Saturday, September 15, 2018

Peru in 8 days

For our 25th anniversary we decided on a trip to Machu Picchu. Neither of us had ever been to South America, and what could be more romantic than touching down on a whole new continent together? And since this was to be a big trip, we decided to do it up right, with a travel agent and guides etc....especially as neither of us really speaks Spanish past the point of "buenos dias and vino tinto, por favor, gracias."Most people spoke English, and were very kind and patient with out attempts at Spanish, and it helped us that Peruvian Spanish is closer to Castilian than to Central American Spanish. Having knowledgable guides was really the best plan. We saw so much more and understood so much more of what we were seeing than even my impressive and compulsive trip planning skills could muster. Tourism is a large part of the economy and the guides are professionals who really consider your interests and fitness levels before putting together plans. Traffic is bananas even by Boston girl standards so I would not recommend renting a car and trying to get around on your own. We used Elli travel and it was well worth it! They handled everything.

The parts of Peru we were in were pretty touristy and pretty casual as far as dressing goes. Even the fanciest restaurants we went to had plenty of people in jeans, lots of men without jackets, no ties anywhere. Outside of Lima, hiking and backpacking attire was common everywhere. Athleisure wear is the norm. Layers are key, definitely include a down vest. Our trip was in early September, so their late-winter, almost spring. Pretty temperate conditions, but cold (mid-30s at night in the mountains). I brought 2 pairs of leggings and some tights to wear under dresses, skirts and tunics, but I should have brought 3 pairs of leggings, another tunic and no skirt. All the nice hiking hotels have beautiful pools and hot tubs, so a bathing suit or 2 is a must. Amazingly beautiful textiles are also a part of the culture. You can buy all sorts of gorgeous alpaca and baby alpaca sweaters if you aren't allergic like I turned out to be. I highly recommend asking your doctor for the altitude pills. Coca leaf tea is fun and all, but meds AND coca leaf tea are better than either one alone. Once outside of Lima the altitude took some major adjusting to, even with the coca leaf tea and the altitude pills. It's very hard to find direct flights that don't involve going one way on a red eye - we opted to arrive in Lima at 10PM and save our red eye for our return home. I'd rather get to a new city and be able to enjoy and just be tired once I got back, but that's just my way - if you can sleep on planes, good for you! Non-stop is about 8 hours Newark to Lima.

Some highlights of our trip
We arrived in Lima about 9:30PM and were met by a guide and driver to take us to our hotel in the Barranco district of Lima. Cabs were readily available. Barranco is always referred to as the "bohemian" district, lots of art, bars, and nightlife. Our hotel was the Villa Barranco, a spectacularly charming former mansion turned into a boutique hotel, run by lovely people. We let them know this was our 25th anniversary trip and by the time we got back from grabbing a light dinner & drinks - mostly we wanted to walk around the neighborhood in the Lima mist and uncork from being trapped in plane for 8 hours - they had a lovely piece of cake on hand for us to enjoy in the garden space adjacent to our room.  They seemed a little disappointed we were too full, but asked if we would have cake tomorrow and we promised to save room. The only problem with the food in Peru is that it is delicious and there is always too much of it. People say American portions are large, but every meal here was three courses and huge! We found a great neighborhood place with a tapas (but giant sized)

menu, live music and pisco sours.Posada de Angel.

Villa Barranco
at night. Just a short block from the Pacific Ocean. Full (really full) breakfast, but a city hotel, so no pool, hot tub, spa, or other amenities. OK sized rooms, super comfy bed, rain shower with nice toiletries and an outdoor sitting area.

Day 2 was a full day exploring Lima
We got off to a slow start because as soon as we got into the Historic Center and the Plaza Mayor, there was a festival going on and we had to stop and watch all the dancers, musicians and costumes,  because these were some of the costumes!!!!!!!

