This will be a long story as there is so much to tell so will be done in 2 parts - Part 1 Cusco and Machu Picchu and Part 2 Cusco to Lima. This was the pièce de résistance of the entire cruise, it was the point of the cruise and it was the place I had wanted to see most. With most cruises of this length you are given the opportunity to do overland trips and this was a 3 day overland tour taking you from the ship to give you a once in a life time experience.
We booked and paid for this excursion the day we booked the cruise and I am glad we did as it was fully booked out by the time we boarded.
We arrived in the Port of Callao in Lima and were taken to the airport to catch our flight to Cusco. Everyone was excited as we headed to the airport. Everyone had a laugh at Derek and I as our seats where in the 29th row and everyone else where mid plane - but as luck would have it there were not 29 rows so Derek got Row 1A and I got 5C and Derek got some great photos and videos on both the flights to and from Video of part of the flight from Cusco to Lima. Most of us had taken altitude tablets to ensure our journey here was as good as it can be, I don't know if we really needed them, we certainly didn't have any issues with breathing, sleeping etc but maybe that showed that the pills worked who knows.
The flight itself was great as where the airports both in Callao and Cusco, both where much larger than I had anticipated and very modern with near new planes for the travelling. I tried my first Inca Kola on the flight and enjoyed the views from the window of the Andes, simply stunning.
Once we arrived in Cusco we headed for our Hotel - The Hotel Libertador http://www.libertador.com.pe/en/, which was a renovated Inca palace, however the whole of Cusco city was a shrine to the Inca's and their architecture. Cucso itself reminded me of Zerrmatt with its quaint buildings, town squares etc. The people here were so beautiful, and even though there was no shortage of street vendors they themselves had great personalities. We were provided special tea upon arrival at the Libertador to help with the altitude sickness which tasted very much like green tea. We were then given 1/2 an hour or so to settle in before we headed back out on our bus for a Cusco city tour. It would have been good to have had a little more time at the Hotel, as it was so beautiful and full of history in its own right. The service for all the staff was phenomenal some of the best I have ever experienced. The Hotel is right across the road from a church that was once covered in gold before the Spanish invaded them and there are heaps of little shops within meters of the front door. The food and food service here was also excellent. The city tour was great and we had plenty of time to explore the village square environment and soak up the atmosphere before heading to the look out to see Cusco from the top.
If I had one criticism of the trip so far, it was that it was too rushed - I think we could have gotten off the boat earlier as we docked at 10am but we didn't leave for our tour until 12 to catch the 2:30 flight to Cusco. Either we should have gotten off first up and caught an earlier flight as they seemed to depart every hour to have more time at the hotel and its surrounds - and for some people who where suffering this made the trip a little harder or done the city tour prior to checking into the hotel, as the check in was rushed and there was no time to relax and enjoy the beautiful room, the court yards, the bar areas etc the hotel had to offer which was a pity especially when after the Cusco city tour we headed back to the Hotel with another 1/2 hour wait prior to going to dinner, this could have been 1 hour if combined rather than 2 short breaks.
I did however manage to get some shopping in at the 2nd break and bought some lovely stuff, and got to wander around even if only for a short time.
So back we all got into our buses and headed for dinner at the Tunupa Restaurant which was beautiful. We had a lavish banquet meal which offered a great selection of Peruvian foods (yes Lama was on the menu), as well as standard European foods. The food was delicious and this coupled with a great atmosphere and local music and dancing made for a fantastic evening - it was getting quite late and we where heading off at 5am the next morning and everyone was tired by the time we left here, but I think all of us would have liked to have spent more time as it was really good fun.
After a short and restful sleep we woke at 4am so we could have a shower, smoke, coffee etc prior to the train trip to Machu Picchu which takes about 3 1/2 hours. I think we were all nicely surprised when we saw the train, as it was a beautiful sky train, with lovely comfy seats, breakfast service and some of the best views in the world from both the windows at the side and the roof top windows. The scenery on this trip was spectacular but I didn't want to take too many photos and use up all of my batteries on the train - and my reasoning was I will get some on the way back - unfortunately it was dark on the way back so its my minds eye that I need to rely on for this part of the journey in the main.
