This trip was actually way before kids (August 2007 actually, so cheating a little! shhh don’t tell), but it was so fabulous and I so recommended as a getaway that I am adding here to the list.
I did my typical extensive (weeks of scandalously obsessive planning!) research at the time and I wanted to go with a local tour operator and yet remain independent in my travel (private vs group). I found the perfect combination by going with Inka Explorers. They were great!
Again, this was a while back but I will give you the names of hotels we stayed and places we visited, as we thought the entire team was extremely well planned (but see what has happened in over a decade ;)!). We flew in and out of Lima, and stayed at:
The cost was around USD$1,700 per person in 2007 (we traveled with a friend for the first portion of it so had triple accommodations), plus generous tips, international flights and meals not included below.
Even though I am sharing the plan in detail, for Peru I still really highly recommend going with a travel company (as I said I loved the one we used but not sure how it is now) – I remember being slightly less expensive (or the same of booking on my own) and things were totally resolved for us AND they hired locals and just fantastic guides.The guides made a huge difference in the sites! (plus if something does not work out they figure it out for you).
The trip included all accommodations including breakfast and first class transportation: Lima to Huaraz and return, Huaraz to Lima, private transport from Huaraz to camping/hiking start point Cashapampa and private transport return from Vaqueria to Huaraz. It also included all meals while on the treks (breakfast, lunch, and dinner), and professional English speaking guides on all treks and tours (they were really top notch!).
The cost of the trip also included the entry fee to the Inca Trail and Machupicchu, visitors pass to all sites in Cusco and Sacred Valley, entry fee to Museum in Lima, upgrade Tourist train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes and return to Cusco (Vistadome) and the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machupicchu and return down to Aguas Calientes.
For the Cordillera Blanca camping section of the trip, things were really first class including ample 4 season tents, tent for dining, tent for kitchen, latrine, thermo rest, oxygen (which I totally had to use the first day, along with the emergency horse to walk me a few miles lol, then it was totally fine!), first aid kit. They also brought treated water while on the hike.
On the hike we even had a cook and assistant all to ourselves (yuuum!), mules on the Santa Cruz Trek, horse – tender, and entry fees to Huaraz Park. I mean hello fancy hiking!
Day 1. Met at the airport by a staff of Inca Explorers (this driver was so lovely, we miss him even today!) and transferred to our hotel in the lively district of Miraflores (Lima). We walked around the city a little bit, exchange money on the street (literally people on the street changing money, kind of fun and super convenient) and had some Pisco Sour in a hipsterish looking small bar near the hotel.
Day 2. We woke up early and had a lovely hotel breakfast early morning flight to Cusco, the capital of the Incas. There we were met by a staff of Inca Explorers and taken to our hotel where we were immediately offered taste a Coca tea (Andean leaf) while the guide filled us in on the travel itinerary and Cusco overall. Today we had a free day to walk around the city and explore. I tried llama meat for the first time (delicious, and almost no to zero cholesterol?!) but sadly the altitude sickness hit shortly thereaftear. After taking some pills and taking it easy a little bit, I was good to go and continued exploring. One of the things I loved the most about this city is the amazing modern restaurants mixed with such a charming old city. Small enough to walk around it on your own, absolutely lovely spot, but be warned of the altitude if that affects you! (though please do not let it stop you from going).
Day 3. Today our tour guide took us to the Sacred Valley for a full day visiting Pisac,
a typical Indian market and the ruins above the town. Afterwards we traveled to the Incan Fortress of Ollantaytambo exploring the Inca site in town.
Day 4. Inca Trail / Machupicchu: We had an early morning start from Cusco by train to Km 104 (2,200 mts), our starting point for (shorter hike version (you could do a longer walk, not sure if still available as space was limited) the Inca Trail. At Km 104 we started our trek along the Royal Path of the Incas, an ancient stone trail linked one time from the capital of the Inca empire, Cusco, to the fascinating sacred city of Machupicchu. On route we stopped at the Inca Site Wiñaywayna (forever Young) to then continue and reach the Sung Gate from where we had our first (and totally breathtaking) view of Machupicchu. We explored for a little bit then continued to Aguas Calientes town for dinner and sleep.
Day 5. After breakfast we took the first bus up to Machupicchu where we had about 6-7 hours to explore this remarkable archaeological site on our own. We decided to also hike climb Huaynapicchu for an unparalleled view of the lost city of the Incas, which we highly recommend. An alternatively it is possible to visit the hot baths of Aguas Calientes, but we chose to skip this and instead spend more time in Machupicchu. Sadly it was time to return, which we did by going back to Aguast calientes and taking the or 3:50 pm. train for Cusco, passing through the scenic Urubamba valley.
Day 6. Today we had a free day to further explore Cusco and visit the nearby ruins at Sacsayhuaman, Qenqo, Pucapucara and Tambomachay, or try local cuisine. You must try the guinea pig while there.
As for places to eat, a definite highlight was the MAP Cafe for dinner, which is inside the Museo de Arte Precolombino courtyard that has as super modern glass box within it (virtual tour of the restaurant here) – I recommend the splurge here if you can! (another review here). Sadly I cannot remember the other places we ate but I am telling you, you will not worry about good options!
Day 7. Today we basically just went back to the airport so that we could go back to Lima and prepare for our trip to Huaraz. Again here I am so upset I cannot find the restaurant we visited near the hotel that was SO delicious and inexpensive…I wish I had started my blog back then because of my poor memory!
