With the help of numerous posters on Trip Adivisor and the great help of our Peruvian guide - David Choque, we had a fantastic trip to Peru this past October. I was planning our trip back in 2008 and came across David's name many times on Trip Advisor and Fodors trip forums, so I emailed David our budget, the main places we wanted to visit, and our timeframe (2 weeks), and David sent me back a detailed itenerary. With a few tweaks back and forth, we finalized it. David took care of booking all of our transportation (flights inside Peru, busses, trains) except for our flight from Austin to Lima and return (we used American FF miles). He was our personal guide the whole trip, except for the times Joel and Ruben guided us. We were very, very pleased with their service.
I wired David 1/2 of the money months before our trip and paid him the balance when we got to Peru. Our trip went off without a hitch and I highly recommend David; you can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We arrived in Lima at 4:30 am and took a Lan Peru flight out to Arequipa at 9:00 am. We arrived in Arequipa pretty exhausted. Joel picked us up at the airport, took us to get money exchangd and then to our hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Del Megar and really liked it. It was a close walk to the square, had hot water, a large room and bathroom overlooking a great courtyard and the breakfast buffet was great. We showered and rested a while and Joel then took us to the Monasterio de Santa Catalina for a tour. Very interesting. Back to the hotel for a beer in the courtyard, dinner and to bed.
Woke up early, had breakfast and Joel came by at 9:00 am and took us to the Universidad Catolica de Santa Maria for a tour. We really enjoyed that. Took a bus from Arequipa to Chivay - it was on the most basic bus, but was ok. No bathrooms though! I believe the trip took 4 hours and the scenery was very desolate. For about an hour we were on a dusty, bumpy dirt road. Right before we arrived in Chivay we picked up a woman and her daughter...and their llamas! Too funny....they stayed in the from compartment with the driver.
We stayed at the Colca Inn...it was simple but very clean and had a nice window. Joel went to dinner with us and we then bought some beers and visited with Joel in one of the hotel lobbies.
Woke up early and it was freezing in Chivay...icecycles on the fountain across the street! We liked our room but the street noise was loud all night. Joel took us to Colca Canyon. We left ~7:45 am and got there around 9:15 am. The road was sooooo bad--dirt and very bumpy, lots of pot holes. That didn't slow Marco our driver down though! :- ) Incredible scenery on the way. We were there about 30 minutes before seen our first condor---just spectacular. We saw quite a few condors and a huge falcon too, soaring as if on cue for us! We loved this part of our trip. We headed back to Chivay and took the 12:30 bus back to Arequipa and called it a day...
We took the 8:00 am bus to Puno. This bus was a step up from the previous bus. It had a bathroom, but luckily I only had to use it once... The bus got very hot in the afternoon and the windows didn't open. I think it ended up being a 6 hour trip; we were glad to reach Puno. At 12,500 feet we really felt the altitude when we got off the bus. Checked into the Conde de Lemos Inn and immediately got a cup of coca tea in the lobby. This helped settle our jitters some. We really liked this hotel and the staff was very helpful and friendly. The room as very large and so was the bathroom. Big windows, hot water, really nice. Joel went with us on a boat trip to the Uros Islands on Lake Titticacca. It was interesting, but we weren't that wild about it. We were the only tourists on Uros and it was sort of awkward. Very interesting though. We got back to Puno and had dinner with Joel and called it a night.
Joel picked us up and took us to the bus terminal. He did not ride with us to Cusco. It was a Deluxe bus--very nice and had several stops on the 10-hr trip to Cusco. We stopped at some ruins, a fabulous cathedral, and had a buffet lunch about half way. These stops helped pass the time and we enjoyed the day. Got to Cusco ~5:30 and David picked us up and took us to our hotel - Cusco Plaza 1. This hotel is in a great location---easy walk to the Plaza de Armas, but it was noisy the first night. We went to dinner with David and called it a night.
The next day David picked us up ~10:30 and took us to the Temple of the Sun--fascinating. We explored Cusco on foot and had a most interesting day. Jim asked David if there were any stores that sell women's shoes nearby...I have really small feet and have trouble finding small shoes back home, and we saw some great boots on a lot of the women in Cusco. David said he had a solution--he would take me to the shoemaker! I told him I thought it would be too expensive to have boots made, but would it be more than, say, $100 US dollars? He said oh no...not that much. Sooo, he took us to a shoe shop - Victoria's where I picked out a boot design, chose the heel and toe type, and she had me step onto a piece of paper and traced my foot, then measured my ankle and calf and voila---3 days later we picked up my custom hand-made leather boots---for only 120 Soles (~$40)!! I couldn't believe it---what a great "souvineer" to bring back with me. Had I known about this earlier, I would have ordered several more pairs for that price!
