby. Then we enjoyed the little market outside the ruins before getting lunch. In the afternoon we rested/read and then wandered around Ollanta before getting dinner.

Ollanta note: I really loved this town. Lima is big, and there was always traffic and honking and people trying to sell you things. Cusco ended up being similar. But Ollanta...it was so small and quiet. Only one road thru town, so all the alleys are quaint cobblestone and Inca walls and pedestrian only. The people just went about their daily lives and no one tried ever bothered us. Plenty of great restaurants, and the street kebobs were amazing and cheap. Loved Ollanta.
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Jul 7th, 2016, 03:10 PM
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Great report. Looking forward to more.
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Jul 8th, 2016, 04:15 AM
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Can't wait to hear more!
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Jul 8th, 2016, 06:31 AM
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Day 5: We did a 5 hour tour of the Maras Salt Flats and Moray. I had arranged a cab the evening before in Ollanta - a comfy van for the 5 of us for 150 soles. Yes I am sure I could have found a cheaper one, but $50 for 5 hrs for a van worked for me. We met the van in the Ollanta square and headed out. It had been raining all morning and I was worried but it cleared by the time we got to Moray. Yay! Moray was interesting, but as Inca ruins go it isn't complex like others we would see. However, the drive to Moray was incredible. You turn off the main road b/t Ollanta and Chinchero and drive for a long time. But you find yourself driving across plains of yellow grass rustling in the wind at over 11,000 feet with snow capped peaks all around. You are sharing the road with herds of sheep and little Quechua women running after them. Little red building dot the landscape. It was all very...Peruvian. My 20 yr old has already started painting one of the landscapes she took a picture of. But I digress...

Next we stopped in the the little Maras town square. We bought some delicious and cheap street pastries and snacks. There were Quechua women in the square selling their Chicha made from local strawberries. Yes...we tried it. We had been determined to try the local fermented brew. We all tasted. Our driver approvingly laughed at us for drinking it, and then gladly finished our cup since we didn't want to. None of us got sick...so a win win!

Finally we went to the Maras Salt Flats. A fascinating place. I can't describe it well, but this should be included in everyones trip to the Sacred Valley. We loved looking and exploring, and there were lots of neat souvenirs of salts and spices to be had. It was a favorite stop for all.

Back to Ollanta finally where we rested, played cards, did the family downtime thing. Then a nice dinner.

Day 6: In the morning we were fortunate that there was the Inti Raymi festival on the Ollanta ruins. I had not realized this. And since my room at our hostal was on the third floor with a lovely balcony in which you can see the ruins perfectly...we spent the morning on our balcony listening to the music and watching nearly a hundred bright costumes run and dance all over the ruins. Lovely serendipitous show!

In the afternoon we had to catch our train to Aguas Calientes. We wisely took a couple of the three wheeled taxis to the train station since we didn't relish walking the 10 min walk in the warmth with our luggage. At 1 sol each, it was a wise decision. The train ride was fine, with beautiful views of the rushing river and mountains. But goodness was it bumpy. Side to side to the point we all were a bit carsick. Just don't eat a large meal prior to boarding. We arrived in the tourist town of Aquas Calientes where we hit an ATM, bought our bus tickets for MP the next morning, and had an overpriced dinner. The town isn't as bad as I had read...or maybe it is. And the noise from the trains and street would have made sleeping difficult without my trusty ear plugs. But we were here! I packed my daypack for MP and we hit the sack.
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Jul 8th, 2016, 08:22 AM
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Day 7: MACHU PICCHU!
MP was of course the main goal of this trip, and it didn't disappoint. I was not going to get my family on the first bus at 5:30, but I got them to breakfast at 6 and we were in the long but moving line for the bus at 6:30 and were at MP at 7. We bathroomed and entered. The stamp for your passport wasn't out yet, so we did it on the way out. The light was extraordinary, the sky clear blue, the llamas out in force, and the number of tourists quite tolerable.

We wondered through at our own pace, a book on MP in by bag for explanations. It was early enough to bypass the tour groups and enjoy the ruins mostly on our own. We took a ton of beautiful pictures. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to wander the whole site. You can certainly spend much more time, but we did not have to stop to listen to a tour guide and didn't stop for any lengthy rests. My son and I were to climb Huayna Picchu at 10. So after bidding husband and daughters adieu back near the entrance, we hurried back across the center of MP to the far end where our hike was to begin. The crowds now all across MP at 9:30-10 were huge. I am so glad we got thru the site early enough to beat the masses of tour groups.

