• Michelle Mattke

A jump, skip and a hop through Peru.

We only had a week to knock out seeing Machu Picchu in Peru and Christ the Redeemer in Rio De Janeiro so we were definitely on the move and had a very condensed schedule. If you have the time and/or the money, I would highly recommend spending at least a week in each country, as these vast lands are filled with amazing biodiversity, history, culture and food. We loved every minute we had in South America, but barely scratched the surface.

Flying in from Minneapolis, layover in Atlanta, and with a final destination of Lima, Peru we arrived around 11:00 pm. We snagged a taxi and went straight to our hotel. We chose to spend our time in Miraflores, which is a suburb of Lima. Miraflores is widely known for being a colorful and safe neighborhood, right next to the cliffs edge overlooking the ocean. We stayed at the Best Western Hotel which I highly recommend. They organized shuttles for us, spoke great English, had a wonderful breakfast spread and the room was very modern and stylish. We were only one block away from cliffs edge so we were right in the middle of the great restaurants without having to pay for that hotel row price.

Day 1: Our 24 hours in Miraflores

We obviously slept in and then enjoyed the complimentary breakfast offered by our hotel. We then strolled down to the shopping center called Larcomar. It's like an outdoor mall with all different types of stores. We spent the morning shopping and looking around the area. The whole mall is on the cliff edge and there are restaurants lining the space, each with an incredible view. Seeing the view, we found a staircase that would lead us down from cliffs edge down to the beach. Going down was easy but going up was hard. Be prepared for a mini hike!

We enjoyed lunch on the pier at La Rosa Nautica. A very nice restaurant and only of the only ones on sea level. We watched the surfers, fed the birds, played in the water and sipped on some cocktails. When we were good and tired (and make it all the way back up the staircase) we headed back to our hotel to freshen up.

In our hotel we were given a pamphlet of all the wonderful things Miraflores and Lima have to offer. We decided on exploring Park of the Reserve, the World's Largest Fountain Park. This park has 13 water fountains on full display. Each with their own story. It was a short (and cheap) cab ride away. Only a couple dollars to get in and it was beautiful. The landscaping is immaculate! We leisurely walked around to each one. They are pretty spread apart. Some interactive and some you admire from afar. Treats galore. We spent a good few hours just walking around, having ice cream, laying in the grass and watching the beautiful families around us. It happened to be Mothers Day while we were there so the park was extra busy with the little ones, but very entertaining to watch them play with the fountains. They have a show that rivals with what you would see at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, Nevada. My only recommendation would be to go closer to night time. We went in the late afternoon so we didn’t get the opportunity to see the lights in full effect.

Come dinner time, we took a cab ride back to the mall area and watched the sun go down over the ocean while chowing on some very innovative burgers from Papachos. We hopped around the area, trying beers and sharing food. We love to just walk around and let the city discover us.

After our bellies and hearts were full, we headed back to the hotel. Organized a shuttle for our early morning pick up to the airport (airport is about a 35 minute drive from Miraflores) and headed to bed because we were headed for Cuzco in the morning.

Day 2: A blissful surprise extra day in Cusco

So I’ll say our trip didn’t exactly go according to plan. We wanted to arrive in Cusco and then immediately take the train to Aguas Calientes, the top village on the mountain on your way to Machu Picchu. We wanted to take the train the first day so we would have the next day to spend as long as we wanted at Machu Picchu. Well, flashback to 3 days ago on this itinerary, to the day before we leave for our trip. We received an email from PeruRail, our train company we were utilizing, that all trains from all companies were suspended on Monday due to a farmers strike on the railway. Damn. Long story short, PeruRail was completely understanding of the situation and it was very easy to switch our train ride to the next day. However, we could NOT switch our pre-purchase Machu Picchu admission passes. Therefore we had to go up the mountain, explore Machu Picchu and then make our way back down the mountain, all under 12 hours. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our Aguas Calientes hotel and order a new room for an extra night stay in Cusco.

But you know what… that's what happens. Vacations never work out how you picture them. Weather, bookings, illness, any unforeseen circumstances can get in the way of a vacation, but you just need to be adaptable, let it flow and enjoy the experience as it unfolds. I’m sure having a day in Aguas Calientes would have been awesome, but I really enjoyed having an extra day in Cusco. We saw so much that we probably wouldn't have before.

Okay, back to our itinerary. We had a 6:00 am flight from Lima to Cuzco because we thought we were supposed to catch a train that day. But, since its only an hour flight and Cuzco is a relatively small town, we were at our hotel doorstep by 7:00 am. Unable to check in, they were very accommodating and was able to store our bags for us. Tierra Viva Cusco was our hotel and a quick note; its centrally located which is fantastic, the staff is kind and professional, the room was nice and the breakfast was good. The only thing that was quite disappointing is that it is located right next to a couple of bars, so it was very loud with music and people in the streets. I had a very difficult time trying to sleep. If you are looking to go out, this hotel is perfect as you can just walk right to your room after a night out, but if you are traveling and need a good night's rest, I would pass on this hotel.

