We recently returned from a 19-day adventure south of the equator. Included in the Peru trip itinerary were Lima, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco. A second leg of the vacation took us to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands.
Several years in the making, planning and scheduling began in earnest last January. Our nephew, Zachary, a luxury travel advisor, worked with our destination wish list, budget and schedule. He partnered with a premium travel company to put together a dream vacation.
Peru: Land of the Incas is a nine-day, small group tour that includes many unique cultural experiences, luxury accommodations and a robust itinerary. To bridge the time between our Peru tour and five-day Galapagos Island cruise, we spent time in Ecuador’s colonial capital, Quinto, and Hacienda Zuleta, a working ranch.
Let’s start where the Peru trip began, in Lima, and then head into the Inca’s Sacred Valley.
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First Stop: Lima
From Pittsburgh, we took a mid-afternoon flight to Miami, with a modest layover before connecting to Lima, Peru. Despite gaining one-hour with the time difference, it was still 10:30 at night when we landed.
After collecting our bags and going through customs, we were happy to see our Lima-based guide. Christian greeted us with a big smile, driver/van and waters to begin our Peru trip.
Private Peru Trip
When I discovered that Mr. Buzz and I were the only ones signed up for what was supposed to be a small group tour, I was nervous — afraid we’d be left to navigate on our own. But, Zachary assured us that we had now lucked into a private tour, with the exact same itinerary and services.
He was right! It was seamless and personalized.
Have you ever been on a Peru trip? If so, please share your experiences and any travel tips in the Comments section at the end of the post.
From the airport, it was an hour-long drive to Hotel B in the seaside Barranco neighborhood. We were greeted by cold towels and glasses of champagne. Our room and bath were huge and luxurious in what had once been a private mansion. We also enjoyed our large, second-floor balcony.
Complimentary buffet or menu service breakfast was served in a wonderful library setting. It was delicious, and included Peruvian specialties, coffees and exotic fresh fruits.
Barranco Walking Tour
Fortunately, our Peru trip itinerary started in the later part of the morning. Christian met us in the grand lobby and off we went for a walking tour of the Barranco neighborhood.
Barranco was established as a beach destination for Lima’s aristocracy in the 19th century. Like our hotel, there are numerous former colonial mansions in the neighborhood. Several beautiful embassies sit across the street from Hotel B.
Many mansions are now home to art galleries, restaurants and museums. Pedro de Osma showcases Peruvian artistic pieces throughout the estate.
We also visited the Mario Testino Museum, with stunning art promoting Peruvian heritage and culture. Testino’s fashion and celebrity photography are also on display.
Although Barranco and the museums are not essential destinations, it was a very pleasant morning and informative introduction to Peru. We especially liked the authentic feel of the area and that it was in no way touristy.
After that, it was time for a gourmet, three-course lunch back at Hotel B. Practically all our meals were included during the nine-day Peru trip.
In the afternoon, Christian and our driver picked us up to explore the Historic Center of Lima. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architectural and cultural importance, the El Centro area is not-to-be-missed.
After seeing spectacular Plaza San Martin by vehicle, a special permit allowed us to be dropped off within the pedestrian zone. Stunning buildings with balconies surround Plaza de Armas. Because of Pope Francis’ 2018 visit, the area got a facelift with new butter-yellow paint on many buildings.
Most of Lima’s most interesting historical sites are within walking distance of the plaza.
To the east of the plaza, is Lima’s immense Cathedral, dating back to 1625. Massive earthquakes in 1746 and 1940 required rebuilding, but the original layout remains intact. To the left is Palacio Episcopal, or the bishop’s palace.
Around 1800, the two towers were added that flank the entrance. During the same timeframe, the main altar was replaced with one in a neoclassical style.
Francisco Pizarro is entombed in a chapel to the right of the cathedral entrance. Pizarro was a Spanish conquistador who led the conquest of Peru. He captured and killed the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa.
