Our Trip to Peru: Sacred Valley, Cusco, and Lima Days 5-7

Waking up the next morning after getting to cross off one of your major bucket list items sure does feel good. However, waking up after walking for miles up and down uneven stone steps made by the Incas hundreds of years ago sure does hurt too! Jason and I were so ridiculously sore the next day we were pretty much waddling instead of walking.  Not only were we sore, we were so sun burnt! Our bodies were tired and weary but we still had one more thing to see before we left the Sacred Valley and that was the Archaeological Park in Ollantaytambo, the town we were staying in.

I will be completely honest here and say that we didn't spend as much time here as we originally anticipated.  We were seriously beat so we cut it short and found ourselves a colectivo and got our ride back to Cusco.  We got dropped off at a plaza not too far from our hotel, but we were so tired, we got ourselves lost - seriously going up and down the same street the hotel was on! We needed naps.  After we settled into our room and rested a bit, we had to go back out for our last night in Cusco and grab a few souvenirs for family and say goodbye to this amazing city.  

Next morning we were refreshed and ready to fly out to Lima and spend the day exploring Peru's capital city.  Avianca Airlines, however, thought we might enjoy spending most of our day at the airport instead! Our domestic flight was delayed and we didn't leave Cusco for about 4 hours later.  Nobody was happy about the situation, but I was just glad we didn't have to catch our flight home that day.  

Once we finally made it to Lima, we got an Uber and made our way to our hotel in the Mira Flores district.  At this point, it was mid afternoon and we didn't have much time for sight seeing.  We ended up checking in to our hotel and simply grabbing some appetizers and drinks at a restaurant in the nearby Larcomar Shopping Center.  The shopping center was right on a cliff overlooking the water and had tons of American stores, like Gap, Victorias Secret, and restaurants like Chilis.  It felt like we were at an outdoor mall in Miami! We walked around there a bit after we ate and then walked some more around town.  We ate at a Chinese restaurant, which is popular in Peru and called Chifa, fusing both Peruvian and Chinese ingredients and traditions.  

We arranged an Uber to take us to the airport the next morning and off we were to make our way back home.  At this point, we were pretty exhausted from all the traveling and ready to sleep in our beds and enjoy the first world comforts we take for granted, such as clean water and toilet paper! 

Thanks for sticking around and ready all about our adventures in Peru!  In the coming months I plan on sharing a few useful tips on planning your own Peruvian trip, like the best time to see Machu Picchu, transportation, and must-haves. Let me know if there's something specific you'd like me to share and I'll be sure to do so! 

The best greeting from our little one when we got home! 

The best greeting from our little one when we got home! 

Our Trip to Peru: Machu Picchu Day 4

After 3 flights and a bus trip, the day we'd been waiting for was finally here.  But...not quite.  We still had a train ride across the valley and then a bus trip up the mountain before we got to see Machu Picchu.  We had purchased the first train out of Ollantaytambo so it was another early day for us. Our hotel was a little less than a mile from the train station, so we just walked there.  It was a nice & quick downhill walk :) 

The train ride was perfect. We booked the Vista Dome on PeruRail and it offered some really great views along the way.  They also provided drinks (coffee, tea, water, juice) and a snack ( it was a sweet quinoa pastry).  It all helped pass the time nicely.  As soon as we got to Aguas Calientes, or I believe now they are calling it Machu Picchu Pueblo, it was time to get our bus ticket.  There was a long line for the busses already when we got there and it was not moving quickly.  We assumed this was the line for the tickets but then we realized that was a different line.  OOPSY!  So, I just stayed in that line while Jason went to the ticket booth to get the actual tickets.  Our little mistake saved us about 30 minutes, though ;) 

I was nervous that I would get motion sickness on the bus, but we got lucky and were the first ones on the bus so we picked seats right in front and I got the window seat too.  The ride is about half an hour or so and it is straight up and up these narrow switchback roads.  I only looked down once and it was enough to make my stomach drop, so I just looked straight ahead and hoped this wasn't our driver's first day! Finally we make it up to the entrance and there's not much to see but more tourists.  I knew there were no restrooms once passed the gate to Mach Picchu so I made sure to go! Another tip, make sure you take your passport, not only will you need it to get in to the citadel along with your tickets, there's also a stand where you can stamp your passport with a souvenir MP stamp :) BONUS!! Last minute, I decided to purchased a small book with a map highlighting the sights and giving tid bits about the various sections to Machu Picchu.  It was just the right amount of information for us without being overwhelming. 

