Spending the first part of our vacation in Ecuador, more precisely Quito, prepared us for our journeys in Cuzco, Sacred Valley of the Inkas, Machu Picchu and Lima.
Cuzco – We arrived in Cuzco on a high note – read of the experience here. We stayed in the San Blas Barrio and settled in comfortably into our accommodations. Conveniently located in front of our hostel was the San Blas Market where we found a variety of food stalls, fruit and vegetable vendors, and all-natural juice bars to choose from.
No sooner had we left the produce market and entered Plaza de Armas of Cuzco than we were approached by street vendors peddling their ware of clothing, handicrafts, art, jewelry and trinkets. Every nook and cranny of this hillside town is geared towards the many tourists who leisurely roam the narrow streets and avenues in search of bargains and attractions. Plaza de Armas of Cuzco was a beehive of activity. In the landmark square are two baroque-styled buildings you cannot miss: La Cathedral and Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus (Church of the Society of Christ).
Our number one priority after arriving in Cuzco was to arrange a next-day travel tour to the Sacred Valley of the Inkas. Tip #1 – Compare prices of tours before choosing to book with your hotel. Shop around. It is best to compare prices in a place where bargaining is an acceptable business practice and to stay within your budget limits. Plaza de Armas de Cuzco was not short of options. I am happy to report we settled on a tour within our budget and that fulfilled the must-see sites on our list.
With some direction, we found the office where we could purchase the entrance tickets into Machu Picchu. The ticket office was the scene of the crime. My sister and I got into a heated argument about which tickets to buy. My sister (Overly Cautious) wanted to purchase a ticket for Machu Picchu, and yours truly (Radically Impulsive) a ticket for Wayna Picchu and Machu Picchu. To my mind we came so very far it only made perfect sense to explore both places. Lesson learned? Certainly. Tip #2 – If traveling with a partner, decide beforehand the sites and attractions you want to visit together to avoid any conflict. Even though the mansuetude afternoon was fractured by harsh words, we somehow managed to contritely spend the rest of the evening talking of how we could better handle situations in the future.
Sacred Valley of the Inkas
To give a blow-by-blow account of the Sacred Valley of the Inkas tour would mean a few more postings (I can hear you sigh and say, enough already). Suffice it then to say, the tour was phenomenal. You must visit and see for yourself. I will let the photos in the slide show speak for themselves.
Aguas Calientes – After spending a couple of days in Cuzco, we departed the Poroy station onboard PeruRail for Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as Machu Picchu Pueblo. The three-hour journey was uneventful as we rambled along the scenic countryside, through rural communities, past flowing rivers, and at times, flank by mountainous terrain on either side.
After disembarking the train, we trudged with our bags uphill to our hostel. Thankfully, our housing was not too far up the incline. We were near to the main square, and within easy access to the plethora of restaurants, vendors, and handicraft shops. That same day we purchased bus tickets for the ride up the mountain to the ruins. Machu Picchu Pueblo is a quaint town but there is not much to see or do there, except eat, relax or go to the hot springs for a therapeutic dip. I discovered a map highlighting more than 20 stone sculptures around the town. To pass the time I decided to use the map as a treasure hunt guide and photograph as many of the carvings as I could. This activity took us some time to accomplish.
Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu – Of all the talk about Machu Picchu, you would think that the revered site is within walking distance. It is not. Of course, hardcore hikers could probably make the trek in a couple of hours, but it took the bus approximately half hour winding up the mountainside to arrive at the gated entrance. There we stood in line, excited and eager to enter the grounds.
Hikers to Wayna Picchu get an hour head-start so they have enough time to cover both ruins sites before the afternoon tourists arrive. Only 400 hundred persons are allowed to climb each day. I was among that group. Tip #3 – It is best to train before your trip if you plan to incorporate strenuous activities such as mountain climbing on your itinerary. Assured by the authorities that the average time to scale Wayna Picchu is approximately two hours roundtrip, I started out in high spirits on the steep climb. As I got closer to the top, navigating the tiny steps upward necessitated crawling on my hands and knees. At first the clouds were thick and obstructing, but as the temperature rose and the sun’s rays became stronger, the clouds dissipated, revealing the crown jewel below – Machu Picchu in all her splendor. The view of the surrounding valley as far as the eye could see was also a bonus and was worth the trek. I came, I saw, and I conquered was the feeling I had as I surveyed the view, inhaled the cool fresh air and soaked up the tranquil surroundings along with fellow-hikers. The decision to climb Wayna Picchu was a good one.
Whoever said going downhill is easier that climbing uphill probably never climbed down the slopes of Wayna Picchu. The descent was more tedious and strenuous than anticipated. I was anxious to rejoin my sister (maybe it was guilt) seeing that I was running late on the time we were supposed to meet. She had been patiently waiting for me so we could begin to explore Machu Picchu together. Of course, she was well rested, but by now my feet and leg muscles were aching, and I felt as though I was walking on stumps. However, this was our moment of truth and we were resolute on covering every inch of the ruins. To cap off a day well spent, we splurged on a sumptuous meal, and tried to relax before catching the train back to Cuzco.
Weary and tired we boarded our train retracing our travel footprint back to Cuzco en-route to Lima. Unlike our initial ride into Machu Picchu Pueblo, this time entertainment was provided in the form of a fashion show by Felipe, Nichy and Gabriel of PeruRail. They showcased Peruvian wear as they strutted up and down the aisle sporting reversible scarves, hooded/collared sweaters and stylish jackets that were versatile, trendy and made from the very soft but expensive alpaca wool.
Lima – With just a four days left to expend on the itinerary we looked forward to discovering the cosmopolitan city of Lima and to see what it had to offer. We were not disappointed. On arrival at Jorge Chavez International Airport we negotiated the fare for our taxi ride and was quickly dispatched to the Jesus Maria district to our Airbnb residence. We spent much of our time scouting the areas in and around Plaza Mayor. We witnessed: street mimes who would only move after receiving a monetary donation; musicians and locals dancing to the vibrant salsa beats; demonstrators marching in support of a cause; a formal Christmas event for society’s crème-de-la-crème hosted at the Governor’s Palace. The last event which took place on the steps of the Cathedral was organized by the Catholic Church in support of the expected Papal visit early in 2018.
Our last to-do in Lima was a tour to the other districts. Tip #4 – Ride the Hop-on-Hop-off bus as a last-minute option to capture sites you may have missed. On the bus we visited the touristy areas of: Barranco, Chorillos, Miraflores, Lima Central, Pueblo Libre, San Isidro and San Miguel. There is something worth discovering at every location. The history is rich and interesting. We did not experience one dull moment. Hands-down, this has been one of the best vacations I have had irrespective of the arguments, differences of opinions, likes and dislikes. My sister and I definitely agree that it was worth every penny, actually, every sol. In-spite-of our character flaws, we continue to remain best friends, and each other’s biggest supporter.
My concluding post on this epic adventure will talk of: our observations of each country – good or bad, the budget – bust or win, and the gastronomy culture. If you have experienced similar travel challenges with a family member, please share. Comment in the box below. Click the follow or like buttons if you enjoy these posts. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for reading. Stay tuned.