Peru, ha!! R and I were discussing possible holiday destinations. We have a few; his and my favorite places. But for this particular trip we wanted to choose a place that is close (to the United States) and can be wrapped up within 10 days. After comprehending visa issues (traveling with an Indian passport is no joke), cost, interest levels we narrowed it down to two places – Costa Rica, Peru. What made us choose Peru you ask? Machu Pichu- duh!!!
Once we decided the place the next steps became clear. Travel dates, Budget, Hotels, Trip Itinerary, Visa and such. We had to do this during R’s spring break and so Feb 20th – 28th was our ideal week. But that also meant hiking the Inca trail wasn’t an option because it is closed for maintenance in February. So, all you enthusiast trekkers might have to find a different month. Next came the visa process. While I consulted my friends who have visited this beautiful country about their visa experiences, I realized that the Peruvian Consulate recently mandated a personal interview for a tourist visa. No appointment is necessary. You show up with all your documents, pay the fee and leave. We were in and out in a span of 10 mins.
Documents required: Application Form, Passport, 1 photograph, Proof of travel, Proof of stay, 30$ in cash or money order, Criminal / background check (Houston/ Atlanta consulates), Prepaid envelope (if you want the passport mailed to you)
We landed in Lima on a Saturday morning at about 2 AM. Our AirBnB hosts picked us up from the airport. After a couple of hours of sleep, R and I headed out to see the sights. Our host was extremely helpful with directions. From what we gathered there are a few major neighborhoods. Downtown Lima, Milaflores, Barranco, El Callao etc…Emma also mentioned we could get Peruvian currency at the street corner from the money vendors (easy to spot in blue vests). After which ,we took the bus from Milaflores to downtown ( 1.5 soles per person). After disembarking we had to walk a couple of blocks to get to the Plaza de Armas (main square). This is the part of Lima that locals call old city. It is spectacular. We spent the whole day walking and taking in the sights.
Close to around 5 PM R and I decided to take the bus back to Milaflores and walk to the coast. We were glad we did that cause we got to witness a beautiful sunset and have dinner at a fancy restaurant with a view :). Definitely try the pisco sour while in Lima. They come in various flavors. Mango, in my opinion is the winner.
Day 2: R and I were to leave to Cusco that afternoon. So, we decided to walk around Miraflores. Our host mentioned that there was a dance festival at the Kennedy park, nearby. So, that’s where we set out. We strolled around the neighborhood, tried some Ceviche for lunch on the way back to our room. Our hosts were kind enough to drop us off at the airport from where we headed to Cusco.
The flight from Lima to Cusco is roughly about 45 mins with a breathtaking view of the Andes. We landed in Cusco at 5 PM. We booked our taxi using a service called Taxi Datum (if you aren’t good at haggling this is your best bet). Our taxi driver was waiting at the airport when we arrived and dropped us off at our hotel (Tikawasi). This is a little far from the main plaza but I picked it because of the reviews and also cause it fit our budget. R and I were very pleased with my choice.
Day 3: After gorging on our complimentary breakfast of fresh fruit, avocados, eggs and coffee, R and I set out for the Main Plaza in hope of finding a bus or taxi service to take us to the nearby attractions. We walked around the main square and found a taxi (180 soles) that could drive us to Salineras and Maras Moray. Most tours start at 9 AM. If you haven’t made plans the day before, we’d suggest getting to the square early enough to catch a tour that works for you. They have private tours (taxis), group tours (buses/ minivans). When you get to one of the heritage sites, you get to purchase an entry ticket . Now , these tickets come in various options – most have atleast 4 heritage sites valid for 2 days for a price of 110 soles (pick the one that is best suited for your travel plans).
On our return to Cusco, we booked our bus tour for the next day (30 soles per person)where we planned to cover – Ollantaytambo, Chincero and Pisaq. Being a chocolate junkie, the Chocolate Museum in Cusco was one of the places I was really looking forward to visiting. A small setting with a chocolate shop, bakery, chocolate making classes and a little lesson on how chocolate is made from cocoa. On a side note, the banana chocolate cake was so good!
We grabbed dinner at a little restaurant called “Tupana Wasi”. Fresh cooked food but I wasn’t too impressed. However, the cook’s adorable 7 year old daughter spent the evening chatting with us and that made the meal memorable.
Day 4: We were out and about by 8 AM to make in time to the meeting place from where our bus was to leave. Pisaq, Chincero and Ollantaytambo. Here is where I wish we knew that train stations had lockers. We would have left our luggage at the lockers and set out to Aguas Calientes the same day instead of coming back to Cusco. Oh well, our loss is your gain (Plan well 😀 ).
