Sacred Valley & Manu Biosphere Reserve

Jul 14th, 2010, 08:54 PM
  #1  
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 121
Sacred Valley & Manu Biosphere Reserve

We just returned 2 days ago from our trip to Peru. We had an amazing time! It was worth every penny we spent & all of the time we put into planning it. This forum was invaluable in helping us to plan everything. Thank you, Fodorites, for all of your help.

There were 5 of us travelling together - my husband and I, our son (age 23), his girlfriend (age 22), & our 14 year old daughter. We flew from San Francisco to Lima on TACA, along with the masses of TACA passengers leaving from SFO in the middle of the night. We did two distinct trips. The first was the Sacred Valley and the second Manu Biosphere Reserve. Our kids were very specific that they wanted to spend time in a small town, did not want to move from place to place and preferred to get to know one place well, rather than see many different places. We had spent several weeks in Alaska where we moved around a lot and they were very clear that they did not want a repeat of that experience (which I loved!).

Because there were 5 of us, some activities I had planned to do we decided against as the cost for 5 was prohibitive. We also couldn't fit into a regular taxi so needed a mini-van to transport all of us. When we ate at a restaurant, we often filled it!

Our itinerary was:
Lima
Fly to Cusco, taxi to Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo - 5 nights
Cusco
Cusco
Cusco (older kids fly home) (my husband, daughter & I continue to Manu)
Manu with Pantiacolla Tours - 7 days
Cusco
Cusco
home

Our first night was spent at the Hostal San Antonio Abed in the Miraflores District. Their very polite and competent driver picked us up in Lima and patiently answered all of our many questions on the way to the hotel. The location of the hotel was perfect. It was affordable, clean, safe and the staff was very kind and helpful. We had a brief rest after arriving and then headed out to Larco Mar for dinner, which was recommended by the hotel. We felt very safe (other than dodging traffic) walking on the streets, which were packed with people shopping, going home from work, etc. We all enjoyed this small taste of Lima, but were happy we were only there for one night as none of us enjoy big cities all that much.

We were taken to the Lima airport the next morning after a very good breakfast at the hotel. We were on two different flights so met up again in Cusco at the airport. When we arrived, my son informed us that no one was waiting for us. We had emailed & confirmed our arrival at least 4 times with KB of KB Tambo so were quite surprised when no one was there to meet us. After waiting for awhile, my husband called KB Tambo & told them we were waiting to be picked up. I was impressed that he could make himself understood over the phone with a non-english speaking person given that he had not spoken Spanish in a very long time. The staff person on duty told him she would call a friend & have us picked up in just a few minutes. Thankfully, she was able to find a driver with a van to take us to Ollantaytambo. I had arranged for a tour of the Sacred Valley, with stops at Pisac and several other places with KB so I was rather disappointed to just drive straight to Ollantaytambo. However, after waiting at the airport for quite sometime, I was happy to just arrive there.

Initially, KB did not have two rooms available for us so we had booked one room at another hotel in town. When we arrived, another room had opened up & they were distressed to hear that we had not been met as planned. Apparently, KB had been injured in a biking accident and gone to Lima so a taxi had not been ordered for us. The person in charge, Will, graciously paid for our taxi ride from Cusco.

We settled into the hotel and spent the next few days exploring Ollantaytambo & the surrounding countryside. The town was preparing for Ollantay Raymi, which took place the Tuesday after Inti Raymi in Cusco. Unfortunately, the guide books I read all stated that the celebration was held on the Sunday after Inti Raymi so I had booked our train to Machu Pichu for that same Tuesday thinking we would be there on Sunday for Ollantay Raymi. It was a real shame as there were hundreds of children in the Ollantaytambo ruins practicing for days ahead of time. In hindsight, I should have put the question of the actual date on this forum & someone probably would have responded with the accurate date & we would have been able to watch the event. Oh well...

