What’s at the top of your bucket list? If you are among the people who voted for the New 7 Wonders of the World, there is a 1 in 7 chance you would say Machu Picchu. It was certainly near the top of mine, and enough of a motivating factor for me to plan a week long trip to Peru. Read about the first three days of my tour which took me to the Amazon Jungle here.
The next morning, we packed up and made our way down the river back to Puerto Maldonado to catch our flight to Cusco. After a short flight, we threw our bags atop a van and headed to Cusco Plaza I, our hotel for the night. We finally had our main bags back for a day and were able to repack, do some laundry, and drink some coca tea. Cusco has an elevation of 3,400 meters, or 11,200 ft. That kind of altitude can cause altitude sickness with an array of symptoms. Kristen felt a little dizzy the first day, and I had a weird sensation of both of my hands and lower arms going numb as my heart had to pump harder to circulate blood throughout my body. Fortunately, both of our symptoms passed by the end of the day, and didn’t prevent us from enjoying ourselves. For lunch, our Tucan guide, David, took us out to have a tradition Peruvian meal, cuy! Cuy can be prepared in a variety of ways including fried, grilled, fileted, etc. The important part is, well, that you are eating a guinea pig. Kristen and I shared one and got a side of beans and corn. I am proud of her because she ate the majority of it! It was not bad! It tasted like fried dark meat chicken. Since I don’t like dark meat, nor do I like fried chicken, I only had a little bit of it and mostly ate potatoes and corn.
After lunch, we had a walking tour of the city. It was very quaint and clean! There were a lot of new shops and restaurants mixed in with old buildings and fabulous architecture. I even found a Starbucks! I got a lot of souvenirs and Kristen got to hold a baby llama, for a price of course. At one point, the lady who owned the llama actually ran away to chase after someone who tried to take a picture without paying and Kristen was not sure if she may have just purchased the llama she was holding in her arms. Luckily, she came back a few minutes later. In comparison to some of our crazy other days, this day was low key to help us adjust to the altitude. We gathered for a group dinner at a local restaurant where I had Aji de Gallina, a Peruvian chicken curry dish and a Cusquena beer. It was delicious! I tried to order a glass of wine, but apparently Peru does not have any good wine. I was advised against ordering it multiple times and encouraged to have beer or pisco.
Early the next morning, we repacked again into our day packs for the next two days and held our main bags in storage at the hotel. At this point, I was really starting to get annoyed because my day pack barely closed and was getting heavy! We hopped onto another bus and started our drive into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Sadly, we could not visit Pisac because the bridge that led to that site collapsed. Our first stop was at Chinchero, a small Andean Indian village. While we explored the ruins, a celebration was occurring in the nearby church in honor of Corpus Christi! There was a small parade and traditional dancers and music.Day 5 – Sacred Valley
By the time we reached Ollantaytambo, we were ready to walk off our lunch. The town is located at the foot of some spectacular Inca ruins which protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley. We spent a lot of time walking around and learning about how the people who built the town diverted the river to transport massive amounts of granite from far away. After getting back into the bus to be taken to our homestay, our driver informed us that there was no way he was going to fit the bus through the narrow roads and we would all have to get out and walk. It was only half a mile away, so it was not a problem, but by the time we got there I really wished I would have had a backpack and not my shoulder tote. My shoulders were killing me!Before our next Inca site, we stopped for a buffet lunch at Incalicious. While the name made me laugh, the food was delicious and not expensive. My only frustration was that most of these organized food stops require cash and it’s sometimes hard to plan for that in between money exchange sites. I really wish Tucan would have included any type of meal where you don’t have to choice of where to eat in the overall price. I am not complaining about anywhere we went as a group, but it would have been nice to not have to worry about those things.
