Abercrombie & Kent – Peru: Machu Picchu & the Sacred Valley
By Donna Christensen
I traveled on this trip with 3 of my college friends, an A & K agent from Downers Grove and 4 couples. It has been on my bucket list since 1969 when my college roomate’s parents went to Machu Picchu and showed us their slides, long before I ever thought I’d be a travel agent.
My group flew in a day prior. Our first night was at the JW Marriott. It is a nice Marriott, with a casino and beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean. The location is great for the Larcomar Mall built into the cliff overlooking the ocean.
A & K met us with a driver and greeter/guide for the 50 minute transfer to our Miraflores Hotel. The other 2 were on flights arriving about 20 minutes apart. A & K had separate transfers for each of them, did not have them wait for each other.
Day 1 of the trip we moved over to the Belmond Miraflores Hotel. This is a few minute walk to the mall and definitely a more luxurious hotel. Great first impression with doormen, fabulous flowers in the lobby, helpful staff at front desk and concierge.
Next stop was our other Signature Travel Network property in Lima, the Country Club Hotel in the upscale San Isidro district. Patricia Valdizan, the sales manager, was our host. The hotel is fabulous! We started our tour in the English bar with a pisco sour making class and tasting, followed by at Terrace of Perroquet Restuant, where the queen of Holland had lunch every day she was in Lima! The food was amazing. We tasted the local specialties and ceviches while the parrots called above us.
We were then directed a few blocks away to Huaca Huallamanca, an ancient pyramid and museum with a mummy who’s hair is about 3 feet long! It’s from pre-Spanish time and was discovered in 1958.
Breakfast is on the 11th floor rooftop next to the pool. 9:30 meeting with tour director Luis Silvera to meet other participants, get some general information and a brief Spanish lesson. He is surprised that no one is planning to take altitude medication.
At 1:45 pm, we have a city tour of Lima visiting the main square. The cathedral was closed on Saturday afternoon so we missed that, but very much enjoyed CASA Aliaga, Lima’s oldest colonial mansion. The next stop was a MUST SEE, the Larco (Herrara) Museum with its impressive grounds and extensive private collection of pre-Incan ceramics. Our local guide was Sylvia.
Our welcome dinner at another pyramid site, Huaca Pucllana, was immediately following.
Pisco sours, wine and great food to break the ice and get to know our fellow travelers.
Early breakfast and transfer at 7:15 am for the Lima airport for our flight to Cusco on LAN. Upon arrival, we are met by local guide Wilbert, who will be with us until our last tour in Cusco. We went into colonial Cusco for a good 3 course lunch at Limo on one of the main squares, upstairs. Here we had our first coca tea with dessert.
On our way to the Sacred Valley in our bus we had 2 stops. The first was Awanacabpncha, an interpretive Center of South American Cameloids – Llamas (pronounced yamas), Alpacas and vicunas. I don’t think I saw any Guanacos.
Next stop was the Inkariy Museum, a synthesis of Peruvian cultures with life size dioramas. We had this place with separate buildings for each age all to ourselves.
We arrived at Sol & Luna, Relais & Chateaux property about 6 pm. It is gorgeous with tropical vegetation, roses and our own casitas with fireplaces and terraces. We joined the chef at 6:30 pm for a unique culinary experience – cooking class and Pisco sours with lots of samples, before dinner near the horse stable area. Some of us shared as the samples could have been dinner! Each casita had a plate of candy, marzipan, and other treats covered in Saran Wrap. I think of the 13 of us, only one had a bite. It was so sad that no one had room for another bite during our 2 night stay. When we hopped in bed tonight there was a hot water bottle wrapped in a knit sweater!
After a quick breakfast, we head up the Quechua highlands to a farm to learn how traditional people live today in the Andean countryside i.e. 12,500 feet. They greeted us from the bus with a flute player leading the way, a flower lei greeting leading us by the hand into their compound.
They dressed us in their native garb, explained the differences how single and married dressed, how they wrap their babies to be on their backs. They showed us the herbs they use as medicines, their food, how they plow and plant by hand and with s pair of cattle. Then on to how they get the wool, clean and dye it, weave it and finally sold us their wares. Adios and on the way stop at a look out point.
Our lunch is back in the Sacred Valley at a beautiful hacienda Huayoccari for another 3 course lunch in a private room. My beef dish that I’ve had everywhere was the best here.
