When we first planned this month-long trip, the one place we kept circling back on was Machu Picchu in Peru. We played around with different possibilities, but it always ended up being quite expensive. Then on a lark we checked a travel website and saw that Avianca had a sale for that week and the prices became more reasonable. After a quick discussion, Jun and I booked the tickets and the South American leg of our trip was set.
After having left Bogotá in the afternoon, we first flew into Lima before catching our flight to Cusco. By the time we arrived in Cusco it was 8:00 in the evening. Our driver from the hotel—Casa Andina Premium—picked us up and drove us to the hotel. On the way he gave a brief history of the city and places that we would want to visit.
After we checked in, Jun and I were antsy from having just sat at airports and on airplanes for most of the afternoon. We decided to take a walk around the city and to do a bit of exploring.
Cusco illuminates a reverential beauty at night. The colonial architecture and the remnants of Incan structures were gorgeously lit, which transformed the area from reality to fantasy. By the time we found ourselves in the Plaza de Armas, Jun and I were enamored with the city.
As we finished our circuit around the plaza, Jun and I were ready to call it a night. We slowly walked back to the hotel. Jun was a bit hungry, so he ordered chicken noodle soup from room service and we soon were in bed.
Our second day was spent exploring the city. After breakfast we first went to look for a place that would do laundry on a Sunday. After finding a place nearby and arranging the time of pick-up, we then went to visit the ruins of Qorikancha. During the time of the Inca, Qorikancha was the most sacred temple in their empire. The base of the temple remains, but the Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo on top of it.
One of the neatest things we saw at the museum on the site was a skull that had been modified to be elongated. The elite Inca had viewed such skull elongations as beautiful. The result was that the skulls look like they belong to extraterrestrials and not humans. As we left the museum we walked around the Jardín Sagrado before continuing our exploration of the city.
After Qorikancha we did some shopping at the Traditional Textile Center. The center supports indigenous women maintain traditional craftmaking, as well as providing them an income source. They had a lot of beautiful items at the store. They even had indigenous women demonstrating how they weaved. Jun and I ended up buying these really neat hats there.
From there we walked from the historic center up to San Blas. As we were walking we stopped for a mid-morning break at Pantástico Bakery. We ordered a lemon tart and two glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice. They were delicious.
After we were recharged, we continued our walk towards the Inca complex of Saqsaywaman. The walk afforded us with amazing views of the city as we were on the side of a hill.
At the site itself we had even better views of Cusco. The site of Saqsaywaman served as a citadel during the Incan period. It overlooks the valley where the Inca had their capital city. The structures there are grand. The Inca possessed a massive amount of knowledge and skill in being able to construct such a massive complex. While walking around the site we also got to see some really cute alpacas grazing at the site.
When we completed our tour of the site, Jun and I were ready for lunch and decided to find a place in the Plaza de Armas. We ended up having a wonderful meal at Mistura Plaza Grill. The food there was wonderful and left us ready to continue our wanderings around the city.
As we walked around Cusco it started to rain. Jun and I ended up taking a break at Starbucks until it let up a bit. When it did let up, we walked back to the area where our hotel was to go and pick-up our laundry. That proved difficult since the place we had agreed to pick it up was closed. After looking for a bit, and getting frustrated, we found the person who did our laundry. It wasn’t ready and we would have to wait another hour to get it. When we went back she had picked up the wrong laundry and we had to go search for our actual laundry. When we did I was tired of this ordeal and we went back to the hotel to get a quick bite of dinner before going to bed.
Machu Picchu! Our trip to Machu Picchu started at 4:00 in the morning so we could catch the bus to catch the train to catch another bus to get to the site. After finding the wrong entrance to Wanchaq Station, a nice worker there directed us to the correct entrance. As soon as we got there, we soon found ourselves on the bus and on our way to the train station at Ollantaytambo. When we got to Ollantaytambo, we had to wait a bit for our train. Jun and I bought some breakfast there as we waited.
When we were ready to board our train our anticipation grew. The train ride to Aguas Calientes was beautiful. We traveled along the river and through the mountains. It was breathtaking. As soon as we got to Aguas Calientes we booked our bus up to Machu Picchu and then went to find a place for an early lunch. We ended up at a small place called Cafe Restaurante Bijao. It was a really nice place. I got to try this stuffed mashed potato dish that was delicious.
