6/29/14

Peru


Looking for adventure, culture, history, natural beauty and mystery rolled into one? Then Peru is your perfect destination. My husband Gary and I traveled to this colorful country 17 years ago and swore we’d come back when we had kids (in fact, I’ve been planning this trip in my mind since they were born). We felt our kids who are now 15 and 13 were ready to explore the wonders of Peru.

Peru isn’t a large country, but it offers a wide variety of adventures. We narrowed it down to visiting Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and the Amazon rainforest.  We also thought about visiting the bordering country of Ecuador and the Galapagos islands, but that put us out of our price range.

To save us headaches and stress, I used a tour company to help with the trip. Peru can definitely be navigated on your own, but since we don’t speak Spanish and wanted some peace of mind, it was nice to have guides to help along the way. We aren’t a hop on the tour bus type of family as we enjoy the freedom and independence of discovering a country on our own, so I chose a company that would plan our trip and provide guides along the way without putting us a large group and planned itinerary. We used Peru Best Tours and were happy with their services.


Lima

We flew into Lima the capitol city and we’re met by our English-speaking guide at the airport. Planes from the U.S. generally arrive after midnight, so we were happy to have someone meet us at the airport and drive us to our hotel. We had an early flight the next morning to Cuzco, the ancient capital of Peru.

The accommodations were nice, nothing fancy, but clean and comfortable.  The wake-up call came all too early at 4:30 a.m. and we ate a quick breakfast provided by the hotel before our pick-up and transfer to the airport. Flights to the main destinations in Peru are the quickest and easiest way to get around. The flight to Cuzco was just over an hour.

In the airport, we happened to run into our son’s hero, Devin Supertramp. Supertramp is a You Tube moviemaker who happened to be traveling in Peru to make a movie at Machu Picchu. His girlfriend, a You-Tube singer sensation, accompanied him. We had a nice chat with Supertramp and he posed for a few pictures with our kids.

Cusco

Our guide met us at the small airport in Cuzco and loaded us into a black SUV. We immediately felt the effects of the 11,220 foot elevation of the city. I felt slightly short of breath like I’d just walked up a stairway. The locals chew coco leaves to alleviate the effects of altitude and we often found coco tea and leaves out at the hotels.We were whisked away for a short drive to a lovely Spanish style hotel, Rumi Punku, in a convenient location just a few blocks from the main center of Cusco, but in a quiet area for a restful stay.

Cusco was the site of the historic capital of the Inca Empire and declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 by Unesco. It is a major tourist destination and receives almost 2 million visitors a year.  The Incan civilization was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. It arose from the highlands of Peru sometime in the early 13th century and spread to parts of Ecuador, Bolvia, Argentina, Chili and Columbia.  The Spanish conquered the last Inca stronghold in 1572.
The name Q’osqo (Cusco) means navel of the world and you get a sense of being in the middle of something special with its stone streets and building foundations laid by the Incas more than 5 centuries ago. The city is small enough to get around on foot. On our first morning, we walked down a narrow cobbled pedestrian path to the historic center, the Plaza de Armas. Two women in traditional dresses of bright reds and greens holding onto ropes attached to llamas greeted us. Women like this are all over town. The pictures are fun and great souvenirs, but you’re expected to tip them about $1 per person in the picture.
We walked down to the main plaza area. There was loud music playing and a parade snaked its way around the plaza with marching bands and young school children dancing in brightly colored traditonal costumes in orange, red, and greens. We’d arrived at the time of the Inti Raymi, the winter solstice festival (Peru is south of the equator so our summer is their winter. The temps are generally in the mid 60’s this time of year).
One quickly discovers that Cusco has a layered past. When the Spanish conquered the Incas they quickly built their own churches and structures over the existing Inca temples. The Incas surrendered to the new religion but quietly kept their own alive. A painting of the Last Supper in the Cathedral of Santo Domingo on the main square has the 12 disciples eating guinea pig, a traditional Inca delicacy.
Later that day we took a city tour that included the Qurikancha which was an important temple in the Capital city dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The walls and floors were once covered with sheets of solid gold that were used by the Incas as ransom for the life of their leader Atahualpa. The Spanish Colonist built the church of Santo Domingo on the site using the Incas foundations for the cathedral. You can still see the distinctive Inca stone blocks at its base.



Our tour took us to the outskirts of Cusco to Saksayhuaman. Thought to be an Incan fortress, the immense boulders carefully constructed without mortar are a testament to the engineering genius of the Inca.
Later we ate at the restaurant Boca on a small street off the main plaza. The trendy d├ęcor reminded us more of the restaurants in America and it shouldn’t have surprised us that our waiter was a recent transplant to Peru from New York City.
Sacred Valley Tour
The Urubamba Valley, is a beautiful stretch of small villages and ancient ruins nestled in the shadow of the towering Andes. Spanning out from Cusco, the valley is home to many spectacular Inca ruins including Pisac and Ollantaytambo.

