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7.16.2013

Travel Tuesday: Peru - Cusco, Machu Picchu and the Amazon


My husband and I decided after our incredible honeymoon in Thailand that travel was important to us, and something we want to prioritize in life.  I am proud to say that this hasn't changed after kids... just like with anything in life after kids, you have to prioritize.  We don't really get each other birthday or anniversary gifts; instead we choose to get each other a special trip each year. 

Our most recent adventure took us to South America for the first time.  We went to Peru, and were not only able to cross the majestic Machu Picchu off our bucket list, but also absorb some great culture in Cusco, eat some unique cuisine, and discover the incredible Peruvian Amazon.  We are looking forward to our upcoming adventure driving around Ireland, but more on that later. 

As always, here are my travel reviews and tips from Peru!

Cusco






La Catedral off the Plaza de Armas. A hauntingly beautiful, opulent cathedral built during Spanish colonization.




Street food!


Inside Qoricancha/Santo Domingo Cathedral.  "The Temple of the Sun" was purported to be the most opulent example of a temple of gold for the Inca empire in it's capital of Cusco. All that remains now are these strong stone walls below and around the opulent Catholic church that replaced it during Spanish colonization.

Other recommended spots to hit: The Museo de Arte Precolombino (an amazing collection of artwork from multiple pre-Spanish eras in Peru, including art from long before the Incan empire reigned) and the Mercado Artesenal.

Hotel Torre Dorada


The complimentary breakfast spread at Hotel Torre Dorada

I tend to trust TripAdvisor implicitly when making hotel and restaurant plans, and have yet to be steered wrong. Hotel Torre Dorada was no exception.  Had I not found its rave reviews on TripAdvisor, I may have easily missed this gem. The distance from the Plaza De Armas, while short, was no barrier to us at all given the 24 hour complimentary car service. You can tell customer service is king at Torre Dorada, from the second you enter their lobby and are greeted by name and with a hot cup of tea to help with any potential altitude sickness. Our entire stay they were readily available for advice on restaurants and activities, and were proactive to make us reservations for our meals (reservations are recommended in Peru). Even though there are specific meeting points for the car pick up (in the Plaza and at the Mercado Artesenal), they also wouldn't hesitate to meet us at a specific restaurant or bar rather than having us walk even a block. They have plentiful amounts of purified water available to you, and make a point to inform you of how even their fruits and veggies on the breakfast bar are cleaned so you don't have to be concerned about water consumption. The complimentary breakfasts were also delicious and hearty (see photo above). We especially loved the special coffee blend from Machu Picchu. On the day that we had to leave for the Machu Picchu train station too early for breakfast, they made us a complimentary bagged lunch (which was also very hearty) for our day at Machu Picchu, saving us the $36 per person lunch cost at the ruins. I should also add that they will transport you to the train station in Poroy, but it is an extra (low) charge), as it is 30 minutes away. Long story short, I would not hesitate to book this place if I were you. The customer service was fantastic (especially Saul!), the rooms were clean and comfortable, and the food delicious.

Deva Restaurant


Chi Cha drink and Andean "popcorn" snack


The best ceviche of my life


Cuy (or, guinea pig), an Andean delicacy


An education on just a few of the many types of corn and potatoes found in Peru

I am so glad I found this place on TripAdvisor, as our hotel had not heard of it. Out of a trip that included many highlights, I would still have to say that our meal at Deva was the highlight of our time in Cusco... it was that wonderful of a dining experience. We were started off with the traditional Chi Cha drink (an acquired taste) and the Andean version of popcorn. Even though we were told that ceviche is better in Lima than in Cusco, we ordered the Ceviche and OMG, it was the best I have ever had (even better than the one I had in Lima). I think I am ruined for ceviche in the US after having tasted the one at Deva. I honestly wanted to lick the plate. We also tried the cuy (guinea pig), because, hey, "when in Rome!" It was not bad. Tasted more like pork than chicken. Our waiter, Alfredo, recommended the form of preparation and even taught us the way to eat it traditionally (with our hands, while dipping it into a delicious chili sauce). When he learned that it was our first day in Cusco (we disobeyed the whole "eat light your first day in the altitude" thing), he made sure to bring us a special tea that would help us with the digestion problems that can be caused with the high altitude. One thing that was really special was when Alfredo brought out the different types of corn and potatoes to teach us a little bit about them and their uses. He had great little personal anecdotes included, which we just loved. I feel like I not only learned about some of the agriculture, but about some traditional customs in Andean homes. We just loved Alfredo! All in all, it was a very special dining experience, on top of the fact that the food was incredible. Please give Deva a try if you visit Cusco and want a tipico meal. It is just a block and a half from the Plaza de Armas.

The Cross Keys Pub



My husband and I ended up at The Cross Keys at the end of two different nights on the town in Cusco during our trip. This cozy British pub, just a block off of the Plaza de Armas, was the perfect way to end the day with a pint of beer or Pisco Sour (a traditional drink in Peru). The bar is dim and comfortable, with ample couch seating. We would curl up on a couch and just enjoy talking to each other while sipping on our drinks before turning in for the night. Responsive, but non-invasive service was great, along with some light music playing in the background. This place would be equally good for a romantic one-on-one or for a group of friends. Very comfortable. We were never there early enough to order food, so I can't speak to that.

Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse
This place is decorated beautifully... would make a westerner (especially someone from LA like me) feel very at home with the swanky blue walls and cool gray couch seating. While this restaurant did cost more than some of the other restaurants we ate at in Cusco, it was great for a special nicer meal, like a steak. I tried the alpaca, and my husband the anticucho. Both were incredible. The alpaca was not gamey at all light some that we had tried in the mercado. It was a tender, prime cut. The anticucho was also marinated to perfection.

Inka Grill



Our hotel recommended we try Inka Grill during our time in Cusco. It was very convenient, as it is right in the Plaza de Armas, with a beautiful view of the plaza. During our time in Cusco we ate there twice, trying 5 different items during our 2 visits. Every single item was not just good, but delicious. They have some traditional, tipico menu items, but are also more of a fusion and have modern twists on things. I recommend the Aji de Galledo (I am sure I am spelling that wrong) and the soup that has quinoa in it. And while it is probably a bit pricier than some, it was not that bad. They were also open later than some of the other restaurants in case you need a late bite after, say, a long day at Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu

We finally crossed the majestic Machu Picchu off our travel bucket list!  Words can't describe the majesty and spiritual beauty, so I won't try :).  I'll just recommend that you see this in your life with your own eyes. 

Advice: lots of steps and hiking, so wear appropriate clothes and shoes. Weather is also unpredictable so pack a poncho.  No food allowed in the ruins and options are pricey just outside the gate, so either pack a lunch and eat it outside, or eat in Aguas Calientes before the bus ride up the mountain.


Our train from Poroy (outside Cusco) to Aguas Calientes


The meal on our train. Not bad, especially considering we did the nice middle-of-the-road Vistadome option (not the basic Backpacker or the first-class Hiram Bingham).


Me against an iconic backdrop of stone steps in the grassy cliffside


The hubs ascending some steps at the ruins. LOTS of steps, be prepared! Though note that the altitude is actually lower at MP than in Cusco, which felt like a relief.




Llamas roam freely and help keep the grass trim at the ruins


My husband always manages to find another Longhorn when we travel - anywhere in the world! Hook 'em!

Amazon

I expected Machu Picchu to be awesome, but I was not expecting how special our time in the Amazon would be!  You are in another world here, and it was just amazing to experience.  Note that multiple vaccines are required before you can enter this region, and you will want to be armed with high-DEET insect repellant, long-sleeved, light-colored cotton clothing to further keep the bad mosquitos and their malaria away from you.


The last time I looked "presentable" before the humidity and elements had their way with me in the Amazon.

Posada Amazonas


The delicious fried rice lunch (wrapped in a banana leaf) served to us on our boat ride to Posadas Amazonas (after our bus ride from Puerto Maldonado).


Hammocks in the lobby


An example of how this lovely place is just tucked into the jungle


Our room... note that there is no 4th wall!  You are part of the jungle, which is especially cool at night with all the animals and insect sounds.  The howler monkeys were especially haunting!

Mosquito nets over the beds (of course)



Just one example of the really cool flora and fauna in the jungle around Posadas Amazonas


The view of the jungle from the top of the canopy tower


Giant river otters

Piranha!

 
I'm not usually a bird person, but the macaws were gorgeous!

A pink-toed tarantula that we found on our night hike
 
I am so grateful that we found Posadas Amazonas, an all-inclusive lodge in the Tambopata National Reserve. For our short 3 days/2 nights in the Amazon, I couldn't have asked for more. Customer service was top notch, food was excellent, and every activity enjoyable (even the dawn and night hikes). I felt like we got pretty lucky, as we got to see many of the cool animals (monkeys, two types of caymans, giant river otters, piranhas, macaws and other cool birds, lizards, agouti, etc.), and we were fortunate to not have had any scary visitors to our room (which, as you can see in the photo above, has one wall completely open to the jungle). Just the incredibly relaxing jungle sounds for our naps and nighttime sleep. We definitely took their packing and dressing recommendations seriously, which worked out for us, as we didn't deal with any bug bites (see their website).

Lima

I know this post doesn't reference Lima, but I do have one more review.  We were only in Lima for two nights (on the way in and out of the country).

Ramada Costa Del Sol


Breakfast buffet at the Ramada Costa Del Sol

We stayed at the Ramada Costa Del Sol on our way in and out of Peru, as both of our international flights were at odd hours of the night and morning. This hotel can not be beat for convenience... it is literally at the airport! Their bar is also a nice place to hang out while waiting for your flight, and the service in their restaurant was great. The complimentary breakfast was also great. The only two negatives I can think of for this hotel are the price (you can get cheaper in Lima, but would have to deal with haggling with the taxi drivers, and go at least 30 minutes from the airport), and its quality. The quality was good (it wasn't dirty), just kind of weathered in the halls and rooms. However, I was willing to pay for the convenience, and it definitely wasn't a bad hotel.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post on recommended clothing and fashion for a trip to Peru that includes a day in Machu Picchu and some time in the Amazon!

1 comment :

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