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Peru

TRAVEL:

  • Peru Rail – Efficient and even luxurious rail travel between key sites in the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and down to Lake Titicaca.  Aside from trekking the Inca Trail, travelling by train is the only way to get to Machu Picchu Pueblo (previously known as Aguas Calientes) in order to take the bus up to Machu Picchu itself.  Meals, snacks and drinks are served in style and entertainment is provided in the form or fashion catwalks and Andean musical bands (+51 84 581414 / reservas@perurail.com / www.perurail.com)
    • Cuzco => Machu Picchu– Vistadome 203; departed 8:25am from Poroy Station, about 20-mins outside of Cuzco.  Vistadome 32; departed 15:20 from Machu Picchu Pueblo.
      • The trains are brand new, with huge windows both to the side, the front and ceilings – views are spectacular.   Seats on the left-hand side and as close to the front as possible allow even better views as you snake around the rocky mountain ravines and along the bubbling river.
      • Breakfast (quinoa salad, potatoes) was served on the way up with cheese, biscuits, nuts and chutney served on the way down.
      • Price – £47 / $76 pp return ticket.
      • Expected arrival time in Machu Picchu Pueblo: 12:01pm; actual arrival time: 12:30pm.
      • Expected arrival time in Cuzco: 18:50; actual arrival time: 19:20.
  • Cuzco => Puno– Andean Explorer 20; departed 8am from Huanchac Station on the south west side of the city.
    • South America’s Orient Express – white tablecloths, silver service, suited waiters, wood class carriages.
    • The seat number on your ticket means absolutely nothing so arriving early will help ensure you have the table you want (you may have to share).
    • It’s a long trip but it has got to be one of the world’s most spectacular train journeys and 10 hours flies by, especially if you spend most of it watching the breathtaking scenery from the open carriage at the rear of the train.
    • This is not a daily service – in May 2012 it was running on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays.
    • Price – £132 / $212 pp single ticket.
    • Expected arrival time in Puno 17:50; actual arrival 18:30.
    • Machu Picchu Bus – Walk out of the Machu Picchu Pueblo train station, through the craft market and over the bridge.  Walk down off the footbridge and slightly turn back on yourself to meet the road where the buses pick up and drop off.  A small kiosk sells tickets up to Machu Picchu.  Buses run frequently throughout the day (every 5-15 mins), take around 25-minutes to the top and are clean and safe.  The first bus departs around 5:20am and the last one up is around 4pm.  You can buy tickets that return the same day or allow you to stay up to x2 nights ($17 return; valid for 3-days). NB: A friend who stayed in Machu Picchu Pueblo queued from 3:30am in order to take the earliest bus possible up to see sunset over the ruins. 
    • Internal flights – We found local airline, Taca, to be good and half the price of national carrier, LAN (although it is fair to say that if flying with partner carrier, BA/Iberia, LAN, can work out quite reasonably)We took x4 internal flights and only the first was delayed due to a problem with the door locking system.  We also had no problem taking our luggage on board (www.taca.com). 

 

LIMA:

  • Lima doesn’t have the cultured, hip vibe of Buenos Aires, nor the stunning natural topology of Rio but it does have a fantastic food scene and Barranco’s artsy neighbourhood is pretty and worth a visit.  A 2.5-day stay was probably just enough.
  • DUO Hotel Boutique Lima isn’t known for its designer boutique hotels but this was a good independent attempt at a reasonable price.  Very friendly, well located in San Isidro and perfectly clean with a small garden and pool (Valle Riestra 576, San Isidro, Lima 27 / +51 16 283245 / www.duohotelperu.com).
    • Other (untried) hotels: NM Hotel (new, contemporary hotel in San Isidro / Av. Pardo y Allegro 300, San Isidro / +51 1 612 1000 / www.nmlimahotel.com); Miraflores Park Hotel (run by the Orient Express group the hotel overlooks the sea.  Standard business chain in style, there’s a roof terrace with very small pool but sadly no bar / Av. Malecon  de la Reserva, 1035, Miraflores, Lima 18 / +51 1 610 4000 / www.miraflorespark.com); 3B Hostel (B&B in Lima’s arty district, Barranco; www.3bhostal.com); Hotel B (coming soon to Barranco in early 2013 and situated on the corners of the boulevard Saenz Pena and San Martin, Hotel B will be Lima’s first truly designer boutique hotel / www.hotelbarranco.pe).
    • Restaurants
      • Astrid & Gastón (Top Peruvian cuisine from the celebrated chef Gaston Acurio / Cantuarias 175, Miraflores / +51 1444-1496 /www.astridygaston.com).
      • Cala (Mediterranean-Peruvian fusion dishes overlooking the Pacific Ocean / +51 1 252 9187 / www.calarestaurante.com).
      • Central (Stylish restaurant serving modern Peruvian dishes with Asian and Mediterranean influences / Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores / +51 1 242 8515 / www.centralrestaurante.com).
      • Malabar (#62 on the San Pellegrino list of World Restaurants and for good reason / Calle Camino Real 101, San Isidro / +51 1 440 5200).
      • La Mar (Fabulous cevicheria from Gaston Acurio / Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores / +51 1 421 3 365 / www.lamarcebicheria.com).
      • Toshiro’s (Good Japanese although the space wasn’t inviting and air-con too cold.  That said, Toshiro himself greeted all his diners with a personal smile / Av. Conquistadores 450, San Isidro / +51 1 221 7243 / www.toshiros.com)

