Lima is the oldest city and also the capital of Peru. It is the gateway (and also the reason why we chose to come to Peru) to Machu Picchu!
While in Lima, we stayed at the San Jose Executive Hotel, located just miles from the Pacific ocean. The hotel features a nice breakfast buffet and the El Estribo resstaurant located next door specializes in good Peruvian food that is not too expensive.
From the hotel it’s just a short walk to the Larcomall shopping area and Love Park, where interesting sculptures can be found. Heading back in the opposite direction is one of our favorite Lima spots: Kennedy Park. Here you will find about 100 beautiful cats roaming and playing throughout the grounds. Theses friendly felines are well taken care of by local volunteers. Pet adoption is available for those who desire to own one of these Lima cats! Each kitty is vaccinated, well fed, and seem to love humans! Kenney Park is located in the Mira Flores municipality and is clean and well maintained. There are street food and shopping venders surrounding the park. Free WiFi is available and we enjoyed watching many of the locals relaxing in this beautiful place at the end of the workday. Across the street is Iglesia de la Virgen Milagro, a beautiful Catholic church that has a few more kitties in its’ gated courtyard. These smart felines probably wander over from Kennedy park to enjoy a bit of peace and quiet .
If you visit Lima, don’t miss a stroll through the City of Kings and the Central Market. You will encounter the gorgeous Jiron de la Union. This is for pedestrians only (yay!–no honking cars!) and connects Plaza San Martin to Plaza de Armas. The famous Monasterio San Francisco can also be seen here.
Another popular attraction is pyramid-shaped shrine of Husca Huallamarca. Most would probably not consider these ruins to be walking distance from the city’s center, although we managed to find our way there easily. The most interesting thing about these ancient pyramids are that they are surrounded by the Lima cityscape. There is a small museum (air-conditioned) to take break from the heat while learning more about the history of these very old Moorish-Asian inspired structures.
Before leaving Lima, be sure to visit the Municipal Palace, the Government Palace, the Archbishop Palace, and the Cathedral of Lima. If you can squeeze it in, see the Table Palace, the House of Osambela-Qquendo, and Santo Domingo Church. These builidings, with their lovely architecture are the true focal point of this enchanting city.
CUSCO and the SACRED VALLEY
After spending a couple of nights in Lima, we were ready to get a little closer to the mysterious Inca world. We took a short flight from Lima to Cusco and stayed in the ECO INN of Cusco. Don’t let the name fool you. The hotel offers a lovely breakfast buffet and beautifully comfortable room.
Once settled at our hotel, we headed first to the city square to relax in the Plaza de Armas, and then watched the sun set at the famous Sacsayhuaman ancient ruins. We felt like kids again as we roamed and climbed the structures to get the best views. Pumas, snakes, and other holy animals of the Incas could be seen carved into many of the old stones.
The following day was devoted to the sacred valley. As we wandered through the Urubamba Valley, Peruvian children would run up to us shouting “whiskey”, giving us great photo opportunities, as that word puts a forced-smile on their faces. Older children dressed in traditional garb carried lambs or goats and allowed for a photo as well. Families with decorated llamas or alpacas posed together in Peruvian clothes, delighting the passing tourists. TIP: The beautiful people of Cusco make their living posing for photos in addition to selling their handmade wears and crops. It is expected for those taking photos to have plenty of local currency or even a few American dollars to give them after taking their picture. The younger children love little treats such as wrapped candies or chocolates. Some of the more experienced teenagers will complain, implying that you haven’t tipped them enough. This is a typical con and it’s best just to tip them appropriately, wish them well and then walk away.
Later we browsed the Pisac Market, tasting samples of both sweet and salty tamales. There were loads of Alpaca handmade goods being sold, although we were warned earlier that many of the wares in this particular market are either over-priced or knock-offs. So, we decided to wait until later to purchase the authentic Alpaca sweaters and scarves. TIP: the village in Machu Picchu is the best market for this kind of shopping. Next, we visited Chinchero village and explore the Inca Fortress of Ollantaytambo. After a long day, we headed to a dinner show before an early morning to Machu Picchu.
There are no actual roads leading to Machu Picchu. One has tow choices on how to get there: One is to hike the Inca Trail which can take several days and requires primitive camping. The other is to take the train. We loved the idea of hiking the Inca Trail, but with limited time and the proper supplies, we opted for the train.
Early the following morning we went to the Ollanta Train Station for an unforgetable journey in the Executive Inca Trail Rail Train and marveled at the unbelievable scenery of the Lost City of the Incas. As we sipped delicious ginger cocktails and enjoyed an organic boxed lunch, we marveled over the sculpted stair-cased ridges and valleys along the breath-taking Urubamba River. We had planned ahead and left our luggage locked up at our Cusco hotel so that we could travel light with just an overnight bag. This is highly recommended since there is not much room for luggage on the train and most people who hike Machu Picchu prefer to travel light. We caught the last bus to the great Machu Picchu Citadel, and arrived eager to climb among the friendly
llamas and alpacas up to the very top. We caught our breath. Did some Yoga moves for fun and took our best photos. Then we quickly climbed down to the valley below to thouroughly explore the citadel and ruins. TIP: You must have your passport with you to enter Machu Picchu. That’s actually a good thing because before you leave this unbelievable ancient site, there is a covered area near the bus going back into town where you can get a “Machu Picchu” stamp inside of your passport. THAT is actually my favorite souvenir! TIP: To avoid the heavy crouds of tour groups, plan your visit for very late (the last bus) in the afternoon or very early (5:30am) in the morning. Visablity is probably best in the afternoon, but you will get a whole different perpective in the morning as the mist and clouds roll in. TIP: Check the local forcast. Unlike Lima, Machu Picchu can get cool and dressing in layers while preparing for rain is always a good idea.
After our fabulous experience of exploring we headed back to dinner at our hotel, The Mapi, located in Auguas Calientes (the name of the actual village of Machu Picchu. In the morning after breakfast and some shopping, we return to the Inca Rail to Cusco to stay another night. There is so much to see and visiting the Sacred Valley a second time was well worth the trip. The following morning, we flew back to Lima and caught a connecting flight home.
Machu Picchu is a destination that should be towards the top of every serious traveler’s list. It’s natural beauty and history are not to be missed. Although it’s a bit of work getting to this destination, it is well worth the effort and will provide wonderful memories to last a life time.
Footnote: A reader recently asked me about the safety of walking around on your own in Lima. We found it to be extremely safe, with security officers on every corner. Some even allowed us to take photographs of them!
BLOGS Coming Soon: Argentina, Chili, Columbia, Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Patagonia & Artic Region and Falkland Islands