Yes, llama whispering. While the ruins and people are amazing, I developed the nickname as “the llama whisperer” after making funny, yet successful “llama calls”. A peruvian man watched in laughter (maybe we should go with *amazement*) as I was able to call a llama at the Machu Picchu grounds down 2 flights of stairs and over to me. Another funny encounter was when a llama and I crossed paths and I offered him the banana I was about to eat. He looked at it, turned up his head, watched me pretend to take a bite and then immediately jerked his head back- changing his mind and devouring the banana. Make the most of your time with these furry creatures- llamas are friends!
I travelled to Peru for 2 weeks in Dec/Jan of 2013/14 with my friend’s wonderful family. (Note: in order to do this trip on a budget, simply stay in hostels/hotels affordable to your budget, and take busses rather than hiring a private driver & guide- a lot of flights in Peru are very affordable, so don’t rule that option out). We flew into Lima and then flew to Cusco. We were driven to the Sacred Valley, where we stayed at Tambo Del Inka– an incredible hotel with lovely peruvian decor, an infinity pool that is half indoor /half outdoors overlooking the lush forest.
After settling into our hotel, we took a short drive to Moray– which is an experimental agricultural terrace with varied microclimates developed by the Incas to figure out the optimal conditions for their crops. We happened to be the only tourists at Moray that afternoon, and Elizabeth and I were able to practice a few sun salutations and spend some time in meditation, really feeling the energy of the grounds- along side a Peruvian mother and her young son picking crops, the only other people in sight. (Allow ~1 hour here). That night, we were introduced to Pisco Sours- a delicious, frothy drink that you will soon be ordering at every meal 🙂
The next day we drove to Salineras Maras– a 3km uphill hike of hundreds of salt pans that have been used for salt extraction since Inca times. A small hot spring at the top produces a stream that discharges salt water into the pans. There was a donkey roaming around in the grass off to the side, so naturally we spent some time playing with him. ** Note: there is a store here that sells lavender bath salts. These bath salts WILL turn your bath tub purple, so purchase with caution. (You’ll Spend about 45 minutes to an hour here)
Ollantaytambo was our next stop- the ruins were originally built by the Incas as a ceremonial center and later turned into a fort when attacked by the Spaniards. Spend some time climbing up and all the way around the fort (remember- they lifted everything by hand. How they were able to fit rocks together so perfectly is astonishing!) Afterwards, we shopped at the Pisac market, paid young peruvian girls to hold their baby goats, and ate a very late lunch at the Hacienda Huayoccari, one of the few farmhouses to remain through the new dictatorship.
That night, we drove to Cusco and took the Hirim Bingham train to Aguas Calientes, the town Machu Picchu is located in. Machu Picchu was discovered by Hirim Bingham (a professor at Yale) in 1911; Hirim Bingham was looking for the long lost city, 62 miles away from Machu Picchu, when he instead stumbled upon Machu Picchu itself. Machu Picchu was named by the Peruvian farmers whom inhabited the grounds long after the Incas. Machu Picchu means “Old Mountain” and Wayna Picchu means “Young Mountain”. The citadel was believed to have various functions, including a place of trade, a place for virgin women and a village for families.Note: The Hirim Bingham train is completely worth the extra price if it’s in your budget (verse the budget train), however, it would not have been in my itinerary if I was backpacking Peru. The company provides an elegant meal, service and even entertainment — taking you back in time to the historical era of fancy train cars. The back car is also completely open-air, making for a very scenic train ride along the winding, roaring river. We arrived in Aguas Calientes that evening (I believe it is a 2.5-3 hour train ride) and checked into our hotel, Sumaq. Ask for rooms with balconies facing the roaring river that runs through town if staying here.
The next day was the day we had all been waiting for- Machu Picchu!! We took a very early AM bus (think school bus, packed to the brim on the curviest, 15-30 minute bumpiest road with scenery out of Avatar (even though I believe Avatars scenery is actually in China). We entered through the gates and began by hiking up Machu Picchu to the famous viewing spot with Wayna Picchu in the background. The sun was out and it was the perfect day for pictures. We continued hiking to the old Inca Bridge, which is no longer in use. We played with some llamas, relaxed in the grass and explored the citadel.