Dinner that night was the last time we were all together because most of the people in our group were going on to hike the Inca trail over the next 4 days. Kristen and I, along with another couple from Australia, planned to take the easy way out and catch a train. The host family provided us with dinner and breakfast the next day from organic ingredients fresh out of their garden and we said goodbye and good luck to the hikers!The “house” that we all stayed in was called Casa de Doris. It was more of an Inn than a house and Kristen and I shared a room with an en suite bathroom. While we had the privilege of electricity, our windows would not shut and the doors didn’t lock. Keep in mind we are approaching winter in the mountains, and we were freezing at night! At least we had a hot shower in the morning. Some rooms had to share a bathroom, and some of the bathrooms had no running water at all! Since we were leaving earlier than the majority of our group the next morning, we passed on the use of our deluxe bathroom to some of the other group members to enjoy before their trek on the Inca trail.
Day 6 – Machu Picchu
Another early morning had us on a PeruRail vista dome train to Machu Picchu town. After a short two hour ride, and a snack of banana chips, we arrived at our destination. From the town, we caught a bus to take us to the ruins. The bus ride lasted about 25 minutes and was along a very scary and curvy road. Several times I held my breath thinking we were going to go off the side of the cliff. Poor Kristen, who has a fear of heights, was nearly hyperventilating on our ride back down later that day.
Our guide told us to meet at the train station at 4 to get on a return train to Cusco. When we received our documentation the previous day, our return train ticket was not supposed to be until 9:30 PM. That would put us in Cusco around 1:30 AM. Since that was ridiculously late, they informed us that the office was going to change our ticket. That morning, we were told it was done and we would be on the earlier train.Our guide spent the next several hours walking around with us and giving us lots of history and information about Machu Picchu. The trekkers coming in off the Inca trail have a slightly different view from the sun gate than those arriving by bus. The ruins were incredibly well preserved, though it was very crowded by all the tourists walking around. You can easily spend many hours walking through the old houses and temples. The only problem was that it was so hot and I felt like I was roasting under my long pants and t-shirt. We made our way back to town via the crazy bus for some lunch. Since our guide had left us back by the ruins to explore of our own, we were on our own. We quickly found a place to eat and with Kristen’s encouragement, I did something crazy and did not order chicken and rice for lunch! I decided to get a chicken enchilada instead – not Peruvian, I know. Sadly, my craving for cheese was not fulfilled because Peruvian enchiladas have NO CHEESE. It was still very good, but my Mediterranean palette was sad. Post lunch was spent perusing the markets and picking up additional souvenirs.
When we arrived at the train station, our guide told us that the office did not actually change our
Day 7 – Back to Limaticket and we had to wait at the station for the next 2.5 hours to try and get on a train if someone did not show up. Of course, everyone did, and we sat there waiting for a very long time. By 6:45 PM, we were quite angry and decided to leave to grab dinner and just get on the 9:30 train. Because we were to upset, the company agreed to pay for our dinner and they took us to some lesser known restaurant where we all ordered pizzas, but had to pay for the drinks on our own. Guess what? The pizza had real cheese on it and was actually very good! My pina colada was weird though… it was not cold and tasted like almost frothy yogurt. I should have stuck with beer. By the time 9:30 rolled around, we all got on the train and I slept all the way home.
Another early flight left us with about 4 hours of sleep and on a plane back to Lima. The upside of that was that we had almost all day to walk around Lima and look at the sites we missed on the first day. We walked along Jiron de la Union, the pedestrian road, from Plaza de Armas to Plaza San Martin. We also went in the Monastery of San Francisco to see the catacombs and paintings. After a late, but delicious, lunch of lamb and rice (not chicken and rice!) at Embarcadero 41, we made our way back to the hotel to pack up and relax. That night we grabbed a light dinner the bar next to the hotel and a few parting drinks with our new friends.
You can guess it; we were up again around 5 AM to catch our airport transfer for our flights back home. Fortunately our flights were both on time and we had no trouble getting back home. Coming back is always a drag, and I’m already thinking about where I want to visit next! Decisions, decisions…Day 8 – Home
Tina enjoyed Tucan Travel’s Amazon & Incas Adventure Tour.