 

CUZCO:

  • The gateway to Machu Picchu and a natural base for exploring the beautiful city and discovering its surrounding Inca civilisation.
  • Novotel – Extremely well located, the Novotel does what it says on the tin and is only a few minutes walk from the Plaza de Armes and very close to all the best restaurants.  Price-wise, it’s a good way to balance the Sanctuary Lodge and while the standard rooms are nothing special, the ‘Colonial’ rooms are nicer and the building itself, with it’s Renaissance style arch-columned covered courtyard is just as stunning as any of Cuzco’s more expensive bolt-holes.  Carlos and Gerald on the Concierge desk are the most friendly and helpful.  Room 315 (very simple); Room 516 (higher ceilings and a nice view across the rooftops); Room 326 (A ‘Colonial’ room situated in the old part of the historic building which used to be the palace home belonging to a wealthy Spanish family.  These rooms are slightly larger with bigger, much more comfortable beds and more pleasant deco).  (Calle San Augustin  239, Cuzco / +51 84 581 033 / www.novotel.com).
    • Other (untried) options (book well in advance): Hotel Monasterio (www.monasterio.orient-express.com); La Casona Inkaterra Cusco Hotel (www.inkaterra.com/en/cusco); Aranwa Cusco Boutique (www.aranwahotels.com); Hotel Casa Cartagena (www.casacartagena.com); Casa Andina Private Collection (www.reservations.casa-andina.com); Palacio Nazarenas (www.palacionazarenas.com).
    • Restaurants
      • MAP Café – Housed within a very cool glass + metal ‘box’ in the exquisite courtyard of the Museo de Arte Precolombino museum on pretty Plaza de Nazarenas and adorned with candles, this is Peruvian chef Coque Ossio’s flagship restaurant.  An eclectic mix of local and international dishes, the execution is excellent and the innovation to be applauded. My personal favourite (Plazoleta Las Nazarenas 231 / +51 84 242 476 / mapcafe@cuscorestaurants.com / www.cuscorestaurants.com).
      • Limo – Delicious contemporary Peruvian restaurant and Pisco Bar slap bang in the middle of the action overlooking the Plaza de Armes (Portal de Carnes 236, Piso 2, Plaza de Armes / +51 84 24 0668 / www.cuscorestaurants.com).
      • Cicciolina – Lashings of atmosphere coupled with great food make this a stand-out Italian (Calle Triunfo 393, Piso 2 / +51 84 239 510 / www.cicciolonacuzco.com).
      • Baco – Cosy wine bar with a strong wine list and serving inventively topped pizzas amongst other local + int’l dishes / Ruinas 465 / +51 84 242 808).
      • Greens – Excellent lunchtime restaurant almost overlooking the Plaza de Armes (with one balcony table) specialising in Novo Andina and innovative cuisine using organic food grown and sourced locally from the restaurant’s farm in the Sacred Valley (Santa Catalina Angosta 135, Piso 2, Cuzo / +51 84 243 379 / greens@cuscorestaurants.com).

 

PISAC:

  • An easy but worthwhile day trip from Cuzco takes you into the Sacred Valley and provides the first taste of Inca civilisation.  Catch a local bus from the bus station on Avenida Tullumato for the 1hr journey which will drop you off next to Pisac’s Urubamba bridge.  The town is easy to walk around with a picturesque church and local school, and there’s a regular market every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.  Take a taxi from the ‘rank’ by the bridge up to the ruins.  The driver will drop you off at the entrance and wait for you lower down.  It’ll take around 2hrs to walk around and back to the waiting taxi.

 

MACHU PICCHU:

  • Citadel – Take a 2hr guided tour of the citadel on arrival as this will help inform the rest of your visit and will give you a good and immediate understanding of the site and its key areas.  All guides charge a flat rate of 130 Soles.  Freddy is a highly recommended English and Spanish speaking guide.  Ideally spend two nights (almost 3 days) at the Sanctuary Lodge, located just next door to the citadel.  This will allow you easy and multiple access to the ruins as well as precious time first thing in the morning (from 6:30am-10:30am) and afternoon (after 4pm) before and after the crowds from Machu Picchu Pueblo/Aguas Calientes arrive/depart. Last entrance is 4pm and you need to take your passport as well as your ticket/print out to be granted access.  You can also have your passport stamped with a Machu Picchu stamp at the gate.  In early May (9-11th) sunrise was around 7am and sunset around 5:30pm.  There is a lot to see, it can be very hot, the pathways are steep and the steps are uneven, so plan well and don’t underestimate how long you will need to really visit the site as it deserves.
  • Sanctuary Lodge Hotel – Location, Location, Location!  Please check out the Fat Mouse hotel review on this blog http://5.39.95.84/hotels/sanctuary-lodge-machu-picchu-peru
  • Huayna Picchu– Not for the faint-hearted but definitely worth the climb if you’re otherwise fit, healthy and happy with heights.  The views of the citadel and surrounding mountains are breathtaking and the awe you feel once back on the ground as you look back up at Huayna Picchu is unforgettable.
    • It’s crucial to book in advance as there is a daily limit of x400 people allowed to make the climb.  This 400 is split into two groups: you can choose to climb in the 7am group or the 10am group.  It should take about an hour to climb up and less to come down but with time spent at the top, taking photos and generally being blown away by the views, three hours ensures that the first group is back down before the first group starts out.
    • Even though it will mean getting up early (and possibly leaving Machu Picchu Pueblo/Aguas Calientes on one of the first buses) pick the 7am start.  The 10am slot means you’re climbing in the heat of the day, plus you’ll be climbing up past people coming back down, so there’s less space on the footpaths.  7am also forces you to be up in time to watch the sunrise which is stunning.  Don’t panic about queuing too much: in May we arrived at 7:20am and not even half the people set to climb had signed in.  If you really can’t make it to watch the sunrise, aim to get there as soon as you can between 7-8am.
    • Take water, sunscreen and a hat + sunglasses, plus a waterproof in the rainy season.  Even though the morning will be chilly, pack as lightly as possible; in May at least, you won’t need a hoodie or that extra t-shirt once you start climbing and as soon as you finish it will be pretty hot.
    • Carry your stuff in a rucksack on your back as you’ll use your hands a lot as you climb the steeper section of the mountain.  Make sure it’s as small as possible, not least because you’ll want it to be light, but also because you’ll pass through a couple of tunnels with tight entrances/exits.   For any claustraphobes out there, don’t be too worried about the tunnels – they’re short, you can see through to the other side, you’ll be inside for all of three seconds and they’re big enough for three or four people to pass through at the same time.
    • The first twenty minutes is reasonably easy going for most people; take it at your own pace, stop and rest when you need to. The final third to the top is very steep, with narrow ‘paths’, very high steps usually without handrails.  You absolutely need good strong shoes, preferably hiking boots but definitely proper running trainers with good treads.  I wouldn’t recommend doing the climb in the rain (the stone paths would be slippery) or if you don’t like heights (it’s a sheer drop and there’s no safety net/fence).
    • A good indicator of how easy you’ll find the climb is whether or not you have trouble walking around the citadel in the midday heat: climbing around the hilly, bumpy site is nothing compared to the hike up Huayna Picchu.
    • That all said, it is absolutely magical and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

 

AMAZON:

  • Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica– Situated in a private reserve, surrounded by vast jungle is Amazonian luxury!  Warm running water and electricity from 6am-2pm, and 6pm-10:30pm.  Airport transfers from Puerto Maldonado were smoothly organised with Inkaterra – Peru’s pioneering hotelier – managing the return airline check-in and the boat trip taking about an hour along the murky Rio de Madre de Dios.  Cabanas are luxuriously basic complete with hammocks and oil burners, mosquito netted beds and locally-made flip-flops and robes.  Given the location, the restaurant produced some excellent dishes including the best gaspacho I’ve ever tasted.
    • Room 10: A large double cabana and one of the biggest, nicest rooms available.  Located towards the back of the hotel grounds, it has rainforest on two sides providing extra privacy.
    • Jose and Wilson are the best two guides with another very helpful/knowledgeable girl whose name escapes me and Lizette and Donovan were great hosts.
    • There is plenty to do and lots of ways to learn about the Amazon’s history and its flora and fauna:  The daily Twilight River excursion is a gentle introduction to the region and the night time Rainforest Walk is great for the senses.  Lake Sandoval first thing in the morning provides ample opportunity to spot troupes of monkeys, caiman, turtles, tarantulas, birds galore and perhaps even the giant otter.  The Canopy Walk is fun with fantastic views across the jungle: you might also spot toucans, red squirrels, hummingbirds and the seldom-seen Cock of the Rock.
    • www.inkaterra.com/en/reserva-amazonica

 

LAKE TITICACA:

  • Stunning, magical, mysterious, and just like Machu Picchu, awesome in the true sense of the word.
  • Arrive by train from Cuzco and stay at the Titilaka – Chucuito, Peninsula Lago Titicaca, nr Puno, Perú (+51 1 700 5111 / www.titlaka.com).  More for info and an in-depth review, check out the post on this blog.