Peru beyond Machu Picchu!

“It took my breath away. What could this place be? Why had no one given us any idea of it?

– Hiram Bingham, Lost City of the Incas.

These were the words of American archaeologist Hiram who discovered the existence of the great Inca Empire. The secret which was only known to some locals in the said region opened up to the word, was recognized as a wonder of the world and most importantly became a part of the bucket list of places of travel, for millions. It was never a part of my bucket list, but the moment Rony proposed South America as a travel destination I was sure we have to visit it.

Most tourists go to Peru to visit Machu Picchu. So did we. But after having done the trip, we can assure you that there is much more to Peru than Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is indeed beautiful, breath-taking and mystical. But every other place we stayed which includes Lima and Cusco had something to offer.

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View of the Andes from the plane

The planning

From the very beginning we were very clear that we do not want to do any of the Inca trail treks. There are a number of packages which allows you to trek from varying points. The number of days it takes to reach Machu Picchu could range from 7 days to 1 day. The most picturesque one according to may websites is the classic 4-day Inca Trail trek that starts at km82 – 82 kilometres along the railway from Cusco to Aguas Calientes.

Considering only a limited number of tickets are issued to visit Machu Picchu every year, the first thing we did is to book the same. It was a tough job to find the official site, considering there are hundreds of websites online. Once we found the right one, we were disappointed that we could not get the tickets to climb Huayna Picchu–  the mountain which we see in the back ground in all the post cards.

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Huayna Picchu  is the one in the background

We had to be content  with tickets for Machu Picchu and Montana. Rony, who booked these tickets, two months in advance was surprised to see the hike to Huayna Picchu booked till February next year. We were a bit disappointed then. But in retrospect we don’t regret it. My stamina clearly would not have let me climb Huayna Picchu. Once we had the tickets to Machu Picchu, we sort of worked backwards and booked our stay in Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu along with the flight to Cusco and train tickets to Machu Picchu.

Lima

Once the tickets to Machu Picchu were booked, we had to figure out how to get there – which was the most difficult part. Considering we were landing in Lima, we decided to say there for 2 days. This was a great idea since we did take some take to get over the jet lag. We also managed to meet up with the husband’s friends and do a bit of shopping.

Upon a great deal of research on the internet, we found that Miraflores was one of the best places to stay in Lima. The basic requirements for a hotel for us was it should have free wifi, airport pickup, centrally located and below 100 USD. Colon Hotel at Miraflores met all our requirements and hence we booked it. We liked the hotel, but would have liked if it was a little more luxurious for the price we paid. No complaints about the service and 100 marks for its location. It was at a walk able distance from the market, Larcomar (the famous shopping centre) and restaurants.

The shopping we did at Mercado Central got me smiling when I saw the prices of the same items at Cusco, Aguas Calientes or at the airport. The  Peruvian nativity scene, postcards, ponchos, fridge magnets , jewellery, paintings were all way more cheaper in Lima than in any other place Peru.  Some pictures we clicked while shopping!

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The best find of the trip according Rony was the Lomo Salltado.This dish is a typical Peruvian dish made of marinated steak, vegetables, & fried potatoes  served over rice. For a Malayalee Christian, its rice and beef. It is indeed on one of the best dishes I have had too. We also loved the Peruvian Ceviche. In fact any dish consisting of beef or fish couldn’t go wrong for the simple reason that it was fresh! The fact that they used a lot of onions to any dish appealed to me since I love onions in any form. Peru, also has a lot of fusion cuisine. The husband’s friends took us to this restaurant which had Peruvian Italian cuisine. We totally loved it. For drinks, we tried the Peruvian beer (Pilsen Callao, Cusqueña and Cristal) and the very famous Pisco Sour. I preferred the touristy version of Pisco Sour to the original since it was little more mild and less sour. I am a total tea drinker, however in Peru I only had coffee. We looked forward to the breakfasts because of the amazing coffee they served.

