We had a fantastic month long trip through Brazil, Argentina and Peru recently. The following is my journal from the Peru portion. The whole trip was planned with the helpful advice of members of these forums. Hopefully my notes will help other future travelers too. I have also written hotel reviews on the hotel section.
October 8 - Bright and early to the airport for our flight to Lima from Buenos Aires. The taxi driver booked through the hotel tried to charge us an extra 20 pesos however when we told him the price the hotel quoted, he readily accepted that. Upon arrival in Lima, we were greeted by the driver I had booked with the Miraflores Lodge Hotel since Lima is known for some unreputable taxis. For $20 USD it is well worth the extra safety. Our driver took us to a different hotel though and advised us that the one I had reserved, Miraflores Lodge did not have space and that the Miraflores Colon Hotel is better. It is pretty basic and smells like mildew but will be ok for our 1 night stay. The original hotel was supposed to be very basic too but I don't like someone making arrangements for us without consultation. They said nothing of the sort in the email I had from them yesterday confirming the driver would be at the airport. I have sent them another email and hope for some type of apology and explanation.
This afternoon we took a city tour on the Mirabus. The tour included a visit to the catacombs of the San Franciscan Monastery complete with underground tunnels and the bones of 25,000 people! Lima is a very mixed city, with some beautiful newer beach areas and many areas where the colonial buildings have fallen to disrepair. The upper storeys are often vacant with broken windows. There are clean beautiful parks with well tended gardens and some areas have more modern buildings but the overall appearance of many of the areas is one of disrepair. One day for us in Lima and then onward to Cusco and the Sacred Valley tomorrow.
October 9 - Early to the Lima airport this morning to catch our flight to Cusco in the Sacred Valley. Hoping the flight is able to land in Cusco as flights are frequently delayed or canceled due to fog at Cusco. Our flight is a little late boarding and then we sit on the tarmac for an hour and are not really sure what the delay is about until we are able to see that we are in a long line of planes waiting to take off from the same runway. We are very comfortable on the plane as we are in business class for this flight. Normally I wouldn't book business class however this is the flight I booked in a panic to replace the flights previously booked with Peruvian Airlines. Peruvian Airlines was suspended from flying at the end of August due to safety issues, so not wanting to be stuck without flights to and from the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu area, I looked for alternate airlines. TACA had flights but only showed seats for business class available for morning times on the dates we needed so hence I booked them. About a week later I noticed there were economy seats showing as available but our business class tickets were non refundable. After the fiasco with Peruvian Airlines suspension, I was just happy to have confirmed flights! A really big thank you for all the support and assistance by the TA forum folk during the weeks when Peruvian Airlines were suspended and while I was trying to book replacement flights and get a refund from Peruvian Airlines.
Other than the hour delay in getting to Cusco today, the day went great. For $80 USD I had prearranged for a driver through David Expeditions to pick us up and take us to a few stops en route to our hotel in Ollantaytambo which is about 2 hours from Cusco toward Machu Picchu. En route, the driver took us to an alpaca and llama farm and also to the town of Pisac to see our first Incan ruins and also the local market. Ulisis was our driver and a great guy. Between his limited English, our complete lack of Spanish, and universal gestures and charade, we were able to communicate just fine. We spent about an hour climbing up the Pisac ruins. Had our first experience of some of the steep steps and pathways carved into the mountains. Also experienced a bit of the high altitude fatigue as noted by light headedness and pounding heart. Hubby also had a headache for most of the evening. This area is 11,000 feet above sea level and noted for causing altitude sickness if you don't take it easy and acclimatize. Ollantaytambo is lower in the valley so we will have a chance to adjust more gradually before going up to Machu Picchu in a couple of days and then spending the last couple of days in Cusco which is the highest elevation. The local people are very colorful in their traditional costumes and are evident on the streets of the villages and even on the cliffs of the ruins. Some of the fellows were sitting out on the steep pathways playing the traditional flutes just like they have done for centuries. Our hotel, El Albergue in Ollantaytambo is very quaint and comfortable. As we arrived after dark, we didn't yet get a good look of the town but will do so tomorrow. The hotel is located at the train station which will be handy for our early morning train ride to the Machu Picchu area in two days. We had a good dinner in the hotel restaurant...my first try of alpaca steak....really tender and mild similar to veal.