As soon as we handed the guard our tickets I started to get super excited.  Once we passed the turnstile and walked through the walkway it was like a curtain had been lifted and we found ourselves in another time, albeit there were a lot of other people who were transported along with us it but did not take away from that initial feeling of awe.  Of course, I am not one for big crowds and I'm not gonna lie, it was starting to have a Disneyland-crowded feeling quickly.  

But, I had a plan for this too.  I'd read most of the tourists were there early and would probably be leaving around lunchtime and I was counting on this to enjoy the grounds a little bit more peacefully. So, my plan was to go on a small hike to the Inca Bridge as soon as we got there to allow for the majority of the tour groups to be on their way.  It worked out perfectly.  We took our time getting to the bridge and enjoyed the views. I got a little nervous as we got closer and I could see how close to the edge of the mountain we really were and how high up we were.  I really held on tight to the cable along the narrowest part to get close to the bridge! EEK! 

My plan worked out perfectly and once we made our way back to the main part of Machu Picchu it was noticeably less crowded and we began our own tour.  I think we spent over 4 hours walking around the Incan citadel and can honestly say we saw just about everything! While planning our trip, I could not convince Jason to take the 3 day Inca trail to Machu Picch, so we decided we would walk back down the mountain back to Machu Picchu Pueblo.  I had downloaded a map of the trail beforehand and we were able to see parts of the trail on our bus ride up so we were confident we'd be ok.  The hike down was amazing, but really really hard, especially after already walking around for hours all day.  It was literally stairs and stairs going straight down and when we were finally off the mountain, we still had another mile to get to town! By the time we got to the town, we were exhausted, starving, and dirty! 

We found a restaurant with good reviews on Trip Advisor (love this site) and went in for dinner.  I was so happy I packed a big comfy sweater in my bag, along with a rain jacket I never needed. I also changed my shirt and freshened up as best I could. Just having that change of shirt felt amazing! After a lovely meal, we walked around the town checking out the souvenir shops.  The whole town is built for tourists, so it's full of restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops.  It's not very authentic, but it helped pass the time.  We booked the last train back to Ollantaytambo and still had awhile before departure, but we just couldn't keep walking around so, we went to the train station and sat there waiting and talking until it was time to board.  It felt so good to sit! Our train back was the Expedition, which is was pretty no-frills and I was so glad we paid the extra money for the Vista Dome on our way there.  However, we rested and even fell asleep on the ride before we made it back.  We were so ready to take showers, and sleep when we got there but those quaint narrow cobblestone streets felt creepy in the cold empty darkness.  I don't know where Jason and I found the energy but we trekked up that hill and to our hotel! That hot shower felt so good after our crazy busy day.  We packed so much into this day but it was so worth it and I would do it all over again! Ok...maybe I would arrange a car to pick us up from the train station at night instead of walking ;) 

Be sure to come back next week where we'll share our last day in the Sacred Valley and our adventure getting back to Lima and if you missed the other recaps, here are the links:  Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3

 

Our Trip to Peru: Sacred Valley Day 3

By day 3 of our trip we were feeling great! We did find ourselves way more winded than usual after a few flights of steps due to the higher elevation, but other than that we didn't suffer from altitude sickness.  We got up early to check out of our room in Cusco and make our way to the Sacred Valley.  We knew we wanted to find a colectivo to take us all the way to our hotel in the Sacred Valley's small town of Ollantaytambo.  A colectivo is basically a hired van that fits about 10-12 passengers (it won't leave until it's full) and makes a few stops along it's route.  The cost for a colectivo is significantly less than a private car.  The only problem was that everything I read was super vague about where to find them, although they all suggested and recommended them.  During dinner the night before we asked where to go to catch a colectivo and were given two cross streets that were about a 10 minute walk from our hotel.  