Winter South of the Equator
In the center of the plaza is a beautiful bronze fountain unveiled in 1651. It was here that Jose de San Martin declared the country’s independence from Spain in 1821. To the right is the impressive Palacio de Gobierno, residence of Peru’s president (not pictured).
If you’re wondering why we’re wearing coats, that’s because it’s actually winter south of the equator. The average temperature in Lima during the month of June is a low of 61 degrees and high of 69. Skies tend to be grey and overcast as fog from the Pacific Ocean hovers over the city. It’s pretty dark by 6PM.
Tourist Tip: Pack a lightweight but warm so-called puffy coat for a May through October Peru trip. It will keep you comfortable, while taking up little luggage space. I actually kept mine rolled up in a personal carry-on bag throughout the trip for handy access. Thanks to both my sisters who suggested it! Otherwise, I would have gone ill-prepared for the Peru trip. Dumb me thought it would be hot everywhere!
Churches & Cloisters
From the fountain, Christian then led us through adjacent areas to see colonial era architecture, as well as a number of churches and monasteries.
Sprawling Convento de Santo Domingo included a bell tower, church, antiquarian library, the tombs of Peruvian saints, and glimpses of life in a cloister. Not too shabby!
Also impressive was the Convento de San Francisco, one of Lima’s most visited sites — mostly because of it’s catacombs (not pictured). Lima’s first cemetery, underground tunnels contain the remains of 75,000 people. The church, Iglesia de San Francisco, is the best example of what is known as “Lima Baroque” style of architecture (not pictured).
Steps away from the church, our driver picked us up for our final destination of the busy day.
Bougainvillea cover the white walls of one of the finest collections of pre-Columbian art. I was impressed just by the gardens that surrounded Museo Larco.
Waiting for us outside was the passionate curator of the museum. He then led us on private tour of the collection. It began in the staggering open storage area. There were thousands of ceramic portrait heads crafted over a millennium ago — no two are the same.
While in Cusco, we purchased a similar replica ceramic head as a souvenir of our Peru trip.
We also saw many other gold and silver artifacts; like the headdresses at the beginning of this post. In all, the visit provided an excellent education and background for our later exploration of the Sacred Valley and Inca sites.
Afterwards, we had cocktails and a delicious Peruvian meal by candlelight in the museum’s cafe — set in enchanting gardens. A full day in Lima, and we were more than ready for bed! Especially because we had a very early morning pickup for our flight to Cusco the next day.
Heading into the Sacred Valley
Hotel B made sure we had breakfast before the hour ride to the airport. Christian helped check our bags and escorted us all the way to security for our flight to Cusco. We’d see him again on our return to Lima about a week later.
I was expecting a small old plane, based on descriptions from millennia-aged travel bloggers. But our LATAM jet (Chilean partner with American Airlines) was large and new with excellent service. We had a total of five internal flights during our 19-day trip; all included in the price of our tour. So, I suspect size of plane and airline was directly related to cost?
Cusco’s airport is right smack in the center of the crowded city; once the capital of the vast Inca Empire. Set in the Andes, the glacier-capped peaks and red-tiled roofs made for beautiful views.
Just as in Lima, our Cox and Kings guide Rosabeth and driver Ruban were waiting. Both were with us for the bulk of our Peru trip; from Cusco, through the Sacred Valley, to Machu Picchu and back. They were wonderful, and the van was large and comfortable.
Cusco sits at over 11,000 feet, with altitude sickness symptoms usually starting around 8,000 feet. Machu Picchu sits right below that. But, everyone who goes to Machu Picchu must pass through Cusco. At high elevations the air is thinner. So, each breath contains less oxygen than normal. This can lead to a number of very unpleasant symptoms that could spoil your Peru trip.
Travelers Tip: Diamox was prescribed by our doctor. Always consult with your physician ahead of time; particularly if you have heart, lung or sleep apnea problems. We began the acclimation process by taking Diamox pills 24 hours before our flight to Cusco — and twice daily thereafter.