Son and I are backpackers, but as I was never going to get my husband or daughters to hike the Inca trail, Son and I settled for Huayna Picchu. It. Was. Hard. Straight up, an ascent of over 1000 feet and 2000 stairs. But worth every loving out of breath step. We were in the front of our line with perhaps only 20 people in front of us. So no crowds and breathtaking views to ourselves. It was not as scary as I had read. We hung out at the top for half an hour taking it all in (and having a snack) before descending. By the time we left MP around 1pm we had been there 6 hours and it was great. The crowds at 1 were getting insane. The line for the bus down was also insane. But we were happy to rest our jelly legs. We chatted with a postcard peddler who congratulated us on climbing HP and told us of the german tourist who had fallen to his death at MP the day before while posing for a picture. Yikes-how horrible.

We met the family in the AC plaza, bought snacks, meandered thru the large market, stopped for coffee. We caught the train back to Ollanta at 1622. We had stored our luggage at the Ollanta PeruRail office for free, and had a taxi from taxidatum waiting for us to take us on to Cusco. I could have easily gotten a taxi there at the train station however...there were a ton of them. We got to our hostel in San Blas, Cusco by 9pm. We were hungry and thirsty but too tired to go out. I bought some sandwiches and waters down the street and we turned in. A long but good day.
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Jul 8th, 2016, 01:27 PM
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This is such a great report. I have three kids and this holiday is on our list. Thanks for all of the fantastic details. Looking forward to more.
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Jul 9th, 2016, 02:15 PM
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Thanks Lolazahra! It was a good trip.

Cusco

Day 8: Husband did not feel well as we checked into our guesthouse the previous night, and felt worse in the morning. I started him on meds. He wanted to walk around with us, so we all set out to walk around Cusco. We meandered around, saw the Plaza de Armas and toured the Cathedral. And husband was done. We took him back and then grabbed lunch in San Blas. We rested; husband had fever and aches as well as abdominal issues. I was glad to have brought cipro. I had scheduled a cooking class in the afternoon. Sorry to have to leave husband, we set out. The class was amazing, very entertaining. We had a brief intro and Peruvian fruit tasting, then set out to the San Pedro market to buy our ingredients for the 3 course meal we would be making.

At the market, (which I highly recommend visiting), my 20 yr old came down with a sudden abdominal attack. I then left my 13 & 16 yr old kids with the just-met Peruvian cooking class instructor and went out of the market to catch a cab. I gave him 10 soles (which I had to borrow from the instructor!) and the address in San Blas and off he went with my daughter. I wasn't worried - my kids are all independent - but it was a strange situation all the same. I waited outside the market until my kids emerged. Now the class was down to three...flexibility is key to traveling!

The cooking class was extraordinary, fun and entertaining. I was sad husband and daughter missed it, but the three of us had a blast. I highly recommend the class thru Peruvian Cooking Class. We cooked three courses and a peruvian drink and then sat down to eat. Finally we went home to check on the convalescents.

Day 9: Husband was still sick, and daughter wanted sleep, so the 13 & 16 year olds and I were off for a morning of wandering. Frankly we are the three most adventurous anyway! We found some new streets and alleys, stumbled upon the San Francisco Church which we toured. Nice little english tour with some beautiful parts and famous paintings. The kids wanted me to fully see the San Pedro market since I had not gotten all the way to the back. So we went again and I really enjoyed it. Past the touristy front is some real Peru...locals buying their foodstuffs and in the back is where the locals go to eat. We went back to check on the invalids and they were well enough to venture out to lunch. That afternoon I had booked a chocolate class at Chocomuseo. We all made it (yay antibiotics!) and were entertained. Not as great as the cooking class, but still good. And we brought home so much chocolate! Afterwards the kids headed home while husband and I went out for a beer.
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Jul 9th, 2016, 03:08 PM
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Day 10: We were going to see Sacsayhuamen on day 9 but didn't due to the sickness. But today everyone was well. So we grabbed a cheap cab to take us up to it. Another beautiful day, we really enjoyed it. We did not expect the very cool, very dark cave we had to walk through. Nor did we expect the giant rock slide that the kids all slid down. Bonus! And then the ruins there are extraordinary...some of the largest stones in any ruins. Also entertaining was the 95 year old Quechua woman with few teeth that posed with us (for soles of course). She shot the peace sign and joked and laughed the whole time. So sweet! On a side note, ALL the people in Peru are extremely nice, happy, kind, proud. The people made the entire trip lovely!

