Lima – Last Day in Peru

My stomach! I don’t know what I ate that decided to completely destroy my insides, but I totally regretted whatever it was. I couldn’t eat or drink anything all morning, which was really sad considering how delicious the food in Peru is.

After sleeping in as much as I could, I met up with the rest of my family to hop on our airport transport. It took about 15 minutes to get to the Cusco airport but almost 45 minutes to get checked in. There were a handful of people being carted around in wheelchairs from rolling / breaking their ankles hiking the Inca Trail! Thankfully, none of us were in that bad of shape, though I slept more on the plane to Lima trying to recover…

The plane ride was short and it didn’t take long for us to drop our bags off at the Hotel Britania and set off in search of lunch. We walked to the Cat Park, the unofficial central park of the Miraflores district in Lima called Parque Kennedy that is home to hundreds of stray cats, and found a very packed, walk-up sandwich place called La Lucha. Trying to stick to neutral flavors for my stomach, I got a deliciously simple chicken sandwich. Ryan ordered a cookies-and-cream milkshake with his meal. I had a sip and, without a single shred of doubt, proclaimed that it was the most delicious milkshake ever made (and it still unrivaled to this day). Usually, I do not indulge in milkshakes, but I made Ryan split his with me. He was not super happy that I took 50% of heaven, so we got another shake to split and took photo documentation of the glorious drink (below). If you go to Lima, you MUST got to La Lucha and try a milk shake!

Splitting a La Lucha milkshake in Lima, Peru

After we filled up, we headed back to the hotel which hailed a cab for us. Cabbies in Peru can be a bit sketchy, so it is recommended to have your hotel call a trusted service for the area to take and pick you up from where ever you go.

We decided to go to the Larco Museum, home to thousands of piece of ancient ceramics and pieces of South American history. The Larco Museum’s grounds are immaculately kept with amazing flowers covering the building and the adjacent gardens.

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The galleries inside were filled with amazing jewelry, warrior outfits, pots and everyday goods, and most importantly, Pachamama and Pachapapa. Pachamama is the embodiment of Mother Earth, protecting over fertility, the mountains and the harvests, and who causes earthquakes. We saw the female and male figures of Pachamama all over Peru. Not only are they adorable, but we also heard a song about them during our first night in Cusco which had been stuck in our heads and sung by at least one of us every day since…

Pachapapa in Lima, Peru

We explored the museum for a few hours and, before we knew it, it was time to meet our cab driver in front of the museum to go back to the hotel. We quickly freshened up for our fancy, last-night-in-Peru / sister’s birthday celebration dinner. We went to a very high-end restaurant and had a 7-course meal filled with drinks, laughter, and reminiscing. While I wish I could tell you what the restaurant was called and describe each immaculate dish and cocktail in detail, I spent about 75% of that dinner in the restroom and only took a small bite of my dishes (minus the seafood or acidic looking ones). Being the foodie I am, this was one of the most tragic meal experiences of my life.. seeing all of this scrumptiousness before me and having my body rebel to the point where I couldn’t stomach anything.

Between the food FOMO, the “we’re leaving tomorrow” depression, and the Montezuma’s revenge (that ended up lasting two weeks after we returned to the USA), sleep that night came quickly and, before we knew it, we were on a plane and the back in the States. Even with a stomach bug, all of the adventure, rich culture, and family bonding made for an absolutely amazing trip to Peru!

Pachamama & I at the Lima airport

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Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru

After a 1.5 hour train ride from the Sacred Valley, through snow-capped mountains, past rushing rivers and lush valleys, we rode to a rainforest covered train station. We walked through a tent-market of trinkets to a wooden bridge that led us over a waterfall to our hotel’s entrance. Talk about an Eden!

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We checked into the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and walked through the resort’s rainforest grounds to our villa. Our room was on the second floor with floor-to-ceiling windows looking into the forest. It was so beautiful and relaxing!


We had massages scheduled upon our arrival, so we all changed into our robes, put on our slippers, and walked to the spa. We dipped our toes into the pools while we waited and then had our hiking induced knots kneaded out via hot stones. After such a fast paced vacation so far, it was nice to be able to take the load off our feet!

After our massage, we gathered by the fire in the hotel lodge for a pre-dinner pisco sour. The restaurant was just a few flights of stairs away and I enjoyed a delicious meal of quinoa stuffed pepper, passion fruit sweet potatoes, and white fish.

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Since we were only hours away from reaching Machu Picchu, the pinnacle of our trip and the reason we gifted this trip to my dad for his birthday, we celebrated with birthday cake and were all in an amazing mood. It is days like this that I feel so lucky to have such a close-knit family and the ability to travel the world with them!

