Andy: I’m back! My wife and I just got back from a Spring Break vacation down to to South America. We decided that if we get stationed overseas, it would be harder to visit there, so we might as well do it now while we’re still in the States and closer. I booked us business class tickets from Washington to Lima, with an open-jaw, and a stopover in Cartagena, Colombia before heading back (I’ll go over in a subsequent post how I booked that).
Copa business class seats…ok for a 4 hr flight, but not as nice as Avianca
Of course, we had to go see the highlights of Peru, like Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and Lake Titicaca. I was partially inspired by Scott Grimmer of Milevalue, on his Peru trip reports, who says that Peru is his favorite country in the world. He’s got a great top 10, of which we were able to do most of them. He recommends not going with a tour guide, just doing the trip independently, and staying mostly in hostels. While I mostly agree with him, I had several things going against it for me – I had strictly only 7 days, my Espanol is not nearly as adept as his, and I was going with my wife, who, while adventurous, also prefers the finer things in life. Also, I’ve been swamped at work, and just wanted something cobbled together seamlessly.
I decided to book a tour through Latindestinations called Highlands of Peru. They subcontracted through Solar Tours, who then subcontracted to the eventual tour guides, Condor Travel. I cannot say this enough, Condor Travel were AMAZING tour guides! Everything was seamless, on-time, informative, and they all have great attitudes (and are fluent in English as well). I was very hesitant about using a tour guide, because we had a less than great experience with one in Argentina, but I cannot say enough good about Condor. It can be quite intimidating when you fly into a major airport like Lima and there are hundreds of taxi drivers vying for your attention, but they were there with a huge sign and my name on it, to whisk us to our hotel.
Anyway, back to the beginning – we were to leave on the 10th at 9am, so decided to stay at the Best Western Dulles – I had a 25% coupon for Travelocity, so the room with an advanced rate was slightly less than $70. It is a great hotel for staging, with fast wifi, lots of outlets in the room, bottled water, a decent breakfast buffet, coffee in the lobby always, shuttles to the airport every 30 minutes, and long-term parking, all of which are included in the price.
I booked our award flight through United, transferring Ultimate Rewards points, then assembling my itinerary. Our first flight was on Copa to PTY, then on to LIM, a 737-700, with wide, recliner seats. Although the plane is not glamorous, the crew was polite and attentive and the food was decent. BTW, I’m not a rum fan, but they have Flor de Cana 18 anos rum which is delicious, even before noon!
We found the TSA precheck lane at IAD was open that morning, so had to slog through normal security and didn’t have time to hang in a lounge, but no big deal. Lounges are not super important to me, but if you have a business class ticket departing, you can get in for free to that respective airline’s lounge, or sometimes a partner lounge. I also had a Priority Pass Select, courtesy of having the Amex Platinum card, so could get in to many independent lounges as well.
This was just the appetizer, a surprisingly delicious carrot soup
We had a 2 hour layover in PTY, so decided to check out the Copa Club. There is a great review of the Copa Club here, but it’s a nice but basic airport lounge. Incidentally, if you are into shopping, PTY has some really high-end stuff, rivalling any other airport shopping I’ve seen.
The flight PTY – LIM was on the same airplane type, and was uneventful. Immigration and customs were uneventful, and we didn’t check any bags, only carryons the whole trip (which I highly recommend!). When you leave customs, you come upon hundreds of taxi drivers screaming your name, so brace yourself. Fortunately, our guide Karina was there to whisk us from the airport to The Allpa hotel in Lima, which, while I won’t go into great detail, is in the middle of Miraflores, probably the hippest and most tourist-friendly area of Lima, and is very well-appointed, clean, nicely air-conditioned, and with helpful and friendly desk-staff. The included breakfast buffet was only OK, but this was a commonly recurring theme in S America. While breakfast is my favorite meal and I prefer a hearty one, with lots of protein and fat, you really have to pay for it most of the time.
We went to a local bar for some cervezas, but didn’t stay out too late. The next day we had a city tour scheduled for the afternoon, so walked around Miraflores in the morning.
If I have one piece of advice: WEAR SUNBLOCK! It is right near the equator, and especially at the higher altitude cities like Cusco and Puno, you will get burnt – I don’t care how dark you are! I didn’t follow my own advice, and paid for it.
If you’re only going to do one thing in Lima, walk along the Pacific cliffs, they’re gorgeous, especially at sunset! There are parks all along, and all sorts of people, running, walking, biking, taking their dog, etc. They even have workout equipment along the way. You can look down and see gobs of people surfing and bodyboarding, and they even have parasailing over the cliffs, on sufficiently windy days (for $45-60 for 10-15 minutes).
My better half checking out the surfers below
El Parque del Amor with a paraglider in the background!
I’m a food-lover, and Lima is a food-lover’s city! I could write a whole article on just the ceviche alone! The seafood here is to die for, as are the other local delicacies, like Causas, which are meat sandwiched between two slabs of potatoes (Peru has something like 5000 types of potatoes!) Also, their local drink, the Pisco Sour, is delicious – it is made from pisco, which is a type of grape brandy, egg white, and lime (although I’m simplifying it). I of course had to try many different versions to find the right one! We were only in Lima for a little over 24 hours, which actually was enough time for a brief overview – my recommendation is to try a restaurant in Miraflores called Al Fresco. The ceviche, the causas, and the Pisco Sours were to die for, the price was reasonable, you don’t need an advance reservation, and the waitstaff was charming.
World’s best ceviche and Pisco Sour, at Al Fresco
The city tour was ok, but it wasn’t as interesting as say, Milan, but it was still pretty cool if only that there are pyramids and mummies (remember, Lima is in a desert) that are over 2000 years old! We went to the main square, the main cathedral, and a monastery dedicated to Santa Rosa. My favorite thing though was the Huaca Huallamarca, where they had a mummy that predates Christ! We learned that most of the pre-Incan pyramids and buildings were demolished by developers for modern structures, which is really sad. The tour was concluded at Parque del Amor, then back to our hotel for a couple more pisco sours and an early flight to Cusco the next day.
Look at that preserved head of hair!
Upon arriving in Cusco, it was immediately apparent, even upon ascending a small flight of stairs, how high the altitude is – you get short of breath very quickly! We went to our hotel, the Maytaq Wasin Boutique Hotel, which is very nice; however, the day before we arrived, the mayor had closed down the main road for construction, so all traffic was diverted right past our window. I’d recommend asking for a room in the back, which we did, and slept much better.
the bar at Maytaq, awaiting my pisco sour. it is much easier to get drunk at altitude!
Later that day we went on a tour where we visited Sacsayhuaman fortress (pronounced Sexy Woman!), a remarkable Incan military fort, some other amazing Incan structures, and then the Koricancha, where the Incans worshipped the sun god and the Pachamama, or mother earth.
apparently the alpacas were not for sale!
That night we got an Incan massage, which I highly recommend, for around 30 Peruvian Soles (roughly $10) then ate at Limo, which is a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant. Gayle got sushi, which was good, and I probably got ceviche and pisco sours…I can’t really remember 🙂 The next day we got up early, and hungover, to go to the Sacred Valley…in my next installment!