Back to our guesthouse to rest for an hour. Then back to the plaza where we secured another cab driver. But first, the Cusco Plaza was alive with dancers and parades for yet another festival. We watched the festivities for a bit. There were rows of tents selling festival food. Namely - cuy, or guinea pig. We had all wanted to try it. So, against good judgement regarding eating street food, we bought a plate. It had some nice cornbread stuff, some disgusting seaweed? with fish eggs? some cheese, and yes - roasted guinea pig. It was, well, interesting. But we had fun just trying it. So check that off. (I was worried about the safety of this food and that night made everyone take a dose of cipro. just. in. case.)

This time our driver was to take us to the Pisac market with a stop at the Ccohahuasi animal sanctuary. Guys...it is SO easy to get friendly cab drivers in the plaza on a moments notice. Really. This was another 4 hour? trip for 120 soles. First we drove to Pisac where we hit the market. It was Sunday, although probably 1pm by the time we got there. But it was a really great market. I thought the prices were better than elsewhere, or at least as good, and I bought several things. It wasn't crowded at all (the late hour?) and we enjoyed a couple hours shopping. Then we headed back with a stop at the animal sanctuary. The sanctuary was awesome. Really. Giant condors flying over your head and sitting next to you, llamas, pumas, monkeys, macaws, boas, eagles, and a baby bear unenclosed - you name it. Up close and personal (so wonderfully un-american!). Husband and I really enjoyed it, and the kids loved it. More llama selfies. Finally back home for one last dinner in San Blas.

Day 11: Horrible travel day. Don't ask. Lima airport sucks. Cancelled flights suck. American Airlines sucks. Made it home.

Take aways. I loved Peru. It has a wonderful latin feel like Nicaragua, Guatemala, & Mexico which I know well. BUT, it is so much cleaner and nicer. The people seemed happy and proud of their country. They like the police (which are everywhere). It is so beautiful up in the Andes. The Quechua people are lovely, colorful, and very nice. We loved the ruins, the food, the culture, the landscapes, even the cold nights and pleasant days. Machu Picchu doesn't disappoint. The kids enjoyed it and were exposed to a new and different culture. A lovely trip I would recommend to anyone. Gracias a usted Peru!
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Jul 9th, 2016, 05:40 PM
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I hope you didn't try to get all the way home from Cusco via Lima with an international connection on Day 11. That's never a good idea.

That is one reason I often suggest continuing on from Lima to Cusco as soon as possible on arrival, and having the two nights in Lima at the end.

But I'm glad you enjoyed one of my favorite countries.

BTW for those reading check LATAM, there is a pretty good airfare sale on right now.
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Jul 9th, 2016, 08:36 PM
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Great trip report - thanks so much for posting! We hit many of the same places in addition to a 5 day Inca Trail trek - quite an adventure. I still prefer Guatemala, though, hands down.
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Jul 10th, 2016, 10:19 AM
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hopefulist...I do really love Guatemala. It's been 10 years so the memories are fading, but went twice for short trips. Might have to revisit. The market at Chichicastenango however, hands down the best in the western hemisphere IMHO!

mlgb, we landed in Lima at ~1400 from Cusco with a 2200 flight back to the states. So that part was okay...we had room for Cusco delays. However American had cancelled the flight the previous night to the US and our 2200 American flight was delayed 8 hours to 0600. So there were a whole lot of unhappy people trying to get home.
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Jul 10th, 2016, 10:31 AM
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Ouch! Well that isn't much fun, is it. I hope it wasn't one of those situations where you were not getting information about when the flight was leaving and couldn't leave the airport and head for a hotel.
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Jul 10th, 2016, 01:59 PM
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Thank you for your report. You've given me some great ideas for our upcoming trip.
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Jul 10th, 2016, 03:40 PM
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It seems as though it would be the "short trips" part rather than the 10 years that would impact your Guatemala time. Maybe next time you can stay longer and dig a little deeper. Thanks again for posting such a length trip report!
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Jul 12th, 2016, 10:19 AM
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Thanks for the detailed report - I'm just starting my research for a trip next year, so you've given me plenty of great tips!
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Sep 6th, 2017, 07:32 AM
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Just found this Trip report. Planning a trip to Peru this December. Found your report very useful. Many thanks.
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