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Trip Report Peru Trip Report

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Group: 4 people ages 34-40
Days: 7 end of oct/beg of nov
Places Visited: Sacred Valley, Macchu Picchu, Cusco, Puerto Maldonado, Lima
Activity: moderate
Budget: $2500 pp (not including airfare from States)
Hotels: Ramada Del Costa, Sacred Valley Casa Andina Private Collection, Inkaterra Machu Picchu, Reserva Amazonica, Aranwa Hotel
Tour Operator: Enigma Peru

To start my long awaited adventure to Peru, I planned out the places I wanted to go and hotels I wanted to stay, and tours we wanted to do. We travelled with another couple and because we both have small kids at home, we tried to cram in as much as we could in a week, as it is hard to leave them for longer than a week with school, grandparent burn out, etc... I emailed a few companies, Enigma Peru had great customer service, and reasonable prices. I must have exchanged about 100+emails before leaving for the trip and they answered each email promptly. Their tour guides were informative, nonintrusive and professional. They organized all the activities, arranged the hotels and transportation and tickets to museums, trains, wayna picchu, etc. Enigma asked for money to be wired instead of credit card, which is very common for Peru, and I had no problems at all with this method. They even have a bank in Florida you can wire to to avoid an international wire fee. They arranged all our flights within Peru which was Lima to Cusco to Puerto Maldonado to Lima, and this was included in our $2500 budget as well as most meals, so we spent very little money except for all the alpaca and pisco sour brandy, coffees and chocolates, which of course is entirely our own fault!

Our flight from LAX to Lima was uneventful on LAN until we arrived in Lima and found out our friend’s luggage was missing. LAN took down our info but since there was only one flight from LAX to Lima every day and we would be leaving on a connecting flight to Cusco the following day, chances would be grim that she would collect her luggage for at least two days! This would be a slight problem as on day 3 we were scheduled to climb Macchu picchu and Huyana Picchu and my friend had worn non hiking shoes on her flight over. LAN blamed our domestic airline Alaska for not getting the luggage to their terminal. This excuse was a little suspect because her husband’s bag made it, and they had a 3 hour layover in LAX before connecting to LAN which would have been plenty of time. “Todo esta bien!”, said the LAN lady as it was approaching midnight, this would be a reocuring phrase we heard on our trip.

We exited the luggage claim and there was a guide waiting for us with a sign. This was a bit overkill as we were literally just walking across the street, but as I said earlier, Enigma was very professional and complusive about their service. Ramada Inn is convenient when you arrive close to midnight after a long flight. It was hard to sleep though because of the excitement in the air and our impending activities ahead. It was however a mediocre hotel, dark and had the bare essentials. There were lots of tourists in the lobby, very busy traffic and you felt very safe, There was wifi in the lobby and we were able to skype with our kids (gotta love modern technology!). Our Enigma guide told us to get back to the airport to catch our conncecting flight two hours before and the Ramada guy at the lobby told us an hour was fine. Our flight to Cusco was on Star Peru at 8:30am. We decided to split the difference and get there about 1 ⅕ hours before which would prove to be a mistake.

Early morning breakfast, then walked back across the street, to a horrendous line on Star Peru. As 30 minutes had passed, and we hadn’t moved, I went up to a Star Peru agent and asked if we would make our flight, and she said (in Spanish), “Don’t worry, everything will be fine- no se preoccupada senora, todo esta bien!” Well, we had heard this last night when my friend had lost her luggage, “todo esta bien!”. This conversation went on two more times over the course of the next hour until we finally got up to the counter about 20 min before takeoff and of course we could not board the flight. Apparently there was a tour group of 26 people who had ticketing issues and had held up the line for an hour! And the next flight at 10:00 would cost us more money. After throwing a small fit, i was “muy preoccupada, and I asked your agent three times in the span of an hour if we would make the flight”, maybe she felt sorry for us and just gave us the next flight without charging us any extra fees. We called Enigma to let them know we had missed our flight and arrived in Cusco closer to 11. Our guide Franklin and driver met us in Cusco with our newly scheduled arrival and we were on our way to the sacred valley to Pisac ruins.

Pisac ruins were lovely, especially when the sun hits the terraces a certain way, it was quite a sight to be seen. We walked into the area but we didn’t hike up to the ruins because we were on a tight schedule as we had missed our initial flight. In a way, it was a mixed blessing because the altitude was quite noticeable from the beginnning and walking all the way to the top would have been strenuous. We all took Diamox the night before and none of developed any altitude problem, except I developed some tingling and numbing in both my hands so I stopped taking the pill after 2 days. On to Pisac Market, it happened to be a sunday, and it was very fun to browse through the different stalls, we bought lots of knick knacks, a hand carved recorder for my son, an alpaca hat, some organic dye paint, etc.. nothing too pricey and Franklin our guide was very appreciative, he was thankful that we were supporting the local economy and merchants. Found a nice empanada stand, our first bite of local food (ramada inn didn’t count), it was delicious filled with tomatoes and cheese. Didn’t get too adventurous with the innard kabobs (yes i said innards). Tried some local passionfuit and cocoa leaves as well.