We took the bus back down to our hotel that night, and woke up early in the morning to take the bus back up to the the grounds. We hiked up to the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu- it was very cloudy on our second day so it felt like we were walking next to the clouds- we could not see the ground, but rather a scattered layer of thick clouds. It was time for our Wayna Picchu climb- and so it began. This climb was challenging- between uneven, slippery stairs and loosing your breath at a 9,000 ft elevation- but the climb was motivated with the reward of a breathtaking view. When you reach the top of Wayna Picchu, you are able to view all of the citadel below with Machu Picchu in the back. It was still extremely cloudy at this point, so we really had to make out the citadel, but the clouds put a very mysterious beauty to the picture- the feeling of being able to step out onto a cloud, but mentally knowing its actually a deadly drop. I would definitely recommend the climb- I absolutely loved my keen sandals for this climb (the soles helped with not slipping on the stairs that are made of rock). I would recommend being in somewhat decent shape if over 60 years of age simply for the sake of balance and elevation. Take it at your own pace, and you will eventually be able to complete it 🙂
Once we reached the bottom, we celebrated with high tea at the Sanctuary- the only hotel on the Machu Picchu ground…and definitely the only time I’ve walked into tea time wearing work out clothes! We headed to the market for some quick shopping and then the Inkaterra Hotel for drinks while we awaited the train. We took the Hirim Bingham back to Cusco that night. It was actually Christmas Eve and the staff went out of their way, singing carols and dancing, to make everyone feel at home.
We stayed at the Palacio Nazarenas in Cusco– one of my favorite hotels in the world. Palacio Nazarenas was an old monastery converted into a hotel, with beautiful grounds and wonderful service. We spent Christmas Day at the hotels spa, and then walked around the Cusco Square and visited the market- Cusco is predominantly Catholic, so Christmas is widely celebrated. We ate at a delicious restaurant called Cicciolini, and then held baby llamas that were decorated in Peruvian garb. The next day we toured a Catholic Church, the covenant in the Cusco Square, and Saksaywaman. Saksaywaman was built as a place of worship by the Incas and designed in the shape of a zig zag to represent either a snake, lightening or Pumas teeth. Mummification and the burning of silver, gold & idols took place here. To mummify a body, they would remove the heart, brain & organs and cremate them. The ashes would be put in statues and prayed to. Then, the body would be filled with cocoa leaves and wool, put into the fetal position, wrapped in llama fur and wool and placed in the mountains.
I had been consuming ceviche and organic uncooked greens the entire trip without any problems. That night, I ordered sea bass and I was the sickest I have ever been in my life. I thought I was going to die lying on the couch in our hotel room. The next morning, I still felt sick, but so much better than the night before. I am always afraid of missing something while traveling so this played a huge role in me managing to push through the sickness.
That morning we were off to the Peruvian Amazon! We took a short flight to Puerto Maldonado and then a very hot mini bus ride for about 10 minutes. We arrived at a center where we were able to leave our suitcases and were provided with tall rubber boots. We took a 30 minute bus ride, and then boarded a long wooden boat. On this long boat ride, we had the most amazing meal of our lives- fried rice wrapped in banana leaves- I do not know what they did to this fried rice, but it was unbelievable. Once we hit land we had an hour long+ hike through mud, the trees and the masquitos. It was over 100 degrees, high humidity and we were wearing rain coats with our hoods up, long pants & rubber boots while swatting at Mosquitos. After our hike, we were divided into small canoes and set off for the lodge. After 3 hours of bus/boat/foot/canoe we arrived at Lake Sandoval Lodge. I’m not going to lie, we were expecting luxury in the Amazon. Instead, we had twin beds with mosquito net tents, screened in walls and electricity from 5-6am, noon, and evening. We enjoyed delicious dinners every night in the dining hall, and woke up early the next morning to go on our first hike. We typically took hikes very early in the morning, came back and had breakfast, went on another hike, had lunch, and then rested in the hottest hours. We went on a Third hike/watched the sunset as evening approached. We saw squirrel, capuchin and howler monkeys, along with a two-toed and three-toed sloth. We saw many birds- blue & yellow, scarlet & red bellied macaws, pinnated bittern, hoatzin and Cocoi heron to name a few. We observed bats on a tree- interesting fact: their camouflage is to take the form of an “S” shape on the tree, just like a snake. We watched otters playing in the water, and met the Caimen named Cocoa. The water was filled with stingrays, caimens, piranhas, otters, fish, eels, snakes and more. Perfect place for an afternoon dip, right? We saw so many different trees, fruits, mushrooms, flowers, etc. The guides are able to spot animals with their naked eye that many guests with binoculars were still not able to spot- their ability is incredible.
