I’ve always wanted to go to Peru with my dad who was born and raised in Lima. That wish came true this last November and it was everything I had hoped, and more. My husband and I started out on our own and spent time in Cuzco, Ollantaytambo, and Machu Picchu. Then my dad came out to meet us and we took a tour into Manu National Park from Cuzco before finishing our trip in Lima. I spent a lot of time planning our itinerary since we wanted to fit in so many destinations. Below are the results of that planning. Keep in mind that I only plan the big picture and not every moment. Some restaurants were very memorable and I’ve included those, but I didn’t plan much in advance.
Day 1: Denver to Cuzco
We flew from Denver to Lima by way of Dallas. Once in Lima, we took Peruvian Airlines to Cuzco.
Tip: Peruvian Airlines won’t charge you the “gringo tax” which is completely made up and not an actual tax. Peruvian Airlines was excellent and much cheaper.
We were picked up at the airport in Cuzco by the hostel we booked, Amaru Hostal. We had a two story room with a bed on each floor and a beautiful panoramic view of the city. Coming from Colorado, we didn’t have much of a problem adjusting to the altitude. Although we did drink copious amounts of the coca tea they had available in the garden, just in case.
Day 2: Cuzco
After a long day of travel, we gave ourselves a recovery day to sleep in and get our bearings. We visited Mercado Central de San Pedro, which was interesting, but wouldn’t make my shortlist for Cuzco. I enjoyed the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco more than the market. There is a small museum with history and information on Peruvian textiles. The co-op also had four weavers working in the store and textiles for sale.
We stopped into Museo del Cafe for a pick-me-up and a snack. They had excellent coffee and also served beer and other beverages. We went back several times. They also had the best alfajores I’ve ever eaten. YUM! I recommend walking through their small coffee museum upstairs.
We wandered around and made our way up to one of the entrances to Sacsayhuaman. Knowing that we wanted to do a city tour that would take us there the next day we chose not to go in. Instead, we went down to Nuevo Mundo for some Peruvian craft beers. That’s right, there is a vibrant artisanal beer scene in Peru. For dinner, we went to Morena, a beautiful restaurant serving nouveau Peruvian cuisine.
Day 3: Cuzco
The morning consisted of wandering and eating, followed by the Cuzco City Tour booked through Amaru. The tour included Basilica Catedral in the Plaza de Armas, Qorikancha, Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, and Tambomachay. I highly recommend doing one of the many city tours that are offered. I heard the free walking tour is excellent, too.
Tip: If you plan on visiting the Sacred Valley, buy the large tourist pass which will include much of your City Tour and many of your Sacred Valley stops as well.
Day 4: Cuzco to Ollantaytambo
We hired a driver through Amaru to take us around the Sacred Valley on the way to Ollantaytambo where we were going to sleep before going to Machu Picchu. We stopped in Chinchero at a small family textile workshop. I liked learning how they processed the alpaca wool and all of the different natural dyes they used. Our favorite part was the root they grated and used as a soap to clean the wool. It lathered like soap and it worked wonders. I was disappointed that they sold fake alpaca items that were clearly factory made alongside their handmade goods.
Next, our driver took us to Salinas de Maras, which is absolutely worth a stop. These are Incan salt pools that are still in use today. Very beautiful.
Moray was our last stop on our journey to Ollantaytambo. It looks like an alien landing pad… I’m becoming a believer 😉
Our driver dropped us off in the main square in Ollantaytambo and we walked the narrow old streets to Hostal Iskay. There the gentleman running the front desk helped us print our train and park tickets for Machu Picchu. He also arranged for our breakfast to be made and packed before our very very early train the next morning.
We spent the late afternoon wandering around the Ollantaytambo ruins. I’m sure a guided tour through the Sacred Valley would have taught us a lot more, but it was fun just wandering around at our own pace through all of the ruins. I highly recommend popping into Awamaki for some fair trade alpaca goods. You will find it to the left, right before you reach all of the market stalls that are in front of the entrance to Ollantaytambo. I bought a scarf and a gorgeous pillow there. They take Visa.
Day 5: Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu
We took the first Peru Rail train leaving at 5:05 AM from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes. We walked from the train station up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. I have bad knees and it took us about 1.5 hours. It was cloudy in the morning with some sunshine in the afternoon. We didn’t get a perfect blue sky, but I liked the clouds. I think it added a mystical feel to the place. We spent all day wandering around Machu Picchu and watching the free-range llamas. The baby llamas are so precious!
Tip: The park attendants are very strict about following the flow of traffic signs. There are a few spots where traffic can go both directions, but beware, if you start making your way towards the exit it quickly becomes apparent that you can’t turn around and go back. You will be forced to exit and re-enter. Also, there are no bathrooms once you are inside the park. Accidentally leaving can be a blessing in disguise so you can take a bathroom break.
