Category Archives: Peru

Part 16: Highlights and Lowlights

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market
Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside
Part 13: Regards from 12,000 Feet
Part 14: Lima – The Worst Capital City Ever?
Part 15: The Children of Peru

My final post on my Peru trip comes a good six weeks after it ended. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what was awesome, what was a little less awesome, and what was the opposite of awesome.

Highlights

  • I did not get kidnapped or mugged! In preparing for this trip, I read many a horror story about tourists who were either kidnapped by rogue taxi drivers in the middle of the night and forced to withdraw large sums of money from an ATM machine or mugged in plain daylight. Thankfully, our trip was uneventful in both these respects. We took normal precautions that anyone should take when traveling, and we were fine. I have returned stateside with my computer, my iPad, my iPhone, my DSLR camera and passport. Definitely a huge highlight.
  • I did not get (too) sick! We similarly heard horror stories about people getting very ill either from altitude sickness or from eating Peruvian food. We came prepared. We took altitude sickness medication before we landed, and arranged our trip strategically to acclimate to higher elevations. We certainly experienced some common effects from the lack of oxygen at over 10,000 feet altitude, but nothing that seriously impacted our trip. We also drank bottled water and largely avoided eating raw, unpeeled foods.
  • The SPG hotels. I used my points to book rooms for us in the two Starwood hotels that coincided with our itinerary in Urubamba and Cusco. As I reviewed here and here, these hotels were beautiful and very relaxing.

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  • Collectivos. Collectivos are a great and cheap way for getting around Peru’s countryside and, in my opinion, a hysterical and authentically Peruvian experience.

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  • The children of Peru. As I detailed in this blog post, I had a great time taking pictures and interacting with Peru’s adorable children. I loved seeing their faces light up when I took a photo and showed them the picture on the digital screen. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand anything they were saying except “photo!” Their enjoyment (and mine) superseded our language barrier.

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This photo cracks me up

  • The salt pans. Sure, people come to Peru to see Machu Picchu, and that was certainly incredible. But I had never seen anything like the salt pans in the Sacred Valley, and seeing new things for the first time is always something special.

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  • Making new friends. Travel is a strange and wonderful thing, bringing people together who may never have met otherwise. If we had been sitting next to one another on the subway in New York City, we probably wouldn’t have said a word to each other simply because that is not what people do. We go about our daily lives and don’t strike up conversations with strangers. But what is considered odd in the monotony of our regular lives is deemed normal when traveling. We met some wonderful couples from Canada, New York, and New Jersey and exchanged email addresses. We may never see each other again, or we may become lifelong friends. All because we were visiting Machu Picchu on the same day. That is truly an amazing thing.
  • Hanging out with my good/old friend. Although we live only three and a half hours away by train, it seems like Lisa and I only spend significant time together when we travel to a foreign country. It was great to get in some quality girlfriend time. We were long overdue.

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  • Remembering why I love traveling. When I left D.C. for Peru, I felt weighed down by the turmoil in my personal life and wondered if I should have prolonged the trip. But once we landed in Peru and our adventure began, I remembered why I love traveling: It takes me outside of myself. Real life disappeared, at least for two weeks. We got caught up in the beauty and the newness of this amazing country.
  • Peru’s unrivaled beauty. Peru is a beautiful country with soaring mountains, colorful farms, historic ruins, and rolling hills. What is there not to like?

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Lowlights

  • The persistent lack of wifi. Lame, I know. While some people love going away and shutting off all of their gadgets, I get anxious without 3G. I am addicted to technology, and the first step is admitting it. So here I am admitting it.
  • Getting dressed. This sounds odd so let me explain. Mornings and nights are chilly in Peru’s winter climate, especially at higher altitudes. Daytime is warm and extremely sunny. If I wore my Uggs and fleece in the morning, it was just right until about 11 a.m. and then I was sweltering and stuck carrying my fleece around. The opposite had me shivering in the morning. I never knew quite what to wear, and while this is not exactly an earth-shattering problem, it was a mild nuisance.