Day 8. Time to take the fancy bus towards to Huaraz.We watched some movies in our reclining seats, then spend that day at Huaraz to get acclimated for our longer hike. We had quite an adventurous day doing a smaller hike to get us used to the altitude, but then we found ourselves in some random minivan that stopped every few seconds and a person opened the door and popped out saying ‘vamoooos!’ (let’s go!), getting yet another local in for a few cents (there were like 16 of us haha, I was waiting for some chickens to join). Within about 40 mins, we stopped and they told us ‘the bridge’ in front had collapsed (by bridge I mean like a wooden plank that was just a couple of meters long lol). Thankfully we were almost at the start of our hike so we just started our hike earlier which was great as we passed through a very small village and someone local (that knew our guide) showed us their house and invited us to have some guinea pig and potatoes baked on their home made oven. Now I speak Spanish but these people not so much, sorry no Quechua for me! The fun of traveling at its best, rubbing your belly and smiling is all the communication you need!
Day 9/13: We made an early start from Huaraz down the Callejon de Huaylas by bus to start our Santa Cruz hike at Cordillera Blanca the highest tropical mountain range in the world). The walk combined lots of glaciated scenery with high water meadows and Andean villages. The ascent is gradual until the last 500 meters arriving at a pass of 4750 meters (yeah it is REALLY high so take your time!). The food they cook for you along the way is so good, you will totally feel like royalty all the time.
In this trip, our guides used pack mules on this trek (which simultaneously made me feel extremely grateful AND guilty). It is also possible to take horses, as an option (as I stated above I had to do this for a few miles until my sickness passed (altitude) but they gave me some oxygen and then good as new for the rest of the trip!).
Cashapampa the starting point for the popular Santa Cruz Trek, had incredible views of the glacial mountains, Alpamayo (5,947m), considered to be the most beautiful glaciated peak in the world (according to Peruvians at least :)) and Huascaran (6,768m), the highest mountain in Peru. We then climbed through three ecological zones; Quechua, Yunga and Puna with beautiful lakes. Our highest point on the trek was Punta Union Pass (4,750m) – felt so good to reach it!
- Cashapampa – Met the lovely arrerios and mules and set off for an afternoon’s walk climbing the steep-sided valley, Quebrada Santa Cruz, because of the presence of Mt Santa Cruz on our left (6259m). As we reached our first campsite, Llama Corral (3760m), the terrain flattened out to a wide glacial valley with a flat bottom
- Llama Corral – Taullipampa – This was a whole day of classic high Andean valley trekking. Moderate in grade, with fantastic vistas of snow and ice clad peaks around every corner. Our route took us past the famous Alpamayo (5947m), Caraz (6025m) and Quitataju (6036m); stopping for lunch by a confluence of glacial streams we arrived at out campsite, Taullipampa. Here we pitched camp at 4,250m nestled under the awe inspiring peaks and ice covered ridge of Taulliraju (5830m). Beautiful stars at night no one else around!
- Taullipampa – Punta Union – Paria A hearty breakfast (giant pancakes never tasted so good!) provided fuel for the super stiff 500m ascent to the watershed shared with Quebrada Huaripampa. Punta Union is a small hole punched through the rock at 4750m (15,000 feet) which provides pictures with stunning backdrops in both directions (if you feel like you are dying, you are doing it right). The (glorious) descent was full of small glacial lakes and streams that gradually combined into rivers. We started heading away from the icy peaks, down into meandering rivers and wide ribbon-like floodplains, home to cattle. Our last campsite was at Paria (3,600m) among colorful vegetation, including “the Devil’s trees”.
- Paria – Vaqueria – Llanganuco – Huaraz – We were into high Andean village life as we passed through hamlets without running water or electricity, where people keep guinea pigs and rabbits on their bedroom verandahs. A short ascent from quebrada Huaripampa brought us to our waiting vehicle in Vaqueria. However, the highlights are not over as the pass through the mountains to Llanganuco reaches 4,600m. The road either side winds up and down near vertical slopes (and I do mean SLOPES in very narrow passages! (I had to remind myself that millions of people live here and they have survived so just focus on not looking down) amongst majestic views of more icy peaks, including Yanapaqcha (5347m) and Chopicalqui (6254). The view from the pass down to the lakes above Llanganuco is truly breathtaking. We finally then made it back to Huaraz first passing by Yungay, a town that was burried by a rock fall in the 1970s.
Day 14/15. Full day bus trip back to Lima, a scenic ride through the countryside and mountains. Early next morning a quick visit the Gold Museum, which houses a great collection of pre-Columbian jewelry with the largest collection of pre-Inca and Incan artifacts then off to the airport.
End of tour, time to go home. So sad.
- If you want to do the Inka trail please check way ahead of time for regulation and limits on visits (and don’t forget your ID!).
- Check extra fees for international and local travel at airport (like departure fees or random taxes (maybe one day I will share the story of how I had to sell clothes at an airport in South American to get out when I was like 16 years old lol)
- Mountains are cold, dress appropriately (mmm we brought a light sweater only despite knowing this haha (what were we doing?) so we had to get jackets there for the hike in August).
- Take it easy with the altitude, come prepared and drink lots of water starting on the plane. Try the coca tea.
- Pack really lightly
- Bring good solid hiking shoes
- Careful with the water (I just bring stomach pills lol)
- Bring your own toilet paper. Your welcome.