Inca-redible High

Location: Peru

Introduction:

We finally made it to South America. This is a first for both of us. We started out in Peru because that’s where we got the best deal on airfares and ever since we heard about Machu Picchu, we’ve longed to see it. We started out in Lima. It is situated on the Pacific Ocean and has a European feel to it. It’s on the modest side as cities go and is surrounded by poverty as evident when transferring from/to the airport.

We next flew to Cusco and headed for Ollantaytambo and the Sacred Valley. It took almost 2 hours by taxi winding up and down picturesque mountains and valleys. From here, we were only an hour and a half’s train ride and a 20 minute bus ride to Machu Picchu. Majestic is the closest we can come to describing the experience that followed. There’s not a lot of English spoken down here but fortunately Elizabeth’s Spanish skills have served us well. The people have been friendly and helpful. In general, people seem to live very modestly and depend heavily on tourism. They’ve got a style and flair all their own with their native hats and colorful woven garments. Our introduction to South America now has us excited for more.

Sites Visited:

Lima, Sacred Valley, Machu Pichu & Cusco.  Lima is nothing special as cities go. We felt somewhat guarded as everything is locked down. Doors, windows and cars are all gated. We stayed in Miraflores, which is the nicest section of the city and safe. The beaches along the coast are rocky. There were some surfers catching some small waves but otherwise the beaches were deserted as the temperatures were only getting up to about 70.
Once we moved onto the Sacred Valley, we entered this incredibly beautiful area that quickly entranced us. This was the home of the Incas back in the 15th century.
Machu Picchu was the goal for our visit to Peru and this is one of those special places that burns an impression in one’s memory banks forever. It’s really the location that’s incredible. At 8,000 feet above sea level, the steep drops and surrounding mountains engulfed by misty clouds are simply breath taking. We took a 5 am train and hiked up to the Sun Gate where the famous Inca Trail leads into Machu Picchu and we were wowed that we had it all to ourselves. We visited during the rainy season and the forecast was dire but we lucked out and dodged the rain and enjoyed what we’re calling an “Inca-redible High.”
The rain finally caught up with us while hiking in the Sacred Valley. Trails are not well marked and we lost the one we started out on somewhere along the way but we kept going and had a great experience just the same. We returned to Cusco for a day and it was charming, reminding us of European cities with large cathedrals and squares. We were both feeling the altitude of 11,200 feet affecting us and there were more touts on the street trying to sell things to us than we would have liked.

Accommodations:

Four Points Sheraton in Lima for 3 nights. This was our first stay at a “Four Points” Sheraton and we’d compare it to a Hyatt Place. The Hotel is fairly new and the room was very nice and included a mini-fridge. Our rate included a buffet breakfast, which was decent. The fitness center was tiny but adequate for cardio workouts.

We flew from Lima to Cusco and took a taxi to the “Sacred Valley” and stayed at El Albergue Hotel & Restaurant in Ollantaytambo, which is located right at the train station. We originally booked 2 nights.  We loved this place so much that we didn’t mind changing rooms to extend our stay for a 3rd night.  The hotel’s restaurant was so good that we ate 7 meals there. We spent our final night in Peru in Cusco at the Tierra Viva Cusco Plaza Hotel. It was very nice and located just off a large square. Unfortunately, the hotel did not have air conditioning and we did not have a window to the outside. So, our room got rather warm making it difficult to sleep. They too had a decent buffet breakfast included in the rate.

Food & Drink:

We ate out a lot in Peru and enjoyed a lot of good, savory foods in small local restaurants and cafes. The mix of foods included soups, salads, stews, pastas, omelets and unique local dishes. Alpaca steaks and burgers were offered but we stuck to chicken and beef. The food was relatively inexpensive providing us with an added incentive to eat out. Lots of bars and restaurants offer 2 for 1 drinks during happy hour. We took advantage of the offer to try the local favorite of Pisco Sours. We found wine to be reasonably priced with lots of wines available from Argentina and Spain. As an example of the value offered, our server at a Tapas style wine bar in Lima, La Esquina, upsold us on the most expensive bottle of wine on their list and it still cost us less than the cost of a cheap bottle of wine in a retail store in Asia. It was an Argentinian Malbec and it was so good, that we ordered a second bottle. Don’t worry, we weren’t driving and they let us take the unfinished bottle with us.  The local Cosquena beer was decent. We also enjoyed a non-alcohol drink named Chicha Morada, which is made from boiled purple corn. It was bueno.

Transportation System:

We got a great deal using United Mileage Plus points to fly First Class/Business Class on Thanksgiving Day from Honolulu to Lima making stops in Denver & Houston.  In Peru, we used a combination of taxis, buses and trains to get around. There were lots of fancy Tuk Tuks in Ollantayambo but we got around on foot there just fine.  The roads are not the best with some dirt and cobblestone mixed in with paved roads. Most roads are just 1 lane in each direction. There’s just a single train track offered by Peru Rail being shared by the trains going in both directions making for some long waits on a pull-out. The town and city roads have lots of speed bumps. All this makes for slow and often rough rides. The beautiful scenery makes it all worthwhile.

Shout Outs:

We want to thank all of the domestic animals who entertained us during our visit. Here are just a few that we were able to photograph.

For Your Amusement:

It’s pretty funny when you come upon the unexpected in another part of the world. Check out the casino we stumbled upon in Lima below.

Picture

We finally bought a digital camera for our trip and hopefully the quality of the photos we post will improve over our iPhone 4S’s camera. Elizabeth is having fun playing with the various settings and snapped this scary looking photo of Rich during an evening taxi ride.Picture
We’ve had some interesting key entry systems to the various accommodations that we’ve stayed in thus far but we think this one in Ollantaytambo outclasses them all.

Highlight: Machu Pichu (of course)

Next Up: Argentina…where we plan to spend a month

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