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  • Our hotel in Aguas Calientes. When it comes to staying overnight near Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes is the only show in town (unless you want to fork over $1,000 a night on Machu Picchu mountain itself). Because tourists have no other option, prices in this small town are absurdly inflated. A mid-range hotel cost us $150 a night, but it wasn’t exactly the Hampton Inn. Case in point: I had to blow dry my clothing thanks to the persistent humidity in the hotel that left everything a little damp.
  • Lima. In fairness, we only had four hours to explore Lima before our flight home, and a good portion of that time was spent navigating Lima’s horrific traffic. That said, what we saw we did not like. Read more about our quick trip to Lima here, but overall, we were extremely unimpressed. It was cold, rainy, dreary, and not particularly interesting.
  • Exhaustion. Let me be clear about one thing: I am not a morning person. I don’t like getting up early and I usually can sleep pretty much anywhere. But for some reason, I consistently woke up between six and seven a.m. throughout our trip and could not fall back asleep. A fellow traveler attributed this phenomenon to the altitude and perhaps he was right. By the end of the trip, the early mornings caught up with me and I was completely wiped.
  • Constantly flying. We saw a lot on this trip and I wouldn’t change our itinerary at all. But Peru is not Europe, and the unless you want to spend hours and hours on a bus in which you may or may not get mugged, your best bet for getting around the country is to fly. In total, I took seven flights in two weeks and it grew wearisome by the end.
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Part 15: The Children of Peru

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market
Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside
Part 13: Regards from 12,000 Feet
Part 14: Lima – The Worst Capital City Ever?

In another life, I’d like a job photographing children all around the world. Photographing the children of Peru and showing them how to use my camera was one of my favorite experiences of our trip. Warning: Be prepared for a ton of cuteness.

In Urubamba:

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In Ollantaytambo:

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In Aguas Calientes:

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In Pisac:

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The kids in Cusco were unbelievably adorable. As I traveled across Peru, I was initially shocked when some of the children put out their hands and said, “Propina,” right after I took their picture. Propina, I learned, means “tip.” Peru is an overwhelmingly poor country, and the children, I realized, learn from their parents who seek an extra soles from tourists every chance they get. But the children we found playing in an empty courtyard in Cusco had no interest in a “propina.” They just wanted to have fun, and fun they had.

They loved posing for pictures and then loved seeing their goofy poses on the screen. They had no inhibitions about jumping on me, on each other, and just generally trying to one-up themselves. I was laughing hysterically the entire time.

It started out with a simple pose.

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And ended up with a Peruvian version of a pyramid:

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And then they stole my hat, and attempted to steal it from each other:

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When one of the girls started crying – I think having five other kids jump all over you might have that effect on a person — I offered them granola bars and band-aids which they thought was the greatest present ever.

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On the side of the road in the Sacred Valley:

At a stop along the highway in the Sacred Valley, we chanced upon these adorable girls who were wrapping their dolls up in scarves just like Peruvian women wrap their babies. The girl in red was strikingly beautiful.

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On Taquille Island:

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Part 14: Lima – The Worst Capital City Ever?

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market
Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside
Part 13: Regards from 12,000 Feet

Everything I read about Lima before I saw it set my expectations extremely low. So low that I thought I couldn’t be disappointed. I was wrong. Apparently, I didn’t set the bar low enough.

Now, in all fairness, we only had about four hours to see Lima – a sprawling city with many, diverse neighborhoods – until our flight back to the U.S. Our original plan was to head to Miraflores, Lima’s wealthy, coastal neighborhood, known for its hip shops and scenic views. But our cab driver managed to convince us that we’d be better off seeing Lima’s colonial center.

As we drove to our destination, we encountered some of the worst traffic and driving we have ever seen (and we have both driven in New York City!) and a slew of poor, dilapidated neighborhoods. The cab driver even warned us to keep our bags on the floor, lest someone break the window and grab our bags from the car as we muddled our way through Lima’s traffic jams. That’s just crazy!

Lima’s colonial center encompasses a few blocks filled with colonial churches and buildings. But the surrounding neighborhood is decidedly seedy, to put it bluntly. It didn’t help that it was cold and drizzly, casting a seemingly permanent grayness over the depressing city.

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I love this picture. It is so random.

