Highlights of Peru | Machu Picchu, Cusco

After six weeks vacation, I am heading back out to another ship!  You can see details of my second contract as an Assistant Cruise Director on board a cruise ship HERE.

As I mentioned in the previous post, my company allows flight deviation to a joining destination up to two weeks prior to the join date.  I joined this ship in Lima, Peru and will spend the next four months traveling and working on board.  I decided to fly into Lima five days before my embarkation date, so I would have the opportunity to travel around the country and to accomplish a life long dream of visiting the archaeological site of Machu Picchu.  South America is generally a very inexpensive place to visit, so (with the exception of the company-paid-for flight) I was able to do everything I wanted for UNDER $500!! I have broken down each element as follows:

Flight Lima to Cusco Round-Trip – $125 via LCPeru
Private Hostel Room (Three Nights) – $51 via Atawkama Hostel
Full Day Tour to Several Archaeological Sites and Cities – $60
Bi-Modal Service to Machu Picchu – $124 via Inca Rail
Machu Picchu Entrance Ticket – $70 via Ticket Machu Picchu = $430!!!!! 

My company flew me from Tampa to Lima, with a layover in Miami.  My first flight from Tampa to Miami was quite easy.  However, I now know that I hate the Miami airport with a passion.  Our gate changed four times, sending myself, other travelers and confused Peruvians (who don’t speak a lick of English) back and forth across the complex terminal layout.  We boarded a plane which had mechanical problems, forcing us to deboard the plane after waiting for over an hour and wait in the airport for another plane to become available.  By the time we were in the air, our flight had been delayed a total of four and a half hours, making me quite nervous that I might miss my flight from Lima to Cusco.  We arrived in Lima at 3:30 am, giving me just one hour until boarding time for my next flight.  I quickly went through customs, collected my baggage, checked into LCPeru airlines and found my gate five minutes before boarding time.

My flight to Cusco was only an hour and a half long, but it offered some of the best views I have ever seen from a plane.  I was able to watch the sun rise above the bright white clouds, occasionally opening up to reveal vast mountainous ranges underneath.  It was this moment that I realized exactly what I was about to witness over the next few days.

I exited the airport just after 7am and took a taxi to the hostel I had pre-booked through HostelWorld—Atawkama Hostel on Calle Fierro.  The hostel was quite cheap compared to what I’m used to: 165 soles ($51 total) for my own room for three nights.  The city of Cusco was far bigger and busier than I had imagined, a shock after my serene flight.  As soon as I arrived at my hostel, I checked in and made a point to relax for the first few hours, to suppress the sneaking side effects associated with the high altitude.  I met two guys—Diego from Florida, and Pepe from Italy—who were also staying at the hostel.  They offered me manta tea, a commonly consumed drink in Peru to help cope with altitude illness.  The two told me it was best to relax for a bit, but that they were going to San Pedro market in the afternoon for lunch, if I would like to join them.

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It started to rain around noon.  And when it rains in Cusco, it pours.  We three braved the storm and headed down to San Pedro market—thankfully only about a ten minute walk.  Entering the market was like entering an entirely different world.  Noise and people came at me from every direction, offering food, goods and services in either rapid Spanish or broken English.  We sat down at a table and were quickly presented with a bowl of traditional Peruvian soup as our first course, and asked what our second course preference would be.  I ordered a fish and pasta dish, with a side salad, which I was immediately told not to eat by my two new friends because “vegetables are not usually washed properly.”  I was shocked when I got the bill—five soles, which is the equivalent of $1.50!!  Man, I already love Peru!  After lunch, I wandered around the market on my own while Diego and Pepe headed back to the hostel.  I was on a mission for some traditional Peruvian souvenirs for my family and friends (especially if the trinkets were as cheap as the food!).  I ended up purchasing just a few items—matching lama sweaters for Michael and me, a tiny alpaca figurine made with real alpaca fur and some snacks for the next few days of traveling.