Only a few hours of sleep later at 4:30 AM, our alarm woke us to get ready for our 5:30 AM bus up to Machu Picchu! I turned the bathroom light on and was startled into alertness by a giant spider in our sink – who knew that would be a better engery booster than coffee!

We met our unenthusiastic guide and walked to the bus station. There was already a huge line at the crack of dawn before the busses even started, so we had to wait about 35 minutes to hop on one of the 38 busses that raced up the switchbacks to the top of the mountain. I was starting to feel a little strange on the drive up, but I was much better off than the hikers trying to catch a ride half-way up the trail! The busses were specifically instructed not to pick hikers up and the stairway to Machu Picchu was a very, very steep one.

We finally made it up to the top and toured the bottom half of Machu Picchu first. There were huge block steps up and down the terraced mountain side and the views were incredible as we learned all about the history of the world wonder.

About 15 minutes into walking around, my stomach started cramping to the point that I had to sit down. Ryan would carry my purse when we walked around and then I had to sit wherever we went. A word of advice, bring a backpack or satchel, not a big purse, when traveling / hiking. I was getting really light-headed and we decided to sit at the top of the ruins for a bit in the shade. Unlike the 40 degree weather in Cusco, it was in the 80’s on top of Machu Picchu!

It was getting more and more crowded as the day went on and we quickly learned that personal space was a luxury. While there was at least 5 feet of space, this woman sat right next to me, literally so close we were touching hips, and this other woman sat on my other side in a space that was more like a crevase than a seat, and spit right next to my shoe! Ugh! Then, this guide stood on the rock my sister was sitting on and his group crowded around us.

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One of the women in the tour group asked if she could take a photo of me with her 60 something year old brother, while Ryan was right there. Again, very odd and I said “No”….


We decided to get out of there and hike up to Inti Punku, the Sun Door, once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Both Ryan and my dad were wearing jeans which were not very conducive to an hour-long, all up-hill / stairs hike in the sun and heat! My mom sprinted ahead with my sister, so I walked with the guys since I was still feeling pretty awful. About half way up, Ryan lifted up his jean cuffs and steam came out. We couldn’t believe it so he lifted the other leg and, not kidding, there was a poof of steam. Crazy!

We finally made it up to the top and the view made every minute of the hike worth it! The shade felt amazing and the outcropping was the perfect vantage point to take in the whole experience and absorb how amazing whole trip had been so far.
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The hike down was much quicker and easier but, by this point, I had serious stomach pain and was very nauseous. It was time for lunch so I thought some food and water would help me out. For some reason, the only restaurant atop Machu Picchu had our reservation under the wrong name and it was for 7 people, not just the 5 in our group. We were let into the buffet regardless and we sat down but I couldn’t eat so I just drank water. The manager came over to us and told us we had to pay $50 USD per person for the lunch that was included in our tour for the day. Since I couldn’t eat anyway, I left the table to call our tour service and get everything straightened out. Thankfully, we got everything sorted quickly, but I almost passed out while waiting. While I wanted to explore more, my body couldn’t take it, so Ryan and I took the bus back down the mountain to relax at the resort while my family did the Inca Bridge hike. I was sad to miss out on the few hours we had left at Machu Picchu but, honestly, I was glad that I was the one to get sick so everyone else could get the most out of the trip. Ryan was happy to go back with me as he couldn’t walk much more in his skinny jeans!

We freshened up when we arrived back at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pubelo Hotel and lounged by the pool for a few hours. It felt nice to put our worn-out feet in the pool and we recommended it to my family when they finally arrived from their hike. My mom dipped her toes in… and then the rest of her fully-clothed self as she lost balance and fell in! Talk about a hilarious oops!

Unfortunately, we had to go back to Cusco that night, so we repacked our bags and hopped on the train. Talk about a long day! While I tried to sleep most of the ride back, it was a bit tough since there was a fashion show on the train selling all sorts of alpaca wool goods! The stewards played loud music, everyone was clapping, and there was a guy dressed as a tiger making weird purring noises while the models walked the isle “cat-walk”. It would have been quite fun if I hadn’t been basically dying on the inside!

Once we reached Ollantaytambo, we had another 45 minute, bumpy and winding drive through the mountains to get back to Cusco. We were exhausted but fate rewarded us with an upgrade at the Hotel San Agustin to a huge suite with the biggest tub I’ve ever seen. Montezuma might have been waging a terrible revenge, but being sick was worth it for such an amazing day!

Machu Picchu

Sacred Valley, Peru

Sacred Valley, Peru

6:30 AM wake up to meet our guides and head through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu! We hopped into our van with our guide, took a treacherous ride with crazy traffic through winding hills and, somehow, didn’t topple off one of the hairpin turns to our death. We were all very relieved when we made it to the various stops along the way!

