Peru: Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu
Well, my bucket list keeps getting longer as I am getting older!
Where do I begin? – as the song goes – I am at an age when I need to see more of the world in one trip and tick as many places off my bucket list as I can!
Our travels took us to Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, not bad for a Silver Traveller. This was a holiday of a life time and it definitely did not disappoint.
We went for a land and sea holiday, 4 nights in Peru, 1 night in Chile. Then a Princess Cruise for 14 days going around South America to Buenos Aries, then another land tour of Brazil/Argentina for 6 nights before ending our trip in Rio.
Our trip included couples and lots of solo travellers. A group trip is an ideal way to go it ‘alone’. This trip wasn’t ideal for a disabled traveller, but many activities can be ‘tailor- made’ to help the disabled.
We have visited Peru before and this was a chance to have another look at this beautiful country. Our trip started in Lima after a 13 hour flight. 13 hours is a long haul but with a few films and good food on KLM airlines time passed in ‘relative’ comfort. We landed in Lima at night, a little disorientated due to the time difference, but ready for the experience. Our hotel in Lima was the Casa Andina in Miraflores which was clean, comfortable and very central.
Miraflores is a vibrant, modern part of the city with bars and restaurant for every taste bud. An acquired taste is the bitter sweet taste of the national drink, the Pisco Sour, like it or love it, you have to try it!! Our hotel was a short walk (5 mins) that took you to a main thoroughfare with the interesting John F Kennedy Park close by to walk around.
Lima, the capital of Peru is a bustling metropolis and one of South America’s largest cities. Whether you are ‘going alone’ or on a tour to see the highlights a trip around the city is advisable. The Red ‘Hop on Hop Off’ bus comes into its own in a city as big as Lima for approximately £18.00 it is well worth the ride. A bonus is a ‘Night Tour’ which gives you the chance to see the fountains and city lit up in all its glory.
The Cathedral Basilica of St John the Apostle and Evangelist located in the Plaza Mayor is a must on anyone’s list when visiting Lima. The cathedral is beautiful and stands proudly in the main square, but beware of pick pockets and touts selling postcards and pictures. You are in a big city so watch your valuables. To the side of the Cathedral (the left looking at the Cathedral) is the Chocolate Factory – it is a shame to miss this treat.
Lima also has beautiful and interesting museums that trace the Inca race back to its glorious past. If you want to visit the coastline and see the famous gardens and the amazing statue of the ‘Lovers’ then be aware the coastline is often misty and foggy due to the atmosphere and pollution, so later in the day is the best time to see the coast.
Our visit to Lima was a short stop over and we flew to Cusco the following day.
Cusco is at a very high altitude, 3,330 metres and this beautiful city can ‘fell’ even the fittest of men or woman so take care, headaches, nausea and breathlessness are common symptoms and is something to be aware of. Drink lots of water which really helps.
Glyn’s Tip: Remember to get your travel insurance up to date and check that you are covered for all destinations – amazingly many people still do not take out insurance and if you need any help then your insurance is essential. Also, if you want to go to this area and high altitude is a worry then speak to your doctor you can get high altitude tablets, so don’t let it stop you.
Cusco is a city of conflicting values, the rich, opulent hotels, the impressive squares, the beautiful churches all add to the magnificence of this city. We stayed at the Cusco Casa Andida Hotel, a ten-minute walk from the main square, a convenient hotel, well – appointed with a good restaurant. However, the opulence isn’t everywhere, and the poverty of the area is profound, rubbish is very evident on the streets and packs of dogs can be seen at night scavenging in the rubbish bags.
This Inca city thrives on tourism and it has some beautiful attractions and areas surrounding it all waiting to be discovered. Our group had a walk around Cusco centre on our second day, but one of our party was an elderly woman on her own who couldn’t do a half day walking trip, ordered a taxi from the hotel and was given an excellent tour. The sights include the statue of Christ the Redeemer up on the mountain overlooking the city which is a smaller replica of the one in Rio – strange but rather impressive. The grounds and stones of the ancient Inca site of Sacsayhuaman is a must and a sight not to miss. This gives you a look at how the Incas constructed their buildings with such amazing precision with all the interlocking stones, designed this way to withstand earthquakes.
Our visit to Cusco included a walk from the main square to a beautiful hotel called the Monastery, a 16th century hotel which is a pleasure to visit but to stay there it costs $750 per night and upwards, a little out of my budget! The reason for our visit was to see the place where the iconic disc jockey, John Peel died. You have to be of a certain age to remember John Peel but he gave musical pleasure to so many people throughout the UK during his life time.
Our next stop was the Sacred Valley by coach, a beautiful journey through lush green hills down the Urubamba River.
Sacred Valley and Pisac
Our journey to the next hotel was great fun. We arrived in the town of Pisac on a Water Festival day and I do mean a lot of water!!! Pisac is usually a quiet market town with cafes selling the wonderful, traditional pie and strange but tasteful drinks called chicha (very alcoholic). But today the town was full of song and dance. Groups of people in different, colourful attire danced their traditional dance from around the area they represented. Pisac has a labyrinth of walk ways with lots of tourist shops, selling lots of – well lots of the same thing, t-shirts and hats, commercial, but irresistible!!!
We continued our journey through lovely villages along the Urubamba River to Ollantaytambo. This wonderful Inca site is set on a hillside where impressive stone terraces rise to the hill crest. Buildings are being re-erected at the bottom at the edge of Ollantaytambo to give you the sense of what life was like at the height of Inca supremacy. The Incas created narrow streams which run through the village providing fresh water and these all still exist today and local people still use these.
Our hotel for the evening was the Casa Andida, a beautiful, peaceful hotel set in the valley. The following day was going to be a highlight of this part of our journey. We started the journey by train from Ollantaytambo, a lovely journey of about an hour along the Urubamba River. If you get the chance try to get on the left side of the train as this is side the river is on. A small breakfast is provided on board the train. You arrive at Aguas Calientes and walk through the market area to get to the small coach that will take you up the mountain to this stunning Inca site. Be aware that if you are doing this independently, you will need to book train tickets in advance to be sure of getting a seat.
A guide is a bonus when going around Machu Picchu, the knowledge they have about the history is invaluable as you wander around this ancient town high on the mountain. It is hard to explain the sensation that you get when you walk into the site, questions fill your head – how did the Incas build such a wonderful yet functional place? As llamas and chinchillas parade around the grounds all you can hear are cameras clicking!!! For anyone with a disability it is a little difficult but ‘do-able’. One of our group had had a stroke and struggled but the smile on his face was priceless when he had achieved the walk around the lower area.
This 15th century site was built but then abandoned, its amazing dry-stone walls that fuse huge blocks without the use of mortar. It astronomical alignments make this a very special place and the views are spectacular. The famous Inca trail ends at Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate a wonderful place to end a trek – what a place.
When you get tired or feel it is time to go – if you can drag yourself away or like us on a guided tour then light refreshment can be bought at either the buffet restaurant or the snack bar at the entrance to the site. If your ‘energy’ comes back, then just keep your ticket to return into the sight. The journey back is via the small coach that winds its way down the mountain, back to the market town of Aguas Calientes then on to the train to return to the hotel.
Another night spent in Cusco and sadly we leave Peru to fly down to Santiago in Chile for our onward journey to San Antonio to board our cruise ship for another part of this wonderful bucket list trip.
Glyn’s Tip: When travelling on long haul do remember to have your flu jab, there are lots of unpleasant germs going around on planes and coach tours.