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Lima is a large city with way too many cars. That means everybody is trying keep moving by squeezing into the tiniest of spaces between other cars regardless of their speed. And yes, we saw several cars with dents and scratch marks. In today's world, Charles Darwin would not have needed to visit Galapagos to coin the phrase 'survival of the fittest'. Driving in Lima would have been sufficient.
So, we decided not to drive in Lima, but to go everywhere by taxi. As it turns out, our hotel used a driver who shuttled guests to and from the airport and this driver was up for hire for all-day trips. That sounded like a good deal and - spoiler alert - it was. We told him where we wanted to go and for $40 for the day, we started right after breakfast and he drove us everywhere we asked for and we returned us to our hotel after dinner. He spoke broken English and was very knowledgeable about the city and its attractions. During the trip he suggested some places that were not on our list, but that we could see without much of a detour.
This worked out very well and we had a real exciting day in Lima.
Of course, we invited him to lunch and dinner. He suggested a nice restaurant for lunch and, for dinner, we asked him to bring us to one of his favorite authentic Peruvian restaurants. His favorite place was actually an Italian restaurant, so he brought us to his second favorite place. It was a nice local place and the food was tasty. The only damper on this wonderful day was that his dish cost almost as much as my wife's and my dishes combined. No harm done as the food was not very expensive, but anyway: lesson learned.
The top three Making Memorable Moments highlights for us were:
1. The view from the Malecon & Cliffs at the El Faro de la Marina lighthouse and the Parque del Amor
Lima is a bustling, busy and noisy city. Get to the malecon and all the hustle and bustle is forgotten. Life slows down, traffic turns into a distant noise, the much fewer pleople here are relaxed and you enjoy the view of the ocean and observe the people and traffic hundreds of feet below you. Parque del Amor is busy with couples enjoying each other's company, taking photos or looking at the mosaic tile walls.
2. Plaza de Armas with Change of Guards at the Palacio del Gobierno, the Catedral de Lima and the Museo del Conventro de San Francisco
Plaza de Armas is where Lima was founded almost 500 years ago. Much of what was originally standing here was destroyed so what you see here has been rebuilt. The changing of the guards is interesting to watch even though it takes place behind a tall fence and police keeps you away from the fence.
The plaza itself is a nice place to people-watch. We briefly visited the cathedral and then we explored the vicinity of the plaza. There are interesting churches and an archeological site closeby. None of them spectacular, but in our opinion, well worth a visit. A little farther away, but still within walking distance, is Lima's Chinatown (Barrio Chino). We have travelled extensively in China and know to cherish Chinese food. During our travels we have found that "Chinese food" seems to be different in every country. I am happy to report that, with fairly little effort, were we able to find a restaurant with truly authentic Chinese food.
3. Museo Arquelogico Rafael Larco
This museum houses the largest private collection of pre-Columbian art in the world. It is housed in an 18th-century mansion and it provides an excellent overview of 5,000 years of Peruvian history. It is probably most known for its gallery of pre-Columbian erotic pottery, which is located in a separete section so that you cannot accidentally stumble in it. If you are only going to see one museum in Peru, make this the one. The musem has its artifacts exhibited very neatly and with Spanish and English descriptions. As they have so many more artifacts than they can ever exhibit, they allow you access to a large storgae room full of cabinets with their overflow material.
Of course, we also went to the Sala Erótica with the erotic art. It is in a small separate building. You may think of the exhibits as incredibly pornographic at first, but if you read the placards then you will understand that there is a very different meaning and world view behind them.
From Lima to Cuzco to Aguas Calientes
We decided to fly to Cuzco and immediately continue on to Aguas Calientes by Machu Picchu. The reason for that is that Cuzco is actually at a significantly higher elevation that Aguas Calientes and it will be easier to get used to the thin air up here by starting at a lower elevation. Cuzco is at 11,200ft (3,400m) and Aguas Calientes at 6,690ft (2,040m). After all, we come from Lima, which is at sea level.
It is not possible to drive by car from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. Options are to hike the Inca tail, or to get to Ollantaytambo by car or train and from Ollantaytambo there is only the train that goes to Aguas Calientes.
