by the Miller Family
Six months after planning our trip, it was finally here! Our family of four, including 10 and 13 year old girls, was on our way to Peru. We couldn’t have been more excited, and although we had no idea what to expect, we were ready for an adventure. We began our week-long journey by driving from our hometown of Milwaukee to Chicago. We then flew to Lima, Peru with a connection in Mexico City. Flying on Christmas Eve might not have been the best idea, as almost every restaurant in the Mexico City airport closed early, and foraging for dinner proved to be a bit exciting! Fortunately, we were able to find the only open restaurant — in the hotel which was connected to the airport. At 1am, we boarded our overnight flight to Lima and then to Cuzco.
The approach to Cuzco was absolutely stunning — the Andes Mountains became clear through the clouds as we neared land. We had been concerned about how the high altitude would affect us, especially when we saw how many vendors were selling different altitude remedies, from oxygen to coca tea at the Lima airport. Fortunately, we were hydrated enough so that the altitude did not affect us too much. A Peru for Less employee met us at the small Cuzco airport, loaded our luggage into the van and drove us to our hotel where we stayed for the next couple nights. Even during the short car ride, he was engaging, pointing out and explaining the different aspects of this beautiful and historic town.
As our luggage was being unloaded from the van, a Christmas parade passed through the narrow brick streets. Decorated in colorful costumes and face paint, the local parade created a unique and wonderful start to our trip. We loved the Casa Andina Hotel, which combined all the benefits of a modern hotel with local character and historic architecture. In the reception area, we enjoyed the coca tea, which is supposed to help prevent altitude sickness. It worked pretty well!
Sunday, December 26th:
Today, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel and then enjoyed a private city and archaeological tour. We had thought that Cuzco was merely a city on the way to Machu Picchu, without realizing its rich Incan history and culture. We saw the magnificent Cathedral of Santo Domingo, in the Plaza de Armas, learned about the violent Spanish conquest of many parts of Peru and saw the stunning Koricancha Temple and Inca Baths at Tambomachay.
We travelled to the mountains surrounding the city and walked among the archeological ruins from the old Incan temples and examined the rocks which depicted hidden shapes of animals. After seeing the ruins and the beautiful overview of Cuzco from the hilltop, we shopped at a local indoor market and bought some handcrafted sweaters, hats and dolls for ourselves and others back at home. The girls especially loved the market — it was fun to interact with the local vendors and even try to bargain a little.
Monday, December 27th:
Touring the Sacred Valley was our next adventure. Our guide took us to an animal sanctuary on the side of the road. It was not like any zoo we had ever seen in the United States. We were able to stand close to vultures and pet and feed llamas and alpacas. It was a wonderful experience seeing these animals up so close, and not behind cages. We saw impressive terraces used to cultivate different crops, and we learned about the history of the area. We stopped at another outdoor market, had a delicious lunch and then visited a roadside bar which served homemade beer, and of course, a pen of guinea pigs, which are considered a dining delicacy!
In Ollantaytambo, our guide pointed out how one of the mountain sides had an amazing resemblance to an Indian Chief. We then took a two hour train to Aguas Calientes, where we began our trek to Machu Picchu. The train station was quite crowded and more than a little chaotic when we arrived. We were escorted to our beautiful hotel at El Pueblo Inkaterra. The hotel had fountains, a spa and unique wildlife everywhere. It far exceeded our expectations. Getting excited for our trip the next day, we packed our backpacks and went to sleep early in preparation for our big day.
Tuesday, December 28th:
We woke up early to begin our tour of Machu Picchu. The bus climbed a winding mountainside road to reach the top of the mountain. The bus ride, although more than a bit scary, provided incredible views and a better understanding of how these ruins could have been hidden for so long. Once we arrived at the top, we felt like we were in a dream, a little rainy and cloudy, but a dream nonetheless. The ruins were even more beautiful than the pictures we had seen, and we took many beautiful photos ourselves, as the sun began to peek through the clouds to give us some even more spectacular views. From a distance, we could even see some llamas, in their natural habitat, on the distant mountain sides. It is hard to believe how long the ruins were hidden, before being discovered just over a century ago.
After our unforgettable day at Machu Picchu, we took the bus back to the base town of Aguas Calientes. We then took a two hour train ride back to Ollantaytambo. The train ride was quite memorable, as the locals provided a fashion show of locally-sold alpaca wear in the aisles of the train, with Peruvian music as the backdrop. It was definitely a unique experience. We even met some people on our train car with relatives from Milwaukee! After we arrived in Ollantaytambo, we were driven back to Cuzco and, we settled back at our first hotel, The Casa Andina, for a well-deserved night of sleep.
Wednesday, December 29th:
Our ten-hour train ride from Puno was one of the highlights of our trip. The train reminded us of what the Orient Express must be like and, in fact, the train is owned by the same company. The views of the Peruvian countryside were spectacular, and the train ride was quite elegant. The glass viewing car provided a unique way to view the changing countryside. As we arrived in Puno, we realized that we were in a very different environment than we had ever experienced, and we were looking forward to exploring the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca. We stayed at a nice hotel where one of us even ate llama meat for dinner. The girls were not too happy with us for that selection!
Thursday, December 30th:
The tour of Lake Titicaca was another one of our trip highlights. We began by taking a several hour motorboat ride through the floating islands. These reed islands were amazing, and it was even more unbelievable to meet the people who actually live on these man-made floating islands. The Uros people showed us how the islands are built and how they maintain them. They gave us a boat ride on one of their hand-made gondolas as they sang “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”, and “Row, Row, Row, Your Boat” to us in English. That was a little bizarre!
We then continued on to Taquile Island. While we were climbing up the many steps to the top of the island, we thought about how simple and beautiful it would be to live on this island, away from modern technology and city life. We had lunch at an outdoor patio, behind someone’s home. We ate fish which had been caught just that morning. What a delicious meal and wonderful view — it felt like we had been transported back to a much earlier and simpler time.
Friday, December 31st:
The last day of our trip was spent traveling back to Lima. First, our driver delivered us to the small airport in Juliaca. This bumpy drive gave us a whole new appreciation for paved roads and direct routes! Then, during our half day tour of Lima, we saw the Government Palace, Spanish explorers’ homes and other public gathering places. Lima is a bustling city that was quite a contrast from the Sacred Valley and Lake Titicaca.
In Lima, we also learned that yellow is a lucky color and the traditional way to celebrate the New Year. On the streets, people were selling anything you could imagine in yellow — from t-shirts to underwear. We ended the day by enjoying a delicious meal of ceviche and celebrating an early New Year’s Eve.
We left for the airport at 10pm after a long day of sightseeing. We were at the airport at midnight as the flight attendants were welcoming the New Year by dancing around the terminal and wishing their co-workers a “Nuevo Ano y Felicidad.” We also saw the ball drop in New York City, on the television sets in the airport.
Saturday, January 1st:
Our overnight trip home was smooth, and we returned to Milwaukee to tell our friends and family about our great trip. From Christmas Eve in Mexico City to New Year’s Eve in the Lima airport, our family had an amazing adventure of fun and learning.
The Peru for Less team exceeded our expectations; our guides and drivers were informative and timely, the hotels comfortable, and the sightseeing amazing.
We have traveled to many countries as a family, and Peru was one of our absolute favorites. In fact, our then 10-year old daughter is convinced that she wants to go to her own imaginary Machu Picchu University (MPU) for college, where the mascot is a llama and the school colors are lime green and violet!