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Pisco Sour

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Ceviche

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Lomo Salltado

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Cristal

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Cusquena

There are many historical places of interest in Lima. However we were in a mood to chill and just walk around the city. Hence didn’t visit any. For anyone who would like  to combine the shopping and eating spree with some  sight seeing, the trip advisor will be a good site to look up.  The only place we ended up visiting is the Parque Kennedy which gives shelter to hundreds of stray cats. Do read this interesting article on it.

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Rony broke his spectacles on the flight. So we had to get a new frame for him before leaving for Cusco. While doing so, we met Estevan at an optical store. Along with helping us communicate with the salesman, he gave us some amazing tips for the travel ahead.  Thanks Estevan!

While in Lima, if you are a fan of chocolates do visit the Choco Museo. It is a chocolate lover’s paradise. While Rony was buying a goodies to take back home, I clicked many pictures of the place. Its so artistically done up!

Since we both believe that walking around without any specific agenda is the best way to see a city, we did it in Lima. Some pictures we took while doing so:

Cusco

From Lima, in order to reach Machu Picchu we had to fly in to Cusco and take a train from Cusco. Cusco gets rank 1 in the places we visited during the entire trip. The cobbled streets, beautiful architecture and the amazing art galleries made the stay in the Cusco enjoyable.To be fair, when we planned the trip, Cusco was considered only as  a stop over on our way  to see Machu Picchu. We didn’t know that Cusco as a city had so much to offer. Since we were flying to a higher attitude most travel sites suggested that we stay a day or 2 at Cusco to acclimatize. We did so. Estevan, the random friend we made in Lima asked us to carry a insect repellent and also take the Sorojchi pills. This did help us have a comfortable trip. The husband who had read about mosquito bites in Machu Picchu had carried an Odomos which worked perfectly! So as we saw other tourists buy expensive insect repellent we had a hearty laugh and thanked our very own Odomos for protecting us.

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An advertisement for Sorojchi Pills on the streets of Cusco

We hadn’t really booked any place to stay at Cusco till the last moment. Rony went through booking.com and found a hotel called Rumi Punku  for our stay at Cusco. We couldn’t have asked for more. The pictures below say it all. An amazing room, excellent service and good location.

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We were received at Cusco the airport by David who then we realized runs a tour agency as well. He took us to the hotel and also helped us plan our itinerary for the next day. Though we felt we paid more than we should have, the guide (Leon) and driver (Herman) who took us around Cusco were excellent. We are people who prefer travelling on our own. But this choice was totally worth it. Leon who is a local, explained every site we visited in great detail. Because of the gamut of information we got from him, we did not take a guide in Machu Picchu the following day. We saw the entire site using  guide book.

On the day of arrival at Cusco, all we did was chill, walk to the square (Plaza de Armas), drink some beer and eat some Llama.

IMG_1711 A dish made out of Llama

The next day after a simple yet filling breakfast at the hotel we were received by Leon and Herman Who took us to some Inca and pre Inca sites in Cusco. This is when we got to know that the Incan Empire extends beyond Machu Picchu. We bought a pass which gave us entry into number of places – The Boleto Turistico, however managed to see only a few. This was also because we took our time and did not rush to cover all the places. After all it does not make sense to see the place without experiencing it.  Since many of the sites were vast and involved a lot of walking, I gave up at many points . Rony went ahead and saw it in great detail. I found a good spot to sit and clicked a lot of pictures!

Each one of the places we visited deserves a separate post. But for now I leave you with some pictures clicked by us!

After a long day of travel, we got back to the hotel, freshened up and stepped out for some food. On our way to the main square, we found some amazing art galleries from where we got a few paintings for our new home. Will post some pictures as soon as we have them framed. Cusco has an art school wherein students study art for about 5 years. The training they get in the school along with the amazing culture helps them create paintings which are a true reflection of the beauty one sees around!

Cusco is one city where the both of us could spend a week just walking around, visiting the ruins and eating at local restaurants. For most Peruvians its an ideal destination for a short holiday or a break. Rony’s friends did mention that they do travel to Cusco once in a while – not necessarily to go to Machu Picchu. Some pictures of our random walks along the streets of Cusco

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Getting married and travelling the world – amongst other things!