We decided to hire a driver in Cuzco who would bring us Ollantaytambo and make with stops at Salinas de Maras and Moray as I read a lot of good things about those 2 sites. We were not disappointed and I can strongly recommend those as Making Memorable Moments attractions.
Restroom Stop Somewhere
Our first stop, however, was somewhere along the road for a short bathroom break. I would normally not mention this, but the scenery was real exciting. Actually, the whole scenery was absolutely amazing during the entire car ride.
Peru was the last leg of a 2 week trip that encompassed Ecuador, Galapagos and Peru.
As we only had 5 days for Peru, I had prioritized Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu over Lake Titicaca and the Rainbow Mountains.
Salinas de Maras
A few miles outside Maras, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, lie the salt-evaporation ponds Salinas de Maras that are owned by local families. We paid the admission and were blown away by the enormous size of this operation. In most travel guides you find a photo like the one on the left below. But look at the right hand side photo. It still blows my mind that people take the long and steep hikes to get to their salinas and work there without any protection from the elements. Luckily, they allowed visitors to freely roam around in this area and we could not resist climbing some of the steep paths. Note, only the main paths that the average visitors take have handrails.
A few miles outside Maras lie the Inca ruins of Moray. Those are unusual circular terraced depressions, that remind me of amphitheaters. The largest is about 100ft (30m) deep. The purpose of these formations is unknown. Their design, orientation and depth lead to temperature differences of almost 30F (15°C) between the top and the bottom of the depression. What a cool way to build a fridge!
The train brought us to Aguascalientes at night. So I cannot tell you anything about the scenery, but if the car ride from Cuzco to Ollantaytambo has taught me anything, I am sure the scenery would have been spectacular.
Aguas Calientes is a tourist trap. There is no other way to say it. It is a small town and my guess is that 100% of the population is engaged in some activity related to tourism.
What puts Aguas Calientes on the map is the only reason for its existence: Machu Picchu. You can either buy a bus ticket for one of the licensed buses or hike. We passed quite a few hikers on our lazy bus trip up the neverending mountain. Honestly, to me hiking up this steep mountain appears similar to climbing Mount Everest. And this is something that I will never ever even consider.
As Machu Picchu enforces a daily limit on visitors, I had purchased ourn tickets months in advance. I addition to Machu Picchu, I had also purchased tickets to Wayna Picchu, which is a steep climb up a hill next to Machu Picchu. If you do that, plan about 3 hours to climb up. Also, bring plenty of water as you will not be able to purchase any and make sure that you have good hiking shoes and everything incl. your camera can be safely stored in a backpack. You don't want to have anything dangling around your neck. Also be advised, that there are no vista points until you get to the very top. Is Wayna Picchu a must-do? No, it is not, so don't be afraid to skip it if you have limited time. Huaina Picchu wore me out, I got dehydrated and due to my own fault, I ended up in a hospital later on in Cuzco. More about that in the Cuzco section.
Machu Picchu itself is fabulous and definitely qualifies as one of my Making Memorable Moments. Do yourself a favor and either bing a book that explanis what you see or hire one of the expensive tour guides. And, again, bring plenty of water. Also be aware that Machu Picchu is high up in the air and you will not be able to call each other should you get separated. There is a good reason why I say that, and you may guess why I know that...
We arrived at Machu Picchu in the morning, probably explored 3/4 of the area that is accessible to tourists and in the afternoon took a bus down to Aguas Calientes to eat dinner and to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo and a car transfer to Cuzco.
We arrived in our beautiful hotel at night and checked in our room. As it was late, we went to bed quickly and I slept until about midnight when a sudden urge to eat backwards work me up. What follwed were like the worst 3 hours of my life. Within a half hour or so, my stomach was empty, but it seems my body did not care and tried to vomit out the last air that was inside and punish me with some of the worst pain I have ever felt. Of course, my wife woke up and I told her to just give me a little time. I would sure be better in a few minutes. Well, normally I get better once my stomach is empty. In this case, however, since it got worse by the minute and I think she was afraid for my life. So, she had the hotel call an ambulance.
