My Adventure in Peru
One of the perks of being an advisor is that we get to travel and experience destinations in all their glory. We visit hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions so we can give you firsthand knowledge. Would you want to buy a car from someone who doesn’t even have a license and can’t drive? I don’t think so. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit my 5th continent: South America. (I’m getting closer to that “Seven Continent Club”!) It’s always great to have a bucket list, and mine continues to grow when it comes to travel. But I digress and should get back to my latest adventure.
For many, when one mentions Peru, the most famous image that comes to mind is Machu Picchu … and rightly so; it is an amazing sight! But there are so many other things to experience and enjoy in this up and coming destination. It’s an easy flight from Lexington, KY to Lima, Peru, with only a single connection in Atlanta and just over 6 hours later you are in Peru’s capitol city. It takes longer to fly to Europe or Hawaii. With flight schedules as they are currently, it is, however a late arrival in Lima, around midnight. But as luck would have it, directly across the street from the international arrivals terminal is a Wyndham Hotel with soundproof windows. Or, if one prefers, it’s a short drive (about 30 minutes at that time of night) to the Miraflores area of Lima where several 5-star Virtuoso properties are available. Since I was flying out the next morning, the Wyndham worked out wonderfully for me. With a bright and early start, I was off on my adventure to experience this diverse country. First stop was Cusco!
Upon landing, I immediately noticed the thinner air. The city is 11,000 feet above sea level. In order to help us acclimate, we headed to the Sacred Valley, which is only 9,000 feet above sea level. The Sacred Valley is a stunning area with green fields, streams and the fabulous snowcapped Andes as a backdrop. Along the way are many places to visit such as Awanacancha, an Andean textile center where one can learn about weaving beautiful wool from indigenous animals such as llama, alpaca, and vicuna. The town of Pisac was another interesting stop. It offers a market set up for buying a variety of local goods.
Our next stop was Hacienda Sarapampa, a local farm where corn is harvested and the owners weave tails of their ancestors. The Sacred Valley is a gorgeous spot for learning about the Incan civilization and just relaxing for a couple of days. I was most grateful for the two nights I had there, as altitude sickness claimed me on the first night. It was a relief that some of the hotels offer oxygen which can make the adjustment easier.
After a good night’s rest, and lots of water, I was ready to continue. We visited several hotels in the area, including Virtuoso properties such as the Belmond Rio Sagrado, Tambo del Inka, and the place where we stayed, Sol y Luna. The day continued with a visit to the Moray Terraces, believed to be a former gigantic agricultural laboratory, an astronomical observatory, or a place of worship. I would say it is perhaps a bit of all three. Next stop was the Maras salt fields, which is a maze of never-ending terraces where salt is extracted from the local springs. Last stop of the day was Ollantaytambo, an Inca fortress which was built very strategically to guard the entrance to this part of the valley and to provide protection from possible invasions of tribes from the jungle lowlands.
The next day we are off to Machu Picchu, one of the most famous archaeological sites on Earth! Since it’s located in a tropical area just under 8000 feet above sea level, it was swallowed up by the jungle until rediscovered in 1911. It remains somewhat of a mystery to this day, as the Incans did not leave any written records, nor did the Spaniards mention the citadel in relaying their history.
Next, we traveled by train from the town of Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, a journey of not quite 2 hours. There are a couple of very nice hotels in Aguas Calientes, including the Inkaterra Machu Picchu and another Virtuoso property called Sumaq. From Aguas Calientes, we took a 20 minute bus ride, with lots of switchbacks to the ruins, or if you are up for the challenge, it is also a beautiful hike. There is only one hotel at Machu Picchu, the Virtuoso property Belmond Sanctuary Lodge and, with only 31 rooms available, one has to book far in advance.
On the next day, we took the train back to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley and then took a 2-hour bus ride back to Cusco for a couple of nights. Cusco is a bustling city with a very charming historical center noted for its narrow cobble stone streets, art districts, and the stunning Santo Domingo cathedral. This is a place for great shopping, wonderful restaurants, and several fabulous hotels. We visited many properties in this area including the Belmond Monasterio, which used to be a monastery, and its sister property next door, the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, a former convent. Conveniently, the two properties are connected by a walkway.
The next phase of our trip was a 3-night cruise on the Amazon River. We flew from Cusco to Iquitos, via Lima. Here’s an interesting tidbit when flying within the country of Peru. If you have to make a connection in Lima, one has to go back through security between connections, so make sure there is plenty of time. No need to spend any time in the city of Iquitos as it is primarily a jumping off point for the main attraction — the mighty Amazon!
There are many options when it comes to cruising on the Amazon — anything from four to twenty cabins on a ship, with three to seven night itineraries. Be forewarned, there are many places where you cannot get WiFi or cell phone service. To me it was a great time to unwind, unplug, and just relax. I was there at the tail end of the rainy season, so the water levels were quite high and it was very hot and humid. I was most grateful for the air conditioned cabins on our vessel. On a typical day, we would explore the Amazon on skiffs early in the morning and late in the evening, so the hot afternoons were reserved for cruising along the river and watching the world slowly pass by. We saw many kinds of animals and birds, including parrots and toucans, sloths, and monkeys. We even went fishing for piranhas. We visited an Amazon village to see how the locals lived and made a living. No hustle and bustle here— just an easy, simple, laid-back lifestyle.
The last couple of days were spent in Lima, where we had the opportunity to visit several hotels and enjoy this cosmopolitan city of over 8 million people. The Miraflores area has numerous high-rise hotels, some with rooftop pools and stunning sunset views as Lima is situated adjacent to the Pacific Ocean. This area is great for shopping, restaurants and walking through Love Park which is located on the cliffs of Miraflores. Close by is an art district and another small boutique property called Hotel B, with its original artwork ranging from contemporary to traditional.
Sadly, my time in Peru had come to an end. It is such a beautiful, diverse country, from high in the Andes Mountains to the very tropical Amazon River, to the vibrant city of Lima. Peru really does have something for everyone!