So, Saturday morning we took off in that direction. Not really knowing what we'd find, I was hoping for a sort of bus staging area or even a bus station. Boy was I wrong!  First off, the walk took way longer than 10 minutes with our big backpacks and steep streets.  Then, when found the cross-streets there was no actual sign or building, just a bunch of vans and cars parked alongside the road, so we assumed we were in the right area.  Either the drivers or their assistants were walking up and down the sidewalks asking you to come with them, where were you going, practically taking our backpacks off our backs to get us on their vehicle and not the next guys.  It was very overwhelming for me and I speak fluent Spanish.  I can't image how it must feel if you don't speak the language.  So, just be prepared to be bombarded by drivers! We found a van that wasn't full yet, ensured the negotiated rate, and sat inside.  We got 2 seats that were together and by a window, YAY! It didn't take long to fill the van and off we went.  Most were locals from Cusco traveling to the Sacred Valley, but there were a few other tourists like us.

Once we made it to the town, we dropped off our luggage, found a place to eat in the small plaza, then it was off to find another van to drive us to the sights.  Again, we didn't know exactly how we'd find a driver, as we weren't part of any actual "tour group".  But, drivers could figure out we were looking for a car, so they mostly came to us to try to negotiate a rate.  This is how we found our driver for the day.  He was looking for 2-4 other passengers to fill his van.  We negotiated our rate (always negotiate beforehand) and off we went for our adventure through the Sacred Valley.  We shared the van with 2 other guys and along our stops picked up another person.  Keep in mind that doing it this way, saves you money but it is not a tour and the driver is not a tour guide! He takes you to your stop, parks, and we settle on a time to come back to meet up at the van and go to the next stop.  Totally no frills and this is how we like. We aren't big on waking with big groups of strangers and following someone around.  We prefer to do our research beforehand and have the freedom to go explore the sights ourselves.    If you want a tour guide, you can definitely make arrangements in Cusco or in the towns of the Sacred Valley.

Our first stop was the ruins of Moray just outside the village of Maras.  This place was so impressive!  There are several terraced circular depressions, the largest is about 98 ft deep.  Although the exact purpose of the site is unknown, like most Incan ruins, it's believed to have been a sort of agricultural test lab.  Due to the circular shape and depth of the terraces, they could study who different temperatures, wind, and sun direction, affected the crops and they were even able to create various types of potatoes! 

Our second stop was the Salineras de Maras, salt mines located along the slopes of Qaqawiñay mountain.   There are nearly 3,000 salt pans, shallow pools that are filled by a hypersaline underground spring.  It is believed these salt mines have been around since before Incan times and are still active and hand-harvested by local families to this day.  We even saw some men tending to their plot.  This was my favorite from all the sites we saw in the Sacred Valley and of course, we brought some salts with us! I loved that we could walk on the edge and get up close to the pans, careful not to disturb them of course :) 

The next stop was at a local artisan shop where we learned how the alpaca wool was cleaned, dyed, and turned into beautiful blankets and scarves using ancient techniques.  I'm sure the ones we purchased were not made this way, of course! But they were still beautiful and made great souvenirs to bring back home.  

Our final stop was to Chinchero, a small town with more ancient ruins, terraces, and a adobe church built by the Spaniards in the 1600s.  As you can imagine, by this point we were exhausted from our long day of traveling and sight-seeing! The views from the hillside were beautiful, but we were pretty much done!  After grabbing some snacks from a vendor, we made our way to find a bus to take us back to Ollantaytambo.  And so began another adventure in public transportation! The sun was about to set, we were cranky, hungry, and tired at this point and just wanted to get back to town to rest.  We managed to figure out which bus to get on, but it only was taking us as far as Urubamba, from there we had to figure out what to do. By the time we arrived at the bus station it was dark and we weren't sure what to do.  I asked and was pointed to the side of the station I needed to be in to catch a bus to Ollantaytambo.  We ended up in a small van cramped with too many people.  We were the only tourists in the van but we didn't care.  The ride took a lot longer due to the many stops along the way but we finally made it and couldn't have been happier for the fresh air!

Once we were back in Ollantaytambo we found a small restaurant for dinner and enjoyed a nice! After we picked up some waters and snacks for Machu Picchu the next day, then took some much needed showers back in our room and got to bed! I was so excited to finally be heading to Machu Picchu the next day.  Stay tuned....

In case you missed it, here are Day 1 + Day 2 recaps!