River Rafting
We had one free day in the Cusco area, so we decided to spend the day river rafting on the Urubamba River. We used Mayuc tours.  http://www.mayuc.com/en/urubamba-river-rafting.php. The river was class 3 and perfect for the family.

Machu Picchu
Our guide picked us up early for the trip to Machu Picchu. He had arranged prior to our trip for our tickets which is important because they only allow a certain number of people into Machu Picchu each day. (You can purchase your own tickets on-line). We also arranged to stay a night near the site so we could spend two days rather than one and also so we could climb Huayna Picchu (you also need to get a ticket prior to hike Huayna Picchu because they limit the number of hikers each day).

There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu. One is the Inca Trail, a 4 day trek through the Andes mountains to the heights of Dead Women’s pass at 13,780 feet. I’ve had friends who’ve done the trail and say it’s an amazing experience, but in my research I found it wouldn’t be enjoyable with two teenagers in tow, so decided to save it for a future trip.

The other way is by train (much better with kids).  There are different trains you can choose including the upscale Hiram Bingham train. We picked the Expedition train  and it was very comfortable. The train trip takes 3 hours.

You depart the train in the town of Aguas Caliente. From there, you take a tourist bus up a windy hill to the site of Machu Picchu. If you are staying the night, the hotels will meet you at the train station and take your luggage for you. We quickly dropped our luggage and got in line for the bus.

Machu Picchu- Once at the site, we met our prearranged guide and explored the beautiful ruins. The pictures of Machu Picchu are breathtaking, but to be there is even more remarkable. There is something calm and peaceful about the site. After our tour, we explored on our own. At about 3:00 the day tourists leave for the train and the site clears. The same was true the next morning when we arrived. We were very happy to have stayed the night to give us a less crowded experience.

The next morning, we awoke early to a early bus to the site. We had tickets to climb Wayna Picchu for 7:00. Wayna Picchu is the mountain adjacent to Machu Picchu. They only allow 400 people to climb it a day, so getting tickets in advance assures you a spot. Since we were visiting just a few days after the winter solstice, we hoped to catch the sun’s rays hitting the temples precisely, but it was cloudy that morning.  We arrived and got in the line for Wayna Picchu. They check each person’s ticket and have you sign a book as you enter (this is a way for them to check that nobody is staying overnight on the mountain). The climb up is strenuous and steep up stairs built by the Incas hundreds of years ago, but frequent stops and the excitement of the journey make it doable for the whole family. The trek took about 1.5 hours and down about 45 minutes. The kids loved the adventure. At the top is a wonderful view of Machu Pichhu and the towering Andes.

Amazon Jungle and Rainforest

The Amazon jungle is a short 30-minute plane ride from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. A representative from the Jungle Lodge greeted us at the airport. They took us to their headquarters where we boarded a bus to the river. The drive to the river was about 45 minutes where we and then we embarked on a boat ride two hours down the river to the lodge. Along the way, it started to rain so we bundled up in our rain panchos until the storm passed.

Once we arrived, we took a 5-minute walk on a trail through the dense jungle vegetation to a clearing with a giant beautiful jungle lodge. We were taken to our rooms, an oasis with a hammock, two beds covered with nets (keep the bugs away), and one wall open to the jungle.

We were assigned a guide to our group of 8 (our family, an Australian couple, and a single woman from California). All meals were provided each day. The next three days were spent exploring the rainforest. The first night we went caiman (small alligators) spotting on a boat on the river. The next day we hiked to a river to find otters (couldn’t find any) and climbed a canopy tower for a birds-eye view of the forest. Later we took a quick boat ride across the river for a farm tour. The small farm grew bananas, oranges, papaya and cocoa.

The next day we awoke early for a boat ride and hike to an area with parrots and scarlet macaws. Along the way, we were treated with a view of spider monkeys and jostling high in the canopy. Later after lunch, we met a Shaman (medicine) man for a tour of a medicinal garden. At night, we joined the creepy crawler tour of spiders in the rainforest.

The next day we took the boat back to Puerto Maldonado and a plane ride to Lima.

Lima

We had an overnight in Lima before our flight back to the states. Our tour company arranged a city tour of us where we saw the catacombs of the church of San Francisco where guides estimate over 75,000 bodies are buried. After, we had ceviche at a restaurant before heading back to our hotel. In the morning, we had a few hours before going to the airport and walked along a road on a cliff high above the ocean. The weather was overcast like June gloom at home.

Hotels:
Lima: Mama Panchita
Very basic but good for a nights sleep. Breakfast included.
Safe area.
Cusco: Rumi Punku. Loved this hotel. Nice rooms, beautiful courtyards, good breakfast and great location.
Aguas Caliente (near Machu Picchu)
Santuari
Basic, good location. Breakfast included.
www.santuariohotel.com
Jungle Lodge:
Refugio Amazonas – Loved it. Beautiful accommodations and rainforest experience.
They also have a comparable lodge (Posada Amazonas) that is a shorter boat ride, but we wanted to be deeper into the forest for more animal viewing.

Machu picchu tickets

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