Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Vacation in Peru...a review including Machu Picchu, Cusco, Ollanytaytambo, Lima and more!

We travelled to Peru in October 2012. After a 9 hour direct flight from SFO, we landed in Lima, Peru in the middle of the night, and got a room not too far away for just a few hours, as we had to be back at the airport around 6am for our flight to Cusco.  We stayed those few hours at Bed & Breakfast de Kike.  We booked a room that would accommodate the two if us, but we were offered a bigger room upon check in, which we declined. No sense in them cleaning a bigger room for the next guests when we would only be there a few hours. They do include breakfast, however, since we were checking out early, we were unable to try what they had to offer. Our driver picked us up at the airport, and he spoke English quite well. He was right on time, and had us back at the airport on time, as well. 

Once back at the airport, we checked in for our flight to Cusco with Star Peru airlines. I do have to add, some of the things we needed to book prior to leaving the US were VERY difficult to do. The flights with Star Peru being the most difficult of those things. After countless emails with the airline (whom did not speak English), the airline finally agreed to save our seats, and let us pay once we arrived at Lima airport months after booking. They also do not assign seating until you check in, so if you want to sit with the rest of your party, you need to arrive early.  The plane is little, and the flight is not as smooth as a larger plane. Thankfully, the flight is only about an hour and half.

Once we landed in Cusco, we met our driver to take us to Ollantaytambo (Sacred Valley). We had decided not to stay in Cusco just yet as Cusco has a much higher elevation than Ollantaytambo, and we were concerned with being able to adjust. We decided to start with low elevations, and work our way up. The drive to Ollantaytambo was about 1.5-2 hours if I recall. Most of the drive was scenic.

Once in Ollanytaytambo, we checked into Hostal Iskay, which was VERY easy to book with a small deposit made via PayPal. The family that operated the hostal were European. We had a fantastic view of the ruins right from our room and “patio”. Our room also had a sunroof, I am not sure if all rooms do. The rooms were spacious and the bathrooms were big.  I do remember the towels not being very soft. Another thing to note about travel in Peru, is conditioner is not commonly placed in bathrooms like soap or shampoo is, and is actually somewhat hard to find even in the towns, so be sure to pack some!

We explored a bit in town that day after a nap, and then went to see the ruins. Everything in town is within walking distance, I don’t think we ever got a ride anywhere unless we were going to another town. 

The ruins

Town from the ruins

The next day we did some shopping and explored town some more, trying not to over do ourselves for our big day the next day!

We dined at various places throughout our time in Ollantaytambo. We had breakfast daily at the hostal, which was included. It was very basic, so if you like a big breakfast, you may need to purchase something in town, too. We also had lunch/dinner at the hostal a few times (not included). I wish I could remember the names of everything we tried, but it was all very good and affordable. I know one night, I wasn’t feeling well, completely exhausted, and I just ordered some soup. I don’t even remember what kind it was, and it was green. But it was soooooo good, Totally hit the spot, and put me in a better mood. Almost instantly felt better.

In town, the two most notable restaurants were Puka Rumi & Orishas Café. We had lunch one day at Puka Rumi, and we were the only people in the restaurant. Once our food arrived (we both had lomo saltado, VERY good), the wait staff disappeared for the rest of our meal. Yup, we literally were the only ones there. We really could have just gotten up and left we waited for them to come back for so long, but of course we didn’t do that. It is typical in many countries in South America that once your food is delivered, that the wait staff not bother you. That means no checking in on you to see how meal is, etc. It is very different and not something we were use to, but it is customary in Peru. 

Pisco Sours from Puka Rumi

We had Orishas Café for dinner one night. The night was kind of chilly, and made the mistake of ordering a vanilla latte to warm me up. It was a very good latte, but I am too sensitive to caffeine and never went to sleep that night! I wish I could recall the name of the dish we had, I just remember mine was chicken, potato, and egg, and it was soooo good!! We love Peruvian food. It was very inexpensive. The restaurant walls are basically just windows, and it sits over a river/steam. Had the sun still been out, or dusk, I am sure the view would have been beautiful.  There was nobody working that night that spoke English, so I am unsure if that is always the case.