We then drove to Casa Hacienda Orihuela, a private residence with an impressive collection of Inca and colonial art and artifacts where they also serve an amazing four course lunch Hacienda Concepcion. This was one of our best meals, and arranged by Enigma. The lunch was fabulous, with nice china, a beautiful courtyard and the best lomo saltado, causa and pisco sour we had the entire trip. Next stop was Ollanytambo ruins. We had about an hour to tour the ruins, and the steps are quite steep, we walked to the top where is had a nice terrrace and down below you could see a stadium where they were participating in bullfighting. Again, Franklin our guide was great, gave us great information that we would have otherwise overlooked. When people talk about steps in Peru, you cannot envision the type of stair steps you have in the States or even some of the cobblestone steps in Europe. These steps are steep, crooked and never ending, and on top of that add about 10,000 ft of altitude. We are in our mid 30s and relatively fit and we were short of breath at times.

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    The town of Ollanytambo was very active in the late afternoon/ early evening. I wish we would have had more time to walk around and explore but since we were two hours behind schedule from our missed flight, it was getting late, we decided check into our hotel for the night, the Casa Andina private collection sacred valley. The rooms were great, loft style with living room downstairs and bedroom upstairs. We waited in the lobby while they copied our passports and skyped with the kids again as there was wifi in the lobby. Our friends stayed in the lobby for a while with a glass of wine, and witnessed a European tourist pass out presumably after a long day of touring and altitude issues. Although the hotel is a bit isolated, an ambulance arrived quickly and our friends were impressed at the prompt service. We decided to skip dinner and head to our room and order some light room service. Even got to watch some sunday night football. My husband had an alpaca loin sandwich (delicious), and for myself some chicken chicarrones which was essentially chicken nuggets. Pricey, but probably much cheaper than the restaurant. Took a long soak in the tub and passed out.

    The next morning Franklin met us around 8 am and we were off to Moray and Maras. This was the only day during our trip we experienced some light rain. We were scheduled for the via ferrata in the afternoon, so we were a bit worried but by the afternoon the light rain had subsided. Maras salt mines was very interesting, our guide led us from the entrance all the way to the other side of the mines where they store the salt and we witnessed the salt bags being carried down the hill with burros. We also saw workers carrying heavy bags of salt on their back up the side of the mountain, truly back breaking work! We bought some pink salt (due to the minerals the salt is colored pink or rose), that normally in the U.S. would cost a lot more (we bought two generous bags for about $5). Then we went to the Moray crop circles. We walked all the way down to the bottom of the crop circles, which again was quite a hike. The terraces are not easy to go up and down and much more impressive close up than in pictures. There is a 30 degree difference in temperature between the top of the circle and the bottom of the circle and as our husbands started peeling off layers of clothes, we were content leaving our raincoats on. Most tour groups wandered around the top of the hill and would get back on the tour bus, there were very few that actually hiked down to the bottom of the terrace. While we were at the top of the crops waiting to use the bathroom, another tourist fainted literally 5 feet from us. We ran to his aid, he was from the U.S., and had been feeling dizzy the day before. They were dropping like flies around us! He was with a large tour group on a big bus, and luckily their tour guide had an oxygen tank on the bus! He escorted him back to the bus and placed oxygen on him, I think he was done for the day.

    We ended the morning at Chinchero, touring the church and the quaint town, we stopped at a cafe and had delicious organic expresso. We of course bough a few lbs of coffee as gifts and for ourselves. We did some more shopping for trinkets around town, purchasing gourds and more alpaca and ended our tour at a textile factory. Enigma had arranged box lunches from Ciccolina in Cuzco, and needless to say the image of box lunch that comes to mind is not appropriate. Hand pulled organic chicken sandwiches, banana bread, corn, juice, quinoa salad. It was delicious and healthy. And besides we had a mountain to climb! As we were travelling, my friend had located her bag and it had indeed arrived to Lima the night prior but they were not able to verify if it had made a morning flight out to cuzco. While we were in Chincero, my friend had located her bag, but they were not able to deliver it to the Sacred Valley hotel as we were promised.

