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Trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu Peru

May 16-24, 2013


One of the three principal places on Jenny's bucket list has been Machu Picchu (we have already covered the other two - Stonehenge and the Cape of Good Hope). Charlie was in Machu Picchu in 1969, before he knew Jenny, and was afraid a trip now would be a waste since it has become a popular tourist destination. When American Airlines initiated service from Dallas direct to Lima (promotional tickets), we decided to go. Bottom line, Peru has done a wonderful job keeping Machu Picchu both unspoiled and accessible to the tourist.

Travel hints

On-line guides said that the US Dollar is widely used and accepted, so we took lots of US cash. Not true. The Peruvian Neuvo Sol was universal (perhaps not in the high end jewelry stores, but we didn't go there). Tours were often quoted in dollars, but meals, retail stores, and vendors all dealt in sols. Guides were glad to accept tips in dollars (but would probably take anything).

Travel guides say that credit cards are not widely accepted. They were accepted at every restaurant we used, and even by many vendors in the market. Some places only accept one type - for example, our hotel only accepted Master Card, but not Visa.

ATMs worked as everywhere. The widely available GlobalNet ATMs reportedly have a very high fee, so I avoided them. I used a local bank ATM (the fee came to US$5.35 which my bank refunded) and another time I used CitiBank (which charged no fee) with a tiny bit better exchange rate. Some ATMs even give the choice of receiving US Dollars.

Getting there Thursday afternoon May 16 to Friday morning

The way to get to Machu Picchu is to fly to Lima, Peru (sea level), then fly 80 minutes to Cusco, Peru, acclimate to the 11,000 foot altitude for a couple days, then train/car 4 hours to Machu Picchu at a mere 8,000 foot altitude.

Flight from Austin to Dallas connecting to anywhere is pretty simple. Then the new Dallas flight to Peru which lands at 12:20 am (why?), with the earliest connecting flight to Cusco leaving at 5:25 am. Many of the folks on the Dallas-Lima flight were going to Cusco. Only a 5 hour layover in the middle of the night in an almost empty airport. Then arrive in Cusco (at 11,000 feet altitude) at 6:45. At that altitude, even a roller bag is a heavy load. Finally a taxi to the hotel.

Hotel recommendation

We stayed at the Los Apus hotel - 20 unique rooms (I believe every room is different), extra long beds (important to me), free WiFi throughout the hotel, free breakfast including custom cooked eggs on request, free airport transfers, reasonable price, and a wonderful staff, especially the manager, Adriana Valer. Our room 301 even had a small balcony overlooking the city.

Around town May 17

Los Apus hotel is at Atocsaycuchi 515. But Google could not find it on their maps. When we got there, we could see why. Perhaps because the Google camera-car wasn't able to get up Atocsaycuchi street. Jenny is resting at the hotel entrance, 18 steps up from Choquechaca, the nearest street that can handle cars. But this is really a street, just no cars. And our room was on the third floor above this lobby entrance.

Down to the street (the one with cars), and a block away was the "street" that led to the main square. Yup. Another real street without cars for the first block.

Once we cross the first small square the street gets lots larger - enough to support cars and sidewalks on each side. Of course, miniBus drivers think it is fine, too. When a car comes by, pedestrians must get on the sidewalk against the buildings. A couple times my sleeve was brushed by a passing mirror.

Jenny loved the name of the tiny street to the right

After another small square (really a school yard, but it has a bench to sit and catch your breath), the street got wider, since the sidewalk had to change to steps. For the first day or two it is really hard being at 11,000 feet, or at least walking where half the streets are stairs. Who's kidding who - we were still puffing after a week. But the locals, even old folks, ran up that hill, probably to make us wimpy tourists feel bad.

The main square, the Plaza de Armas, is quite attractive and a center of activity. Key landmark is the cathedral. The Incas built the temple known as Kiswarkancha, the Inca palace of the ruler of the Kingdom of Cusco, around a century before the Spanish colonists arrived. The Spanish intentionally desecrated the Inca temple, reusing the land and stones to build their cathedral from about 1559 to 1654, using forced Inca labor.