The next morning, we got up early (well, he did, I never slept), and walked to the train station.  This was another of the easier things to book, but not as easy as accommodations. We were traveling from Ollantaytambo with Peru Rail up to Aguas Calientes. The ride was about 2 hours, with breakfast included. Beautiful sights of the snow capped Andes Mountains. With Peru Rail, you are seated in the order you book. I am an early planner, so we happened to get front row on the way up! We had a HUGE window right in front of us, so no obstructed views. (Note: the train down fills up quite a bit faster than the train up, due to many travelers hiking the Inca Trail up the mountain and taking the train back).

Andes Mountains from the train

Once in Aguas Calientes, we had time to explore all the little shops before hopping on a bus up the rest of the mountain. The bus tickets are purchased on site, so no need to secure those ahead of time. The bus takes about 30 minutes to make it up the side of the mountain, and it is a very twisty journey. I was terrified the entire time!

But alas! We finally are off the bus and at the entrance to Machu Picchu! Tickets to enter Machu Picchu are also limited, so best to buy those in advance as well. This was another of the difficult things to book. For some reason, their website did not like my credit card or debit card at all, but we finally played around with my boyfriends, and success! We booked our tix early enough to also secure the even more limited pass to hike Huayna Picchu (more on that later).  All the difficult bookings, sleepless night, long flights/drives, and we are finally here! And let me tell you, Machu Picchu is so much more amazing in person. Pictures do not even come close to the beauty of this place. There were llamas various places napping and grazing, too.

It can get very hot being out there in the sun, and I did get sun burnt. But that wasn’t the worst that happened. I was advised ahead of time the importance of long pants/sleeves, and I followed that. Until I got too hot and removed the long sleeves. I was bitten by a few sand flies. We both were, but his bites went away fairly quickly. So please cover up and/or wear lots of bug spray! My bites lasted months, yes, months, needed steroidal cream to get rid of them. Machu Picchu includes LOTS of walking once there. Much of that walking is uphill, so be prepared and wear comfy shoes. Due to the elevation and my lack of sleep, I had absolutely no energy to hike Huayna Picchu. So we had to skip it! Bummer. Still kicking myself.

Just inside the gate of Machu Picchu is a little spot where you can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp, just a cute little token that you were there.  At the gates to Machu Picchu, there is a restaurant and a hotel. We stepped out of Machu Picchu temporarily to get something to get a snack/drink. Because it is the only restaurant there, you can imagine that the prices there were a bit higher than most other locations in town.  While we were there, it started to sprinkle a bit, so it was a nice little break from the heat.  Also be advised, the restrooms here charge for toilet paper! (And Peru doesn’t allow the flushing of toilet paper, you just throw it in the trash).
We explored Machu Picchu a bit more before getting back on that scary bus to head back down the mountain. Once we were back in Aguas Calientes, we purchased a few souvenirs (there are a ton being sold here). We also had dinner here, but neither of us were very impressed with our food.  So back on the train to go to Ollantaytambo for our last night. We were both so tired, we slept on the train. Our seats weren’t as good as the way up, this time we had a shared table with some others who had been combining their Peru trip with Ecuador/Galapagos.  It was nice hearing about their trip as we were dozing off.

Once we were off the train, I think we walked straight back to the hostal and crashed for the night. We got up in the morning, packed our things, checked out, and had a driver taking us back to Cusco.

Once we were dropped off in Cusco at Ninos Hotel. It is a lovely little boutique hotel that was founded to help feed less fortunate children. While we were still in our room, I realized that Hostal Iskay had over charged us by $30. I wrote them a quick email, letting them know, and next thing I know the front desk of Ninos Hotel was delivering a message that the Hostal called, and would be hand delivering our $30 later that day. I could not believe that, and certainly did not expect that! I just wanted them to know that there was an error, and since we paid cash, I knew they couldn’t reverse it to my card. 

We weren’t in our room long before heading out to explore Cusco. Cusco is a fabulous town, there is so much to explore.  There are lots of people walking around in the Plaza selling things, even pictures asking for money to take pictures with their little lambs (yes, I did it!).

Cusco has a lot more history to explore than Ollantaytambo. One of our favorite parts of the trip, other than Machu Picchu, was exploring was the Cusco Cathedral. It is absolutely breathtaking inside. Unfortunately, they do not allow pix inside the Cathedral. This was definitely the highlight of Cusco for us. There were several churches in Cusco to be explored, but by the time we finished with this one, the others were closed.

