A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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In A Nutshell

Peru is a terrific destination for people who love history and the outdoors.  We spent two weeks there focusing on Cusco, the Sacred Valley and the Lake Titicaca area.

We could have easily entertained ourselves for another week (or more) by traveling to other parts of this very interesting country.

On our next trip to Peru, we’ll make sure to visit Arequipa, Nazca (and the Nazca lines), the Amazon and maybe even one of Peru’s surfing destinations.

Nine out of ten visitors to Peru come to see Machu Picchu, and rightly so.  It is an utterly amazing site.  I have never seen a picture that begins to do justice to the scale, setting and wonder of the place.  If you have the chance, go see it.  You won’t regret it.


The most important advice I can give to a visitor to the Cusco area is this: Book well ahead.  You’ll be taking a chance if you wait too long to find accommodations in Cusco.  The city is overrun with tourists, and the nice, affordable places to stay book up quickly.  We were not able to stay in any of our first five hotel/hostal choices.

We were fortunate to contact Peggy, owner of the Torre Dorada hotel.

When we told her that we had been unable to find a “family” room, she offered to convert one of their rooms by adding two beds.  She told us it would be tight, but she would do everything in her power to make us comfortable.

Did she ever.

Though we ended up paying a bit more than we hoped to, it was worth it.  The staff at Torre Dorada is the best I have encountered anywhere (and I’ve stayed in some pretty nice places in my day).  Rafael, the concierge/manger, is truly incredible, anticipating every need, every concern.  He is always two steps ahead.

The one drawback to the Torre Dorada is its location.  It is in a residential neighborhood ten minutes by taxi from Cusco’s main square.  The hotel offers free taxi service to and from town, and that helps.  Still, it is a small inconvenience to have to rely on taxis instead of being able to walk to a restaurant or museum.

But all things considered, the pleasure of staying at the Torre Dorada (and the thoughtfulness of the staff) makes up for any inconvenience.  The hotel earned its reputation as the #1 ranked Cusco hotel on Trip Advisor.

In Cusco, be sure to buy the “city tour” ticket that gives you access to about a dozen sites, including the amazing Sacsayhuaman ruins.  Also, don’t miss the Coricancha – the Incan sun temple.  The Spaniards allegedly pried seven hundred gold plates off the temple walls.

Machu Picchu

For our trip to Machu Picchu, we booked a combination Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu tour through SAS Travel.  The SAS tour was all right, probably no better or worse than any reputable tour company.  But we were lucky – what made our tour memorable (aside from Machu Picchu) – was the people we met.

We were part of a group of about a dozen interesting people, including a senior citizen working on her “bucket list”; a couple traveling around the world as they relocate from London to Melbourne, Australia; a northern New Jersey couple on vacation from their work in the world of non-profits; and a young Australian woman who’d spend several years working with Aborigines in Alice Springs and Darwin.

I’m quite sure we paid a bit more to be part of a tour, but we all agreed the company made it worth it.

For those on a tight budget, I would recommend making the trip “a la carte.”   I’d suggest the following itinerary:

  • Day 1) Take the train from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, explore the town, spend the night.
  • Day 2) Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins, and if you have time, back track to see the ruins at Pisac.  Then catch the late afternoon train to Aguas Calientes to spend the night.
  • Day 3) Get up early to catch the first wave of buses up to Machu Picchu to see the sun rise over the ruins. If you do, you’ll have about six hours before the crowds overwhelm the site.  Return to Cusco on an afternoon train.

Puno/Lake Titcaca

After visiting Machu Picchu, we headed south to the Lake Titicaca region.

We took the Cruz del Sur bus from Cusco to Puno, a five-hour trip across the Andean altiplano.  In Puno, we stayed at the Plaza Mayor hotel.  The hotel is very conveniently located a half-block from Puno’s pedestrian shopping area.

The staff at the Plaza Mayor was extremely helpful when Dani got sick from food poisoning.  The hotel’s general manager is a doctor, and he made a “house call” early on a Sunday morning to help Dani.

We booked our Lake Titicaca tour through Edgar Adventures, a very good agency owned by a Peruvian couple, and we recommend them highly.

What We Did

  • Watched the sun rise over Machu Picchu
  • Wandered around Cusco, especially the San Blas neighborhood
  • Took the Cusco city tour, including the Inca ruins just outside the city
  • Toured the Sacred Valley, including the ruins at Pisac and Ollyantambo
  • Rode the Vistadome train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco
  • Visited the floating Uros Islands and Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca
  • Saw the Sillustani ruins outside Puno
  • Spent time with a Quechua family near the Sillustani ruin
  • Gained a real appreciation for the Inca culture

Where We Stayed

In Cusco:

Our main base was the highly recommended Torre Dorada

We also stayed at Casona les Pleiades, an excellent and very reasonably priced option in the San Blas neighborhood

In Aguas Calientes:

Our SAS tour booked us in to the Hostal Pueblo Viejo – an acceptable option close to the train station.  However, there are many options in Aguas Calientes; it’s worth shopping around.

In Puno (for Lake Titicaca):

We stayed at the well located and very friendly Plaza Mayor Hotel.

Activities We Recommend

  • Visiting the twelve attractions on the Cusco city tour
  • Hiking to the Pisac ruins
  • Exploring Ollyantambo town and ruins
  • Getting to Machu Picchu as early in the morning as possible
  • Wandering around San Blas in Cusco
  • Seeing the floating Uros Islands and Taquile Island

Places We Loved to Eat

In Cusco

Greens (organic food), Jack’s Café (gringo hangout in San Blas), Velluto (a great San Blas crepe place), and Todos Pollo (incredible Peruvian chicken near the Plaza Armas).

Some Things We’ll Remember

  • Our first view of Machu Picchu
  • The sights and smells of the floating Uros Islands
  • The sounds of men breaking stones to build walls and pathways on Taquile Island
  • The great service and kindnesses of the staff at the Torre Dorada
  • Waiting at Gato’s Market for taxis back to the Torre Dorada
  • Street vendors saying “maybe later” when we would refuse whatever they were selling

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