Our trip to Peru first took us to the cities ofLima and Cusco. We had a wonderful time in both, seeing the local sites and dining at some of their best restaurants. But if I’m honest, we left the most anticipated part of our journey for last, visiting Machu Picchu.
Before I talk about our trip to Machu Picchu, there are a few things worthy of note:
- I love history and ruins
- I’ve been fascinated by Peru since I was a kid
- Going to Machu Picchu has been a dream since I learned it existed
So, even being the world traveler that I am (I’d already been to Asia and Europe this year before going to South America), this was an exceptional trip for me. Growing up our land lord was from Peru, as a friend of his daughters I regularly got to see their home, which was full of Peruvian knickknacks and artifacts. As I dove into history during high school I learned about ancient ruins all over the world, from Egypt to Mexico and of course Machu Picchu in Peru. The mysterious city perched upon a mountaintop always held a special fascination to me. When the opportunity to go to Peru for a conference came up earlier this year, I agreed immediately and began planning. I had originally was going to go alone, but MJ decided to join me once I found a tour I wanted to book with. I’m so glad he did. Getting to share this experience with him meant the world to me.
Our trip from Cusco began very early on Friday morning in order to catch the 6:40AM train to Aguas Calientes, the village below Machu Picchu. Our tickets were for Peru Rail’s Vistadome train, and I was really looking forward to the ride. On the disappointing side, the Cusco half of the trip had foggy windows and the glare on the windows generally made it difficult to take pictures. But as we lowered in elevation my altitude headache went away and so did the condensation from the windows. The glare was still an issue, but as I settled in I just enjoyed the sights and didn’t end up taking many photos. It was probably the most enjoyable train journey I’ve ever been on. At 3 hours it was long enough to feel settled in and relaxed watching the countryside, rivers and mountains go by, but not too long that I got bored. I brought along my Nook but didn’t end up reading at all.
Of course I did take some pictures, here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157657450179755
Once at Aguas Calientes our overnight bags (big suitcases were left at the hotel in Cusco, as is common) were collected and taken to the hotel. We followed the tour guide who met us with several others to take a bus up to Machu Picchu!
Our guide gave us a three hour tour of the site. At a medium pace, he took us to some of the key structures and took time for photo opportunities all around. Of particular interest to him was the Temple of the Sun (“J” shaped building, center of the photo below), which we saw from above and then explored around and below.
The hike up for these amazing views wasn’t very hard, but I was thankful for the stops along the way as he talked about the exploration and scientific discovery of the site in the early 20th century.
And then there were the llamas. Llamas were brought to Machu Picchu in modern times, some say to trim the grass and other say for tourists. It seems to be a mix of the two, and there is still a full staff of groundskeepers to keep tidy what the llamas don’t manage. I managed to get this nice people-free photo of a llama nursing.
There seem to be all kinds of jokes about “selfies with llamas” and I was totally in for that. Though I didn’t get next to a llama like some of my fellow selfie-takers, but I did get my lovely distance selfie with llamas.
Walking through what’s left of Machu Picchu is quite the experience. The tall stone walls, stepped terraces that make up the whole thing. Lots of climbing and walking at various elevations throughout the mountaintop. Even going through the ruins in Mexico didn’t quite prepare me for what it’s like to be on top of a mountain like this. Amazing place.
We really lucked out with the weather, much of the day was clear and sunny, and quite warm (in the 70s). It made for good walking weather as well as fantastic photos. When the afternoon showers did come in, it was just in time for our tour to end and for us to have lunch just outside the gates. When lunch was complete the sun came out again and we were able to go back in to explore a bit more and take more pictures!
I feel like I should write more about Machu Picchu, being such an epic event for me, but it was more of a visual experience much better shared via photos. I uploaded over 200 more photos from our walk through Machu Picchu here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157657449734565
My photos were taken with a nice compact digital camera, but MJ brought along his DSLR camera. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he ended up with.
The park closes at 5PM, so close to that time we caught one of the buses back down to Aguas Calientes. I did a little shopping (went to Machu Picchu, got the t-shirt). We were able to check into our hotel, the Casa Andina Classic, which ended up being my favorite hotel of the trip, it was a shame we were only there for one night! Hot, high pressure shower, comfortable bed, and a lovely view of the river that runs along the village:
I was actually so tired from all our early mornings and late evenings the rest of the trip that after taking a shower at the hotel that evening I collapsed onto the bed and instead of reading, zombied out to some documentaries on the History channel, after figuring out the magical incantation on the remote to switch to English. So much for being selective about the TV I watch! We also decided to take advantage of the dinner that was included with our booking and had a really low key, but enjoyable and satisfying meal there at the hotel.
The next morning we took things slow and did some walking around the village before lunch. Aguas Calientes is very small, it’s quite possible that we saw almost all of it. I took the opportunity to also buy some post cards to send to my mother and sisters, plus find stamps for them. Finding stamps is always an interesting adventure. Our hotel couldn’t post them for me (or sell me stamps) and being a Saturday we struck out at the actual post office, but found a corner tourist goodie shop that sold them and a mailbox nearby to so I could send them off.
For lunch we made our way past all the restaurants who were trying to get us in their doors by telling us about their deals and pushing menus our way until we found what we were looking for, a strange little place called Indio Feliz. I found it first in the tour book I’d been lugging around, typical tourist that I am, and followed up with some online recommendations. The decor is straight up Caribbean pirate themed (what?) and with a French owner, they specialize in Franco-Peruvian cuisine. We did the fixed menu where you pick an appetizer, entree and dessert, though it was probably too much for lunch! They also had the best beer menu I had yet seen in Peru, finally far from the altitude headache in Cusco I had a Duvel and MJ went with a Chimay Red. Food-wise I began with an amazing avocado and papaya in lemon sauce. Entree was an exceptional skewer of beef with an orange sauce, and my meal concluded with coffee and apple pie that came with both custard and ice cream. While there we got to chat with some fellow diners from the US, they had just concluded the 4 day Inca Trail hike and regaled us with stories of rain and exhaustion as we swapped small talk about the work we do.
More photos from Aguas Calientes here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157657449826685
After our leisurely lunch, it was off to the train station. We were back on the wonderful Vistadome train, and on the way back to Cusco there was some culturally-tuned entertainment as well as a “fashion show” featuring local clothing they were selling, mostly of alpaca wool. It was a fun touch, as the ride back was longer (going up the mountains) and being wintertime the last hour or so of the ride was in the dark.
We had our final night in Cusco, and Sunday was all travel. A quick flight from Cusco to Lima, where we had 7 hours before our next flight and took the opportunity to have one last meal in Lima. Unfortunately the timing of our stay meant that most restaurants were in their “closed between lunch and dinner” time, so we ended up at Larcomar, a shopping complex built into an oceanside cliff in Miraflores. We ate at Tanta, where we had a satisfying lunch with a wonderful ocean view!
Our late lunch concluded our trip, from there we went back to Lima airport and began our journey back home via Miami. I was truly sad to see the trip come to an end. Often times I am eager to get home after such an adventurey vacation (particularly when it’s attached to a conference!), but I will miss Peru. The sights, the foods, the llamas and alpacas! It’s a beautiful country that I hope to visit again.