Inca culture had always inspired me and wanted to experience how the riches of that culture could still be found among the people and the ruins around Machu Pichhu. In Quechua language, it means an ‘Old Peak’, discovered in modern day times by Hiram Bingham, although people were still living around it. The journey to and from Machu Pichhu is one of the experiences of a life time where you will get submerged in the colorful past with modern day luxuries.
We flew into Lima, Peru, spent couple of days there and left for Cusco, which is the closest airport to Machu Pichhu and a fabled capital of Inca empire, that ended in 1500s after the reign of Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. After Machu Pichhu we traveled by train called Andean Explorer to Juliaca in the deep south to meet the people of another culture – the Uros people, on lake Titicaca which is the highest navigable lake in the world, bordering Bolivia.
THE ROUTE AND PLACES
There are multiple ways you can travel around Peru and we used all modes of transportation between various destinations considering the feasibility of time, cost and experiences we wanted to cover. Mostly we covered the central and the southern parts of Peru, but I am certain northern and coastal portions of Peru are also worth a visit. Traveling is Peru, especially on the route that we covered is more of a travel through history and culture with a bit of an adventure with luxury.
Stop -1 Lima
Great city, right on rim of the beginning of southern pacific – lots of history and Latin culture to enjoy. We stayed in Mira Flores area and I would highly recommend to find a hotel in that area, preferably on the Pacifico, over looking the ocean, and spend 2 full days in Lima. Some people fly directly into Cusco for Machu Pichhu only, but I highly recommend to visit Lima as it has diverse culture and food experiences mingling Inca, Quechua, Spanish and Japanese.
Start your first day with museum, Museo Larco in Lima, especially related to Inca and pre-columbian times. Afterwards head to Plaza de Armas where you will find the main square of the city, youth and students performing some demonstrations, federal police guarding the government buildings, lots of restaurants and during their Independence Day, the fountain in the middle of Plaza de Armas has Pisco Sour (their national drink). Find a neary by restaurant and eat Ceviche with Pisco Sour. Also visit the San Francisco Cathedral, some old buildings on Casa di Aliaga and make sure to check out some crypts underneath churches in the Plaza de Armas area, they are pretty unique. Come back to Mira Flores in the evening and enjoy your dinner there at restaurants and bars right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, sunset is a great time to be there, with para gliders swinging in the sky and surfers on the ocean.
The second day, start your morning with a visit to Huaca Pucllana, an archaeological site predating Inca right in the middle of the city, you will find archaeologists still working there on this mud brick pyramid. After finishing a casual walk through the ruins head to downtown Lima and visit the Aliaga House, its a good idea to hire a certified guide to explain the conquest of Francisco Pizarro and Inca history, it is worth understanding before you visit Machu Pichhu, because Machu Pichhu is all about the Incas and the Spanish conquistadors. Head back to Mira Flores, wind down and get ready for your trip to the Inca empire the next day.
Stop – 2 Cusco
Early morning flight into Cusco from Lima, high up in the Andes, I couldn’t even tell if the plane ever descended to land, it is the focal point for all types of visitors since 1400s to Inca empire; the smell, the colors, the cobblestone streets and the people will immediately throw you back in an Indian folklore. Settle down in your room, get accustomed to the high altitude, drink lots of water, lots of sunscreen and some cocoa tea to acclimatize. We stayed at Plaza de Armas, there are few hotels surrounding it, as it is the city center and a touristy place, so easy to find guides and fellow tourists to discuss routes and places to visit and hire help. Avoid eating Ceviche here, as its not near the coast, rather have some grilled lamb, beef, etc. accompanied with potatoes; make a point to eat as many different types of potatoes as possible.
Visit the old town of Cusco, walk around Plaza de Armas and find a guide with a vehicle who would take you to Sacsayhuaman and to the town of Pisac for a wonderful experience. On the way stop by at a wool making artisan shop (NAME OF THE SHOP) where they breed llamas and Alpacas as well as weave scarfs, shawls, etc. with natural dyes. It is run by local women cooperative and a great place to take some pictures and help the people. Head forward to Pisac, about hour and a half drive, on the banks of river Urubamba, a very significant river during the conquest of Pizaro and his brothers, also considered to be one of the sources of Amazon river flowing east. The market in this town is one of the most extraordinary places to visit, down in the river valley, with women in Quechua dresses wrapped with Lliclla and colorful display of products they are selling in a bright blue sunlit sky with Andes in the background…eat some empanadas. Come back to the hotel, retire and be ready for a train ride the next day.
Stop -3 Machu Pichhu (Aquas Calientes)
Took an early morning train, about 3 hours of very scenic journey via Ollantaytambo to Aquas Calientes, the base town to Machu Pichhu. Our hotel was a walking distance from the railway station on Urubamba river. The station is in a very crowded part of town, so make sure you have your bearings right and head towards the bridge if you are heading to the a hotel inside town. If you have not booked your guide to Machu Pichhu yet, spend this time to first hire a certified guide and I highly recommend to have a private guide rather than joining a bigger group because – what you want to actually see is the sunrise over Machu Pichhu. Next day we stood in the line for the bus to Machu Picchu at around 4.30AM and reached Machu Pichhu in the dark, entered the gate and waited for the first sun rays to fall on this magnificent monument in the middle of Andes. It was worth it and one of most memorable experiences and to saw the sun fall over this temple, one step at a time.
Stop -4 Lake Titikaka (Puno)
The following day, we started our journey in the train, southbound to Juliaca, on Andean Explorer that is run by the Orient Express, make sure to reserve your seat well in advance, its a luxurious journey through the Andes and high in demand. The ride will take one full day, morning till dark evening and passes through some amazing mountain ranges, passes, gorges, villages and valleys and you can enjoy all of this – sipping Pisco Sour or Scotch in their glass dome cafeteria listening to live folk dance and music. Ride from Juliaca to Puno is about 30 mins and well served. We stayed at a hotel on the bank of Lake Titikaka. Visited the floating village of Uros people, climbed the Taquile Island and saw their folk dance. 2 days are enough at Lake Titikaka.