The first few days of the Amazon were some of the most uncomfortable days I have ever experienced. However, at that point we knew we were there for 4 days and we had to make the most of it. A few deep yoga breaths and the appreciation and beauty was acknowledged. We laid on one of the canoes one night in the middle of the lake, stargazing and watching the satellites orbit the Earth. We were as close to nature as we will ever be – untouched rain forests, animals living free and no pollution or cars.
We flew back to Cusco for a few days to “recover”. At this point, you will probably want to do laundry- even if it is just in the tub! I personally would not recommend going back to Cusco at this point, unless you are just looking for relaxation.
Our last stop was Lake Titicaca. We flew into Juliaca, and drove to the Hotel Liberatordor. I would recommend looking into hotels with more peruvian influence if possible. The next day we took a boat out to visit Uros, the floating islands. There are about 60 floating islands left today and they are all made of reeds, along with their houses, boats, etc. that sit atop the island. The women still dress in traditional ornate garb. We were able to play dress up with their clothes and take fun pictures 🙂 Then we visited Isla Taquile and had the most amazing quinoa soup. I still can’t figure out the recipe! When we arrived back at our hotel, we found alpaca playing down the road. To our surprise, these wild alpaca had much more timid personalities than the llamas.
We flew back to Lima the next day and stayed at the Country Club Lima Hotel, checked out Mira Flores and had dinner at the trendy Malabar. An amazing trip came to an end and we headed back to the states.
– When you fly into Lima, stay there for 2 nights if possible. Mira Flores is incredible- it reminds me of San Diego with the beach and cliffs. There is also an awesome spot to paraglide when it’s windy enough. Unfortunately we got there just as they were closing due to the lack of wind:(
– Spend 2 days at Machu Picchu!! 1 day to explore, and 1 day to hike Wayna Picchu / continue exploring ; On the first day you arrive at Macchu Picchu, Apply for your reservation/permit to climb Wayna Picchu- a limited number of people are allowed to climb and a lot of people that applied the day of were turned away — OR do this online before you go (Another reason why 2 days here are essential). (Note- this is separate from being allowed into the Machu Picchu facilities. The entrance to Wayna Picchu is inside the Machu Picchu grounds, on the other side of the citadel)
– Dress in layers- think leggings/yoga pants, athletic shorts, tank tops, long sleeve athletic tops & bring a rain jacket. I brought Toms & Keens and they were perfect for the whole trip. I also wore my lulu lemon studio pants without the liner all over. Even at nice hotels, we did not feel out of place– everyone had on similar attire. Maxi Dresses and flip flops or sandals are great for dinner as well.
– Peru is a Spanish speaking country, however you can definitely get by with English.
– Guinea Pig is sold all over the streets- not as a pet, but as fried food. My group said it tastes like a boney version of chicken, I could not eat a relative of my childhood pet…
– Indulge in the Pisco sours!!! Ask to see how they are made so you can bring the peruvian drink recipe home with you.
– Cocoa tea is provided at almost all hotels. This tea does have a good amount of caffeine, and helps with nausea/dizziness due to altitude sickness. I drank 1-2 cups a day and it really does help. Note: this tea does contain traces of the cocaine plant and will throw off drug tests. There is also an Andes Mint tea, which is one of the best teas I have ever tasted. The mint tea tastes great and promotes digestive health, but does not help with altitude sickness.
– The food is incredible- the ceviche, seafood risotto, quinoa soup– YUM! Most of the greens come from local organic farms, along with the eggs/dairy. You will see family’s animals- a random cow, goat, etc tied up to poles while driving down the road- I loved seeing the animals graze on GRASS. And you may get stopped by the occasional cattle crossing! Quinoa is everywhere- even in the pancakes- and if you think you do not like quinoa, you may be surprised after it has been prepared properly 🙂
– Try to do the Amazon as one of your first or Last destinations (Fly Lima to the Amazon, the Amazon to Cusco, Cusco to Lima or Lake Titicaca). We did not do this because we booked too late in the season so we had limited availability and we had a bit of backtracking.