After our arrival, descending into the Sacred Valley reduced the altitude by several thousand feet. You are advised to take it easy the first few days; to allow the body to acclimate. And, to drink lots of water, while avoiding caffeine and alcohol.
Pretty similar to the advice we received for our Breathtaking Breckenridge, Colorado Ski Trip.
Travelers Tip: We also sipped a good amount of the local herbal tea. It was offered everywhere in the Sacred Valley. Munia, Andean wild mint, doesn’t have the caffeine that’s in coca leaf tea.
By following these steps, we had little to no issues with the altitude (i.e. headaches and stomach upset) — even with hubby hiking a portion of the Inca Trail! But, that’s for the next post.
Gourmet Tented Lunch
Heading into the Sacred Valley, we stopped for an alfresco, tented lunch. It was catered by chefs from one of Cusco’s best restaurants.
Set on the shores of Huaypo Lagoon and surrounded by rolling farmland, the gourmet picnic lunch was a one-of-a-kind experience. Incredible. It even included the nicest tented portable potty ever, LOL!
Two servers welcome us with chilled champagne drinks, and some of the best guacamole, salsa and chips I’ve ever tasted. Eucalyptus branches created a lovely scent — it grows everywhere in the area, although it is not indigenous.
Happily, Rosabeth and Ruban joined us for the tented, multi-course meal that was much more of a feast than a picnic lunch! It was a nice opportunity for the four of us to get acquainted.
After all that food, wine (so much for avoiding alcohol our first day!), and three desserts, we plopped down on pillows and lounged by the lagoon.
Look closely and you’ll see a white crane to the far left.
A short drive away, on the outskirts of Chinchero, we visited a traditional cooperative.
Local women demonstrate the centuries-old process of transforming and weaving alpaca wool into colorful textiles in traditional patterns.
The process consists of washing raw wool in boiling water, letting it dry, and then spinning it onto a spool.
We also saw a demonstration of natural dyes used to pigment the wool, and the materials used to create different colors.
Did you notice the colorful outfits and hats that are unique to each village or area?
Happy Birthday USA
Well, that’s enough of our Peru trip for today. Continue the journey with Ingenious Inca Legacy in Sacred Valley, and on to Exploring Magnificent Machu Picchu. Then head to Ecuador with us for a Galapagos Islands Cruise: Nature Wonderland.
Mr. Buzz and I are about to head out for a Pirate game with friends. Despite the hot, muggy forecast we are crossing our fingers the possible storms will not spoil the fireworks extravaganza downtown.
Eldest son started his day at Coney Island for Nathan’s hot dog eating contest. Have you ever watched it on TV? It’s wild and crazy! Meanwhile, his younger brother is out and about for walkable festivities near his home in Philadelphia. How did you celebrate the Fourth of July?
See Patriotic July Fourth Table & Centerpiece for this year’s decorations at our home.
Here’s Zachary, on one of two fairly recent trips to Africa. A professional travel advisor, he’s the one who put our amazing Peru trip and Galapagos adventure together. Zachary is the founder of The Seven, an Affiliate of Strong Travel, a Virtuoso Agency.
WE ARE NOT YOUR FATHER’S TRAVEL AGENCY
“We specialize in personalized travel planning – itineraries are tailored to client preferences… to create a spectacular journey.
OUR BLACK BOOK
We travel the world to discover its people, cultures, and wonders first-hand, bringing our experiences and recommendations from insiders. Relationships with preferred partners … offer exclusive upgrades and travel perks. Luxury travel isn’t all about five star hotels. Sometimes the best a destination has to offer is off the beaten path.
Zachary partners with numerous operators; including Tauck (See Spectacular Spain) and Windstar (Small Ship Greek Island Cruise). Contact him (214.361.0027) to arrange your next getaway or unique excursion (Delphi: Center of the Ancient World ). Bee sure to tell him his Aunt Debbee sent you!
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