A lot has happened between the last post and this one. Finding the man, getting to know him, dating  and finally getting married to him took up considerable amount of time. Hence the blog was completely ignored. Getting married was a fun affair. I will definitely post a few pictures and also write about some fun moments during the wedding some time later. The man, who is now the husband was very clear about the first travel destination as husband and wife. So even before deciding the wedding dates or venue we had zeroed on the destination – South America. Had the choice been left to me, I would have clearly chosen some place closer and less hectic. Thanks to him, I had the best trip of my life.

South America, being a huge continent (the map of which I know better than Asia now), we had to choose the places we could cover in 3 weeks. Since two of husband’s friends were getting married to each other in Uruguay around the same time we were very clear that Uruguay is going to be one of the destinations. To be fair, the fact that we were invited to their wedding is one reason we went ahead and actually made the trio happen! We had decided that we could do 2 more countries within the time we had. My husband (Rony) was very keen on going to Brazil and I wanted to go to Machu Picchu. So the initial idea was to go to Peru, Brazil and Uruguay. However the ticket prices to and from Brazil were too expensive and we would go  over budget. We explored other options like Argentina and Chile. Chile looked like a good option since we would get to visit some of the best vineyards in the world and also visit thee Patagonia. So considering the budget within which we were working and the places of interest we zeroed down on Peru, Chile and Uruguay.

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We were very clear from the beginning that we shall not use any travel agencies for making our itinerary. Hence it really got down to the two of us having endless conversations over phone and messenger in order to decide the trip. Another decision we had made is not to over shoot our budget. Though I am a great fan of air bnb and Rony is a fan of hostels we decided to stick to hotels for this trip, which increased the budget. But thumb rule was to book only hotels less than USD 100 dollars a day.

When we started planning, we understood that it was not as easy as it looks! So, firstly I studied the map of South America quite closely. Rony is relatively better at geography and had already done a trip in Central America so he knew the map well! The first challenge was obviously to get a cheap yet comfortable air travel to and from South America. Travelling 25 hours at one go is something either of us have never done. To and fro from any of these countries was way more expensive than flying into Peru and flying out of Montevideo. This was very surprising for us since it’s usually costlier as compared to flying in and out from the same country. Having found this out, the next hurdle was to find a route through a country which didn’t not require a transit visa for Indians. We found the answer in KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. The overall experience was excellent!

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imageFlight Details

Having booked the tickets the next step was to apply for visas. An Indian passport does not give you a visa on arrival on any of these countries. Hence we had to individually apply for visas for each of these countries. It was relatively easier for me since I was working in Qatar, holding a Qatari Work Permit. Rony had to engage an agent and submit hundreds of documents. Our visa application stories calls for a different post. We had the opportunity to come in contact with some amazing people as well as some not so amazing people in the course of visa application. Let me leave that for another post.

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Visa for Peru – Check!

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Visa for Chile – Check!

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Visa for Uruguay  – Check!

For any visa application we had to show bookings for stay and flights for internal travel. Bookings for stay were all done through Booking. Com. We picked those hotels with Zero cancellation charges. We made some changes prior to the trip but retained some. All flights for internal travel within South America were done in local airlines based on the number of days we wanted to spend in each country. Some of the pointers we kept in mind while booking the flights were:

(i) Not take an early morning flight since I love to wake up late;

(ii) Try not to reach a new city late at night;

(iii) Ensure that we have a minimum of 23 kg baggage allowance in all flights ;

(iv) Check the distance between the hotel and the airport ;

(v) Try to do overnight travel in order to save time;

(vi) Travel light! We didn’t manage to travel as light as we wanted to. But at the end of the day we didn’t pay excess baggage in any flights even with our shopping.

At the end of the trip, like every other trip we did feel that we could have done a lot better, seen more, shopped more, travelled lighter, spend lesser, spend more time in one place rather than the other. But I guess, everyone feels that at the end of any trip. The good bit is we realized that we can indeed travel together as a couple, our interests are similar in many things, we were able to accommodate the interests that differ and enjoy it too, we were able to bring back a lot of great memories and memorabilia for our new home. And most importantly we are looking forward to our next trip.

Wait for the next post about the county that we loved the most –Peru!

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