Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Machu Picchu: A Traveler's Experience January 2010

The Ramada Inn was literally a couple of steps across a cross walk from the Lima airport arrivals exit.  Nothing fancy at all, but absolutely perfect for a late arrival.  Again, there is no point in arriving late and getting shuttled to a nice place, only to return early the next day for a flight out of Lima. 

You know, when we were first planning this trip, I was thinking/concerned that we were mainly going all that way just to see one site:  Machu Picchu.  And that all of the rest of the stuff was really just “filler” activity.  I was simply wrong about that.  The other things we did and saw were interesting, fun and fascinating:  the condor/llama/alpaca sanctuary, the crop laboratory, the salt mines, certainly the ruins at Ollantaytambo, the Pisac market, the weaving demo at Chinchero…all really wonderful stuff. Also the picnic they set up for us out in the middle of picturesque nowhere (see the photo). And there are really no adequate words to describe Machu Picchu itself.  I would recommend this exact trip to anybody who will listen.  And to do the trip in the same order we did it.  Machu Picchu must be seen last, or the other sites would seem anticlimactic, for sure.

And having the private guide completely made it.  I don’t know how else you could do this trip, though.  And of course, the driver was excellent and his private van comfy.  Our guide, M.C., was excellent.  Extremely personable, excellent English skills and impressive knowledge of all that we did/saw. 

Our accommodations could not have been better:
The Ramada Inn was perfect for the situation.

The Villa at Urubamba was exquisite.  The concept here is that you are IN your villa.  There is nowhere else to go, nothing to do in the villa resort.  But it was beautiful inside and out. Inca Indian décor, etc.  Completely comfortable, luxuriously appointed, etc.  And there was Roxana…our private cook.  She quietly came into the kitchen (via a side door), in the morning, and at the exact appointed time, a sumptuous breakfast spread was on the table.  Then we’d leave for the day to do our thing.  We’d get back to the villa late afternoon.  Roxana would come in, light the fire in the fireplace and start preparing dinner.  The fact that she cleaned up was almost as good as the food she made.  And while we were having dessert, she was sneaking hot water bottles between our bedsheets. Aaaaahhh.  Next morning, same routine.  She didn’t speak a word of English. No problem for us.

The train to Aguas Calientes was really fun, with spectacular scenery.  We were told that we could each only bring one small duffel on the train with us because of restricted baggage space.  We were not at all please with this news.  But we managed to consolidate our stuff and pack what we needed for Aguas Calientes/Inkaterra/Machu Picchu, while the rest was forwarded to our Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco.  I felt we should have been advised of this limitation by Andean Experience before coming to Peru so we could plan the packing accordingly and the specific luggage pieces.  After all of that, though, it turned out to be no problem either way.  We managed our packing, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if we had boarded with all of our large luggage.  I mean there were Japanese and Dutch tourists on that train with suitcases the size of Toyota Vans!  No problem.

The Hotel Inkaterra was outstanding in every way.  A beautiful eco-oriented property with a mid-rainforest feeling.  Great spa, good restaurant.  We took the Orchid tour (very cool) and treated ourselves to spa treatments. Aaaahh. 

We were pleasantly surprised that our private guide for Machu Picchu turned out to be the same wonderful young lady, M.C., from the first part of the trip. She was already like an old friend! And, again, impressively knowledgeable about MP. 

After all of the ‘warnings’ we had read online, in books and in AE’s info, it turned out that we never had a problem with the altitude (yeah, our chests pounded a bit extra while climbing Inca stairways), nor with mosquitos.  We sprayed with Deet before the visit to MP, but honestly we never saw any bugs.  Here’s an interesting one:  we knew we were going in “rainy season” and that we risked lots of rain, but we decided to throw the dice and go anyway.  And we NEVER had a problem with rain!  Yes we had a little here and there, and thanks to M.C. (or so she claimed), it only rained while we were riding in the bus or at night, and never while we were seeing our sites.  (It actually POURED at MP AFTER we were done and were enjoying our buffet lunch up there in the Sanctuary Lodge restaurant.  (In spite of my fears of it being very touristy, it was superb.)  The tremendous upside of going during the ‘rainy’ season was that everything was amazingly, beautifully UNCROWDED…especially Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo and in Cuzco.  Of course, having said that, only two weeks later, they did have the tragic mudslides and incredible chaos of the people being trapped in Aguas Calientes.  What a nightmare that would have been, for sure.  So we were very, very lucky the way the weather played out for us.

Note:  We checked out the Sanctuary Lodge right there at the entrance to MP.  No way would I want to stay there rather than Inkaterra.  It looked OK, but you couldn’t actually see MP from the Lodge, and there is nothing to do there.  After we did our very extensive tour of the ruins, we had no need to re-enter to see more at dusk or anything like that.  Plus, the Inkaterra was a very short walk to the restaurants and market in Aguas Calientes.

There is no real need to have lunches reserved at the Inkaterra Hotel if you don’t want to be obligated there, especially if you are going to eat dinners there.  There were all kinds of interesting places to eat in Aguas Calientes.  In fact, we’d had our lunch included for our departing day, yet the train departure was too early to allow us to have that lunch.  However, Inkaterra packed us a great box lunch which we enjoyed on the train back to Ollantaytambo (instead of their ‘airplane’-style snack provided.)

We were met at the train in Ollantaytambo by David, our driver,  Luis’,  brother (both of whom were delightful people and very good drivers) and taken to the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco.  What a fantastic hotel.  Clearly it is THE place to stay in Cuzco. Definitely one of the nicer hotels we have stayed in over the years.  And perfectly located.  We very much enjoyed our ‘unguided’ exploration of Cuzco.  While we loved and appreciated being so well taken care of for the previous several days by the AE contractors (as Emma so eloquently put it, “ It’s nice to be coddled like a little egg”), being on our own was really nice.  In Cuzco we went to one great museum (Inca Museum) and then spent most of our time shopping.  We enjoyed the dinners on our own, too.  Before we said goodbye to MC in Machu Picchu, she asked us if we wanted to meet up for lunch in her home town of Cuzco, and we said, “Of course!”.  She led us to a very local place back in the old town and we feasted on goat, pork and corn beer. Lunch was our treat!

The next day we flew from Cuzco to Lima where we were faced with that eight-hour layover (this would be good to avoid next time, if possible.).  But we were met by an AE rep and a driver/van, and driven out to a beautiful restaurant on the beach.  It was a nice way to kill a couple of hours before returning to the airport to catch our flight out.

Just FYI, Continental Airlines continues to be one of our least favorite airlines (in terms of service, convenience, etc.), but it had the schedule we needed, so…

That’s it!  All in all, an amazing trip.  I hope you enjoy the photo album.  Let me know if you want any other information or have any questions or comments, or if you can’t open the album.

Thanks for everything, and we are hard at work trying to decide where to go next and when.  As soon as we do, I’ll call you!

Pam VR Long
Travel Exchange
Virtuoso Associate
PO Box 559
Palm City, FL 34991
Phone 772 781 8099

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