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This is Lima’s famous Monastery of San Francisco, which is covered in birds. This was probably the most exciting thing we saw in Lima…after the Starbucks, but more about that later.

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After walking around for an hour or so, we were cold and slightly damp and had seen all we needed to see. But we still had another 40 minutes until our taxi driver would pick us up. So we stumbled around numbly until we saw a familiar logo.

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I don’t even drink coffee, but it was warm; there were comfortable chairs to sit on; and there was free wifi. How sad is it that Starbucks was our favorite part of Lima?

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Part 13: Regards From 12,000 Feet

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market
Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside

It was finally time for the last major destination of of our journey. We had saved the remote, 12,000-foot Puno for last. To my knowledge, there are three ways to get to Puno: A bus, a train, or a plane. Since we didn’t have 8-10 hours to spend on the road we opted for the latter. It was a quick one and a half hour flight from Cusco’s tiny airport to Juliaca’s even tinier airport.

Note: If you are flying to Puno, you will land in the seedy and mildly terrifying down of Juliaca, about an hour’s drive from Puno. All the blogs I read beforehand were unambiguous in their advice to get the hell out of Dodge (Dodge being Juliaca), and from the little that we saw as we drove through it, I’d have to agree.

We chose a hotel on the water, and it was pretty nice to wake up to the views of Lake Titicaca – the worlds highest navigable lake. For those who are curious, we asked our taxi driver what in the world that means — what the heck is a navigable lake? He informed us that Lake Titicaca never freezes, despite its high altitude, and thus, it is navigable all year round. To which I replied: “So really, we should call it ‘the world’s highest perpetually navigable lake?'” and he laughed.

Sometimes, I crack myself up.

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The beautiful view from our hotel.

We went to bed early to wake up at 6 a.m. for our 6:45 pick up. I wish I could tell you that we did a lot of research and picked the best tourist company for the obligatory Lake Titicaca tour, but they all looked more or less the same and we blindly chose one. But I can tell you without any doubt that at 6:45 a.m., it was cold. Not a little chilly, but really, honestly cold. That’s why I’m dressed like this.

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Of course, by noon, the sun was bright and strong, and even though I started shedding layers, I was a sweaty, sweltering mess. So much for planning.

The boat ride to our first stop, the famous Uros Islands, took about an hour in the fast boat. The Uros Islands are inhabited by natives who have their own language and traditions and dress in traditional Peruvian garb. The islands are famous for being made entirely our of the reeds that grow in the water.

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Once we arrived at the first island, we sat on reed benches while our guide and a local Uros resident explained a little bit about their culture and their way of life. Apparently, you can eat the reeds – but only eat the bottom part or you may end up spending a lot of unwanted time in the bathroom (according to our guide – I am not speaking from experience!).

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Lisa was braver than I. Here she is tasting the reeds.

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After the introduction, we had some time to wander around the small island. This is what the inside of a hut looks like:

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After about 10 minutes of wandering around, we boarded a reed boat and zipped off to another floating island, where we had our passports stamped. Note: Entrance to the islands and the boat ride coast 10 soles and stamping your passport costs an additional sole.

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If you’re inclined, there is plenty of opportunity to purchase souvenirs and multicolored trinkets. Lisa purchased one of these lovely hanging thingies.

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Our boat picked us up from the second island and we zipped off to Taquile Island, which is inhabited by Taquileños, who like the Uros natives, have their own tradition, culture and practices. I fell asleep on the ride to Taquile so I can’t actually tell you anything about the journey, but when I groggily stepped off our boat, I had one of those “oh wow…” moments.

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The sky was so blue and the water even bluer. And as we hiked up to the top of the island, the views got bluer and more beautiful.

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I was consistently impressed with the parade of natives carrying plywood up the mountain on their backs. I wasn’t carrying much of anything and I was huffing and puffing. But for them, this was just regular life.

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At the top of the mountain, we stopped to catch our breath in the town square. It’s not a particularly happening spot, but we learned later that this is where all the important town meetings and gatherings takes place.