The next day was packed with adventure.  I booked an all day tour for $60 (196 soles).  The advice I had been given was to book tours in person, as they are much cheaper than online.  Provided this knowledge, I made a point to stroll down the street and talk to the many vendors selling excursions to collect information and reserve a spot.

At 6:50am I met up with the tour group at the office located at 109 Manta, next to San Francisco Plaza.  The office is only a short distance from my hostel, but I somehow still managed to get lost on the way there.  I allowed myself 20 minutes for a ten minute walked and arrived with no time to spare.  Thankfully, the group had not left without me.  We boarded the bus and I chose a window seat near the back of the bus.  It wasn’t long before the tour guide asked if I would move to allow a couple to sit together (this happens often as a solo traveler).  Thankfully, my new seat was none other than the passenger seat in the front of the bus, providing me with exceptional views of the surrounding area.

Our first stop of the tour was to the Moray ancient agricultural (experimental) farm, characterized by circular layers carved into the ground.  The fascinating thing about this place is that each layer is a different temperature than the next, and can grow different types of crops.  I don’t know how the Incans were able to discover and implement this, but it is truly breathtaking.

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Our next stop was at Salineras Maras, another ancient, experimental Incan farm created for producing salt.  Pits were dug into the ground on the side of a mountain, coupled with an irrigation system that funneled ocean water to the area.  Ocean water filled the pits and when the water evaporated, three layers of salt were left.  The bottom layer was ‘red’ salt, used for making medicine and the middle and top layer were ‘pink’ and ‘white’ salt, used for consumption of food.  Since I am visiting during the rainy season, water evaporation is impossible, but our guide reassured us that this process is still used during some parts of the year.

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After visiting Salineras Maras, we stopped at a town called Ollantaytambo, to visit an Incan archeological site.  After climbing 500+ stairs, I turned around to find myself viewing incredible views of the city and towering mountains.  My guide pointed out that across the way, carved into the side of the mountain were two faces honoring the sun god and moon goddess.  The moon goddess was positioned in a way so that her face would align with the summer solstice.  I descended the staircase before the rest of my group to allow myself time to find and photograph an alpaca!  I soon found one and snapped a quick selfie before returning to the bus.

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I was starting to become hungry, which was perfect timing as our next stop was a Peruvian buffet lunch in the town of Urubamba.  We pulled up to a restaurant called Inca’s House—Valle Sagrado, which I could tell was likely often used for large scale parties and events.  The stage was set up and a wonderful band was playing local music.  The food was delicious, but not overwhelmingly unique to the area.  I loaded my plate with chicken, fruit, beans and coffee cake.  I sat alone but took the opportunity to download and view some of the pictures I had taken and use the WiFi to connect to home.

Our final stop of the day was an hour drive from Urubamba to a place called Pisac, deemed the “tiny Machu Picchu.”  When we arrived, I could see why it would be called that, however I would never claim it to be ‘small.’  Layers of enormous steps were carvedinto the mountain, similar to what I had seen at Moray except much more grandiose.  At the top of the mountain resided a fortress, which I soon learned was home to the ancient Incan royal family.  The layers were used for farming and the common people lived in a town at the base of the mountain.  The cloudy skies soon unleashed a downpour of rain and I sought after cover.  When I found shelter, I sat and admired the majesty of it all until the rain ceased to pour.  Soon enough the skies opened up, sunlight peaked through and a rainbow appeared, making the whole experience just that much more wonderful.

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After snapping a few photos our group returned to the bus and made our way back to Cusco.  I headed back to my hostel and went straight to bed to rest for the next day’s journey to the city in the clouds…Machu Picchu.

After months of planning and anticipation, I visited the incredible site of Machu Picchu.  My day was quite long, but exciting and entirely worth every minute.  I eagerly awoke at 3:30am and prepared my backpack with all the essentials necessary for the day: cell phone, DSLR camera, GoPro, sunscreen, bug spray, water, snacks, rain jacket, umbrella, money and required tickets.  I left my hostel just after 4am and walked through the dark streets of Cusco for about half of a mile to San Pedro train station.  The transportation I took was a bimodal service via Inca Rail.  This means that the first portion of the transport was by bus, and the second portion by train.