It was a beautiful celebration and a wonderful welcome to the culture even though we didn't know what was going on. (A Colonial era virgin doing miracles and being claimed by both Andean and
Amazon cultures was about as close as we got.) The joy this clearly brought to all involved was magnificent and radiated out into the streets, especially since they kept being closed off for parade purposes.
The rest of the historic tour was fun, but more usual, Cathedral, catacombs, colonial mansion....Must see, but similar to other cities all over the world. Then we drove to the Museo Larco which was amazing!!!!!!!! Spectacular collection of pre-Columbian art, textiles, pottery and history of the people who lived there before Pizarro showed up in 1532.  Don't miss!

Then it was lunch at the gorgeous Cala on the Pacific in the Miraflores district. I ate myself silly. The ceviche was out of this world delicious! The menu was broad and creative and the decor elegant. Again, highly recommend!!!!!

After that we went back to Barranco to wander around, people watch and take in the feel of the city. Interesting place to buy trinkets if you want, nice walk by the water and obligatory "Bridge of Sighs."  Then off to the MATE museum which hosts the largest collection of Mario Testino's work. The Peruvians are rightly very proud of their native son, but as I'd seen all these shots in the magazines when they came out, I found this museum less interesting. His photos of Andean people in their local costumes were really interesting though, especially after the festival we encountered that morning.  

We were supposed to have dinner at Tragaluz which is one of the great restaurants in the great Lima foodie scene, but we were still too full from lunch. So back to Posada de Angel for tapas and pisco sours. 

Day 3 was up at 4:40AM for a 5:00 pick-up for our flight to Cusco. As I mentioned - traffic is nuts, and the Lima airport is not big enough to handle all the people who want to come visit, so 2 hours is recommended before domestic flights, and at least 3 before international (although we had way, way, way more than enough time in every case). We landed and were immediately whisked to Sacsayhuaman, an Incan military site that hosted a major battle with the Spanish in 1536, and who's massive stones were used in the building of the Cathedral after the Spanish victory. Cusco is super high and we felt it immediately, even though we had started taking the altitude pills 24 hours in advance as directed. This site sits above the city. Even a short hike at 12,142 feet is taxing.

for scale - he's 6'5" and I am not. Then it was off to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Valley being slightly misleading as it is at 9,420 feet elevation.

After that we got to go to one of the highlights of the trip. After a terrifying trip up dirt roads, straight up a damn mountain, we we brought to have lunch in a family home in an Amaru village. We learned about and ate their traditional foods (yes, we ate guinea pig, we were guests!) and how they card, spin & dye the beautiful yarns they use to make their spectacular textiles. 

The Pisac market was fun if you like that sort of souk (I do, him, not so much). We bought a few gifts and I discovered that I am massively allergic to alpaca wool.

Our hotel in Urubamba was the unbelievably gorgeous Sol y Luna. I can't possibly recommend this place more highly. Unwordly setting, surrounded by mountains, gorgeous rooms, lovely helpful staff, pool, hot tub, spa, horses, great restaurants, cool art (all by one local artist), even the stars seemed to celebrate us being there. It was dark enough to see the Milky Way. I never wanted to leave.

and all the places we visited in the Sacred Valley were otherworldly cool from the circular terrace food research labs of the Incans at Moray,
to the saltpans of Maras (where the ancient sea bed was pushed up over 11,000 feet by the rising Andes Mountains),

 to the glorious drive through the pampas with the snow capped glaciers in the distance.

But the absolute coolest part was taking part in a ceremony of healing with a shaman from the indigenous people of the Andes.  No pictures. Just trust me, if you have the opportunity to participate, do it. Even if you think it might be corny, it's really cool. 

Next was the trip to Machu Picchu itself. We started the day by driving to Ollantaytambo and hiking around its Incan fortress before getting the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu and going up for our first day of hiking with our guide. I thought the Vistadome was well worth it, you can go cheaper on the regular train without the skylights or lots more expensive on the Hiram Bingham if you are into eating off china on a train, but the middle ground was the right choice for us.

Machu Picchu is one of those places that all the photos in the world can't prepare you for, but everybody tries. 