Well, the ambulance arrived and this angel of a nurse kept asking me questions in Spanish. Luckily we had Google Translate. Un-luckily, Google Translate sucks when it comes to describing what and where it hurts. More often than not did anybody understand what Google Translate was trying to say. Well, after a while she decided to get me to the hospital. Nobody on the night shift at the hospital spoke English either, but at least this time Google-Translate must have added some good jokes to me describing where it hurt as I saw the nurses smile a few times and at one time they started investigating my right leg which had no problems. I like to give a big shout out the unlimited patience and friendliness of the hospital staff. You folks were fantastic! After taking various samples which I don't even want to begin describing here, they came back to us and said that everything between and including my throat and butt were infected and they would start pumping tons of antibiotics through my body and that I should prepare to spend some time in the hospital.
Wonderful, so what about my flight back home in 2 days? We shall see.
They brought me up a luxurious hospital suite, offered my wife a free ambulance ride to the hotel and back to pick up some clothes and toiletries and told her she was allowed to stay in my suite and she would even get food. Wow...but how many millions of dollars will that cost me? After getting settled, we found out that there were only 4 suites on this floor with 3-4 nurses assigned only to this floor and, during the day shift, there was a doctor who had studied medicine in the US and spoke excellent English.
Should you ever get sick in Cuzco, I whole heartedly recommend Clinica San Jose S.A.C at AV Los Incas No 1408-B Telf. 225178.
To make a long story short: I stayed in the hospital for 1 1/2 days until they released me as I was fit enough (but not really healthy) to fly. Luckily, we still had 3 hours available to explore Cuzco before we had to go back to the hotel abd then to the airport.
Three hours, that should be good enough to see almost everything that I had originally planned for our 2 days in Cuzco, correct? Well, we tried and succeeded! We went to the Plaza de Armas, La Catedral; Calle Loreto; Hatunrumiyoc and Inca Roca; Barrio de San Blas; and even had the time to just walk in Cuzco and enjoy this beautiful city.
Oh, and for the expenses. We paid less than $800 for the hospital and the medicine that was used during my treatment and the prescription medicine afterwards. Yes, that is 800 US dollars.
The claim with my insurance company was easy and I got the money in less than 2 weeks.
We did not stay too long in our hotel in Cuzco, but anyway, here is the review: Hotel Garcilaso II
We stayed in the hotel Garcilaso II for 2 nights. Our room was a large, carpeted room with 2 comfortable double beds and a separate nicely tiled bathroom. There was no A/C and the room had a small portable heater (radiator). This was the first room that we stayed in that actually had a telephone. The person at the front desk spoke good English and was very friendly. They even have a bellboy. He carried our suitcases up to the second floor as there is no elevator. The breakfast buffet has a large selection of food and drinks. The hotel is in walking distance to Plaza de Armas and the major sights in Cuzco.
When we arrived, we saw a wifi signal in our room, but could not connect. It turned out that their wifi had some problems at that time as they could not connect either. They recommend to go to the lobby or the room next to it to connect to wifi as the connection in the rooms is spotty.
Long story short: This is a very nice and affordable hotel close to everything inn Cuzco. I recommend it.
As we have had our share of rice and beans and chicken over the last days, we decided to find a restaurant in Aguas Calientes that serves other food. As this is a major tourist hub, there was plenty of choice of foreign foods. I had a yummy chicken cordon bleu and, sadly, I also ordered an ice-cold 2 liter bottle of water as I felt super dehydrated. Did your parents ever tell you not to drink an ice-cold 2 liter bottle in record time? No, then please listen to me: Never ever drink an ice-cold 2 liter bottle in record time when you are dehydrated. I did not listen and you will see what happened in the Cuzco section.
Later this evening, we took a train back to Ollantaytambo. They served dinner on the train and I started feeling sick and did not finish my meal...something must be wrong when I don't finish my meal. I was actually not doing too bad, so in Ollantaytambo we took the car that would bring us to our hotel in Cuzco. No problem, I was actually feeling slightly better. Like 30min before we got to the hotel, the driver stopped at a gas station to gas up and we asked to look around in the gas station shop. Well, this was another mistake. My wife and I each bought a nice packaged ioce cream bar. Enjoying ice cream always makes me happy and it made me forget the pain that was slowly getting worse.