I bought tickets on InkaRail for Machu Pichu as the Peru Rail website was not accepting reservations at the time we were doing the booking of that part of our trip. We paid for the tickets with a wire transfer, as they required. My husband & I were both nervous about these tickets as we had not received a confirming email from InkaRail despite repeated email requests. The actual wire transfer was done easily on line with our bank & was free. We stopped at the InkaRail office in Cusco on our way out of town to pick up our tickets but the security guard told us they were closed. He phoned their office in Ollantaytambo & informed us that we could pick up our tickets there. Good news, or so we thought!

During our first day in Ollantaytambo, my husband made three trips to the InkaRail office. The first two times they were closed. The third time they were open but by then there was a major power outage throughout the Sacred Valley. Not only could they not confirm the purchase of our tickets, but the ticket agent could not see a thing in his office. This was only the beginning of our problems.

With the power outage, we were unable to access the ATM so we had NO MONEY!!! With no money, we could not feed the 5 of us! We arranged with Will at KB Tambo to eat at the restaurant at the hotel & put the charges on our bill. This was a very unusual arrangement for them as they share the location but the cafe & hotel are separate entities. Will recognized our situation and was very helpful. We were quite relieved as otherwise we would have a very hungry & unhappy crew. Day one of the power outage was interesting. By Day 2 we were getting very nervous. We were leaving for Machu Pichu the next day & needed cash & our tickets. My husband took a taxi to Urumbamba with the kids in the hopes of finding an ATM or bank. No mini-van required as I was not going along. On the way, they saw the downed power line stretched across the river with a crew of 7 people on each side. My husband became even more nervous that we were going to be cash strapped when he saw that.

Luckily, the taxi driver drove him all over town & eventually found a bank. We had cash but still no tickets on InkaRail. On our 5th trip to InkaRail, the clerk finally called Cusco, verified our ticket purchase and proceeded to handwrite each of our tickets. There was enough light for him to see, plus we had our flashlights.

Things were getting interesting in the restaurant as there was no refrigeration without power and the cooks couldn't see to cook, except by candlelight. For dinner that night, first we were told they weren't serving food. Five minutes later, we were told it was only sandwiches & no carne. Five minutes after that it was only spaghetti. Shortly thereafter it was "full menu". We eventually had a delightful dinner & set off the next day for Machu Pichu.

I hope this isn't too much detail...I will write more later.
fball is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 03:08 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 130
Hi fball,

Thanks for posting this report. I'm very eager to read your next installment as we are also booked to go to Manu with Pantiacolla Tours!

Regards,
Katerina
Kacenka is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 09:47 AM
  #3  
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 121
Katerina, I will try to get to the Manu part in this post as it is freshest in my mind. Machu Pichu was, of course, amazing but Manu was really the highlight of our trip.

The take home message with the power outage was to be prepared for anything & carry lots of cash. Credit cards are not accepted in small towns (even by hotels) & often there are no banks & frequent outages so you can't rely on ATM's. Pantiacolla wanted traveler's checks so we brought a lot of those. They were not accepted in small towns, but were in Lima & Cusco. We did pay for almost our entire Pantiacolla trip with them so that was good. Unless someone specifies payment that way, I would not bother with them.

After Machu Pichu, we stayed at Hotel RumiPunku which was fabulous. We loved it & ended up cancelling reservations we had elsewhere for our return from Manu & going back for two more nights for a total of 5. The staff was wonderful, the heater was great, comfortable beds, great breakfasts, reliable laundry service, great location.

We were on the 7 day Pantiacolla tour with Jose as our guide. There were 10 of us on the tour with 2 boatmen, one guide & a cook. We started with a 8 hour bus ride through the Andes. It was spectacularly beautiful but absolutely terrifying. The road had washed out in many places in the rainy season & I think we were on two wheels with a two thousand foot drop straight down much of the time. Living on the coast of California, we are used to high cliffs & sharp drop offs but this was intense! Thankfully, there were few oncoming cars. The bus driver for Pantiacolla has been driving this road for many many years & was very competent. If the road condition had been better, I wouldn't have been at all worried with him at the wheel.