On the second side of the square the Jesuits built a church to compete with the Dominican cathedral. The Dominican archbishop of Cusco finally appealed to the pope to stop the Jesuits from building a competing church "next door," but by the time the ship with the reply from the pope arrived, the Jesuit Church was done.

In the center of the square is an Inka fountain. Inka means king in the native language; Inca means the Spanish couldn't spell.

Jenny loved the flowers everywhere - remember it is the end of summer - comparable to November because of the Southern hemisphere. Fortunately it is tropical enough that it rarely snows (one person said twice in the last 22 years) - think of the streets above with snow!

How do you say 11,000 foot altitude valley with a straight face? Look down this hill to the "square" at the bottom. Then look beyond the square, up the hill, with houses all the way to the top. At night, these houses make the hills look like a Christmas tree with lights surrounding the city.

Of course, Jenny cannot pass up a market, in any country, any city, any type market. We didn't take pictures of the usual supermarket (although we did check out a couple). Fruit makes the prettiest display in the big public market, but if you want more, click here

There were many large and small parks and squares throughout the city.

City Tour May 18

We went on a traditional half day city tour, which started with the cathedral. Our guide was a native and shared many connections between the Spanish/Christian culture and the Native culture - very interesting. So many symbols in common, I don't recommend reading the "da Vinci Code" at the same time (as I did). To continue with the city tour, click here.

Machu Picchu May 20

Machu Picchu is unlike anything I have seen anywhere - definitely a must-see. I was here in 1969, and was worried that it would have been spoiled, but it was not. This one day is worth the entire trip. Built at the top of a hill, about 1450, it is an entire city, with terraced farm lands, houses for storage of goods, water supply, and facilities for a population of up to 750 people.

See the group of people about the middle of the picture on the left - that is the entrance/exit for the current tourists. See the people at the top of the hill - that is where most of the guides start the tour. Take your time to walk up there, then gradually work your way down.

Everyone says this was discovered by Hiram Bingham (a Yale history professor, not an archeologist), but there were earlier explorers and Bingham was led to Machu Picchu in 1911 by an 11 year old native. (If he was like kids in Cusco, he probably wanted a sol (38 cents) to shine his shoes, a sol to have his picture taken, and (following the pattern) a sol to show him the way. Machu Picchu is about 1,000 feet above the river and train line that runs through the bottom of the valley. For more on Machu Picchu click here.

Jenny's favorite street vendor. Note she has her loom for weaving belts around her waist and attached to her foot. She showed Jenny how it was done, and when Jenny bought one, had no problem changing a large bill that many stores could not change.

As usual I love collecting pictures of local furniture from museums

More pictures around town - you have heard the story


It seemed funny, but in Peru there was often a lady cleaning the men's restroom, and no indication that the men's room was closed. Men just came and went, did their thing as usual, the lady didn't pay attention. Except one... a young girl, apparently new to the job, self consciously faced the corner when men came in. Of course the corner had a mirror, so she had a perfect view of the whole room. That same time, there was a mother teaching her young son how to use the urinals. No problem, but just a surprise. It shouldn't have been a surprise - I have been in co-ed public rest rooms in Japan.

If you decide you want eggs for breakfast, don't order 5 minute boiled eggs. At 11,000 feet, the boiling point of water is about 20 degrees lower, so a 5 minute boiled egg has barely started to solidify.

In Cusco, fireworks are common between 5 and 7 am each day. We asked the hotel manager, and she explained that it was some religious tradition. MY religion doesn't normally include fireworks at sunrise, but for the week there, I guess it did!

Getting Home - May 23-24

The taxi to the Cusco airport left at lunch time Thursday. Flight Cusco to Lima was uneventful. Landed in Lima, went through exit processing, but could not check into the American Airlines flight - the ticket counters would not be set up for at least 3 hours. Okay, sit and wait. But when the counters finally opened, they were rushing to process a flight to Miami, so wait in a different line for over an hour. Finally processed, and (because of Platinum status) got access to the "club." But our 1:40 am flight would not leave until 4:00 am, then 5:00 am, then 5:30 am. Of course, we missed our connections in Dallas - multiple connections missed, in part because of lightning in Dallas so they couldn't get the bags off our plane. Instead of getting home on Friday morning, we made it by Friday night. And American apologized with a bunch of extra free miles.

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