Interested in journeying to Peru? Here are some tips from Sandy to get you on your way.
The Peruvian highlands are so full of stunning vistas and so steeped in ritual and tradition, you won't be looking for things to do in your journey here. Your biggest challenge may be deciding how to focus your trip. You may be tempted to plan the trip in advance, and follow a tight itinerary designed by tourist companies States-side. This would work fine, and it would reduce the possibility of unexpected hassles along the way. And yet sometimes the unexpected is a wonderful tonic.
So another way to go is to do a little reading and Web site research beforehand, arrive in Peru with a general sense of what you're looking for, and scout out your journey once you land in Cuzco, remaining open to unexpected possibilities. This is very possible even if your Spanish is limited or non-existant; almost all tour agencies in Cuzco have at least one person who speaks serviceable English.
Cuzco is filled with agencies that will take you where you want to go: day trips along the spectacular Sacred Valley of the Incas, two- or four-night camping hikes up the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu; one-day train trips to Machu Pichu, week-long Amazon jungle cruises, or simply day tours of the astonishing Inca stone walls and ruins around the capital of the Incas. The quality of these agencies varies; generally the cheapest guarantee the least comfortable services. But even the most expensive are often just half the cost of booking a trip with a U.S. agency.
Explorandes, on the Plaza, Eric's Adventures, three doors off the Plaza on Platero street, and Peruvian Andean Adventures, a block away, across from the Hotel Cuzco, all have good reputations.
A couple of tips:
Rest in Cuzco or Ollantaytambo (in the Sacred Valley) a couple of days before doing any serious hiking. Altitude sickness, marked by major headaches and spells of feeling forgetful and spacey, is often too debilitating to ignore.
Don't hesitate to accept the offer of coca leaf tea. Yes, some people make cocaine out of it but in tea form the leafs are safe and legal and soothing in the high altitudes. It also helps to stay in the higher altitude of Cuzco (11,000 feet) for just a few hours, then go down a thousand feet or so to Ollantaytambo, a stunning sight in the Sacred Valley along the Urubamba River. I did that, staying at a wonderful place called Alburgue Ollantaytambo, run for the last 22 years by a friendly American expat named Wendy.
Cuzco, though, is ultimately your logical headquarters for trip plans. You could stay at the Hotel Cuzco, one of the nicest in town, for about $50 a night. Also nice is the new Balcon, on Montero de Tambo, with a fabulous view of the town and surrounding hills, and a short walk from the plaza, but far enough for plenty of quiet. The staff is wonderful and cost when I was there was only $25. Tell Franco and the staff that Sandy said hi.
Once you're ready to roll, be sure to have someone try to explain how the Incas made their stone walls. See the Sunday market in Chichero, have lunch along the Urubamba River, hike the Inca Trail through the cloud forest to Machu Picchu.
And, while you're there, please say hello for me.
Machu Picchu Library
Culture of the Andeas
Cuzco's city website
Library of congress country study of Peru
Peru guide - travel and tourism info for peru, en espanol
Peru Tourist Guide. english
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