We did get off to a very rocky start as in the middle of the bus ride my husband came down with food poisoning from dinner the night before. He was vomiting out the window of the bus while we were on these hairpin turns. There were no bathrooms on the way & it was pretty awful for him (& me)! We are both health professionals so we tend to be calm about illness but I was literally wringing my hands at the prospect of my husband ill in the Amazon. At first we thought it was motion sickness, then altitude sickness & finally realized it was food poisoning. Once he started on antibiotics (cipro, which we had with us), he was ok. Our guide, Jose, was very helpful, professional & reasurring. He told me there was some medical care in the next village &, if need be, we could take the bus there even in the middle of the night. I definitely felt that he would have taken care of whatever needed to be done, even if it meant getting a helicopter to take my husband out.

Once my husband began recovering, things were very pleasant. We stayed at a nice lodge night 1 & saw the Peruvian Cock of the Rock at a viewing site. There were very few other tour groups encountered during our 7 days. At each lodge we were the only group. Day 2 we did a hike down the road, bird watching along the way. Arriving in Atalya, we met up with our boatmen & boat & our driver returned to Cusco. At each stop, the crew would pick up fresh food, fuel & even a second engine.

On our way to Pantiacolla lodge, we stopped at a village where the indigenous tribe showed us how to shoot their huge bows, demonstrated bird & animal calls, & the children put on a dance show. It was a tad long but we all enjoyed it.

Some general details: Each night we stayed in a different location, except the last two when we were in the Reserved Zone of Manu staying at the Pantiacolla encampment. The food was always very tasty, more than adequate in amount. We had plentiful bottled water to drink. We were up nearly every morning by 5 a.m. as the wildlife viewing is best at that time. Sometimes we immediately went out hiking & returned to our camp for breakfast, other times we headed straight for the boat & were served breakfast (or lunch) in the boat or at the macaw claylick. The staff was very competent, cheerful, professional and very attentive to our needs. They were very used to working together as a team. All of them were on the look out for wildlife & we saw a lot. In general, I felt very well taken care of as did my husband & daughter.

More on Manu later....
fball is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 08:30 PM
  #4  
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 121
As I said, we did see a lot of wildlife. We saw 94 types of birds, including dozens of macaws, parrots, parakeets, Wood Storks, a Roseate Spoonbill ( highly unusual for this time of year), many black & white caimans, giant otters, 6 species of monkeys and going up the beach in the distance, a jaguar. We also saw numerous types of snakes, including highly poisonous ones. Oh, and a poison dart frog. If you are interested in wildlife viewing, Manu is the place to go.

Our guide led us two night hikes, which I declined, but were very interesting to those who participated. It was enough for me to get up at night to go to the bathroom, checking carefully for snakes in the corners &/or frogs in the toilets (which I did find).

The accomodations were of varied quality, all rustic & some VERY rustic. Privacy is at a minimum. We had hot showers one day, but since it was so hot, no one really cared if the water was hot.

We did enjoy our hours in the boat, watching the banks for new bird & animal species. Being woken up in the early morning by howler monkeys is an amazing experience none of us will ever forget. Seeing the parrots & macaws gathering at the claylick was amazing.

I have some suggestions for things to bring/wear that will make for a more enjoyable trip:
1) Clothes: Be sure to wash all of your clothes in Sawyers or other brand insect repellent. This is a pyrethium based product that is not irritating to the skin. It is available at REI & other outdoor equipment stores. Wash ALL of your clothes. We only washed our outer garments & socks and wished we had done t-shirts, underwear, etc. Though I did not see many mosquitoes, the other bugs are fierce. (My husband said they were out in force during the night hikes.) We never wore shorts. One day I wore a sleeveless shirt & ended up with very painful, itchy gnat bites all over my arms. By the end of the trip, we were all covered by these bites. You can't see the bugs & don't feel them biting until it is too late.

Make sure all of your clothes wick away the moisture. I thought I had those types & didn't. Consequently, I was a walking swamp. Leave your jeans at your hotel - you won't want to wear them. Take a good hat & rain jacket. If you don't like getting wet, don't sit in the front of the boat! A camping towel or two is a good idea. You get one towel for the week & by the end, it really stinks.

2)Duct tape - handy for sealing holes in the floor so snakes cannot get in. Also handy for repairing mosquito netting that has holes. It makes you the most popular person in camp as most people do not bring it.

