I made some general comments that I repeated each time-you might want to scroll down if you already read!
General---Dear TA Friends,
I use TA so much to plan trips and always get the best advice--time to give back, reflect and hopefully help someone else. We went to Lima, Puno, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu and Cusco. I posted here, Puno and Lima as appropriate for what we did in these areas.
I am a recent widow and this was my first trip without my husband which was difficult-he would have loved=I am fortunate to have many friends, so a dear friend of mine went with me. We are two 55 year old but young at heart women who still try and do it all. Here goes... hope it helps someone out there!
Some general stuff...
First, I would like to say that as everyone reports, the Peruvian people were lovely-all very nice and eager to please. We felt English was pretty limited, but so was our Spanish. When traveling I've grown to get used to it and find it does not make a difference and usually enhances the experience. The people who did speak English (typically hotel employees and guides) did so pretty well. Again, all friendly and genuine.
Secondly, using a credit card in Peru is not always that easy--we found most preferred or would only use cash even though they might have "Visa" signs, etc. My friend lost her ATM card early on and just assumed she could use her credit card-typically not the case. Prepare to mainly use cash. It seemed cab drivers all wanted US dollars-so take extra US dollars-I usually do not on trips. I had a little bit more than usual and wish I had brought more.
Ollantaytambo--After long bus ride from Puno to Cusco and then longer than we expected drive we finally arrive tired and hungry. We stay at El Albergue which was a truly wonderful experience. I had been in contact with Sergio via e-mail prior to our visit and he was at the desk waiting for us ready to help! He was very friendly and spoke excellent English. The other staff members were also eager to help. We got two different rooms-I had a balcony room and my friend had a garden room directly below-I paid $60. more a night-not sure if it was that big of a difference. We loved the rooms-spacious, clean, comfy bed and bedding, nice bathroom. Rustic, lodge feel-Spanish type shutters, high ceilings with wood beams-fresh flowers, etc. No TV if you want or need-but I prefer not-you are in the Andes Mountains. We were tired and hungry so Sergio made a reservation for us while we freshened up.
The hotel dining is incredible. There is an organic farm on site, so they grow their own veggies, make their own pasta-all fresh ingredients. I had the trout which was excellent. My friend had a chicken, zucchini and pasta dish that she is still talking about. A good night's sleep in very comfortable bedding.
Waking up the next morning to the fabulous views and grounds at El Albergue is breathtaking. Breakfast is all fresh-organic eggs-homemade jams, frutis etc. I had the french toast both mornings and loved. They will make pancakes as well. Good Americano coffee. My friend had some trouble communicating about her fried eggs and never did get quite rite-might want to go with scrambled-but they do made to order or try. ;)
We begin our day to hike to town, over the bridge and to the Incan ruins rising over the village. We hired a guide once inside who took us all thru the lower levels explaining the Incan's engineering, agriculture, and astronomy-amazing-she also explained what we would see once we climbed to the top. Quite a feat, but we did it and well worth the views. How they ever got those stones up there! A good preview before Machu Picchu. Our guide was Joanie and she related to what we would see at Machu Picchu.
We went to a little cafe right along the water and had a cold cervesa and small margarita pizza with beautiful views of the ruins. Spent rest of afternoon walking around the town (very small) and thru residential section. You can see the running water running under the stone sidewalks. We found a young boy propped up on a half of a pipe out of the ground holding on to a light pole. He was laughing and carrying on-we saw that he made a kite and tail out of a plastic grocery bag-we clapped for him as he flew it and he was delighted! So different than children in the US. He was so happy with something so simple.
The El Alberque offers a happy hour of two for one pisco sours-right at the train station so interesting to see people come and go as they get off and on train. Also walked around the grounds and gardens-very zen like- a peaceful place even though right next to rr tracks. Dinner was so good that we did not even look for another place-ate there again for another wonderful meal.
We woke up to a cloudy, rainy day. We opted to wait for a later train since we had two days at MP. We had another wonderful breakfast, stored our luggage (just took a few things for overnight) and stepped on the train-the convenience is great! Even though it was rainy and cloudy the Peru trail ride as beautiful. We went to our hotel-Casa del Sol Boutique hotel to drop off stuff, etc. The first room they showed us was not on river side and looking out was not good. They were very agreeable to change our room. Make sure you get a room on river side unless you feel too noisy. It is loud but incredible. A rushing dramatic river.
We found the bus station almost across the street and headed up to MP. I guess since it was a little later and rainy, we were only ones on bus. We found the magical MP even though in the clouds--rain was light-a little slippery, but not bad and crowds were thin. Very cool to see in the clouds-they would come and go for amazing views. We stayed until closing and took last bus back knowing we get to come again the next day!
We shopped at market which surprisingly was much better than expected. Big and maze like. Dinner was included with our hotel-it was a 3 course meal and very nice right on the river. Breakfast also included and nice as well. Up early to head back to MP with no rain and lots of sunshine! This time we hired a guide and he took us to the top and then worked our way down. A truly magical, peaceful and incredible place. Our photographs look just like the post cards-but up close and personal is truly a life experience you will never forget. We were fortunate to see in clouds and sun.
Afterwards, we walked around Aguas Calientes for a while-much nicer than most people described and I would recommend to stay so you have more than one day at MP. Our hotel was nice and on the river-it seemed that there were several others as well.
We took train back to Olly-party train, many were returning after doing 4 day Inca Trail. Fun. We stopped in O and picked up our luggage. Sergio arranged for a driver to Cusco. Got to see some beautiful country side and dusk. It had also snowed which rarely happens, so very pretty. However, if did over again, would take train all the way to Cusco. Peru rail was nice.
We had our last two nights in Peru in Cusco and stayed at the Andean Wings Boutique Hotel-beautiful-old Spanish courtyard-beautifully decorated-nice fireplace in bar with happy hour. Ate dinner our first night and very good. Staff very friendly and helpful, especially Darcy at front desk. Hotel is centrally located and easy to walk everywhere.
We spend our first day touring and Festival for Saint Rosa of Lima-toured cathedral, walked up to San Blass and shopped. Stopped at Fallen Angel for a cocktail-a place to see-heaven and hell. We did more shopping and found nice authentic baby alpaca goods. Dinner was at Pacha Papa-had an excellent alpaca kabob. We never did do the guinea pig-could not bring myself to do it.
Last morning, took cab to Sacsayhuaman-amazing views over all of Cusco in addition to ruins. A beautiful day. Cab to airport to Lima and long wait in Lima airport-but we made the best of it. Lima airport is easy and was surprised as was not feeling that way before we left.
We really like Cusco better than Lima and glad we did as last part of our journey-nice city and not too crazy.
I know many people go to Puno at the end, but I'm glad we did not.
Peru was very affordable and a beautiful part of the world. I booked all of these places based on reviews and info from TA and all went as planned and everything was just as listed.
I know this is all long-but hope it helps someone out there!