Day 5: Cusco to Machu Picchu
After getting an actual night’s sleep, we were met at the plaza by our tour guide who would be with us throughout the day. The route to Machu Picchu takes you through the Sacred Valley, a.k.a. “The Navel of Civilization” where many of the crops the entire world relies on (corn, potatoes, etc.) were developed over centuries of bioengineering.
From here we visited an archeological site where we got up and close with the terraces that you will see etched into just about every mountain you pass. It is an extra fee to get into the Sacred Valley (70 soles or about $17.50) which was not included in our tour fees, so be sure to have actual cash on hand.
After visiting this site, we went to the local silver store where I spent too much money on extremely beautiful (but incredibly inexpensive for the quality) jewelry. After that was lunch, another buffet that was an extra 45 soles ($10.25). It was a fancier buffet and Sharee and I had the best latte of our lives. One thing to note with buffets is they often time do not include drinks so you’ll have to pay extra for these.
After this buffet, we visited another temple which was built in the shape of a llama.
We had another quick history lesson which included information on how the temple was created by bringing rocks over from a quarry across the valley and rolling them up the mountain, and how each piece was chiseled perfectly into place.
During this excursion we also lost a Columbian couple who decided to shop instead of going on the tour. The bus left without them to take us to the train station and Sharee and I don’t know if they were ever seen again, so just a reminder to, y’know, stay with the group.
Next up was the train to Aguas Calientes, a.k.a. Machu Picchu town. This 2 hour ride requires a face shield the entire time. It also takes you through some beautiful country side.
At the station another guide was waiting to walk us to our hotel. It was dark at the time, but we could see the outline of Machu Picchu in the distance. Dinner was not included in this experience but there was not a lack of restaurants to choose from in this tourist town.
Day 6: Machu Picchu
After breakfast at our hotel, we were met by a guide to take us to the shuttle to Machu Picchu. The morning felt chaotic as we waited at the shuttle line for quite some time for our Machu Picchu guide to get there.
We were then crammed onto a 25 minute shuttle ride up to Machu Picchu while wearing masks and face shields. It was hot and there was zero social distancing. We were told by our guide that in normal tourist times 8,000 people visited and you could be could be waiting up to 2 hours for a shuttle, but with Covid restrictions the numbers were drastically reduced. You can also definitely hike up from Aguas Calientes (or do the 4 day trek on the Incan Trail), but with our schedule we did not have time for that.
Getting off the shuttle and into Machu Picchu felt rushed and chaotic as well, but once we got going things relaxed. It’s a bit of a hike to get to Machu Picchu, but honestly the elevation is much lower than Cusco and Sharee and I felt that the altitude wasn’t as big of an issue as people make it out to be. Our guide stopped us along the way, going over some history, including the fact that no one knows what Machu Picchu was actually named. The name Machu Picchu comes from the fact that when the so-called “discoverer” of the site, Hiram Bingham (he didn’t actually discover it, locals knew of its existence and led him there) asked a group of farmers if they’d seen a city where kings had once lived, they said they knew of such a place an referred to it as “Machu Picchu” which meant “old mountain” in Quechua, the local language.
The tour took about three hours. After the tour was finished, we took the shuttle back down to Aguas Calientes and did a bit of shopping at the train station before our two hour ride to Ollantaytambo where we were met by a cab driver that would take us back to Cusco.
Worth it: Kinda? This was our most expensive trip and I think if you go to Peru you kind of have to visit Machu Picchu, but it wasn’t my favorite trip. While there are other tours that are more expensive, we kind of felt nickel and dimed and it’d probably be better to pick a tour that includes everything.
Day 7: The Last Incan Bridge
Okay… just where to begin with this one.
This was our earliest trip, beginning at 4:45 a.m.
We were the last ones to get picked up for this tour and so we had no options on where to sit on the shuttle except for the back row where we were surrounded by a family that we would soon find out was not only sick but also not inclined to wear masks.
When I say surrounded, I mean surrounded. Sick people in front of us. Sick people to the right of us. A pod, if you will, of sick people. Who knew they were sick because they brought a roll of toilet paper with them to blow their noses. And still decided to go on this tour.