The excitement was building as we journeyed along down to Machu Picchu, but for me this train ride was fantastic and really made the trip, it built the anticipation as we zipped past the countryside with its snow capped mountains, small villages, homes and farmland. The train staff where so excellent and have a good range of souvenirs for sale (although a little more expensive than at Machu Picchu itself) although remember if you buy them on the way down you will need to carry them around MP so best to leave this shopping for the return journey.
Finally we arrived and the excitement was extreme, but we had yet another form of travel to go yet before hitting the destination. Buses take you up the windiest narrow road you will ever go on, with drops that go for miles but again, it is one of those experiences you will hold with you forever. The bus itself is comfortable and generally so is the ride, although it is a little scary at some points, especially when you come across another bus and one has to reverse back to a wider point so they could pass each other - I think everyone holds their breath at this point wondering how on earth this will be achieved, as there seems to be no room for 1 bus let alone 2 - but we survived and we are here to tell the story.
After about 1/2 an hour we had ARRIVED at the destination we had all longed to see, the bucket list item, the must do item, the once in a life time experience - Machu Picchu. So what do you say about MP itself. Of course its awesome and views that go for miles, through lush green jungles to snow capped mountains and we were so lucky as we had a perfect, clear day - something that isn't all that usual here. We had about 2 1/2 hours to explore the area. At first our guide took us along the low lying areas explaining in far too much detail for my liking about everything and finally I did ask if we were going to go to the top where I was told no its probably too strenuous for some in the group - so off we went and just about sprinted to the top given we only had 1 hour now to get up and get back. Getting up wasn't all that bad, it was getting back down as the allies were narrow and often bottle necked with people, so we didn't quite get to the absolute high spot (or the money shot as we like to call it), below though are a few of our photo view shots, and a set of photos with us in them as well. While the views where to die for, I suppose though MP didn't do for me what other areas have such as The Great Wall of China or even the Pyramids did, don't get me wrong, I am glad I came and I am glad I conquered and I am glad I have seen it as it was very special, but I do think we were pretty rushed in the 2 1/2 hours and I think the time we spent after the trip at the restaurant for lunch and shopping in MP town could have been shorter so you had more time up in MP itself to sit and enjoy it more and soak it up.
|The Money Shot - from Scott McDaniel - Thank You|
After leaving the mountain we headed down to the MP town, for lunch (which as I have stated above was far too long nearly 2 hours), this could have been cut down in time and the time spent on the mountain, but the lunch was lovely and again we had a lovely restaurant, with great traditional foods. After lunch there was another 1 or so for shopping, MP has a great village and the shopping here is fantastic, but after a big lunch, and being up so early everyone was tired especially knowing we had a 3 1/2 hour train journey home, dinner at the Hotel at 10pm and then needing to be up again at 4am the next morning.
The train ride provided more food and some great entertainment which did help the journey in the dark go fast for all the weary bodies.
My feedback to the operators would be: less food ie: waking everyone up for a breakfast at 5am when the train provided a breakfast more than adequate to fuel the body was unnecessary and an extra half hour sleep in probably would have given everyone more energy. The 2 hour lunch which was beautiful again was way too much to eat as well as way to long to sit and relax especially when there is quite a walk back to the train station, shopping to be done and a long haul train ride. Maybe a lite buffet meal would have been better for 1 hour or so, and catch the earlier train back, or have more time at the mountain itself. Most people didn't have much breakfast at the Hotel in the morning and they put out a large buffet for our dinner that night which just about no one ate given a) we had already had 2 breakfasts and a huge lunch and b) it was 10pm and we had all been up since at least 4:30am. Couple this with needing to be up again at the same time the next day this seemed like a big waste of food, a big waste of money and cutting back on these or organising them better would no doubt save time and money for all. Also most people where taking altitude sickness tablets, which constipate you so all this food only made people anxious - not wanting to eat too much given toilets where pretty average when available at all, so these are the things that need to be thought about and could be easily changed to reduce some costs and provide more quality time on the trip.