Back to Sol & Luna with a little time to visit the gift shop before our lecture the many mysteries of Peru by Jean-Jacques.
This place has a very cool bar up a spiral staircase with great contemporary statues of musicians. By the way this entire place has amazing art work.
Skipped breakfast because we had an early start. We visited the Kuychi Center, created in 2003 to support Helena van Engelen’s “Ninos del Arco Iris” (children of the rainbow) project. She is a widow who’d read about these poor children and Peru having the worst educational system in South America and decided to do something about it. This is A & K’s philanthropic cause.
They help with health and dental care. Even the school meals are geared for their malnutrition peddle and anemic children.
We stopped in Ollantaytambo for a little walking tour to see the aqueducts, inca graineries, and a “home” with Guinea pigs running around. They are like house pets, but they eat them. In restaurants they are called cuy, pronounced cu-ee. No time for souvenir shopping before we boarded the Vistadome train to Aguas Calientes. From there, it’s a local bus up to Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at the entrance to Machu Picchu park. We checked in our rooms with a terrace, then had a lovely lunch. We didn’t go into the park until 2:30. This is brilliant because the crowds are leaving by then, so we almost had the place to ourselves. We toured the entire area. Wilbert is so knowledgable, it was quite a learning experience, so many sacred areas.
We stayed until the park closed.
We all met for happy hour at 6:30 pm. Dinner a la carte followed that was so delicious with many options. Here we could order from a wine list and also had a complimentary minibar.
This morning we had options. My friend was the only one who chose to hike up Huayna Picchu (the new mountain – also called stairway to death) with Wilbert. Another option was to go up to the sun gate, Inti Punku at 7a. I opted for the 3rd choice, to go into the park and take it all in again at leisure. It was amusing to listen to the local guides giving misinformation. We heard one telling his charges that the grassy area was a playground for the children, when it was actually in a sacred area.
We checked out of the hotel by 11a, took the bus to town and had a 3 course lunch with Pisco sours, wine or local beer at Cafe Inkaterra.
The return train ride on the Vistadome was fun. After they served the food, a carnival character came down the aisle and found someone to dance with. Next was a fashion show of exclusive alpaca items for sale. There were some very versatile options. They were from the good store Sol, but couldn’t be purchased at the store. The time flew by and next thing we were in Ollantatambo, ready for our ride back to Cusco. We stayed at the lovely Belmond Monasterio Hotel. We were able to have 5 pieces of clothes laundered! Dinner is on our own. We met in the lobby bar for a drink by the fireplace. A couple from the group said they’d had a nice dinner at Incanto, so we wound up there. Shared salad, bruschetta, alpaca filet, and pizza. The alpaca was outstanding.
Luis, our tour director, said this would be the best breakfast place on the tour. It was great, a guitar player added to the ambiance. Eggs benedict is a must. 8:30a off to Santo Domingo Temple or Koricancha, Inka ruins of Sacsayhuaman in beautiful sunshine.
Then back to the colonial center to the cathedral with silver and gold alters, and a huge painting of the last supper with a Guinea pig being served and Jesus holding 2 fingers up like he ordering 2 more to feed them all! Last stop was the San Pedro local market. Here we got our pink salt souvenirs.
Lunch on our own, we dined at Monasterio’s next door deli before heading out on our souvenir shopping mission. We had to break out our ponchos for the first time, but were successful.
At 6 pm, we met for an Ancient Andean Music presentation with wine or Pisco sours. It was very entertaining. I think we all bought the chap’s cd. We then walked across the plaza to MAP cafe at the pre-Columbian museum for our farewell 3 course dinner. Lots of wine with dinner. Some retired and others had an after dinner drink in the lobby.
After breakfast it’s off to the airport to fly back to Lima. We dropped our bags and one couple off at the Belmond Miraflores and headed off to Barranco to the Amor Amar Restaurant for another 3 course lunch. Wine, beer and Piscos were on our own. It was after 3 pm when we got here, so we’ll call it dinner. We had a panoramic tour of the Barranco, a bohemian district. Back to the hotel, we cancelled the dinner reservation we’d made and just met in the bar for farewells to the folks who had flights tonight.
Our chariot awaits us with a driver and guide who takes us to the airport for our Avianca flight to Miami.
Upon arrival in Miami, customs moved almost as quickly for those without global entry as for us who did have it. Our luggage was waiting for us.