I realised that it had been far too long (8 years) since I had been back to Peru, so I headed there in October. Of course the iconic highlights of Peru have not changed, BUT the accommodation & land transportation options have – & for the better.
So here is a brief resume of my very busy 2 week trip. I will let my photos do most of the talking!
Getting to Peru & travelling around
Great that we now have the British Airways direct flight, so I flew from Gatwick direct to Lima. The direct service only operates from the end of March to October – but then there are indirect flights we can use. Plus we have regional departures from other UK airports via London, Madrid or Amsterdam. There is also the Avianca flights from Heathrow via Bogota to Cusco & Lima.
When I was on my trip I only took 2 domestic flights & then went by road to the Colca Canyon & Puno took the train from Puno to Cusco.
I had not been to this beautiful city since my very 1sttrip 15 years ago so I was very overdue a visit. During my 1 night I did a quick city tour & did 6 hotel inspections. This city has changed a lot & I have to say it is now my favourite Peruvian city. I usually include 2 nights for my clients but 3 nights would be wonderful. The hotels are great- my 1stchoice would be the Casa Andina Select Hotel – primarily because of the views of the square & cathedral. Casa Andina Premium is a gorgeous colonial building & Katari was in another great location in the main square.
A speciality of Arequipa is something they call cheese ice cream – you will be relieved to know it just looks like cheese because of its yellow colour. Peru is becoming a huge gastronomic destination & Arequipa has some great restaurants. We ate @ the Zig Zag restaurant, where they serve the meat on sizzling lava stone platters. As a vegetarian there were some great options for me too – Peru is a great destination for vegetarians, the soups are incredible.
Next I head by road to the Colca Canyon, travelling through stunning scenery stopping at the highest point of 4910 metres above sea level. Without stops this journey would take around 3 hours, but with so much scenery to be enjoyed several stops were made. I really encourage clients to include the Colca Canyon- for several reasons. The Colca Canyon is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon in the US, wildlife is incredible – the best place I have ever been to see flying condors close up, the scenery is outstanding & stay in a hugely improved choice of properties. I stayed @ the wonderful Belmond Casitas Hotel, where I bottle fed the baby alpaca, but I also liked Colca Lodge with their own hot springs.
Puno / Lake Titicaca:
I continued from the Colca Canyon again by road. It took us 5 hours to get to Puno & the Libertador Hotel. I only had 1 night here before leaving early the next morning for a 1 hour drive to get to a wonderful property called Titilaka. We left early so we arrived @ Titilaka in time to take their own boat excursion to the Uros floating islands & Taquile island – which has the really interesting story about the wearing of belts for men & pompoms for ladies to distinguish if they are married or single. Titilaka hotel was beautiful & I will certainly recommend it to my clients, it may seem a pricey property but full board & excursions are included.
Sacred Valley via the Peru Rail Titicaca Train & Cusco:
Rather than flying or going via road- both options taking less time- I took the luxury Peru Rail Titicaca Train to Cusco. The carriages are super comfortable, views amazing, food superb & service. There is also a bar & observation carriage – where they had a band playing & fashion show. The downside for me was that as a single traveller the 10.5 hour journey, sat at my table for 1, got a bit tedious. Fellow passengers not travelling on their own seemed to be having lots of fun. The Titicaca train operates 3 times a week Puno to Cusco & vice versa. There is also the Belmond Andean Explorer sleeper train, but only operates once a week between Puno & Cusco. Or there is the domestic flight from Juliaca to Cusco & the 7 hour road transfer (private car or shared coach). I loved the Titicaca train, I was just a little bit lonely.
So I arrived into Cusco train station & was met by a driver to go straight out to the Sacred Valley. I generally recommend going to the Sacred Valley first to clients rather than splitting the stay in Cusco. Many people do not realise that Cusco is actually at a higher altitude than both the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu, so it is perfect to head out to the Sacred Valley for a couple of days to acclimatise & enjoy the beautiful countryside. If you have arrived after a few busy days in Arequipa, Colca Canyon & Puno then now is the perfect opportunity to slow it down & relax, but still be somewhere spectacular. I had 1 night @ the Tambo del Inka – a Luxury Collection Hotel – which was very nice & convenient for those taking the train to Machu Picchu from Urubamba station, which is a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
The next morning I did not have time to enjoy the hotels pool & spa as I had hotel inspections to do, before having 2 whole nights (yes a 2 night stay –what a treat!!) @ The Explora Sacred Valley Hotel. The choice of hotels in the Sacred Valley is fabulous – my particular favourites are the Sol y Luna, Belmond Rio Sagrado, Aranwa & the Inkaterra Hacienda. Having such a wide choice of properties in the area really helps me to recommend the best property to suit client’s individual tastes & budget. The Explora is a great option to clients that want to be active. I sell their properties in Chile & was really interested to see how the Sacred Valley property would compare. I was really impressed, they have the same emphasis on having a great range of excisions (that are included), the guides are wonderful & you are on an all-inclusive basis. So even though I discourage clients drinking alcohol whilst at altitude it is not so bad whilst in the Sacred Valley’s lower altitude, but I still limited myself to one drink in the evenings. I took the excursion to Chinchero, which was great. We visited a community where they showed us how to make the textiles – I was a little disgruntled to learn that my favourite colour, pink, is derived from squashing a tiny hard shell insect!