We arrived in Ollantaytambo, got out of the car and, next to us stood another car, a teenaged lady got out and shouted in shear exciement: O-yan-tay-tam-bo!
Man, that was perfect timing and a good reminder that my Spanish pronunciation sucks. So, thany you lady, whoever you are, for preventing me of making a fool out of myself by pronouncing Ollantaytambo in the wrongest possible way!
So, why does Ollantaytambo matter and why were this lady and my wife and I so excited? Ollantaytambo is the gateway to Aguas Calientes at the foot of the mountain that houses Machu Picchu. There are only 2 ways to get to Machu Picchu: hiking the Inca Trail or taking a train from (or through) Ollantaytambo. Do you feel my excitement whenever I write Ollantaytambo? I am even more excited when I get a chance to pronounce it in near perfect Peruvian Spanish.
Ollantaytambo is a small touristy town with some nice architecture and good restaurants. Most importantly, it has wonderful ruins that are definitely worth exploring as they are totally different from what you will see in Machu Picchu. Ollantaytambo is also close to other Inca ruins nearby in Urubamba. We did, however, not go to Urubamba.
Our hotel in Aguas Calientes: Kantu Inn - Machu Picchu
The hotel is centrally located and only a short walk away from the train station. They picked us up from the station and brought us back to the station at the end of our stay.
The walk to the buses to Machu Pichhu is only about 5min.
The hotel is clean and the owners are nice. We had room 205 on the 2nd floor. There are no elevators. The room has only 2-pronged power outlets, so make sure to bring an adaptor should you need a grounded receptacle. The room has no A/C and no heat and no exterior window. Therefore it is quiet and the beds are comfortable. I can easily say that I had the best sleep on our South America trip in this hotel.
Check-in time is:11:45am and check-out time is 9am.
There is a free breakfast buffet served in the morning and the hotel's free wifi is efficient.
Long story short: This is a very nice hotel close to everything. The owners are nice and helpful and speak some English. Be aware that there is no A/C or heating in the room. I recommend this hotel.
Our hotel in Lima: B&B Wasi Aeropuerto
We stayed 2 nights at the Wasi hotel in room 4. The Wasi is a basic hotel and room 4 is a small and clean room with 2 single beds, a small seating area with 2 small chairs and a small table. There is a TV mounted on the wall and very limited storage space. Room 3 has a queen size bed and is even smaller. There is a radiant space heater in the room, but no A/C. The bathroom has a modern sink and a shower with a rain shower head. The water pressure is excellent. Only liquid hand soap is provided, no shampoo or conditioner.
Free breakfast consists of 2 eggs prepared to your liking (hard boiled, sunny side up and, I believe also scrambled), coffee, tea and 2 breakfast rolls with butter and strawberry marmalade.
We left the windows open the first night and woke up to a disgusting odor at around 4:30am. The smell lasted for about 30min. We were later told that there is a fish processing factory nearby that stinks up the neighborhood twice a week during night time and that it would be better to leave the windows closed over night. Well, we left it open the 2nd night and everything was fine. Interestingly, there was some airplane noise during the hours of 4:30am to 6am but before and after that we did not hear anything.
The hotel is less than 10min from airport and the hotel uses a trusted taxi driver to shuttle people from and to the airport. The cost for the taxi service is:
Airport to Wasi: US$11
Wasi to Airport: US$10
Airport/Wasi round trip: US$20
Wasi to Centro or Miraflores: US$25
We had an itinerary that brought us to Centro, Miraflores, Barranco and the Rafael Larco Herrera hotel and we hired the same taxi driver for the whole day for US$60 (10am to 9pm). That was a smart decision as traffic in Lima is crazy and taxis are completely unregulated and can be unsafe. The taxi driver also acted as a guide and he showed us things that we would not have seen otherwise.