From Machu Picchu, we walked down to the train station with plenty of time to spare. Kids were racing past us as I struggled down the steps with my bad knees. My feet may have been more sore than my knees, though! Having not eaten much we stopped for a late lunch and then boarded the Peru Rail Vistadome for the trip back to Ollantaytambo.
Day 6: Ollantaytambo to Cuzco
We hired a taxi through Iskay Hostal to take us back to Cuzco. We went straight back since we had already done the Sacred Valley on the way there. The mountain views were stunning against a perfect blue sky for most of the drive back. It was about $55 USD plus tip back to Cuzco. We had him drop us off at our new hotel in Cuzco, Hotel Arqueologo, not because Amaru wasn’t excellent – just wanted to mix it up.
We checked out the Museum of Contemporary Art and the History Museum using our big tourist ticket. It was Thanksgiving Day so we decided to have our own mini feast at Pachapapa where we ordered cuy (guinea pig) to share for dinner. I liked it, Dave wasn’t totally sold. There are lots of tiny bones which is kind of a pain, but the meat tastes like chicken. If you can get past the whole guinea pig with a face and little feet thing, it’s actually quite good.
Day 7: Cuzco
My dad arrived in the morning. We showed him around town and arranged our Manu trip with Manu Vilca. Sol Alpaca was having a Black Friday sale (?!??) so we bought a sweater for Dave and a present for my mom. We learned how to make Pisco Sours from the bartender at Hotel Arqueologo which was delicious and of course a little messy for me. Dinner was down the road at Uchu, which was pricey but excellent. We shared a bunch of small plates and it was a really nice sampling of modern Peruvian food.
Day 8: Cuzco to Manu
We left for Manu at 6 AM. Lunch was served at the entrance of the park in the cold Cloud Forest and while eating we spotted some wild guinea pigs. Then we descended into the forest where we stopped to see a very hidden owl, cock-of-the-rock (national bird of Peru), guans, a quetzal, and oropendolas.
Day 9: Manu
On our way to the boat that would take us to our lodge in Paititi, we stopped at an animal rescue facility where we saw a tapir, capybaras, a wooly monkey, a capuchin monkey, a chestnut-fronted macaw, a scarlet macaw, wild pigs, a turtle, an owl, a tiny caiman, and a sloth (which I held!). We did a pretty challenging afternoon hike which turned into a night hike. It was not an easy hike with my knees and my dad isn’t much of a hiker either. Our guide, Lucho, was a pro though, so he helped us along and adapted the rest of the trip to our non-hiker needs.
The lodging was simple. If you’re a light sleeper I recommend bringing earplugs because if there is a snorer in the group you will hear them. Plus, the frogs are really loud.
Day 10: Manu
We had an early start to go see the macaw clay lick. I have wanted to do this part of the trip since I was in elementary school. I think I had imagined us going a whole lot closer to the macaws. All of the pictures you see are deceiving because they use a telephoto lens. It was still great to see the chestnut-fronted macaws move from one part of the clay licks to another, making a racket and splitting off and flying over us.
We went on another hike when we returned to our lodge, but it was too hot and there weren’t any animals out. My dad stayed behind and took a nap, which was a good move. After lunch, we took a short boat ride to a bird watching platform across the river. Very fun, but not a lot of great photos because we didn’t have the high-quality camera needed.
Day 11: Manu to Cuzco
We had another early morning, this time to take a boat to a small marsh area where we boarded two wood rafts. We slowly went from one end of the pond to the other, viewing some incredible birds along the way. My favorite was the prehistoric hoatzin pictured below.
After breakfast, we said goodbye to our incredible guide Lucho and our wonderful cook. Then back upstream we went to take a van back to Cuzco. It was a very long day of travel.
Day 12-15: Lima
The three of us hired a driver to take us to the Jewish cemetery to see my great-grandfather and grandfather, have ceviche, drive around my dad’s old neighborhood and up the coast. We stayed at NM Lima in Miraflores and spent the remainder of our time in Peru touring Lima with my dad and his friends. Highlights included a small high school reunion at a nearby Chifa restaurant (his high school friends were loud, friendly and hilarious just like my dad), a dance show featuring three different Peruvian dance styles, and a night out with some new friends at Ayahuasca, the coolest bar I’ve been to. If you have the time, you should check out Museu Oro del Peru. It’s a little outside the city, but worth the trip to see all of the gold that wasn’t melted down and taken by the Spaniards.
My dad’s very close friend Leo, who was our tour guide for most of our time in Lima. She was so nice and so knowledgeable about the city. It was amazing seeing the city through her eyes. It wasn’t just historical knowledge, but the personal connection she had (and that my dad had) to so much of the city. This house belonged to this friend or that statue was the grandfather of that friend. Incredible. She also took us to Museo Larco – an absolute must see.
Lima was special for us because of the personal connections we had there. Had I been another traveler without any friends or family relation to the place, I would have spent more time in other parts of Peru.