Dreaming and Working Together is a group of medical volunteers who travel, from the USA, for a week each year, to provide various types of surgeries, dental care, prosthetic and rehabilitative services to the people of Lima, Peru. The organisation began in 2005, and I’m very proud to say that my mom has been one of the attending physical therapists since inception.
For years I’ve been meaning to meet my mom, post-mission, for some South American adventures. It never panned out though…until this year. My dad was able to join as well, making this annual family trip numero tres (links for recaps of the previous two can be found here: Iceland and Italy).
12.5 hours after takeoff from London Gatwick, the pilot announced our final descent into Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. I passed through immigration with no issues, and then literally walked across the road to check into the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima Airport Hotel.
The next morning, mom, dad and I caught the 9:50am flight from Lima to Cusco. We were met at the Cusco airport by Martin, our guide, who accompanied us on our transfer to Sacred Valley via back country roads.
Along the way, we visited Moray and the Maras Salt Pools. Moray is an archaeological site, approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Cusco, on a high plateau at about 3,500 metres, consisting of various ringed ruins. The purpose of these depressions is uncertain, but it is believed that they may have acted as an Incan agricultural experiment.
Just east of Moray, you'll find the Maras Salt Pools. This Peruvian canyon is filled with geometric salt pools that have been being harvested since the Incan empire.
We spent that night (and the following night) at Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel & Villas. Beautiful hotel. Highly recommended.
Sunday morning was rainy, but we didn’t let it stop us. We bought ourselves some ponchos (which made us look like Teletubbies, according to Martin) and slogged around Ollantaytambo Fortress. This is the most common starting point for the Inca Trail so I imagine it’s usually quite busy, but the rain washed out most of the other tourists. We didn’t hike too high because it was quite slippery, but we still managed to get some mystical views.
The rain stopped around mid-day and we made a few stops for photo ops, en route to lunch.
Lunch at Tunupa was lovely. I’m not usually a fan of buffets, but the setting of this restaurant was lush, there was live music and the llamas out back dined alongside us.
After lunch, we were taken to a textile tourist trap in Chincheros. They gave us tea, demonstrated their traditional weaving methods and let us feed alpacas. As we were leaving, with our wallets slightly lighter (total suckers), they sang us a farewell song.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent swinging in hammocks and relaxing, in preparation for our Machu Picchu adventure which kicked off the following AM.
Bright and early on Monday morning, we took the two hour Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo to Aquas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town).
Our luggage had been pre-arranged to be dropped at Casa del Sol Machupicchu Boutique Hotel, allowing us to head straight to the shuttle bus station at the south end of town to transfer up to Machu Picchu AKA the “Lost City of the Incas” (the bus takes about 20 minutes on switchback roads). Upon arrival, we had a two hour, very informative tour.
Lunch was at Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge. A rain storm whilst dining cleared away all the peoples, so after filling our bellies we had Machu Picchu pretty much all to ourselves. For a place that sees as many as 5,000 visitors a day, it’s a real treat to be able to take photos without hoards of people. *Be sure to have both sunscreen and bug repellent, both the sun and the No-See-Ums sneak up on you.
We spent the next day hiking the Sun Gate trail and exploring Machu Picchu at our own pace.
As we exited the Machu Picchu gates for the last time, I noticed a little stand where you could stamp your passport with Machu Picchu. Don't mind if I do! Silly, but still cool.
Around 3pm, we took the bus back down to Aquas Calientes, collected our bags, headed to the train station and caught the Vistadome back to Ollantaytambo.
Here’s where we went wrong in terms of logistical planning…We should have spent a third night at Casa Andina Premium Valle Sagrado Hotel & Villas in Sacred Valley, just minutes away from the train station. Instead we were transferred, several hours, to Cusco, only to head back to Ollantaytambo the very next morning to go river rafting on the Urubumba River. Then, after rafting, we, again, drove back to Cusco. In the wise words of my very wise 3.5-year-old nephew, ‘FAIL!'