While in Cusco, or favorite meals were at Cicciolina. We ate their twice during our stay! The food is Italian, with a Perucian flare to it. The first time there, we ate near the bar. My boyfriend ordered his usual Corona, and then asked for lime and salt. The wait staff all watched him put the salt and lime, and then they commented that they had never seen anybody add salt or lime to their beer! Most everybody in the restaurant spoke English. We also tried the famous Pisco Sour here, in addition to many other places in Peru. Neither of us were fans of it, but we kept trying to hopefully find one we liked. Everybody raves about Pisco Sours, but they just weren’t for us.
After our short stay, in Cusco, we headed back to the airport to head for Lima. This time, we were not quick enough to check in with Star Peru, and we sat in two different aisles on the plane.  When we got to Lima, our driver was late picking us up. Once he arrived, he took our luggage and pretty much power walked to his car while we were trailing behind him to keep up. I had previously contacted our bed and breakfast, asking to add one night since our flight would be very late the next day. B&B Miraflores Wasi Independencia is where our reservations were, and they stated they only allowed 1 night stays, and recommended I transfer my reservation to their other property that does longer stays. No problem. I tried tell this to the driver, who refused, and took us to the original location of our reservation. On top of rushing, and being a terrible driver, the back seat of his car was covered in duct tape, which stuck to my pants. I was not a very happy lady when getting out of his car.

I spoke with the nice ladies at the bed & breakfast (who spoke perfectly good English), and they arranged for a different driver to pick us up and take us to the other location. Much better driver!!! However, the other property was completely unsatisfactory. This property was simply called B&B Miraflores Wasi, and I would never stay there again. The room was large, the bathroom tiny, and the shower never got warm water while I was in it that night (although it did the following morning when my boyfriend showered). The walls here were very thin. Being
upstairs, and with windows and doors closed, and could still fully hear people talking downstairs. I had been arranging for the front desk to send my duct tape covered pants out for cleaning, and then changed my mind since we were flying out the next day anyway. I went to the front desk to retrieve them, and they told me they had already sent them out (yet I could see them in a bag on the chair behind them!). I tried asking again, same response. So finally I let them know they were flat out lying, and that I could see them. After they turned them over to me, we went back to the room, to put them away, and head out to explore Lima.   
We walked to the shopping center that overlooks the coast, and decided we would come back that night to Mangos, so we made reservations at the check in desk. There was a specific table I saw that I wanted (#102), that looked semi secluded, yet had fantastic views, so we requested it. Sure enough when we came back, we were seated there. It was perfect! The food was so-so, but the views were amazing. I would go again just for the view.

view of the Lima coast from the restaurant

The next day, also our last day, we had breakfast at a little spot called Haiti. We had a simple American breakfast, which was like comfort food to us. It was just what we needed. The wait staff was also very friendly, and our waiter spoke English quite well. We then explored the Plaza in Lima. Since it was a Sunday, most of the Cathedrals were closed, so we didn’t get to go inside.  But even the outside of them were amazing. We saw the Cathedral that was home of Francisco Pizarro’s body (he conquered the Incas). We were also able to see the Government Palace, which is where their President lives.

We visited a little shopping area, I think it was called Mercados Inca, which is like a flea market so to speak. Tons of vendors, but we were really only looking for alpaca items at this point in our trip. We bought a 100% alpaca blanket & a few scarves (I still use them!). There is an ATM machine in this little market, too.
Once our shopping was complete, we headed back to our hotel to take a little nap, gathered our things, and headed for the airport to come home! 

We obviously had a few bumps on this trip, but we still had a fantastic time. This is the first time I think either of us visited a place that had so much history no matter where we went. It was also our first trip to a different continent.  

One other observation, I do not know if it is the destination, or the time of year we visited, but we did not see many tourist children, almost only adults. And I do not recall meeting any Americans other than one couple. There were lots of tourists of Europe and other parts of South America. Most establishments had at least basic English speaking staff, with few exceptions.  

I hope you enjoyed, and I hope you add Peru to your list of places to visit in your lifetime!

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