October 10 - Today we explored the small town of Ollantaytambo and climbed up the Incan ruins. The town is easily walkable and is noted for having some of the best preserved Incan architecture. The town has one main plaza with branching cobbled streets often only wide enough for pedestrians. Many of the walls of the buildings are the original Incan stone blocks. Many of the locals wear their colorful Peruvian clothing and are selling the local handicrafts. We had great weather for our explorations and then after we had returned to our hotel, there was a heavy downpour. Our hotel has beautiful gardens and courtyards and fresh flower bouquets from the garden are in our room and lobby areas. We have been very lucky with weather for this whole trip and are hoping our luck holds out for tomorrow when we head to Machu Picchu for the day. We have an early train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes which is the closest town to Machu Picchu. From there it is a short bus ride or one hour hike up to Machu Picchu. We're taking the bus!
October 11 - Today we caught an early morning train to Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. Very convenient to catch the train as the train station is at our hotel and we board the train literally steps away from the front door. After an hour and a half train ride and a half hour bus ride up the Machu Picchu Mountain we see the amazing view of the Machu Picchu site. For 120 sols, about $40, we negotiate a guide to give us a two hour private tour which is very informative about MP and the Inca. After the guided tour, we spend extra time exploring further and taking many pictures. We get all of the classic shots including those with llamas in the foreground of the ruins. The weather is perfect as it has been throughout our whole trip. We have the afternoon to wander Aguas Calientes which we find is actually more time than we need. The town is full of restaurants and shops all trying to convince the tourist to spend money. I do enjoy the people watching, especially noting all of the children including toddlers running freely throughout the town and roads even alongside the steep bank dropping to the river. Dogs also run about unsupervised, and all seem to be happily playing together. We also are impressed by all the fellows we see pushing heavily loaded carts of construction supplies, crates of beer, vegetables etc. up the steeply sloped roads and sidewalks. After what seems like a very long day, we are happy to get off the train back at Ollantaytambo and be back at our hotel.
October 12 - This morning we leave Ollantaytambo and make our way to Cusco where we spend our final two nights of the trip. Again we have hired a driver and make stops en route. First we stop to see Salineras where they harvest salt from ponds. We also stop at Moray to see some of the circular terraced agricultural sites from the Incan era. Hubby makes the climb down and back up from the bottom and I can hear him huffing and puffing at the bottom as the acoustics are great. This area is lush with agriculture and the locals are out working in the fields wearing traditional dress, especially the older women in their top hats and triangle skirts which apparently represent the mountains they worship. I miss a great photo op of a little boy in traditional dress herding a flock of sheep that were straying across the country road we were driving. Last stop before arriving at Cusco is Chinchero another Incan site. A few hours of wandering the main Cusco Plaza which is close to our hotel Rumi Punku and we are ready for an early bedtime! Lots of climbing again all day as the Incan sites are all built on the slopes or hills or mountains and the cobbled streets of Cusco are mostly steep.
October 13 - Today is a day to explore Cusco. We start by taking a short taxi ride up hill to the Sachywuman ruins on the hillside just above our hotel. These ruins are also a great display of the Incan building and as with so many of the sites, provides a great view. After a couple hours wandering, many more pictures including of alpacas wandering the site, we make the half hour walk back down to Cusco and the narrow cobbled streets around our hotel. We spend some time wandering the area; all this wandering involves climbing up and down steep cobbled streets and steps often with next to no sidewalk space. At best the streets are one lane wide and it is amazing to see some of the vehicles fit through...along with pedestrians, dogs, alpacas, goats and lambs that the locals have brought out for picture opportunities. For one sol the locals in native clothing are happy to pose with their baby goats, sheep, alpacas etc. And yes I have donated numerous times for those colourful pictures! I couldn't pass by any of those opportunities. We also spend some time in the late afternoon enjoying one of the beautiful courtyards in our hotel. Beautiful stone work, fountains and flowers. This hotel is an oasis when you step through the original stone Incan doorway off the street.
October 14 - Today starts our 2 day process of flights home. After a short flight from Cusco to Lima we have the whole day to await our flight onward. When we eventually board our nighttime flight, it gets delayed for almost two hours for some maintenance. This means we arrive late for our connecting flight in Miami however that is actually good news as the replacement flight goes to Vancouver via LA instead of Dallas where we were originally going to have 8 hours between our flights. Due to the missed flight, we are actually going to arrive home 2 hours earlier! Every hour counts after 2 days of flying!