The bus left Cusco at 4:50am and journeyed two hours to the town of Ollantaytambo, where we all transferred to the train.  After an hour and a half train ride, we arrived atAguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.  During the train ride, the rain had begun to pour down relentlessly, making me worry that I would not be able to enjoy the views of the mountains.  I deboarded the train and found a booth where I purchased a roundtrip ticket to and from Machu Picchu mountain for $24.

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I remember feeling an eerie silence on the bus ride up the mountain.  Everyone on that bus had traveled from near and far to visit this incredible place that they had only heard about, and I believe we were all a bit overwhelmed with what we were about to experience.  The bus ride took nearly 20 minutes, and every once in a while the fog would lift to reveal the powerful Andes Mountains.  Once we arrived at the entrance to Machu Picchu, I presented my ticket and passport and was allowed to proceed.

The rain continued to pour for the next few hours.  I can’t deny that I was disappointed and worried that (possibly) the only experience of Machu Picchu I would ever have would be tarnished by bad weather.  Still, I tried to make the most of it, exploring as much as I possibly could.  Slowly but surely, the weather began to clear up.  As the rain stopped pouring and the fog began to lift, the clouds covered Machu Picchu in anominous but beautiful way.  It adequately portrayed the mysteriousness and history that this incredible place withholds.  The sun continued to peak its way through and within an hour the clouds had cleared and nothing but blue skies lined the background of the mountains.  Although the rain seemed like a disappointment at first, now I feel that I am glad I was able to experience Machu Picchu in every type of weather.  I loved my experience at Machu Picchu.  I cannot describe how incredible it is that these ancient Incans drug thousands of heavy stones across narrow bridges through rugged terrain to build this incredible city at the top of the mountain.  It is difficult to put into words how magical just being in the presence of the result of such hard labor and precision.

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I descended the mountain via bus by 1:30pm and explored the town of Aguas Calientes for a few hours before heading back to the train station.  The train departed at 4:20pm and arrived in Ollantaytambo, where we boarded the bus which drove us the two hours back to Cusco.  By the time we got to Cusco, I was both physically and mentally exhausted.  I walked back to my hostel, cleaned up my soaked clothing and items and climbed into bed.

The next morning I woke early to finish packing up my things before my flight from Cusco to Lima.  I ate breakfast, found an ATM to retrieve more soles (to pay for my hostel) and hired a cab to take me to the airport.  I arrived at the airport around 11am, with plenty of time to relax, grab a coffee and write on postcards before my 12:30pm flight.  The flight was easy and we arrived in Lima on time.  I collected my baggage and hired a taxi to take me the 25 minute drive from the airport in Callao District to the hotel that my company had booked – Malia Lima, in San Ysidro.

The driving in Peru is insane.  It’s like a whole different culture and language that they speak via horns, signals and shouting.  The traffic is like nothing I have seen, but thankfully my driver was more than capable.  The Malia Lima is a beautiful hotel.  Mycompany always sets me up in a comfortable, safe and nice place.  The room is just as beautiful as the lobby—king sized bed, large bathroom and a lovely view of the city.  I decided not to go out and explore because not only am I tired from the last few days, but I have heard that this area is not the safest, so I didn’t want to take my chances.  However, I did go to INO Café for dinner which was right around the corner and had a delicious meatball sandwich.  After dinner I returned to my hotel to rest and prepare for joining the ship the following day.

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Every minute of my time in Peru was beyond incredible.  In just five days, I was able to grasp a true idea of the local culture – tasting the food, meeting the people and visiting the country’s greatest archaeological achievements.  I will look back on Peru with such awe and appreciation, and look forward to the next time I will visit.

Have fun!  And don’t forget to follow my page and subscribe to my YouTube channel for video updates on my travels around the world! ❤ Jess

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