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During lunch we received a crash course on the intricate practices of the Taquileños. The Taquileños are known for their brightly knitted hats and scarves, but these colorful items serve a utilitarian purpose. There are different hats for single men, engaged men and married men, and different hats for single women and married women. The position of the scarves’ tassels are used to indicate whether a person is happy or sad, and if they are sad, one of the councilmen will approach them and solve their problem. If only my problems could be solved that way.

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The Taquileños are incredibly self-sufficient, relying on the island’s natural resources to get by. In the below picture, a man demonstrates how they make soap out of a plant.

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Finally, the island’s natives demonstrated a traditional Taquile dance for us, even pulling in members of our tour group.

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Lisa and I both really enjoyed Taquile Island, though I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn’t so tired. Most tourists we met in Peru gushed over the Uros floating islands, but I thought the commercialization of them detracted from their beauty. In contrast, Taquile had a purity about it. There weren’t throngs of tourist groups or natives selling souvenirs at every corner. It was just a beautiful hike up a mountain under a startling blue sky, engulfed by the wold’s highest perpetually navigable lake.

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The dynamic duo.

 

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Part 12: Exploring Cusco’s Countryside

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows
Part 11: 10 Things You Can Buy at Cusco’s San Pedro Market

You know you’re obsessed with photography when you hire a driver to take you on a photography trip. But that is exactly how we spent our last day in Cusco. We hired a taxi to take us to Chincheros and the surrounding countryside in the Sacred Valley simply to take pictures. The driver’s English was severely limited and our Spanish was not much better, but we communicated simply by saying “Photo!” every time we wanted him to pull over to the side so we could snap away.

Most tourists visit Chincheros to see the town’s ancient ruins, but when we tried to visit, we were informed that we could only enter by purchasing the costly tourist ticket that includes many sites in the region. Since we had already been to many of those sites and were off to Puno that afternoon, we shrugged our shoulders and told our driver, “more photos!”

The views were truly beautiful, and I literally took over 1,000 pictures in the span of two hours. So don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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The dynamic duo!

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10 Things You Can Buy At Cusco’s San Pedro Market

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)
Part 10: Cusco: The Highs and Lows

Cusco’s San Pedro market is not a tourist market primarily. It’s meant for the locals and they sell pretty much everything you can imagine – and some things you couldn’t possibly imagine. You will find your standard market fare – fruits and veggies, cheese, fish and meat, etc. But then, there will also be some surprises…

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To the countdown!

#1. Any kind of juice you want. When you first walk into the market area, you will be bombarded by rows of women offering you a variety of fruit juices. Their products and prices are all the same so just pick any which one. You can pick any fruit you like (mango, passion fruit, papaya, banana, etc.) and any liquid you like (milk, water, ice, etc.) and they’ll make you a fresh fruit drink on the spot.

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#2. A pig’s head. Because why wouldn’t you need that?

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#3. Pig feet. Because if you’re going to buy a pig’s head, you might as well go all in for the feet too.

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#4. Massive loaves of bread with decorative engravings.

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#5. Huge wheels of cow cheese. It looks like butter, but I’m told it’s cheese.

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#6. Weird, tiny fish. Not sure how you eat these, but if you want to, you can buy ’em.

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#7. Masks.

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#8. Colorful corn – a Peruvian staple.

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#9. Colorful custard. I have no idea how this tastes but it looks pretty.

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10. A nap. Okay, it’s not something you can buy, but you can clearly take one if you’re so inclined.

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Part 9: Cusco: The Highs and Lows

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues
Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)

Cusco is a strange mix of modern and old. With nearly 350 million people, Cusco is Peru’s seventh largest city, but it is also the capital of the ancient Inca empire. We saw real street lights for our first time in Peru and large, modern stores, but the city reeks of oldness. The city is literally built on the layers of its Inca foundation. Many buildings retain their original Inca stone foundation, and there are small Inca ruins scattered throughout the city.

Cusco is also extremely hilly. You can hike up (or take a bus or taxi) up to Christo Blanco (White Jesus) for beautiful panoramic views of the city below. You can make out the Plaza de Armas and the two famous churches in Cusco’s main square.