It's a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. It is literally and figuratively breathtaking. The hiking is challenging even though it's "only" at 8,000 feet. The first day we went in the afternoon session and hiked the ruins and learned more of the history of the site.  Tourists are allowed up in two different daily sessions. Morning or afternoon (of course you can stay all day if you have a morning pass, but since there are no bathrooms or food or water available inside the site  most people don't stay all day). This picture was taken just after we got there and I stopped shaking from the bus ride up the mountain.

This is the road up to Machu Picchu. The only way up is tourist bus or hiking. I didn't hike it, so I can't say which is worse.

It's a 20 minute bus ride.

Then, at the end of the day, you have to take the bus back down!!!! I did not take the return trip well. It's possible it involved hysterical laughter when we had to BACK UP on the narrow road on the cliff face because another bus was coming, and a death grip on his arm, and burying my face, so I couldn't see off the edges and down to certain death.  That they have only lost one bus ever was not as comforting as he seemed to think it would be.

Fortunately there are also llamas wandering around as lawnmowers.

And this was our hotel pool after hiking. 
The Inkaterra is a magnificent place. And the hot pools were a thing of joy after a morning hike, a 90 train ride, an afternoon hike & 2 20 minute bus rides

The next day we were back again. We took an 8AM bus, because we aren't really sunrise people. And the early buses have very long lines. The mountain was much more crowded in the morning session. I can understand why the government is trying so hard to balance the amount of tourists (they really need the money) allowed in, with the amount the place can hold. Currently they allow in 2,500 tourists per day. We had tickets to climb Huayna Picchu, which is limited to only 400 people per day, but after looking at the steepness of the climb and the openness of the trail, we decided I was too chickenshit. I really was. Those terraces at the top are part of the trail.
So we climbed up to the Sun Gate instead. It is a very challenging trail, but not as open as Huayna Picchu. It's about a 2.5 mile hike and goes up about 1,000 feet. It's uneven, sometimes steps, sometimes rocks and sometimes loose.
about half way up there is an (actual!!!) Incan trail rest stop with amazing views,

and tired hikers that think they are there, but not as tired as they will be when they finally get to the Sun Gate and need to sit down for a bit.

more Machu Picchu means more llamas!!!!! this time a Mama LLAMA and a Baby LLAMA.
the final part of our trip was Cusco, a beautiful colonial city built on top of an Incan one, high up in the mountains and surrounded by even higher peaks. At just over 11,000 feet, and with insanely steep streets (I still can't believe are two-way!) even walking around town is challenging. The Cathedral with its Cusco School of Art works, and the Temple of Gold are not to be missed.

View down towards the city center from our hotel
and a two way street
We stayed at the Palacio Manco Capac and old palace high above the town. It was very beautiful, but my least favorite of the places we stayed. But boy did they try.....
a happy 25th anniversary tribute in towels.

They just didn't seem to have it together in the way that all the other places did - the room was lovely and well-appointed, but they couldn't provide us with change for large bills for the taxi into town, they didn't call the restaurant we had reservations at to cancel but instead assured me that the restaurant would just cancel it if we didn't show up after 15 minutes. And worst of all, we both got sick after eating breakfast there on on second to last day. (I can't 100% say it was from the food there, but it was the only food we had that day.) We had to cancel our final day of touring outside the city to wait for the antibiotics to kick in (which they did before our flight home). So that was a drag, but at least it happened at the end of the trip and not the beginning.  But before that happened, Cusco treated us to one more festival.....

It was a wonderful trip to an incredibly diverse and charming country and we barely scratched the surface. We'll have to return someday, to see the Amazon, Nazca, and Lake Titicaca, and spend more time immersed in such a warm and welcoming culture.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Loved your very accurate description! It was very special that you got to see the festivals which I did not see until La Paz. The colors, dancing and the music are such fun! The wonderful and massive quantities of food and breathtaking sights are worth the trip. I especially enjoyed the woman with their long braids with pom poms and the endless beautiful children. They are very proud of their heritage of providing much of the world's food such as potatoes and their advanced, ancient engineering and design. Welcome back!