Apart from the unnecessary additional hours spent in the car, the our river rafting was one of the highlights of the trip. My mom’s 65th birthday wish was to go white water rafting, so she happily got to tick that off the bucket list. Carlos and Manolo, our very capable guides, were terrific and took very good care of us. Most of the rafting was pretty calm, but there were some level 3-4 rapids, which were good fun.
We also rafted past the Natura Vive Skylodge glass pods, suspended 400 meters above Sacred Valley, known as ‘The Edgiest Hotel in the World’. This is definitely not the hotel for people with a fear of heights.
That evening, we dined at Chicha in Cusco, which is said to be one of the best restaurants in Peru and was indeed excellent.
The next day, we were meant to be flying from Cusco to Pisco Airport, on STAR PERU, for our final three days of the trip. The flight ended up being cancelled indefinitely, so we rearranged some plans, which resulted in spending an extra day in Cusco and then flying back to Lima and driving 4 hours to Paracas. Such is Peru!
We had a difficult time filling our extra day in Cusco with interesting things. We did a Lonely Planet walking tour, which was a misadventure. Then we seeked out the famous 12-sided stone. I’ve got to be honest, if a stone that happens to have 12 sides is a highlight, you're in a pretty underwhelming city.
We then went to Saqsaywaman (pronounced similarly to 'sexy woman'). The climax was the fornicating Rastafarian alpaca (pun intended).
We finally made it to Paracas, by way of a flight to Lima followed by a four-hour car journey, and checked into the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Paracas just in time for sunset.
The next morning we were collected at the hotel and brought to Pisco Airport for our Nazca Lines flight tour. It became clear, once at the airport, why the flight from Cusco had been cancelled. This airport was brand new and completely desolate and unused. The check-in desks and the whole baggage claim area were still wrapped in protective plastic. STAR PERU never had any intention of ever making that journey from Cusco to Pisco. I don’t know why they even let us book it.
After making all six passengers go through the motions of a real airport (check-in, passport control and security), we sat at the empty gate until they, unnecessarily, announced our flight departure over the loudspeaker.
We then walked to the tarmac, climbed up the stairs into our tiny private plane and took off.
The Nazca Lines are a series of large, ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert that can only be viewed from the air. There are more than 70 human figures and animals and 10,000 lines and the largest figures are up to 370 meters long. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The lines remain one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries. Some say the lines represent a giant astronomical calendar, a ceremonial center, or even an alien landing strip. It was very cool to see them, but the repeated 60-degree banking turns of the plane left me feeling fairly ill.
The final day of our trip was spent touring the Ballestas Islands and then Paracas National Reserve before making the four-hour journey back to Lima in time for our redeye flights.
The Islas Ballestas is often called 'the poor man's Galapagos'. It may not be Ecuador, but we saw a wealth of wildlife including sea lions, crabs, a bunch of birds I can’t identify and my personal favorite, penguinos.
Paracas National Reserve stretches over 827,803 acres, 35% of which comprises dry land and islands, and 65% of which is sea. I wish we had been more prepared and had rented sand buggies. They would have been great to cruise around in. Oh, well. Next time!
The airport is where the family parted ways. Mom and dad went back to the USA and I flew to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to meet up with a few friends for what was supposed to be one week but ended up being three. Subsequent posts to follow…
Know Before You Go:
All our guides were very knowledgeable, globally informed and spoke excellent English.
Peru uses both continental European outlets as well as North America plugs in most hotels.
The altitude can be a real issue for some people. Take proper precautions including drinking lots of water, laying off the booze, getting plenty of sleep and chewing coca leaves.
The pisco sour is Peru’s national drink.
Three-quarters of the world’s alpacas live in Peru.
Carry toilet paper with you in case you need to use a public restroom.
Do not throw used toilet paper in the toilet. It goes in the trash.
Do not drink the tap water under any circumstances. Do not use it to brush your teeth. either and keep your mouth closed in the shower.
I wore my tiny green shoes to hike around Machu Picchu, but I would recommend hiking boots.
Wear layers at Machu Picchu, it gets hot when the sun is out and chilly when the sun goes in.
Don’t let your personal belongings out of your site and ladies, keep your purses close.