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The Inca ruins of Sacsayhuaman are about a 10 minute walk from the White Jesus. We had seen plenty of ruins already so we opted to simply photograph the ruins from afar.

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This is a classic Cusco street: Cobblestone roads, colonial architecture, and stone foundations with mountains lurking in the background.

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An awesome alligator sculpture in the middle of Cusco:

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Here we are wandering around the Plaza de Armas, the heart of Cusco’s bustling city life. Tourists mix with citizens enjoying a short rest on the many benches.

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After some downtime in Plaza de Armas, we made our way uphill to San Blas, Cusco’s artsy neighborhood. Be prepared to hike up steep cobblestone roads, but take comfort in knowing you can stop to catch your breath to laugh at Cusco’s version of the food truck and smile at the creative street murals.

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Cusco side by side

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San Blas side by side

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This was awesome – just a young couple painting a mural on the wall outside their apartment.

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As we walked back to our hotel, I snapped a photograph of one of the side streets. It’s not particularly beautiful, but it is a good example of Cusco’s ancient charm. Notice the bottom layer or neatly stacked stones on the right wall — those are the Inca stones. The messy, round stones on top were laid by the Spanish colonialists. Much of Cusco looks like this – a city of layers, an evocative mix of past and present.

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Part 9: Hats Galore in Pisac (and other things)

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)
Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Cusco is a good base for several side trips in the Sacred Valley. Our second day in Cusco we spent exploring the countryside, namely the town of Pisac and its famous market. The Pisac markets operate every day, but the big days (and most heavy tourist days) are Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday. You can easily take a bus or collectivo to Pisac but we met a couple who was planning on going the same day, so we shared a cab with them.

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The advantage of taking a cab (besides for the comfort) is getting to stop at the condor farm along the way. For all I know, the condor farm has an official name but I don’t know what it is. It’s one of those things locals tell you about but you won’t find in the guidebooks. It’s basically a small farm with some pretty cool local animals. There is no entrance fee but they ask for a donation at the end of the tour.

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Apparently, this is a big no-no, but Lisa likes to live on the edge. I snapped a picture before she was gobbled up.

After the condor farm, we made our way to Pisac. The town of Pisac is tiny and easy to walk around. We simply asked someone to point us in the direction of the the main plaza and that’s how we stumbled on the array of locals hawking their wares.

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Because everyone needs a pair of colorful sneakers.

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Hot.

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I don’t think this lady was too happy with me.

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I’m in love with this. It’s just so random.

And of course, I loved photographing the kids of Peru.

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The kids in traditional Peruvian dress will stick out their hands and say “propina” after you take a picture. That is how I learned my fifth spanish word. Propina, apparently, means tip.

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This kid became my best friend.

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After you visit the markets, you can hike up to the ruins overlooking Pisac or pay a taxi to take you to the top and walk down. We were a little ruined-out (and carrying quite a bit of purchases) so we hopped on a collectivo and made our way back to Cusco.

 

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Part 8: My Love Affair with Starwood Continues

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu
Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Hotel points allow me to stay in hotels I never would be able to stay in otherwise. For some people, a bed is a bed no matter where they are. But I confess: I like luxury. I like being updated to a suite. Correction: I love being updated to a suite. I love sitting in a beautiful lobby, enjoying free wifi that actually works and relaxing on a sumptuous couch.

I loved our hotel in Cusco. Especially after the damp, dank excuse for a hotel we stayed at in Aguas Calientes.

After our visit to Machu Picchu, we made our way to Cusco, the ancient capital of the Incas, located at a breathtaking 11,500 feet. Cusco overflows with its Inca and colonial past. And our hotel in Cusco was no different.

SPG’s Palacio del Inka is located in central Cusco, a seven minute walk from the Plaza de Armas, in an old monastery. The entire hotel reaks of colonial elegance – medieval columns, rich, dark colors, velvet upholstery, ornate decorations, and stone floors.

Cusco map

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When we checked in, I was pleasantly surprised to find out we had been upgraded to a suite despite my lack of status. The suite consisted of two separate rooms — a separate living room area with a couch, desk, chairs and a television, and the bedroom — which had its own television. And get this — we had two bathrooms!

