By Julie Gerstein
We were looking forward to our empty nester trip for many months – not that we were anxious for our kids to leave for college, but Peru requires a certain amount of advanced planning. There were areas we wanted to visit that limit the number of tickets per day, so booking ahead was necessary.
Our trip began in Lima. We spent one day exploring the city, visiting some museums, and touring an old mansion called Casa Aliaga. Casa Aliaga is the oldest mansion in the Western Hemisphere and has been occupied by the same family since 1535, when the city of Lima was founded by the Spanish
The next day we headed to the Sacred Valley. We stopped to see the Incan fortress of Ollantaytambo on the way. This was our first introduction to Incan construction. This area has remained the same for hundreds of years so it was easy to see what the houses were like long ago. We were lucky to visit the town of Chincheros on a Sunday. There is a beautiful old church that is still in use at the top of the hill. Church services were well attended by the locals, most of whom wore traditional dress and brought flowers to present at the alter. The quantity of flowers was staggering and supposedly they bring large quantities of fresh flowers each weekend. Sunday is also market day, so we were able to peruse the goods for sale, which included fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and items weaved by the locals.
Now for the part we were most looking forward to – Machu Picchu. There are several options for hiking Machu Picchu. For those that like more adventure, there is the 5 day Inca trail, which includes camping overnight along the trail. We were not up for camping, so opted for the 1 day Inca Trail. We took an early train to the trailhead which is marked as km 104. You disembark the train on the side of the tracks to begin the hike. The hike is beautiful, but challenging. For those of you who know the Points Mom, this hike is for her! I was a little worried about it for myself since the altitude is high (8700 ft) and the Inca steps are steep and uneven. The hike totaled approximately 8 miles and took our group 7 hours. This may sound slow, but the hike went up and down valleys from one mountain to the next and we climbed at least 150 flights of Inca stone steps. Highlights included a beautiful waterfall and the Sun Gate, which at one time was the entrance to Machu Picchu. Finally, after many hours we came upon to the ruins of Machu Picchu. This is by far the most impressive area of ruins I have ever visited. We were happy that we had a guided tour planned for the following day and would have time to explore the ruins in more detail.
There are several choices for hotels near Machu Picchu. The Sanctuary, which is a Belmond Hotel, is the only hotel at the entrance of Machu Picchu. It is the most convenient and allows one to get up early and be the first into the park before it gets crowded. I think this hotel is ideal for guests that choose to stay for one night or who want to be at Machu Picchu for sunrise or sunset. We were staying for several nights, so opted instead for the Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel in Aquas Calientes. This hotel was built into the forest and was absolutely beautiful. I like to have a town to explore and restaurants nearby which is why we opted for this location. The downside to staying in town is it requires a bus up to Machu Picchu. The bus follows a narrow road of switchbacks and is only 20 minutes to the top, but there is often a long line to board the bus.
Our last day in the area included a hike of Huayna Picchu. This is a steep climb of the mountain that faces Machu Picchu and offers the best view of the ruins from afar. The hike is 900 ft up, and requires climbing steps the entire way. It took us approximately 1 hr to reach the summit. There is a longer trail available, but the long one had some steep cliffs so we opted for the shorter one.
We left that afternoon and headed to the rainforest near Puerto Maldonado. Most tourists decide between visiting Lake Titicaca and the rainforest. Each area is a flight away, so its challenging to visit both unless you have a lot of time. The area of the rainforest we visited is on the Amazon River. We were able to see a variety or wildlife, and it was interesting to see the difference between wildlife during the day (birds, monkeys, alligators) and the creatures that come out at night (frogs, owls and tarantulas). The ecolodge we stayed at was a nice mix of glamping with gourmet food and time unplugged since they had no wifi.
Overall, Peru was a fantastic vacation. However, I will admit I felt like I needed a vacation after our vacation, mostly due to the active days and large amount of territory we covered.