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.

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