    My friend had been tracking her bag all morning, and they had located it arriving into Cuzco in the afternoon but LAN need her luggage claim slip, and would not allow an Enigma representative in Cuzco to pick up the bag without the slip. LAN also wanted us to pay for a driver to deliver the bag, which was going to cost $65. They said we could turn the receipt into Alaska airlines for reimbursement when we returned to the States (not true). Franklin called the tour guide who had the oxygen tank (the guy who had fainted earlier in Moray) because he knew that group was headed back to Cuzco. Our driver was able to meet the other driver and give the claim ticket to him so he could give it to the Engima representative in Cuzco! I don’t know how it worked but somehow it did!

    We arrived via ferrata around 2pm, and to do the entire tour of the climb and zipline, it takes around 5 hours. We had about 3 hours before we had to go back to Ollanytambo to catch the train to agua calientes, so we had just scheduled the climbing. This is the part of the trip that I was most nervous about because of my fear of heights. The via ferrata is a 300 m straight vertical climb (1000 ft) in the sacred valley with beautiful views of the Urubamba river and countryside. There are cable lines and iron ladders to hook onto so it is very safe. Our guide Marco was incredibly patient and experienced. Unfortunately, due to my fear of heights, I spent most of the time looking at my own two feet. The other three in my group did fine and even our guide Franklin did the climb with us. I did have a major freak out session when we had to traverse a bridge on a wobbly cable line but somehow I pulled through. The rapel down was equally terrifying, I wouldn’t say I rapelled down the mountain as much, more likely I was lowered down gently bumping into the side of the mountain from time to time with the patience of my guide. Overall, the via ferrata is not for the faint of heart, it did not overcome my fear of heights, it just confirmed it. But the other three in my group loved it! As we were finishing up, a transport came and delivered our friend’s bag just in time before we headed back to Ollanytambo train station for Agua Calientes.

    Franklin took us to the train station, made sure our tickets were in order and left. It was halloween that night, and we had brought some candy from the States to give to the kids. There were some kids trick or treating in the market stalls that led to the train station, and we were able to interact with them and hand out candy, made us think of our kids at home. The train ride took about an hour and a half and we arrived to meet our Machu Picchu guide Pasqual. We were scheduled for the Huayana Picchu Hike at 7am, so we thought we would have an early morning. Pasqual said we would meet up at 7 and get to the site by 7:45 or so. We kind of looked at him hesistantly but he seemed very confident and said, “Don’t worry! The 7 am hike crowd is accepted anywhere between 7 to 8:30 so you can sleep in!" This was quite a nice surprise as we were expecting to have to wake up much earlier as I had read on previous boards. Another nice surprise, Pasqual told us we were scheduled to stay at El Mapi, but he said we had been upgraded to Inkaterra Machu Picchu because El Mapi was overbooked and they were the same company. What a treat! After we checked in and skyped with our kids in the lobby (you can see a reoccuring theme) we headed to dinner which was included in our stay. Another fancy dinner, we had ceviche and my husband ordered the confit guinea pig (kind of tasted like corn beef hash to me). The accomodations were great, and we slept like logs in anticipation for Macchu Picchu in the morning.

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    Machu Picchu- some of the mystique and the spirituality I anticipated to absorb was lost due to the sheer number of people. There were lines everywhere. There were lines for the buses at Agua Calientes, (although it ran very efficiently). There were lines for the bathroom and lines for the entrance.We walked over to the huyana picchu entrance and indeed there was still a line to get into the 7 am hike. After about 15 min in line, we started our hike, a bit of a descnt before the ascent. Being sore from the via ferrata did not help with the steep steps and my thighs were not happy. It was unnecessary to have a guide and most people did not, but having Pasqual was very comforting. He kept a brisk pace and gave us encouraging words. He had done the hike over a dozen times as well as many of the lesser known trails. The hike is daunting, the views beautiful and overall one of the most special experiences of the trip. The number of people climbing felt about right, not too crowded. We spent about 2 hours at Huyana Picchu and after walking back out to use the bathroom (yes another line) we spent the next 2.5 hours walking around Machu Picchu, taking pictures and visiting the sites. Our initial adrenaline had subsided from the HP hike, and the sun had beating down on us for the last 5 hours. It was time to eat!! We walked over to the sanctuary lodge for lunch and guess what? a line! The worst line of all was the bathroom at the buffet in the Sanctuary Lodge, There were 3 stalls for what appeared to be at least 500-600 people eating. The food was decent and fresh. After lunch, we headed back to agua calientes, did some shopping and got ready for our afternoon train ride back to Cusco.

