This and That

June 10, 2011

Peru Travel Tips

Flight
Booking anything from flight to trains to buses to hotels to transportation is not as easy as it seems. If you don’t speak Spanish it is a big pain. For flight booking, we had to do the reservation online, then we had to send our passport copy to an email address, then we had to call and confirm that they did get it. Then they somehow messed up one of our names and we had to send all the paper work again. So the whole flight booking process took us 2 days. Also make sure you print two copies of the boarding pass since they take away one. Also once you arrive in Lima, every subsequent flight you take charges you an airport tax which has to be paid in cash separately. They accept Sol or Dollar. So be prepared to have the cash handy. The tax ranges from 7$ – 40$ depending on the distance you travel. If you book your flight via travelocity or expedia, you can escape the passport sending trouble, but you still have to pay the airport tax separately. Since we booked our flights through the airline, the pain. The airlines we used are LAN for international, Peruvian for local flights.

Food
If you are a vegetarian, you are in trouble. The LAN airline veg food is the worst I have had so far. We had packed some idlies and that was our savior. While coming back, we munched Mixture and other snacks and managed.

We had packed ready-made upma mix(Made it with aval/poha, just had to add water hot or cold), theplas, chappathis, some pickle, chocolate milk for kids, juices for kids, biscuits, peanut candies, ginger candies, Maggi noodles, Power bars, chips to say the least. Our plan was to have one home made meal and one outside meal a day. Breakfast was served in all the hotels we stayed. We had to tell the hotels that we are vegetarians. Typical breakfast consists of fruits, milk, tea, bread, butter, jam, eggs. We had even requested some potatoes in one of the hotels and they accommodated our request. For the meal outside, we went to an Indian restaurant (India Cafe) in Cusco. Not too bad. they had decent veg options. Typical North Indian affair. We had one meal at La Cabana in Aquas Calientes, they had Pasta, spiced potatoes, salads, etc. The manager spoke English, so it was easier to communicate. At the entrance of Ollantaytambo, we went to a restaurant and had wonderful veg kabas and pesto pasta. In Arequipa, we cooked one day, One day we took take out from an Italian restaurant. It was OK. The cheese there is very different. So struggled a bit. In Colca Canyon, we had 2 buffet lunches, we could find fruits, Quinoa, Pasta, Rice and some veggies in them. Dinner we had in Killawasi lodge. Not too bad. On the way to Nasca, we had lunch at a place recommended by our guide, very good pasta. They were made to order. We gave the specs, like what veg, spice, sauce and they made it for us. Our guide helped with the translation, so it helped. On the way back to Lima, we stopped at a winery near Chincha, had custom made fried rice with peruvian spices. Good food. The rest of the time, we managed with the food we took. Drinks to try, Pisco sour (alcoholic beverage), Inca cola(Tasted like Bovonto, but yellow in color), Real Cola, Chicha(Corn drink).

Kids/Children
The kids had a great time. But our kids loved traveling, very comfortable with pretend play which occupied them for long stretches of time. They were great sport while making 1-3 hour hiking tours in various ruins including Machu Pichu. They slept in car, van, train, plane and where ever we asked them to. And all this they did, without any electronic aids like Gameboy. They ate whatever we put in their plates. For the most part, they adjusted better than us. So use your judgement based on your kids interest.

Weather
Machu Pichu is good most part of their time except Dec – March which is their rainy season. The only way to reach Machu Pichu is by train and the train route might get closed during rainy season due to land slides. When we visited Machu Pichu, it rained but it was just a drizzle which lasts 5-10 mins. So easily manageable. Ica/Nasca were hot. Arequipa and Colca Canyon were cold in the evenings.

Immigration/Vaccination
For US, citizens, there is no visa requirement when we visited. As for vaccination, one requires yellow fever vaccination, if traveling close to Amazon. since we did not, we didn’t have to.

Accomodation
Tripadvisor was our guru in deciding which hotels to pick up! And the hotels we picked based on their recommendations were great. But as I said, booking the hotels weren’t easy. Calls were lost in translation. So we had to email in detail and then follow up with calls. Most don’t take credit cards, so for some, we had to wire the advance. And pay the rest in cash. But once we were there, we were taken care of wonderfully. We stayed in a different place every night.

Cusco – Hotel Torre Dorada
Pros: Comfortable rooms. Very good breakfast. They pack your breakfast if you leave early. Friendly staff.
Cons: No elevators, but the staff help with the baggages. The walls are thin. So you could hear the noise, since we were the noise makers, we didn’t have problem, but others did.

Aquas Calientes(Machu Pichu) – La Cabana
Pros: Friendly staff, welcome drink, goes out of the way to help you. Restaurant attached. A short walk from the train station. But the hotel staff help with your baggage. So you just have to carry yourself.
Cons: Breakfast not that great, but the friendly staff made up for it. No elevators, but the staff help with the baggages.