From there we went to Saqsaywamen - a fort that took ~77 years for the Inca's to build. It was amazing! We then visited Qenqo a Sanctuary of Worship and then David drove us to Ollytamtaybo. The drive through the Sacred Valley is awe-inspiring with spectacular beauty! The Andes Mountains are so grand...we saw snow-capped mountains and green mountains with terraces going all the way up--just fantastic! There were fires in the area for clearing old crops so it was pretty hazy that day.
David dropped us off at our hotel and we took a walk around the square and then went to dinner. The next morning we walked to the train station and took the backpacker train to Aguas Calientes to do Machu PIcchu. The train was nice, but about an hour into the trip, the train broke down! No worries though...it was back up and running in a couple of hours. Our car was full of some French tourists and we actually met a man that had been to Austin many years ago. Through gestures, etc. we managed to communicate a little. It was a great, fun group with good humor, so the break-down wasn't too bad. We got to Aguas Calientes at 11:30 am instead of 9:30. Ruben met us at the train station and took us to our hotel - the Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge. We really liked this place. You walk from the train station, through a market, the small plaza and then up many, many stairs to get to it. We had a 2nd floor room with a balcony that overlooked the mountains. The room was really large and so was the bathroom... Great hot water too. The restaurant on-site, the Tree House ,was excellent...actually the best restaurant we ate at the whole time we were in Peru! We checked in and then Ruben took us up to MP---it was as spectacular as everyone says... It was a beautiful day. Ruben guided us to the Inca bridge, and then back through MP. It was an amazing tour and I was very glad we had a guide for it. Once back in AC we bought some cervezas and Ruben came back to our room where we sat on the balcony and visited with him and our next door neighbor. We had an excellent dinner at the Tree House and then called it a night.
The following day we just hung out in AC and really just relaxed for a day. I wanted to have that extra day in case it was rainy or foggy the first day we went to MP.
The next morning we got up to pouring rain! We caught the early train back to Olly where David met us. We toured the ruins there and David took us off the beaten path to a little self-sufficient town called Huilloc (he pronounced it Willow). It's an authentic native village in the Andes. Very interesting. He then took us back to Cusco. We shopped around Cusco, had dinner and headed back to the Cusco Plaza 1 hotel. This time we requested a room not on the courtyard and it was much quieter.
The next morning, Ruben picked us up and took us to the Pisaq ruins---OMG....this was incredible---the ruins and surrounding scenery...an absolute must see! We thoroughly enjoyed Pisaq and it was another highlight of the trip. It was Sunday and we went to the Pisaq market. It was super-interesting since there were also locals shopping for everything from spices to meat, veggies, fruit, dyes, etc. I really loved this visit! Ruben took us back to Cusco and dropped us off at our hotel. We went to the square and went up to one of the balcony restaurants and had a cerveza and watched the goings-on of the plaza. Suddenly a funeral procession came out of one of the cathedrals on the square, the whole thing was interesting--throwing of rose petals on the casket, the procession, etc. We went exploring the plaza and surrounds on foot and then went to one of the balcony restaurants and watched the sun set over Cusco and the night lights appear on the hills surrounding Cusco...very nice!
The next day David took us to Moray and the Maras salt mines...both very interesting. Again, the drives around the Sacred Valley were stunning. Back to Cusco that evening for dinner and shopping.
The next morning Joel came to pick us up. David had arranged for us to go horseback riding outside of Cusco. This was truly a highlight of our trip! I've not seen many posters mention horseback riding, and I highly recommend it. Joel went with us, as did a guide from the horse stables. We rode through some fabulous scenery and about 45 minutes into the ride we got off the horses and walked to the Tambomachay ruins. This was a bathing area the Incas went to before going into the temple. These ruins were ok, but at this point we had pretty much had our fill of ruins. Walked back to the horses and rode them to a cave area where Incas were buried. This was interesting and the scenery around here was outstanding. I don't know the name of the place we went horseback riding, but it's just outside of Cusco. You could email David about it if interested---we LOVED it!
We went back to Cusco and visited museums, etc. We had asked Joel to come back that evening and go to dinner with us - our last dinner in Cusco. He did so and it was great fun. The following day David took us to some final ruins on our way to the airport. We flew out of Cusco around 1:30 pm to Lima and then flew back to Austin.
We had a wonderful trip and the weather was perfect - cold (40's-50's) in the morning and warm (70's-80's) in the afternoons. It rained the day we left AC and then only once more in Cusco for about 10 minutes. I can't recommend David Choque enough. He was a great guide, did extra's for us, made sure everything was taken care of and when he wasn't with us, Joel and Ruben were. We had time on our own in the afternoons and some mornings, and we enjoyed that too. All in all a great trip! For those of you reading this that have not yet been to Peru...you will absolutely love this beautiful country!