Our first stop was at the Awana Kancha alpaca & llama farm to see the various types of indigenous animals. Apparently, there is a certain type of llama that gets so frightened when people approach, it is likely to have a heart attack and die! Talk about a poor fear reflex!

There were also native women weaving alpaca wool blankets and clothing in beautifully Peruvian patterns and, of course, all of their items were on sale in the gift shop at the end of our tour.

We then headed to a terraced, ancient city, atop mountains overlooking the Sacred Valley. The views from the city were astonishing and, though the air was thin, we were able to hike up to the top of the city.

Thankfully, we arrived early in the morning and there were only a few other people hiking the city while we were there. As we were leaving, we passed masses of tourist buses and huge groups that were about to climb up. Our driver had quite a time getting back down the narrow road past the big  buses – literally only an inch or two between us on either side! For almost all tours, it is worth getting up early to beat the crowds.

My dad and I looking over the Sacred Valley on the way to Machu Picchu, Peru

Along the drive to the next spot, we saw tons of stray dogs, cows, pigs, and kids running in and out of the streets. There were huge fields of quinoa and tarps lining the side of the road with huge corn kernels laying out to dry.

We were getting hungry on our road trip, so we stopped at a market. There was a silver factory there with a huge fire pit at the back for making empanadas. The store had guinea pig empanadas which I was going to try, but there was a cage with baby and adult guinea pigs right next to the fire pit and we couldn’t bring ourselves to eat one. Instead, we had a delicious chicken empanadas and bought some jewelry in the store.

Our empanadas were not enough to hold us over, so we headed to the Tunupa Sacred Valley  restaurant. There was a beautiful garden entrance with parakeets and other exotic birds. Inside, it was so packed with people through the buffet lines. After we ate, my sister, Ryan, and I went into the back garden to explore and make friends with some testy lamas. They give us the stink eye but I think we got through to them eventually!

Once we were shopped out and our stomaches were fully, we took off to Ollantaytambo, the town home to the train station. The town was surrounded by amazing fortress ruins and a temple for Sun God worship. We walked up 210 large stone steps to the top of ruins where there were 40+ ton rocks used to make the buildings. The crazy thing is, the huge rocks up at the top of the ruins were actually mined from the mountain across the valley. The Inca would mine the boulders from the top of the other mountain, push the boulders so they toppled down the mountain, and then, somehow, lug them back up to the top of other mountains to build their buildings. All of that at an average male height of 5’2!

After admiring the view for about 30 minutes, we had to catch the train. Our guide dropped us off and we almost took off in the wrong direction. Thankfully, she ran after us and pointed us the right way.

The views from the train were amazing, especially because there were windows from our seats to the ceiling and the over the ceiling, and it didn’t take long (1.5 hours) before we arrived at the Machupicchu Pueblo, the town below Machu Picchu!

Cusco Day 2, Peru

Cusco Day 2, Peru

At 8:30 AM sharp, we were dressed and ready to meet our guide, Lizbeth, for our Cusco city tour! We walked down the street from our hotel to the chapel which used to be the main Inca residence in Cusco. You can see where the Spanish ruins stop and in Incan stones remain. The Incas figured out how to build huge structures out of massive lego-like boulders that are so earthquake-proof they still stand today, despite huge tremors. You can see the amazing architecture throughout Peru thanks to one great emperor who, with the help of his offspring, conquered most of the western coast of South America in just 100 years by using a trail system to create easier transit of resources and communication. A majority of these trails still stand and are used today and the technology was so confounding to the Spaniards that the Spanish conquistadors thought the ruins had to have been built by Gods!

We then walked to the Cathedral of Santo Domingo and I was quite surprised at how massive it was inside. It definitely does not look as large as it is from the outside. There were tons of murals inside but, unfortunately, many of them were deteriorating with time. We got to talking to our guide about the locals and apparently most natives in Cusco only may $3K per year!

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After the church tour, we hopped in the tour van and took off to the Inca ruins in the highlands at Sacsayhuaman (or Sexaay woman). We walked up to this beautifully green expanse of land with llamas and alpacas roaming through giant ruins of rocks that weigh up to 40 tons! I could have spent all day there, but we had to move onto the Maze ruins consisting of giant boulders that formed a cave where Incans used to perform burial rituals and mummification. Again, a super cool view and awesome history.

