You have probably heard of Machu Picchu… but what about Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Urubamba which includes the ruins in Pisac, Ollantaytambo, the man-made salt ponds of Maras and the Pisac Craft Market? What about Paracas, where you can visit the National Reserve, fly over the Nazca Lines and take a boat trip to see the sea lions and the impressive Candelabra?
This is what we planned to do when we booked our 9 day October vacation to Peru. We had planned of course to visit Lima and spend a large time trying the local cuisine and testing Piscos..but little did we expect to see and do so much.
I must say, our itinerary was initially built to include a flight to Puno, to visit Lake Titicaca, but we quickly realized that this would turn our vacation into Boot Camp! We already planned to have 6am departures and late arrivals, so this may have made it much too stressful.
Here is what our trip looked like:
We took a flight from Sao Paulo to Lima and arrived late in the evening. The first shock was the intensity of the traffic and fearlessness of the drivers. Distances are quite big and any small movement in Lima or Cusco, for that matter, is a question of hours.
In Lima we went to the Larco Museum, our first encounter with Incan culture and tradition, and included a lovely restaurant. We visited the center of town and managed a Tour of the Catacombs in the San Francisco Church. Dinner was set in the Ruins of Huaca Pucllana where you can take a 45 minute guided tour before dinner. Timelines and respect for reservations is an absolute must in Lima, where tolerance of 10-15 minutes is non-negotiable (we lost our dinner table for arriving 3 minutes late though the restaurant was not full).
The next day off we went for a 4 hour ride to Paracas. Here we took a Cesna and flew a 90 minute journey to enjoy the Nazca lines from the airs. The lines are a series of ancient hieroglyphs in the Desert in Southern Peru and designated UNESCO National Heritage in 1994. These lines, which vary in complexity, go from intricate to simple, including about 70 lines which are designs of animals, humans, trees and flowers. Absolutely impressive… and also rather intense for the more sensitive air sick stomachs.
On our 3rd day, we enjoyed a 2 hour boat ride to see the Candelabra (large design on the sandy hill overlooking the sea), the Humboldt penguins, the sea lions and many different birds. In the afternoon, we drove through the Reserva Nacional with breathtaking views where the desert meets the sea.
Back in Lima we prepared for our trip to Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Here we spent 3 nights and during the 4 days (including travel), we drove across different areas. We visited the different ruins of Ollantaytambo and Pisac, made friends with the Llamas, Alpaca,Vicunas & Huánucos and tried on knitwear made from the finest fibers. After a short explanation we can now tell the difference between Baby Alpaca wool and ‘’maybe alpaca’’ synthetic copies from China.
A very interesting and fun outing was the tour of the Salinas de Maras with its 4.500 man-made salt ponds. One of the highlights for our children!
And finally, the well awaited visit to Machu Picchu! A 2 hour train ride from Ollantaytambo, and an additional 30 minute bus ride took us to the entrance of the site. Entrance per day is theoretically limited to 2,500 people, but we made a quick guestimate that we must have been around 5,000 people visiting that day… This Inca estate built for the Pachacuti emperor is the most familiar icon of the Inca civilization. It started receiving international attention thanks to American historian Hiram Bingham in 1911. Though jogging through the site may not be the best of ideas, we did not suffer from breathlessness in Machu Picchu, whose altitude is 2,400m above sea level, much lower than other sites in the region (Cusco finds itself at 3,400). In Cusco, we all had a sit-down with the hotel’s oxygen bottle and drank lots of Coca Leaf tea! Be prepared for shortage of breath and headaches. We were lucky not to feel any worse than this, though tales of sick tourists fill the tour guides welcome speeches.
We returned to Lima for a final round of food & drinks (try the Maracuja Pisco as a very refreshing alternative to the traditional Pisco Sour) and a quick trip to one of the very modern local malls. Prices compared to Brazil make it a definite good shopping option.
All in all, we managed to keep ourselves delighted and impressed during our 9 day trip. We could easily have stayed a little longer, but we’ve decided to go back soon to visit other parts of this beautiful country with charming landscapes and wonderful and friendly people.
Amandha & Jessica’s Article