    The train ride was very entertaining, a fashion show, a cultural show, and a very nice dinner. We settled down with some wine/beer/coffee and even purchased some alpaca wraps during the fashion show. The three hours back to Cusco was very enjoyable. We arrived at Hotel Aranwa close to 9pm. The hotel was beautiful, located two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, Their jacuzzi tub and towel warmer was a godsend. They had wifi in the rooms so after our obligatory calls/skype to the US and long soak in the tub we went to bed satisfied again with all our hotel choices.

    The next morning we were reuinted by Franklin for a walking tour around Cusco and San Blas visiting the museums, churches, streets of San Blas. We walked around everywhere and covered quite a bit of ground in three hours. We had the Touristico Boleta so we visited all the monuments and cathedrals that the pass offered. After lunch, we were scheduled to meet back at the hotel for a mountain biking tour. We were picked up promptly and taken to Tambomachay which was the starting point of our mountain biking adventure. The bikes were in decent shape, and Victor our guide was very good. There were two guides and also a driver with a van nearby who always followed us. I enjoyed riding along the rural countryside, seeing the farm animals. The ride varied from single track, to countryside roads, to the main road and at time was fairly bumpy but all in all it was a nice trip. Our last stop was Sassyhuman and then we were to head back to town, which involved a uphill climb back towards town. My girlfriend an I opted at that point to ride in the van and the boys slowly trudged up the hill.

    We ate at Limo that evening from the recommendation of Franklin, which was in the Plaza de Armas. They had a variety of pisco sours, some asian fusion and traditional Peruvian foods. We had a variety of sushi, ceviche, alpaca, osso bucco. Our favorite was the quinoa rissoto, delicious and creamy. I think the full day of Cusco (half of it walking and half of it on bike) was an appropriate amount of time. We were off to Puerto Maldonado the next morning.

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    Finally Finished!

    We arrived early to Cusco airport and to Star Peru due to our last missed flight. Fortunately there were no tour groups ahead of us in line this time and the check in went smoothly. We arrived Puerto Maldonado and headed over to Reserva Amazonica. The Reserva Amazonica guide picked us up and took us about 2/4 mile to their Butterfly house for check in. Really it is a waiting area for other flights to arrive so they can bunch up the guests, before getting on the boat and heading to the resort. We were handed cold drinks, walked around their butterfly gardens and waited for about an hour. Normally this would not be too long, but going from 70 degrees, breezy to 100 degrees and no breeze was quite a change. We finally boarded their van and went to a dock to get on their motor boat that took us down the Dios de Madre River, a tributary of the Amazon river, about 45 minutes. The Reserva Amazonica is beautiful, the rooms are luxurious and the showers were wonderful (both hot and cold!). The food was above average, but a few of us became sick, and it was not just our group but others that we had spoken to at the resort. Since this was the last leg of our trip, we were fortunate it did not affect the rest of our travel. But many of us had nausea and diarrhea, and the heat only seem to enhance some of these unpleasantries. The nature walks, the various plants and bugs, and the canopy walk were all great. But we were a little disappointed that there was not much wildlife to be seen, we went to monkey island but saw no monkeys. The night boat trip only yielded a few caiman, and the jungle trek and lake sandoval trip resulted in a few birds and butterflies. We did see the river otters, but to be honest we live in the pacific northwest and see river otters all the time. In summary, I think it was a nice introduction to the jungle with excellent accomodations and service. The guides were informative and some were better than others but overall well educated with jungle life.

    After 2 nights and 3 days in the amazon we were approaching our last leg of the trip, Lima. We had a midnight flight back to the states which gave us about an 8 hour layover. We flew Puerto Maldonado to Lima on Star Peru and then we were able to check in our luggage at LAN (9 hours before the flight!). We had about 6 hours to do a city tour of Lima. Our final Enigma guide, Linda came and met us at the airport and we started toward the city center. She was very informative and friendly. We walked around the historic center the Plaza Mayor, the Cordova Bar (oldest bar in lima) and to the San Francisco Monastery. It was a weekend day, and there were a ton of locals and tourists in the city center. A military ceremony was going on and we spend some time watching them perform. We then got back in the car and headed toward Miraflores. We took pictures of the pre incan ruins in the middle of Miraflores, then stopped off for some pictures of the Pacific Ocean, and finally had a nice dinner at a traditional Peruvian restaurant before heading back to the airport. It would have been nice to spend another day in Lima, but after spending 3 days in the amazon and still having some gastrointestinal symptoms, we were ready to head back to the States.

    The trip was wonderful, I would have to say I loved Cusco/Sacred Valley the best. It has such an interesting history, and beautiful topography. The countryside is beautiful and rich with color. The altitude was a bit tough but overall it was a wonderful trip and we were so happy to be able to visit so many places in a short amount of time. The food was amazing, organic and healthy, the pisco sours were sublime (no pun intended) and the people were fantastic! Thank you Peru!

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