This and That

June 10, 2011

Peru Travel Tips

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

December 30, 2010

Day 6-7 Colca Canyon-Arequipa

On Day 6, after a hearty breakfast, we left for Colca Canyon in our pre-arranged van. We had 2 more couple traveling with us. It takes about 6 hours to reach Yanque. We have to take the mountain roads to reach there. The highest elevation we see on the way is 4900m. While Yanque is at around 3200m. So on the winding roads we drove and we saw a whole bunch of wild life like lama, vicuñas, alpacas, flamingoes, ibises, Andean geese, ducks and Andean eagles.

The elevation and the winding roads causes altitude sickness to a lot of people. Friend R and utbt got sick. The driver of our van did some alcohol massage on R’s face and it helped her. The rest of us were fine chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea. The guide was very friendly and informative. At 4900 meter we stopped for some rest, bio-break and coca tea. The rest-room was really well maintained in that land of nowhere. We reached Chivay and breaked for lunch. Had an Andean lunch at Chivay while friend R rested and utbt was fasting . The food was pretty decent. We had rice, some chutneys, fruits(the bananas were yum), quinoa, potato curry, salads, banana fritters, etc since 85% of our group was vegetarians. Then left for lodge in Yanque. The lodge was very rustics overlooking the canyon along with its terraces. There were hammocks that the kids enjoyed. Since R and utbt were sick, husband, myself and utbt’s husband R left for a 3 hour hike along with our guide and 2 other guests. The guide didn’t know English and we didn’t know Spanish and we used sign-language most of the time. The hike was wonderful. Our guide’s dog, Oso also followed us. The hike took us through multiple bridges, the canyons, Inca terraces with maize, corn and beans. We were able to see the Colcas(storage bins) on the side of the canyon where the Incas used to store their produce.

After 2 hours of hike stopped at hot springs and husband had a nice hot bath while friend and I roamed around clicking pictures. Then we walked via a delicate bridge one at a time crossing the canyon and reached the hotel in an hour. Our guide’s dog Oso refused to cross the bridge, so our guide had to carry him.

We reached the hotel and had hot soup and dinner and called it a wonderful day. Next day, after an early breakfast left for Condor’s cross to witness the crossing of the Condors. We waited for an hour for the Condors and finally 1 showed up. In June, typically 20 plus Condors show up, but since it was nesting season when we visited, we were lucky to see the one. The drive to Condor’s cross was also beautiful. The kids were very patient and waited for the condor.

On the way, back, we stopped at Chivay again for breakfast. The Andean buffet lunch this time was not very veg-friendly, but we were able to manage with plain rice and fruits. We reached our hotel at around 4pm. Then utbt, my husband and I left to see the Museo Santuarios Andinos in Arequipa. The Mummy Juanita, the ice maiden is a well-preserved body of a young teenage girl who was sacrificed on top of Mount Ampato around the mid 15th century. They also have the umbilical cord preserved in corn alcohol. Wish the Incas had written it all down.

After some grocery shopping in the plaza, we came back to the hotel to hot dinner of Maggi noodles prepared by utbt’s husband and friend R’s husband. The next day, after an early breakfast, we left for Lima.

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!

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