Arequipa – Casa Arequipa
Pros: Wonderful breakfast, great staff, beautiful rooms, the kids loved this place. They let us use their kitchen for making noodles. Short cab ride or 20 minute walk to city center. The staf again were helpful in ordering take out, calling cab, arranging trips, etc. We stayed 2 nights there but they were alternate nights. So they let us leave the baggage there when we went for Colca Canyon for a night.
Cons: No elevators, but the staff help with the baggages.

Colca Canyon – Kilawasi Lodge
Pros: Rustic hotels with hammocks outside and with amazing views of the Colca Canyon. Easy access to Colca Canyon hike.
Cons: Kitchen staff a little slow in making veg food. So give yourself ample wait time.

Ica – El Huacachinero
Pros: It is right on the Huacachina oasis. Nice pool. Decent breakfast. Close to the sand buggy ride on the desert.
Cons: Basic rooms. Sand everywhere. Guess, that happens in a desert.

Travel agents
We arranged our trip for the most part, other than Colca Canyon tours and Ica/Nasca trip.

For Colca Canyon, we went with Killawasi lodge. They arranged the round-trip from Arequipa, 1 night accommodation at Killawasi lodge, a guide for Colca hike. It was convenient. The guide for the hike knew only little english. But nevertheless it was fun. The van round-trip was fine since only there were 2 other people along with our group of 10. If the van is packed, then it might get uncomfortable.

For Ica/Nasca, we bravely went with Peru Golden Shuttle. Mr.Branimir was excellent. He was the owner and the guide for us. Speaks English, very helpful, understands our safety concerns, children’s needs and acts accordingly. Very nice travel companion as well. The brave part was we had to wire him 70% of the trip cost before even landing in Peru since he had to book the Nasca flight tickets and arrange transportation. Branimir was very open to giving us references in the US. Still we breathed easy once we saw him greet us in the Lima airport. It was a worthy risk in retrospect.

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December 7, 2010

What a vacation! Planes, trains and automobiles!

Filed under: travel tips, travelogue — Tags: , , , , , — yaadayaada @ 12:41 am

Had a great time the past 10 days in Peru! More than Peru, it was a vacation with 2 of my best friends and their family!

We visited Machu Pichchu, Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Ica Sand dunes and Nasca lines. It was a last minute trip. Utbt initiated it, husband and I joined in. We started planning, when I say we, mainly utbt. Then friend R decided to join us on the trip from the east coast. So it was one marathon planning. We started planning this trip 3 weeks before thanksgiving. We planned to leave on thanksgiving day and be back the next weekend. We knew where and when we were going, but haven’t done a thing other than our flight booking. The last 10 days before the trip saw us running around crazy calling/mailing every possible hotel/travel agent to get the booking done. We decided to book by ourselves instead of going with a travel agent since we thought it would save us money. It did save us money but completely drained us out. Peru is very much like India when it comes to using credit cards and internet. Add to this the language barrier. Most don’t speak English. We booked hotels via emails. Tripadvisor was very helpful in deciding where to stay. For Nasca, we booked via a travel agent, but we had to wire him 1000+ dollars before we reached there. So we were left wondering if he would show up. We finalized on the Nasca trip and Arequipa hotel only the day before Thanksgiving. Finally left on Thanksgiving day and had the time of our life! It was Utbt’s dream vacation and we lived it along with her and enjoyed it more than her! The kids were rock solid through out the vacation. Meija and Chula of Utbt and S & K of friend R. Age 3,4,5,6. They were just awesome! They held up better on the 10000 feet plus altitude than their parents!

Travelogue and Travel tips to follow soon!

January 13, 2010

Hawa Hawaii!

Had a wonderful time in Hawaii Christmas through New Year! Visited Honolulu and Big Island with Boo and family. You can get detailed travelogue from Boo’s travelogue. It was a great vacation. We did the snorkeling, hiking, swimming, sight seeing, animal spotting, beach combing, sun bathing to name a few. Will put some pictures up sometime soon!

I booked my trip through Pleasant Hawaiian travels. They were good. But our flight seats were messed up due to a “glitch” that no one know owns up to. So our group was kind of separated. So in future, need to double check with airlines a week before so that we can set these things straight ahead of time. Since all the airlines, other than the good ones, started charging for Check in baggages, we didn’t check in any. We took it all as carry on. But interisland airlines are even smaller and their carry on baggage sizes are smaller, so had to shell out 10$ each for 4 our carry-ons. I hate flying. And I hate how the airlines are ripping people off.

We stayed at Aston Waikiki on the beach in Waikiki Beach. It was very nice. Easy access to the beach. There is a children’s beach right opposite to the hotel. No waves, calm and wonderful for little children.