The city was still asleep as we explored the cobblestone roads. Our noses led us to the only little store that was open as they were selling homemade empanadas and other fresh baked pastries and breads. We cuddled into a small table, ordered some coffee and each had a sausage empanada. We chit chatted about what we could see in the city and our game plan for the day since we were working on the fly. We devoured another empanada to go because they were that good. We set out for the San Pedro farmers market. But this was a farmers market on steroids. Rows, rows and more rows of food and merchandise. You were more or less actually in a warehouse type building with all the trinkets you could think of. Smoothie and juice bars, spices, bread and cheeses. The only off putting section was the meat. A few long rows of women butchering right in front of you. If you aren’t used to this, I would maybe skip those rows and the flies. We did however choose to walk through them. It was interesting to see how the women were utilizing all the pieces. Don’t peer to closely though, you could definitely get a little bit of splatter... We spent a few hours, touching the alpaca fur blankets, bartering prices for souvenirs and marveling at all there was to see. It's an interesting place to be. A place where locals do grocery shopping and meet their friends, and a place for tourists to get handmade gifts.

We then spent the afternoon walking the entire city of Cusco. Seeing churches and temples. It's a beautiful city with green mountains surrounding you. The best view of the city is at Limbus Rest Bar, a rooftop bar. Be prepared to walk the many steps to get there, or take a taxi. The distance from our hotel was short but you’re mostly moving vertically, not horizontally, so I happily welcomed a drink once we were there. I’d recommend getting a reservation, but we happened to score an amazing spot. We were on the balcony in a comfy little couch. We each got a fun drink, mine being a “pisco sour”, a local favorite. We ordered a ceviche bowl and it was absolutely delicious. The best we had on our entire trip. We gave a cheers and enjoyed the sunset view. It was breathtaking. And even when the sun was gone, Cusco lit up brilliantly which was just as beautiful to see. Of all the things to do in Cusco, I couldn’t recommend this restaurant more.

Day 3: Machu Picchu in a day

I’m going to keep this day relatively short in my discussion and lead you to view my “In's and Out's on how to conquer a trip to Machu Picchu in a day from Cusco” to read about ALL the details of this trip and the travel experience. Here, I’ll focus more on the timeline and Machu Picchu itself.

We got up early and enjoyed a free breakfast from the hotel and got in our taxi that they organized for us at 7:00 am. It's about a 30 minute taxi ride from Cusco to Poroy (the train station we departed from) so just make sure that is factored into your day. We chose PeruRail to travel with because of their schedule time. They are in the middle of pricing and I think the experience and hospitality you receive is worth the extra penny. The train was much nicer than anticipated and we received a snack, beverage and English announcements along the way which was appreciated. Because of the zig zag nature of the train path, the train can’t go very fast. Only about 30 mph, therefore it takes 3-4 hours to get to Machu Picchu. The train ride was fun though, as you got to see the biodiversity change as you go deeper into the jungle. The train runs along the river so it was pretty to see the rapids, valleys, and lush greenery.

After the long train ride, you arrive at Aguas Calientes where you need to find the ticket store to purchase a bus ticket to get to Machu Picchu. You can certainly hike the rest of the way. But give yourself at least 45 minutes to reach the top.

Cross the bridge over the river once you arrive in Aguas Calientes. Look for the yellow hanging sign that says bus tickets. There is a little walk up window in one of the side streets were you can purchase your tickets. They do take credit cards, but be sure to purchase round trip tickets.

Now head down the street to where the buses are. You can’t miss them as they continuously drive up and down the mountain all day long. The bus ride is about 30 minutes as it winds up the mountain. If you get motion sickness, you might be better off hiking. One you arrive, at the top they drop you off pretty much right at the front gate where you can show your admission pass and enter. It's all free form trails that are easy to follow. There are also guides you can pay if you wish as well. Explore as long as you want. Just be warned that your ticket is one time entry only and there are no restrooms once inside. Hike around, see the alpacas, and marvel at the gorgeous Andes around you. Discover Machu Picchu as you walk through the ancient city and touch the very walls they once had. The architecture and plumbing features are truly mysterious and amazing and the surrounding view is breathtaking. All a wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

Once you’ve seen all you can and your feet are sore, hop back on the bus and do your whole day in reverse. Once we got back to Cusco it was around 8:00 pm. We wanted to treat ourselves to “cuy” or roasted guinea pig. A local favorite so we had to try! It was good and tastes gamey like a pheasant or duck. Fair warning, you get the whole thing. Teeth, guts and all. Cooked well done and the skin was deliciously crispy. An interesting and adventurous meal that I’m glad we tried.

Grabbing another beer, we reflected on the day and dissected everything we saw. Mentally and physically exhausted, we were ready to call it a night. We had to switch hotels because of our extra night. The Ramada was sold out so we had to get a different one the first night. The Ramada was beautiful and quiet. A darling central court to relax in with patio furniture. They also greeted us with a complimentary drink and the room was pleasant. I would definitely stay there again.

Day 4: A lazy morning

We slept in and enjoyed a quiet morning. The breakfast spread at the Ramada hotel is the best I’ve seen in a long time. A whole buffet of items to choose from. We destroyed it.

We spent our last remaining hours, just walking around. We tried Peruvian chocolate, people watched in the town square and tried to take in very square inch of the city before we left. In the early afternoon we had a shuttle pick us up, organized by our hotel, and we headed to the airport for our flight to Rio De Janeiro.

In all, I obviously wish we had more time in Peru to see more of what it has to offer. I think a day and a half is more than enough in Cusco, but I really would have enjoyed getting to Aguas Calientes the night before as we had originally planned. We had a couple hours at Machu Picchu, but it felt rushed. Our schedule ended up working out just fine and is definitely doable for anyone looking to do a day trip to Machu Picchu. I can’t wait to go back!

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