After lunch we got on our bus and went up to Machu Picchu. The drive up there was along a winding road with few guardrails. It had been raining earlier that day so the road was a bit slippery. Sufficed to say I was ready to get off the bus as soon as possible.
When we arrived at the entrance we had to wait a bit for our allotted entry time. Soon, however, we were walking inside the site and became amazed at what we saw. Machu Picchu was beautiful. The earlier rains had surrounded the site in clouds that slowly dissipated during our time there. It created a surreal feeling—as if the site were an island in the sky. Jun and I enjoyed our meandering walk around the place. Jun also had me serve as his tour guide based on what I remembered from my Inca archaeology classes.
Sadly, we soon had to go back down to the Aguas Calientes to catch our train back to Cusco. When we got back to the town, Jun and I went around the market and then ended up having an early dinner at a restaurant called Full House. They had a nice view of the Urubamba River. After dinner we then went to the train station for the ride back to Cusco.
After the train and bus ride, Jun and I were ready to head back to the hotel and go to sleep. It had been a long day, but an awesome one.
Another early start so we could take a tour of the Sacred Valley. After a quick breakfast Jun and I soon found ourselves on the start of a great day touring different sites outside of Cusco.
Our first stop was at the site of Inca Písac. The site is broken into four main groups that was built on the side of a mountain overlooking the valley. The site that we mainly visited was called P’isaqa. It had these grand terraces that went down the mountain and a number of structures at the top of them. It was really neat to go around and learn about how the Inca created the terraces and how they lived there.
From the archaeological site we then went down to the modern village of Písac. We first learned a bit about the importance of silver to the modern economy and then took a walk around the central market.
We were then on our way to have lunch at Restaurante Tunupa. The food was nice there and it had a beautiful garden with llamas and alpacas grazing around. It was a nice break before going to our last stop at Ollantaytambo.
Our tour guide took us around the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, which served as a stronghold for the Inca resistance against the Spaniards. The site was quite distinct from the other Inca places we had visited. This one had a more militaristic feel to it compared to the other sites. It was quite intriguing to see the different architectural styles that the Inca had used over time as well.
By the time we finished going around the site, it was late in the afternoon and time for us to go back to Cusco. On the drive back our tour guide allowed us to stop for a bit to take in the view of the Andes. While it was overcast by then, it was still a beautiful sight.
When we got back to Cusco Jun and I decided to grab dinner at Incanto and then do some shopping. Jun and I found some really nice products made from baby alpaca for ourselves and as gifts. By the time we were finished it started to rain again and we went back to the hotel to pack for our trip to Lima the next morning.
Jun and I had a really quick breakfast and then went to the airport. We had a quick flight into Lima and our driver there soon took us to the Antigua Miraflores. The hotel resides in a Spanish-colonial style mansion built in 1923; it had a lovely charm to it. The staff was also quite kind and even upgraded our room to this nice quiet corner of the hotel. They even arranged for us to have a takeaway breakfast the next morning, as we had an early morning flight to the U.S. As soon as we got to the room Jun and I rested for a bit before we went out to explore Lima.
We first took a taxi to get to the historic center of the city. At the Plaza de Armas de Lima we saw the changing of the guard at the Palacio de Gobierno. As we walked around the plaza we decided to have lunch at Lima 141 Sanguchería.
From there we went to the Casa de Aliaga; while there we had an impromptu tour of the place. The house has been occupied by the Aliaga family since 1535. It was really neat to get a glimpse in the evolution of a colonial house into the modern era. The history of different architectural styles and aesthetics was wonderfully woven together to create a balance in the house that was impressive.
After our tour of the house, Jun and I continued to walk around the historic center until we found ourselves at the Parque de la Exposición. After resting there for a bit, we took a taxi to the Larcomar shopping center in Miraflores. This was a neat place as it’s built on the side of a cliff face. After doing some shopping there we took a walk along the cliff towards the Faro La Marina. When we got there it was the start of sunset and we were treated to a beautiful end to the day.
Afterwards, Jun and I went to dinner at Delfino Mar. The food there was amazing! We had a lovely cerviche and two wonderfully prepared fishes for our last meal in Lima. After dinner we walked back to our hotel and called it a day.
Our last day in South America had us traveling from Lima to Bogotá to Los Angeles and finally to Las Vegas. It was a long day of travel, but it was one without any issue.
Peru is an amazing place. The sites, the food, and the people were great. Jun and I thoroughly enjoyed our time there, and if possible we would definitely by thrilled to return in the future.