Day 5: We set out to Ollantaytambo train station. There are mini buses which run from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. We had to pay 15 (~5$) soles per person and the drive took us about 2 hours. On reaching the station, we took the Peru rail (these tickets were booked way in advance here) to Aguas Calientes.
Mind you, the distance is just about 35 kms but the train ride is 90 mins. Should give you a good estimate of how slow it goes. But the views are gorgeous and you wont complain 🙂
Our stay in Aguas Caliente was booked at Rupawasi on a friend’s recommendation and I cant thank him enough. This is an eco friendly lodge with a couple of suites and about 5 deluxe rooms. We got upgraded to the suite when we checked in because it was off season (Yay!). Rupwasi boasts of an in house restaurant (Treehouse) and rightly so. As we prepared to go to bed, I whined about waking up at 5AM but was dumbstruck at the views we woke up to.
Day 6: R and I got ready and made it to our scheduled 6AM breakfast. The restaurant staff was pretty sweet and had our food laid out and our lunch sandwiches ready. Tummy-ful, we set out to the bus stop to be on our way to Machu Pichu (exciting!!!). The bus stop was a 10 min walk from our hotel. Tickets are 20$ per person and can be purchased (cash only) at the counter near the bus stop. Buses run every 15 mins and take 20 mins to get to Machu Pichu. We were to hike to Waynupichu at 8 AM . The bus drops you off at the entrance to Machu Pichu. You have to walk through it to get to the entrance to Waynupichu. The guards at the control room will sign you in and off you go. Most of the trail is pretty uneven and has iron ropes to the side for support. Hiking or good walking shoes are highly recommended. Insect repellent, raincoat and water are other essentials. Keep in mind that most people might chose the same path to climb down the mountain so you will have to step aside to let them through. The hike in itself takes a good 45 – 90 mins. There are 4 different view points. The final one is uneven and is literally atop the moment .
One our way down, R and I chose to go around the mountain visiting the Sun and the Moon temple. Mind you, this adds an additional 3 – 3.5 hours to your hike. You have to get down the mountain, walk around it and make your way to the control room.But it’s well worth it if you want to experience mossy ladders, trails through the rain forest and some serious introspection. There are guards at the top of Waynapichu who will usually follow groups of hikers on their way down so they make it to the control room without any issues. Our guard was Oscar, his encouraging smile and words like “we are almost there” meant so much to our tired souls. We started our hike upwards at 8:15 AM and we got back to the control room at 2 PM.
Day 7: The next morning, we bid adieu to Aguas Calientes and its magnificient mountains and made our way to Cusco. We checked into a hotel called (Wifala). Definitely do not recommend this place for a bunch of reasons (safety, room space, service ). We walked the streets of Cusco stopping at local stores to buy souvenirs for ourselves and friends back home. And yes, we did go back to Uchu for one more round of Papa Rellenas and kebabs and a photo op with our favorite waitress – Ruth. She is amazing, you all :). Hand in hand, R and I made our way back to our hotel knowing that he would be back to NY and I’ll be in Austin the next day. Our first vacation as a married couple has come to a close. All I can say is, we spent a couple of days surrounded by nature in its most pristine setting and it was – Glorious!!!
Day 8: Onward and outward bound to the states. Cusco ->Lima – >Dallas!
1. The altitude makes everything 2x times harder. Keep that in mind. Go easy on yourself. And yes, hydrate!
2. Carry food and water on way to Machu Pichu. Once up there everything is really expensive,
3. Be prepared for a lot of walking. A lot!
4. Eat at Uchu while you are in Cusco. MUST!
5. The leg room in Peruvian airlines is a joke. You might want to request for EXIT row seats when you check-in.
6. Needless to say, comfortable shoes and clothing. Carry a rain coat, Insect repellent and sunscreen if you plan on hiking or even otherwise.
7. If you are looking at getting local a sim card while in Peru, we’d recommend Claro. They have a ton of prepaid plans and some with really good 3G options too.
8. We’d recommend staying in Cusco for a couple of days before you head to MP. Its on a higher altitude compared to MP and will definitely help your body adjust to the altitude.
9. Most places in and around Cusco, ticketing offices etc accept only cash. Have some available.
10. If you are a student, getting an International student card will help getting discounts on peru rail and all heritage site tickets.
11. A good attitude. Often helps 🙂