The tour guide was nice but did not enforce mask wearing. I also felt that in the times of Covid we should not be in a full shuttle, and none of our tours besides this one had shuttles that were more than 50% full.
So, next is the tour. We first stopped for breakfast at the restaurant we’d stopped at for Vinicunca… Sharee and I went to the end of the table but did not eat because we were not hungry. But guess who came right on over and surrounded us? That’s right, SICK FAMILY! Our pod decided to envelop us once again.
The tour included visits to four lagoons which we thought were going to be some jungley, turquoise waters… but they were basically just a bunch of lakes.
We did make it to the Last Incan Bridge which is the last surviving example of the hundreds of bridges that were along the incan trail. Made of grass and sticks, the bridge is renewed ever year by local townspeople. Sharee and I got down well before the rest of the tour and were able to cross it three different times.
After this, we visited a small, extinct volcano (and I do mean small) and headed back to the same restaurant for the third time.
The shuttle ride back was really rough. With no AC and no mask wearing sick family getting sicker and sicker, my temper was starting to flare. To make matters worse, they also insisted on buying some Pan Chulta (bread) from vendors on the side of the road TWICE, prolonging our return to Cusco.
“This is it,” I thought. “If I don’t get Covid here, I will surely get something.”
(luckily both Sharee and I remained Covid and other illness free).
Worth it: That would be no. The tour wasn’t expensive… and two meals is good. Contracting Covid from a germy no mask wearin’ family? Bad.
I’d say find another company who takes health a little more seriously.
Day 8: Via Ferrata
You want the second most metal (literally) part of this trip? Well, here it is.
CLIMB UP A BIG OL’ SKETCHY WALL AND ZIPLINE DOWN
The perfect way to spend my 40th birthday.
Skylodge is a series of pods built into the side of a mountain.
While you can say overnight in one of the pods, it’s $500 per person and so after Sharee and I loled for awhile, remembering we live in the Inland Empire, we went for the tour instead. To get to the hotel you actually have to climb up Via Ferrata, or “The Iron Way” which is a series of ladder like metal steps drilled into the wall of a cliff. METAL Y’ALL.
So. When we booked this trip, we planned it based off of the description. Pickup at 8. One hour drive to base camp each way. Climb wall, zipline down. One hour drive back.
Five hours total, said the site.
This would us back to Cusco at 1:00 p.m. We’d eat a meal, shop a bit, then head to the airport around 4:30 for our Flight at 7:45 (Cusco airport is… weird and can take longer to get through security). Bada bing, bada boom.
About 10 minutes into the shuttle ride our guide informed us we would be getting back until 5:00 p.m.
The Getyourguide.com description was COMPLETELY wrong. And as an event planner, I do not do well with timelines being wrong.
After some reassurances from our guide that we’d make it to the airport on time, I didn’t leap out of the bus as it was still running and roll on to the sidewalk like something out of an action film and went on the trip anyway (y’all I seriously don’t do well with timelines being wrong).
And I’m sure glad I stayed, as this was my very favorite part of our time in Peru.
First off, the company takes safety seriously. We were distanced on the bus, everyone was wearing a mask, and this was hands down the best group we toured with.
Secondly, the guide actually arranged for a taxi to take us back to Cusco so we could be sure to get to the airport on time. Love it.
Also, Latam, take notice of what good customer service looks like.
Finally, we had an amazing adventure, wall climbing and ziplining. The guides were so professional and helpful, especially when doing things like crossing this bonkers “bridge” made of just wire.
After a quick bagged lunch, we then went down the mountain with ever hiker’s dream: a series of six ziplines.
After zipping down from the Skylodge, we got into our taxi that had specifically been called for us and made our way back to Cusco to catch our flight home.
Once we got through the nightmare that was the Lima airport, we made it into LAX at 7:30 exhausted, but grateful to be on US soil again where all toilets have seats and most dogs wearing sweater have owners.
So there you have it. Our trip to Peru in nine days. While it took a lot of planning and work, we’re glad we did not go with a tour company to plan each of our excursions. Most I’ve talked to who did so remark that we were able to see a lot more than one tour group offered and we saved money to boot.
Even though we saw a ton, there a couple of more things I would have liked to have done if we had more time:
If you have questions, please feel free to comment below!