We stayed at Aston Kona by the Sea in Big Island. It is a condo. The condos are ocean front. It is a wonderful to watch the sunset. Very helpful staff. Some of the best beaches in big Island on the West coast are Anaehoomalu Beach (calm, lifeguard, beach equipment rentals, restaurants nearby), Hapuna Beach(Wonderful, hite sandy beach, nice waves if you like wave riding, picnic areas), Punalu beach (Black sand beach and turtles on beach). We couldn’t go to any of the beaches in West coast. So no tips there. But I do suggest visitors to split their stay between Kona and Hilo that way, they can get to see both the coasts at an easy pace. The snorkeling is best near the Captain Cook’s monument (Keauhou Bay). And I saw a reef shark while snorkeling ūüôā

Overall, it was one of the best vacations thanks to the company as well as Hawaii!

April 23, 2008

Cruise tips

Booking

  • Booking in advance gets you the best staterooms and also it is cheaper
  • Priceline has good deals, but if it is a large group, I feel comfortable calling the cruise line directly

Food

  • Lot of vegetarian choices available
  • There is an option of booking Indian vegetarian food for the formal dinners. Talk to your maitre’d on the first day about your food preference.
  • Many soups have chicken/beef broth in them, so enquire if you are particular
  • Need to book dinner time while making the reservation. Usually they have time slots like 6, 6:30, 7, 7:30. So please pick the one that works for the entire gang.
  • For dinner if you are going as couple, you have the option of booking your own table or booking it along with others. Table sizes Small, Medium, Large

Kids/Children

  • Kids have lot of activities, pools, camp, daycare, etc
  • Daycare for infants cost about 6$ an hour. Not too bad

Weather

  • It depends on the time of the year and where you go. Cruises from Florida are usually warmer than the ones from San Diego. We went during the first of March and it was quite cold and windy on the deck

SeaSickness

  • Thankfully none of us got seasick
  • We had one person in our group who was pregnant, we bought those seasickness/motion sickness band for her. It helped on the road trip, she didn’t need it on the ship
  • Staterooms in lower levels and in the middle are more comfortable. Less sea-sickness

StateRooms

  • They have staterooms with balcony. They get sold out pretty fast
  • There are rooms that can accomodate 2,3,4 people in a room. The ones that can accomodate more than 2 people usually have pull out beds. Watch your head when they are pulled out. Many people from our group got pretty badly dinged

Immigration

  • We had people from all our the world. The reason we chose Mexico was because they let US tourist visa holders with multiple entry US visa to travel without any additional visa

January 22, 2008

Cancun Travel tips

Filed under: travel tips — Tags: , , , , — yaadayaada @ 9:56 pm

Transportation

  • We used the¬†USA Transfers for the airport¬†transfer from Cancun airport to the hotel area.¬†It cost us 52$ for the round trip.¬†It is a private transfer.¬†http://entertainment-plus.net/tour_transport.cfm¬†
  • Local Buses are very convenient to go around the town of Cancun. Cost around 65 US cents per ride irrespective of the distance within Cancun
  • The ADO buses are very convenient if you are traveling outside of Cancun.

Day trips from Cancun

  • Chitzen itza
    • We booked the trip in the booth outside of Royal Sands. It was 42USD for the day trip including lunch. They had some salads, breads, potatoes, pasta, fruits¬†for vegetarian¬† choices.
  • Tulum
    • Beautiful place. Must See. We used the ADO bus to travel. It cost us 7USD per person for one way. On the way back, we took the vanpool (2USD) to Playa Del Carmen.
  • Playa Del Carmen
    • ¬†We weren’t too impressed with Playa Del Carmen. The ADO bus to Cancun cost around 3.50USD.
  • Isla Mujeres
    • Beautiful island. Must see. Scenic views. We took the local bus to Puerto Juarez. From there took the ferry to Isla Mujeres 7 USD. Within isla Mujeres we took the taxi tour. For 20USD, our taxi driver gave us a tour of the entire island.
  • Snorkeling
    • We took the aqua tours subsee exporer/snorkeling for 50USD. We booked through the representative at the Ritz. The subsee exporer was nice. We got to see some shark, turtle and sting ray. The snorkeling was nice as well. Not the best I have ever seen.

Vegetarian Food

  • 100% Natural

                   Lot of vegetarian choices. They have very interesting vegetable and fruit juices and smoothies. It is sitauted opposite to Senor Frog on Kukulcan Blvd.

  • Casa Maquey

                  The chef makes vegetarian dishes on demand. Very tasty food. The best Gauacomole that we ate in Cancun. It is located in Kukulcan Plaza.

  • La Casa de Las Margaritas Restaurant

                 They have a few vegetraian dishes. The food is ok. The service is very attentive. The restaurant is very colorful and vibrant. It is worth going into just see the ambience. This is situated in the La Isla Mall.

  • Lot of fastfood joints like McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, etc can be found all over the place.

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