In December 2009, Indagare member Carroll Pierce traveled to Peru and Chile, together with her husband, Bob, and four daughters, Emma, Hadley, Leeds and Lillian. Their itinerary took them from Lima to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, to Cusco and finally, to the Atacama Desert and Santiago, in Chile.
Here are impressions from their journey in Lima and the Sacred Valley. Read about their exploration of Machu Picchu and Cusco, and their final days in Chile. Also, read her tips and suggestions for travelers weighing a similar journey.
A representative from Indagare’s local travel specialist met us outside the custom’s gate, in Lima, and he was a welcome sight, as was his huge van. We checked in to the Country Club Lima Hotel and slept for a few hours. Bob and Emma had already arrived and were asleep. The Starbucks next to the hotel offered our regular and welcomed post-plane pick-me-up. A driver picked us up around noon, and dropped us at the beachside Pescados Capitales for a yummy ceviche lunch. The waiter spoke no English so we had fun pointing and guessing our way through the menu. After lunch we were dropped at the Larcomar shopping plaza, in Miraflores. I’m not sure why they thought we’d enjoy this mall, as it was totally touristy, and other than the view of the sea, it had nothing of interest to offer. After “the mall,” the driver took us to a Peruvian crafts market. We all loved wandering around and getting a sense of the country’s traditional wares. Unlike Larcomar, it was nearly empty and we appreciated the peace and space to take our time comparing a wide selection of crafts including: alpaca hats and sweaters, silver objects, weavings, and carved animals. We ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and drank our first Pisco Sour. The hotel was quiet due to the holiday, but we liked this. The bedrooms were large and comfortable.
Adrian, our guide, picked us up and took us for a driving tour of Lima. We spent some time in a seaside park learning some Peruvian history and watching the dolphins play in the ocean. We ate at Cala, which was located on a street that used to be home to a lot of garages. These have been converted to galleries, restaurants, and cafes. There was a bamboo-covered outdoor terrace, chic simple tables and chairs, and sleek tabletop accessories. There was an excitement about the place and the food presentation. After lunch we took a tour of the Larco Herrera Museum. This was worth doing. It was an intimate museum and gave just enough information on the history of Pre-Colombian art so as to not be overwhelming. The interior garden was charming. Part of the collection includes erotic pottery, which the guide (a 28-year-old man) discreetly suggested we let the girls tour without us! I heard lots of laughter from inside as they made their way through the collection. We ate dinner at Astrid y Gastón. The tables were filled with tourists, who, as we did, wanted to see what chef Gastón Acurio was all about. Some of us tried our first taste of guinea pig. (Melissa’s review helped us in selecting our restaurant for dinner.)
Four of the six of us started on our Diamox today. Emma refused to take it. Bob forgot his. Those of us, who did take it, wished the worst case of altitude sickness on Emma. Much to our annoyance, she felt perfect the entire trip! Bob felt a bit sick at the highest altitudes.
With the help of the guide, we caught a morning flight to Cusco (11,203 ft.) The approach into Cusco is dramatically set in a valley between mountains. From the air, it seemed that the entire city was tiled with terra cotta tiles. Adriel, our new guide, and our van driver met us outside baggage claim. We appreciated the van cooler being stocked with water, Peruvian snacks and chocolate. We set off for Pisac in the Urubamba Valley, but stopped on the way at Llama and Peruvian Culture center. This was a great first stop. There is nothing like an animal to bring a smile to tired teens’ faces. We fed the llamas alfalfa and the girls each “rode” a llama. In Pisac (at 9,514 feet), we ate lunch at Cuchara de Palo in the Pisac Inn. The owner is an American woman who is married to a Peruvian. She and her three children were headed off to Massachusetts, Palm Beach and New Mexico for Christmas and their summer holiday. She started a Waldorf school in Pisac. It was interesting to hear her story on how she came to be in Peru—a Peruvian boyfriend in grad school. The entire Pisac main plaza was filled with a crafts market. The exchange rate is so favorable ($1 US = 2.90 Soles,) that everything the girls wanted to buy (hats, ornaments, sweaters, bags) was affordable—a nice change from the Euro.
After lunch we walked around the Pisac ruins. These are quite modest in comparison to what ruins were to come, but it was a gentle introduction to the altitude and the Incas. We checked into the Hotel Rio Sagrado. An entrance or sign is not visible from the road, nor is there any indication that a truly luxury property is anywhere nearby. What a stunning property! Other than a family of four, from a town forty minutes from our Boston home, we were the only guests. The river, which abuts the property, was full and the color of milk chocolate. The vibrant, abundant flowers throughout the property were echoed in the room interiors. Alpaca blankets and crewelwork throw pillows in eggplant, purple, lime, hot orange and pink popped against the whitewashed walls. The artwork was sleek, minimal, contemporary chic. Wrapped in our hotel robes, we felt vey pampered while we read our books on the spa deck.
This was a great day. We spent the morning in Ollantaytambo at 9,160 feet. Our guide grew up here, and his mother and some of his siblings still live here. Since we arrived in the morning, the main square was bustling with porters getting ready to set off on the Inca Trail. Hard-core hikers were everywhere. The ruins were spectacular. The stones are enormous. Handholds for moving the stones are still visible. The joints between the stones are seamless and amazingly exact. The steep terracing, trapezoidal openings in the altars, and precision of the Inca’s layout was stunning. This was our favorite ruins site. We began to understand the brilliance of the Incas.
Before lunch we drove to Chinchero (at 12,500 feet), where we saw a weaving demonstration. Five women, in native dress, showed us the start to finish process for weaving. We each got to try spinning wool. The women showed us the various plant material uses for dyes. (A parasite on the prickly pear is exported to the U.S. for coloring lipstick.) The fire to heat the water is stoked with guinea pig dung. After the demonstration we toured the small Incan remains. These are more intimate than the ones in Ollantaytambo but worth the visit. We ate lunch at the Hacienda Huayo Ccari. It was a beautiful, traditional hacienda with pretty gardens, a parrot in an outside cage, and some Paso horses. The food was good enough, but we all agreed that we would have preferred to eat at Rio Sagrado and have some down time. The hotel grounds were so tranquil, and we’d have enjoyed more time just relaxing there. We did not use any of the spa services at Rio Sagrado, but we did relax in the indoor hot tub. The pleasing smell of eucalyptus gently pervades the spa. The outdoor spa deck has a great view of the valley and the sound of the river is a pleasant distraction.
During our drives through the various villages in the Sacred Valley, our guide pointed out buildings from which long sticks with colored plastic garbage bags were attached. These buildings were the “bar of the day.” We stopped at one to try freshly brewed beer, both the standard offering and one flavored with strawberries. The beer was very strong and tasted nothing like what we expected it would. We all played a game of “toss the coin into the frog’s mouth” that was set up in the courtyard. The weather in the Sacred Valley changed constantly. Being prepared with layers, sunglasses and a hat—always—even if it is cloudy and rainy to start, is a must.
The night of December 23, we had to pack our luggage in order to check out of the hotel in the morning. I wish I’d understood a bit more clearly before the trip that we’d be leaving our large duffels at the hotel for the night we’d be staying in Macchu Picchu, and that we’d only be taking small bags with us on the train. We were the only guests for dinner in the hotel this evening!
Read about the family’s continued trip to the Machu Picchu and Cusco.