Leaving the Sacred Valley I had another train treat – we took (not on my own for this one) the First-Class Inca Rail train from Ollantaytambo. Lunch was served on board & again it was a comfortable journey. On arrival our overnight bags were taken by the hotel porter (the majority of the luggage was left @ the Explora to be collected & taken to Cusco) so we could go straight to take the bus to the citadel. Of course Machu Picchu has not changed since my last visit, but it is busier – hence the restrictions that started to limit the amount of time people spend in the citadel. We were booked in the afternoon slot, which was perfect- until the rain came. Even more now I strongly recommend clients to have a private guide – he can recommend which route better suits you, with my bad knee I opted for the easy route.
I stayed the night @ the Casa Andina Standard Hotel- which was ok, a comfortable bed for the night. I love the Inkaterra Hotel but had stayed there before, so it was sensible to try another. The next morning were the other hotel inspections. The biggest, & pleasant, surprise was the Sumaq Hotel, I really liked it & the rooms were great. Lunch was at the Inkaterra Café, by the train station. The food was amazing & I was then ready for a nap on the train back to Ollantaytambo station followed by the road transfer to Cusco.
Arriving at my hotel in Cusco- the Palacio Del Inka I was so grateful to be given a Colonial Suite. I have stayed here before (it was called the Libertador back then) & I really love it. I did have a 2 night stay, but that doesn’t really count as a treat as I didn’t arrive until late & the next day was all about hotel inspections.
Cusco has heaps of hotels – ranging in price & standard. I loved the Belmond Palacio Nazarenas- it is next door to their Monasterio hotel but I much prefer Nazarenas. It is smaller & that makes it feel more special. Many of the rooms have a terrace / outdoor seating area &, even though I didn’t think it was important before, the heated outdoor swimming pool is great. As many of my clients will finish their trip in Cusco it is actually lovely to have a swimming pool to stretch out in & be able to relax around. My other favourite was the Inkaterra La Casona- which was like a private house- you have to knock the door to get in.
There are lots of great restaurants & I had a lovely, very filling, lunch at the Inka Grill.
Twice a week there is now a direct flight from Cusco to Ica- on the coast of Peru, which makes it the perfect end, to what for most clients, will have been a busy & active trip. So I felt I should take the flight & check out the hotel options. I have 2 nights in Paracas- 1 night in the Bahia Paracas Hotel & the 2ndin the Double Tree by Hilton Paracas Hotel. I loved both properties – the Bahia was great because they have their own pier & boat for the trips to the Ballestas Islands. But I really enjoyed my stay @ the Double Tree too, the pool was the best. The Libertador Paracas – now called the Luxury Collection Paracas Hotel was much improved since I stayed there 15 years ago. They also have their own pier & boats for the tour to Ballestas but would perhaps be my 3rdchoice just because it felt too big. I did a few other hotel inspections but will not mention them as they were awful!
I took the Bahia Hotels boat trip to the Ballestas Islands & I loved this trip 15 years ago & still do. I saw lots of cute sea lions & so many birds- in the photos the black on the island is actually thousands of birds & seeing penguins was the highlight. Then of course I also saw the gigantic candelabra etching (50 meters) carved into the cliff – as the Nazca Line designs are.
To end my trip I had a final night in Lima. (I did have my 1stnight in Lima, but for convenience I stayed in a airport hotel. I stayed in the gorgeous bohemian area of Barranco, which is the area next to the popular, but very busy, Miraflores district. I absolutely loved Barranco & now highly recommend it to the clients that want to stay in Lima – not everyone wants or need to stay in Lima as I still believe that there are more important areas in the country to spend time in over Lima, but if there is time then we include Lima & now Barranco.
The hotels in Barranco are converted mansion houses & small boutique style properties. I stayed in the charming Villa Barranco Hotel & it was lovely. I also visited Hotel B which was stunning & exhibits works by contemporary Peruvian artists throughout the hotel. I had lunch here & it was delicious. Other hotels I visited were in Miraflores & a lovely quirky boutique hotel was Atemporal, which is owned by the same man as Titilaka in Puno. I loved the fact that they offer guests free of charge the use of the mini car & driver to drop clients off in the central Miraflores area. If clients want a hotel with a great spa then I highly recommend the Westin Lima Hotel (a Marriott property), which is closer to the airport than Barranco or the Miraflores areas. The spa is AMAZING! Lima traffic is a nightmare though – hence why I tend not to use a city hotel for the 1stnight clients arrive in Peru.
So that was the end of my return to Peru & I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was hugely enlightening & I now feel fully updated on the hotel options now available.
Visiting Peru is quite full on but we can design the trips to suit clients & build in some “down time” where need to re-charge before continuing on the adventure. The trekking / walking can be as easy or as hard core as you want it to be- we will always recommend hotels & activities that suit individual clients requirements. Finishing with a couple of nights in Paracas is ideal so you do not arrive home feeling exhausted – It is possible to go straight from Paracas to Lima airport to fly home the same day.
If you would like to discuss visiting Peru, please do give us a call on 01202 23 23 35 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org