Adventures & Images from Amanda, the one "Behind the Zoom"

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Machu Picchu ~ part 2 the adventure begins

Ready to go, vacation days all set and 2016 Spring Break Machu Picchu trip is happening!!

So our basic plan is to fly to Cusco, take a Collectivo (bus/van) to Ollantaytambo, stay there couple of nights, take train to Machu Picchu then spend day or so in Cusco on way home...
A couple of days before we left I went ahead and purchased the Machu Picchu tickets ***They are not available for purchase at the entrance, you must purchase them in advance*** we used Tickets for Machu Picchu, you do pay an additional 20% I believe but you can print them out at home and you are done. There is a daily limit on tickets so check ahead and watch your days if traveling during the high season.  We added the Machu Mountain in case we wanted to hike more from what I can tell it is the less severe of the 2 additional hikes.  There are places to purchase in Peru but I just wanted to have them done.  The other purchase I did ahead was the Peru Rail train tickets from Ollantaytambo round trip to Machu Picchu.  ***these you can purchase online but you must go to a train ticket office with passport and the credit card used for purchase at least 4hrs prior to departure to get tickets***
The only other thing I booked ahead was a hotel in Ollantaytambo La Casa Del Abuelo.  It had good reviews and I wanted a place 1st couple of nights to start.

Out of Phoenix Arizona we catch a flight to Dallas Texas.  I was assigned a middle seat in the back of the plane and was thinking ok not such a long flight not a problem.  Cierra was towards the front of the plane.  I get back to my seat and to my left is "Baylor", a Jr college student headed back to school from his spring break in California, to my right is "Air Force"  3 yrs in a special unit just left some paratrooper training...  Cierra where are you this is the perfect seat for you not me!!!  Had great fun talking with them and the flight time flew by! Arrive in Dallas and are looking forward to the flight that evening out to Lima Peru.  As an employee of an airline there are travel ups and downs...the down here was we couldn't get on the flight to Lima that night so we are over night our first night in Dallas.  Thank you Motel 6 for the quick and easy room and the next day, all day, in the airport.  Dallas Ft Worth airport has lots to do...

Ride the Skylink, play games in Admirals Club, Check out the art displays, do selfie luggage pics and  when all else fails sleep...

That night we are on our flight out of Dallas and headed to Lima!
We arrived in Lima first thing in the morning and were booked on a LAN flight couple of hrs later from Lima to Cusco.  An earlier LAN flight had cancelled so the flights were pretty full after seeing that we changed over to Avianca and had a great flight from Lima to Cusco.  Thank you Avianca!  (Right past security in the Lima airport the Peru Rail has a small ticket area, we picked up our train tickets that we had pre paid for there).

Met another airline employee and her daughter on our flight and shared a cab into Cusco from the airport. Parted ways there as we were catching the Collectivo to Ollantaytambo and they were at a hostel up the street.  Now the Collectivo is somewhat of an experience in itself.  The van/minibus is parked in an alleyway and only leaves when it has a min. number of passengers.  After 2.5hrs of waiting with a backpacker from South Korea we had enough riders mostly locals~ we thought we were ready~ drove around the block and came back to get the smaller minibus~ then we were off.  The drive was about 2 and 1/2 hrs I believe and it is everything everyone says about it fast, slow, hold your breath passing, slide one way, slide the other and astounding views. 

We arrived into Ollantaytambo and found our "home away from home "  La Casa del Abuelo.  Close to the town plaza, short walk to the train, great room, nice bathroom, clean, hot water and very friendly helpful staff
Unloaded the bags and headed off to find something to eat and explore.  Hotel recommended and gave us a discount coupon for a great place just up by the plaza Uchucuta restaurant.  We enjoyed our first ever Coca tea and I have to admit it was truly good tea so sad I couldn't bring some home!!  The meal was great too!
Such a big sandwich we actually had half each left over and packed it with us into Machu Picchu for lunch!

*Next blog post~ part 3 our day in Machu Picchu~

Monday, March 28, 2016

Our day in Machu Picchu

The morning of our Machu Picchu day started with a quick application of sunscreen and shampoo (shampoo acts as a bug repellent).  Check of our backpack/fannypack for snacks, our 1/2 sandwich from dinner, waters, camera batteries, tickets - both train and Machu Picchu, money and passports.  On our way out of our hotel we grabbed our sack breakfasts they made ahead for us!  The Perurail train station is just a short walk down the hill so off we headed to make the first train out at 5:05am.  We booked the Expedition roundtrip as times seemed to work and low cost.  Really comfortable, there was snacks served and as soon as it was light we could see the Urubamba River,  the train follows it along alot of the way.

 The Ollantaytambo train is booked Ollantaytamo to Machu Picchu but doesn't actually go to Machu Picchu.  It goes to the small town of Aguas Calientes. (Some people choose to stay here when traveling to Machu Picchu, we wandered the town on way back down but didn't stay long).  From Aguas Calientes we purchased roundtrip bus tickets to Machu Picchu.  Round trip guaranteed a bus down as they fill up especially toward the end of the day.  We went straight to the bus and after a switchback ride up the mountain we ended up at the entrance to Machu Picchu.   To enter we had to show our tickets and passports.  You can come and go a couple of times but they stamp your ticket each time, restrooms and food are only available at the entrance.  If you want to stamp your passport with the Machu Picchu stamp it is right inside the entrance.  

The clouds were low so we weren't seeing everything all at once, we hiked in and our first views were of the current residents, Llamas!