3) Alcohol based hand sanitizer.

4) Insect repellent & anti-itch cream (benedryl or whatever you prefer). I did not use DEET but Sawyers. I received about the same number of bites as the DEET users. My husband said anything but DEET was useless on the night hikes.

5) Snacks. Sometimes we couldn't eat at a regular time due to spending more time than anticipated on a hike or in the boat (especially if some bird or animal came on the scene). It was handy to have our own snacks with us (will we ever look at a Luna Bar again?)

6) Do not plan to charge your electronic equipment while you are on the trip. Only two places had electricity & they charged $5 to charge batteries. We had an extra battery pack for our camera & we kept our iphones on airplane mode. I did a lot of recording of animal sounds with my iphone & it's great to listen to howler monkeys & screaming piha's now that we are home.

7) Shoes. You will only want to wear hiking boots & high socks. Pantiacolla supplied us with rubber boots & we all wore them nearly all of the time. Just when you thought maybe you could wear a pair of flip flops, someone would see a very scary (& sometimes toxic) snake. You don't want to wear sandals & flip flops only for the showers.

8) Earplugs. Since privacy is minimal, snoring is at maximum volume. Everyone wearing earplugs got much better sleep.

9) Gallon sized ziplock bags. Very handy for clean clothes & then for those jungley smelling ones.
fball is offline  
Jul 15th, 2010, 11:27 PM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jan 2005
Posts: 17,694
I'm looking forward to the rest of your report. I went to a different jungle lodge but would agree with your packing list (although we did have recharge stations, I also brought extra batteries). I would add to your list

Mosquito head net..much cooler than a hat.

A bandana or something similar for a sweatband around your forehead!

A battery operated light that I clipped to my mosquito net, and a headlamp.

Save those little dessicant packages. If your camera starts to fog up put it in a ziplock with the dessicant and it should be fine by morning.

I was glad I had something really loose and cool to wear around the lodge in the evening (we didn't really have too many biting insects inside the screened in lodge buildings).

I agree about bringing some snack bars, they sell some nice granola type bars in Peru made with quinoa or kiwicha. They came in handy when we went out very early for fishing or birding excursions.
mlgb is offline  
Jul 16th, 2010, 12:36 AM
  #6  
 
Join Date: Sep 2006
Posts: 130
Fball,

that is absolutely great, so many thoughtful points. I have bookmarked all your suggestions. We are doing exactly the same trip, going to Manu by bus for 7 days and then by a light aircraft back to Cusco - by the way how was the journey back? ... I'm not the most enthusiastic flyer! I'm glad you said the wildlife is plentiful, my other half will be very pleased with that! Thank you and I look forward to reading the rest of your trip report.

Mlgb, thanks for further notes.
Kacenka is offline  
Jul 19th, 2010, 07:35 AM
  #7  
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Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 121
The flight back was great. We were all worried we would be sitting on benches in a 5 seater plane bouncing along holding our breath. It was an 18 seater & no benches. It was a very smooth flight & I even fell asleep. At the best of times, I am a poor flyer so I did not look out the window. The best part of the flight was missing the miserable 10 hour drive back to Cusco on that awful road!

Pantiacolla warned us that there might be flight delays & there were. The guide was in radio contact with the airport on the morning we left. It was about a 5-6 hour boat ride & when we arrived at the Manu Park check-in office, our guide again tried to determine the time we would be leaving by radio. We were told the plane would be leaving at 10:00 from Cusco, arriving in Boca Manu at 10:45. We made it by that time & the plane did not arrive until about 1-2:00 because there was heavy cloud cover & it had been raining all morning in Manu. The crew stayed with us, fed us lunch & made sure the plane had left Cusco before they took off with the remaining group.

I'm losing steam on the trip report so would be happy to answer any other questions....
One other piece of advice - check your room & under your bed every night & the toilet and entire bathroom before you use them. My husband just thought I was neurotic but one morning I found a huge frog in the toilet. Another couple found a boa constrictor under their bed.

I would have liked to have seen more mammals & fewer reptiles!
fball is offline  

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