Our adventure to Peru started from Miami – overnighted near the airport and flew out in the morning with a connecting flight through San Jose, Costa Rica to Lima.
First time on TACA airlines and was very impressed. One fault of the check in agent in Miami, they recommended checking luggage through to Cuzco (also spelled Cusco) – with a 545am flight to Cuzco the next morning it sounded like a good plan since we had R small carry on bag with toiletries and a change of clothes. Turned out it was not a good idea. Arriving in Cuzco the next day with no luggage, the TACA agent said you have to pick up luggage in Lima. Luckily, it was at the hotel by mid afternoon. Not much to say about Lima – our group did go downtown to see the churches and square, which was very nice – but hardly worth the HOURS spent in bumper to bumper traffic. One dinner in Lima was very good.
After a very early start, flew to Cuzco, checked into our hotel and started sightseeing. We went to the Temple of the Sun or Koricancha (also spelled Qorikancha) and the walled fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Lunch was at a Peruvian restaurant and I tried the Alpaca. It was good – I would compare it to veal. We went to a folklore dinner show that evening which was entertaining.
Cuzco is 11,400 feet above sea level, so for a couple of Hoosier flatlanders the elevation was uncomfortable. There are altitude sickness pills, which seemed to be somewhat helpful. Interesting, I went to the pharmacy and asked about the pills (they understood me) when I asked the price it was quite low, about $1.25 – but then they asked how many did I want, they cut the shrink wrap package and you bought individual pills. I also bought canned oxygen – not sure how effective it was, but Art was struggling to breathe. The hotel had an oxygen tank and you could get 15 minutes on the tank anytime you wanted. Since being home, I see that some higher end hotels have oxygen enriched rooms. One from our group went to a Doctor, who prescribed Gatorade to counteract the diuretic of the altitude sickness pills. The Peruvian choice is Coca tea (or the locals chew the Coca leaves) The tea tasted like green tea and is said to counteract the altitude, fight fatigue, and diminish hunger and thirst. It seemed to do all of those things. If it wasn’t for the minimal amount of COCAINE it would be a great diet drink. The cocaine isn’t a stimulant, but it can show up in your blood stream for a random drug test.
The weather in May was about perfect – warm and sunny days and cooler nights. It is the start of fall, and considered the best month to travel. T-shirts during the day, sweater in the evening.
The next day our excursion took us to the Sacred Valley. The Sacred Valley is the land that extends between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. This past heart of the Inca Empire starts 10 miles outside of Cuzco, and includes Inca ruins and beautiful views of the Andes Mountains. Flowing through the Sacred Valley is the Urubamba (Vilcanota) River, which gets pretty rough in spots as it descends through the surrounding gorges, and the different landscapes here are breathtaking We had time to explore and shop. We saw bricks being made for building, side by side with sheep herding. From the bus there were sheep, goats, cattle, chickens and llamas – some in enclosed fields and some tethered.
I felt the trip to the Sacred Valley was wonderful, but I would look for a tour that incorporated it into the trip to Machupicchu (assuming the train is not leaving from Cuzco).
The next day was Sunday and the morning was free. Art and I took a taxi into the main square, hoping to visit a couple of the beautiful churches we had seen earlier. The churches were not open to tourists on Sunday morning during services, so we ate breakfast overlooking the square. After breakfast, the square seemed to be filling with people and we figured out that a parade was going to happen soon. It was great fun to watch the dignitaries seated at a platform across from the flag-raising. The parade started with preschool groups, each in different “uniforms” followed by grade school, high school, university, military groups and so on. We had to be back at the hotel by noon so we didn’t stay for the whole thing, but we felt lucky to have stumbled into the celebration. I guess they were celebrating the anniversary of the city of Cuzco.
Back at the hotel we joined the group and drove back through the Sacred Valley to the train station (or so we thought!) A little background. There was a train from Cuzco to Aguas Caliente – the closest town to Machupicchu. In January there was major rains which caused mud slides, breaking the train tracks in at least 3 places. Everyone was stranded at Aguas Caliente and Machupicchu until they could be helicoptered out. I had been told that the train was back in service – what I wasn’t told was that it was only the last third. So back to our excursion! We got to the town where we thought we were catching the train and the roads were blocked by another festival so we all got out and walked. it was further than expected and our guide started calling motorcycle cabs for us (motorcycle pulling a little hansom). We thought we were going to miss the train, but when we got to the train station, we were put on 20 passenger vans and taken on a very harrowing ride for about 1/2 hour from that train station to the train station that was the furthest the train could get to. Once there we boarded our train and it was a very pleasant ride. The train had comfortable seats and even served a snack!
The town closest to Machupicchu is Aguas Caliente (hot water) It is obviously strictly there for the tourists. There was a lot of damage with the mud slides and so much of the town is under construction. The hotel we stayed at was Andina Luxury and it was very nice. Our room had a balcony overlooking the raging river. I’ve heard complaints on trip advisor that the river was too noisy, but I liked it! Sure beat listening to the train go by, which was on the other side. There are plenty of restaurants and they all seemed to have the same menu – EVERYTHING. You could get Peruvian food, Mexican food, Italian, Pizza, salads- just about anything. We went for a pizza.
Monday morning we were told to meet our guide outside our hotel (the group was split between a couple hotels) at 6am, so we could be in Machupicchu by sunrise. It is a 25 minute bus ride into the park. Luckily, Machupicchu is lower elevation than Cuzco, so it was easier to breath. Machupicchu is amazing. How the Inca’s got the stone into that valley is mind boggling. The name Machupicchu means “old mountain”. I won’t give a complete history here, but it was an Incan holy place with a 4 day trail access from the major town of Cuzco. It was not conquered by Spanish, but tribal differences between two brothers after the death of the leader (their father) led to the abandonment of the area in the mid 1500’s at the time the Spanish were carrying off anything of value. If they knew about it, it wasn’t “paved in gold” which is what the conquistadors were interested in, so it was left alone. The jungle retook the area and it was “lost” for hundreds of years. In 1911 an American historian, Hiram Bingham rediscovered it – while searching with a Peruvian team that knew of its existence. A train route was started soon after, but it took decades to complete. In 1983 it was names a UNESCO world heritage sight. It is listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Machupicchu was well worth the effort of getting there. I would do it again if the train was running from Cuzco, which is supposed to happen by this time next year. I would like to spend more time in Peru, there are many other sights and cities to visit. The Peruvian people we met were all warm, friendly and hardworking. The food we had was very good. The hotels, rated 3 * were all very comfortable. We kept to bottled water to be on the safe side even in hotels and restaurants, and as much as I hate to use such an ecologically unfriendly method of getting my water, it was the only logical choice.
Please call or email me with any questions or comments-
Alison at Advance Travel
or Toll Free: 1-800-760-5446