Cierra was happy as they were on her wishlist for the trip, they put up with the visitors, allow you to pet them, but don't come running over.  
We headed up to sun gate which is quite a hike UP!  But as the clouds started to break the views were breathtaking!

Headed down from Sun Gate we could see more people had hiked in.  We were so glad we got there early and weren't crazy crowded for awhile.  Looking out over the ruins really takes your breath away and gives you a sense of pure wonder.  Truly incredible what was built and the planning, just Wow!
We hiked down and out for lunch and restroom break.  There is a little cafe there but it is kind of pricey.  We had some fruit from there and our 1/2 sandwiches we packed in.  Headed back in to explore the ruins up close.  More visits with the llamas ~
The ruins are amazing, the aquaducts, the buildings, the whole idea this was built 500 years ago without modern tools is incredible and the engineering of the homes, terraces, whole community is so mysterious!  It is truly one of the wonders of the world! 

Now we were not booked on a return train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo until the early evening train but after a solid 5 hrs hiking around we were ready to call it a day.  We didn't do the additional hike and were ok with that.  It was getting crowded, warm out and I was starting to feel the altitude and climbing/hiking exhaustion.  We decided to catch the bus down and explore Aguas Calientes a little.  Note:  from our experience visiting Machu Picchu early morning was the best, less people, the cloud cover opened up to amazing views also wasn't as hot!

Aguas Calientes has hotels, hostels, restaurants, shopping. It is bigger than I thought it would be.   After walking around town for awhile we ended up back at the train station and were able to catch an earlier train back to Ollantaytambo, for a cost.  Earlier train time we wanted was the Vistadome which is an upgrade from the Expedition so off we went on the "first class" train back.  Now it was also quite comfortable, had snacks, but this train had a fashion show and skit to music ~ not quite sure I would up and pay for the different train but in this case the time worked better for us getting back so we would have time to eat dinner and relax after hiking. The skit did involve the devil dance and it is here that ~
Cierra "danced with the devil in Peru"

*Next blog post ~ leaving our home away home in Ollantaytambo and headed to Cusco



Sunday, March 27, 2016

On to Cusco!

We really enjoyed our time in Ollantaytambo, the people were so friendly, the views of the ruins in the surrounding mountains were beautiful and the town itself was fun to explore.  I would love to go back again another day and discover the area more!!

Our hotel arranged our taxi back to Cusco, the Collectivo is something everyone should "enjoy" but we wanted to have time in Cusco so time waiting for a full van vs more money, we went with more money and had a truly enjoyable taxi ride.  Driver really only spoke Spanish and Cierra had to put hers to work but we learned alot about the cities and countryside we went through.  

Our hotel also recommended a hotel in Cusco I had seen online so before leaving we booked the Tierra Viva Cusco Centro for our night in Cusco.   After about a 2hr taxi ride our driver had us at the hotel door and we were pleasantly surprised with the room, service, and friendly staff.  The location was great for walking and exploring!
 With map in hand from the hotel we took off to explore Cusco, 1st place we decided would be the Mercado Central de San Pedro a market Cierra had seen online ~ WOW what a huge market, everything under 1 roof!

 Loved the market, souvenirs, alpaca goods, juice bar, fruits/vegs, meats, breads oh so many wonderful breads,!! cheeses, eggs, flowers, local meal bar we could of spent the whole afternoon just in this market.  We did buy some bread to eat as we walked around.

Next on the list of spots we wanted to see was the Museo y Catacumbas del Convento de San Francisco de Asis de Cusco just a short walk down the street.  We opted for the private guided tour through, he did speak English, and so glad we did.  A grand monastery with beautiful paintings, catacombs, organ with wood carved choir stalls and the breathtaking church.  My first experience touring crypts and that was different!
Next we headed down to The Plaza de Armas, we were so lucky to have a beautiful day to enjoy lunch with a stunning view ~ 
Wandered our way back to the hotel with some fresh baked goods for late night snacking.

Early morning flight back to Lima on Avianca enjoyed our continental breakfast and the hotel had our cab waiting.  We had some time in Lima airport as the flight to Miami was late in the evening.

 Did learn that as an airline employee you want to be sure and physically check in at the ticket counter for your international flights 2hrs before.  A friend had told me this and I thought kiosk was ok, it wasn't check in with an agent at the ticket counter!
Off we headed to Miami thinking we would connect in the morning out to Phoenix and home~ 

*next blog ~ our costs of the Machu Picchu trip~


Friday, March 25, 2016

Cost of Machu Picchu Trip details ~

The cost of our Machu Picchu trip ~

I am giving the info on all our costs except airfare.  

US exchanged ahead of trip  - $450 - at time 1,420 soles / PEN
I tried to pay all there with soles we had onhand ~

Cusco cab from Airport to  Collectivo pick up spot - 10 soles each
Collectivo van to Ollantaytambo _ 10 soles each
Hotel in Ollantaytambo La Casa del Abuelo - 420 soles
Perurail tickets Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu US 59.00 each up US 60.00 each back.  (we made a change to an earlier train back and paid additional US 34.10 total for both).
Machu Picchu tickets online ahead of time - US 136.00 total for both.
Bus up and back from Aguas Caliente to Machu Picchu US 48.00 each.
Private taxi Ollantaytambo to Cusco -  120 soles 
Hotel Cusco Tierra Viva Cusco Centro - booked online US  71.00 (booked day before arriving there)
Covento de San Francisco de Asis de Cusco museum - 10 soles each.

Meals and souvenirs were all paid with soles we had, no additional atm withdrawls were made. 

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