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The living room part of our suite

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The bedroom

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The master bathroom

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The view of Cusco from our window

Needless to say, we had an amazing stay. Thank you Starwood!

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Part 7: I Came, I Saw, I Conquered (Machu Picchu)

Part 1: Getting to the Sacred Valley is Not Easy
Part 2: The Most Awesome Hotel Ever
Part 3: When in Urubamba…
Part 4: A Town Called Olly
Part 5: Can You Pass the Salt?
Part 6: How to Get to Machu Picchu

We had grand plans to wake up at 4:30 a.m. and get to Machu Picchu for sunrise. That did not happen. By 6 a.m. we were seated on the bus, marveling as it winded its way up the mountain for the next half and hour.

The line was a little long, but I found some amazingly colorful birds to distract me from the morning chill.

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Remember to bring your passport!

We finally set our eyes on the majestic Machu Picchu at about 7 a.m.

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Since we were too cheap to hire a guide we wandered around at our own pace snapping way too many pictures and waiting for the sun to peak out over the mountaintop (I was freezing).

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This is one of my favorite pictures, taken by my friend Lisa.

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I developed a minor obsession with llamas.

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*IMG_4322After I took my thousandth picture of Machu Picchu, a nice couple from New York walked by with their guide and we started eavesdropping on their tour. Clearly, we were not as discreet as we thought because the husband invited us to crash their tour. So we shrugged our shoulders and said why not?

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Our new friends

To be honest with you, I was doing more snapping than listening, but I vaguely remember the guide talking about the Temple of the Sun, and it seemed important so I took a picture.

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But I really cared more about the llamas.

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And the terraces. I love terraces.

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*IMG_4641At 9:45 a.m. we left our impromptu tour group and made our way to Wayna Picchu for our 10:00 a.m. hike. This would be a good time to mention that Lisa hates heights, particularly heights involving unstable steps and narrow ledges. I should also mention that the hike up Wayna Picchu is literally stone steps the entire way. Except for the narrow tunnel at the very end and the rickety ladder. To Lisa’s credit, she agreed to try it, and despite the occasional whimpers from her general direction, she hiked up and down in one piece.

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Waiting to let the macho hikers go first.

The hike is supposed to take about one hour up and one hour down, but we were a) on the slow side and b) taking a lot of pictures, so it definitely took us longer. The views from the top are pretty awesome.

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That crazy windy road is the path the bus takes up to Machu Picchu!

At the end of the trail, you’ll have to squeeze through a tiny tunnel, climb a ladder, and slide across a rock that overlooks a pretty steep drop. Lisa gave me a look that said, “I’m going to kill you,” but she slid across like a pro.

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Perhaps the scariest part is the very narrow, very steep series of steps you need to climb down to return to the main trail. But if you have plenty of meat on your butt (guilty), it’s not as bad as it looks. Just sit down and slide down carefully.

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By the time we finished the hike, we were pretty tired and dirty. Remember, we had been up since 5:30 a.m. and we had spent a good six hours exploring the ruins. Really, all we could think about was how much we wanted to take a shower. There is nothing quite as disgusting as sunscreen mixed with dirt embedded in your pores. We made our way slowly to the exit, snapping our last photos of the famous Machu Pichu. We got on a bus at around 3:00 p.m. and our historic day was done.

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Practicalities: As I mentioned in Part 6, entrance tickets to Wayna Picchu are limited to 400 people a day. If you miss out, you can hike Machu Picchu mountain. Based on my research, the hike to the top of Machu Picchu mountain is somewhat longer but the views are prettier since you are looking down on Wayna Picchu and the surrounding ruins. The advantage of hiking Wayna Picchu is that when you show friends your pictures, you can point to the famous mountain overlooking the Machu Picchu ruins and say: “I hiked to the top of that!”

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Other practicalities: Bathrooms and food/water are available outside the park near the entrance so plan accordingly. Additionally, the bathrooms cost a sole per visit and no amount of begging will get you in without payment. You can buy water right outside the bathroom, but a small bottle will cost you 8 soles so bring water with you if you’re cheap. Finally, you can stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp, which is rather silly but super fun.

 

 

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