After our tour, we were dropped off in the main square where we found an Italian-ish restaurant for lunch. I had some lasagna to carbo-load for our shopping trip after. We went through the arts district and walked and shopped for two hours or so before some thunder told us to head to our next destination – an under-ground Museo de sitio del Qoricancha! The walk was long and the storm caught up with us about 200 yards from the entrance to the museum and we got soaked as we didn’t have umbrellas! It started to hail right as we closed the door. The museum was a little small but they had some beautiful jewelry and pottery and scary looking mummies which were cool.

By the time we finished at the museum, we were incredibly tired, so we ran through the rain back to our hotel for nap time. With some new energy, we took off to another museum in a small square up the street, but it was closed by the time we got there. We explored the cobbled streets, walked past the local kids playing soccer, back through the main square, up to a little restaurant called Cicciolina in the arts district. We had some amazing drinks, appetizers, a sweet potato gnocchi that would make anyones mouth water to try. The food in Peru can’t be beat and, if you are looking for a place in Cusco, you must try Cicciolina!

After dinner, we walked home to rest up for the next day’s journey to Machu Picchu!

Cusco tips:

  • Pack an umbrella as the weather shifts quickly.
  • While the days are nice and sunny, the temperature at night drops into the 30s, so pack warm.
  • Do all of your market shopping from Cusco and into Machu Picchu. The goods change as you make your way and there are great deals to be haggled!
  • Have dinner at Cicciolina!
  • Drink the tea in your hotels often as it really helps with the acclimatization.
  • Wear a hat, sun glasses, and lots of sunscreen since the higher altitude lets the sun effect your skin much more than usual.

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Day three marked our second flight during the trip from Lima to Cusco. Cusco is in the mountain region of in-land Peru and it takes about an hour by tiny plane to get there. We had a quick breakfast and met our driver around 8 AM to head to the airport. Driving in Peru is an experience in itself as basically all traffic signals, aka stop signs, lights, yield signs, are merely suggestions. We were in 4 near death situations just on the drive to the airport. Eeek! Thankfully, we arrived in one piece, made our flight, and arrived in Cusco around 12:30 PM.

Our next tour guide, Julio, met us at their airport for our bus transport to the hotel in the upper section of Cusco. The ride was really interesting as Julio explained the local housing structure. Since Cusco has become a more popular tour destination, the cost of living has grown substantially. The locals make very little money and cannot afford to buy fully completed houses, thus, most of the houses in Peru are works-in-progress. There is a bottom floor, and sometimes a second or third floor, in each concrete structure, with metal framing wires sticking out of the roofs that were the hight of another floor. The families typically share the buildings with their siblings and add floors when they can afford it. It really made me feel blessed and thankful to have what I have.

Anyways… we were dropped off at the Hotel San Agustin – a beautiful hotel with a huge atrium and very comfortable rooms. The staff gave us some tea to help with the 11K altitude acclamation before we took off to explore the large square up the street known as the Plaza de Armas. The cobble stone square has an amazing fountain in the middle, is surrounded by shops and cathedrals, and has these adorable little old Incan ladies in traditional garb with baby lambs and alpacas. I couldn’t help by take a photo with one of them.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco Peru

We found a great modern burger place with a Peruvian twist called Papacho’s on the border of the square. It not only had a fantastic view, but the best onion rings we have ever had! In addition to the memorable onion rings, I enjoyed a veal sandwich and took a bite of my father’s alpaca burger – yum! Within a non-bug, reasonable scope, I always try to local food as you never know what deliciousness will surprise you.

With so much food in our stomaches, we took off walking to an alleyway off from the square where most of the local markets were. It was actually quite cold in Cusco, more in the 50’s rather than the 70 degree weather in Lima, so, in addition to gifts for friends and family, we stocked up on scarves, jackets, and gloves. You will probably notice my warm, new, knitted, and somewhat alpaca fashion moving forward in my future Peru posts. I say “somewhat alpaca” because the market sellers claimed their products were 100% alpaca wool but, considering the price and the fact the some of the labels read “30% alpaca”, I was skeptical. All of the items we bought were very haggle-able and we bought most things for $5-$10 USD – some great deals!

After an hour or two of shopping, we walked back to the hotel for a quick nap before our evening plans. The altitude and 7 AM wake-ups really take it out of you! We had reservations at Tunupa, a buffet restaurant in the main square with a traditional Cusco dance show. The buffet was full of ceviche and other traditional Peruvian dishes that were all quite tasty. On top of that, we had some Pisco Sours to lighten the mood and get us ready for the craziness to come.

The band was made up of a singer and two instrumentalists and there were two female and two male dancers. The dancers would dance a traditional piece for a song, run back and change, and then dance in a different style. They did this 6 or 7 times and got the crowd up and about to dance as well. It was a roaringly fun time, especially since they played a catchy song called “Pacha Mama” or “Mother Earth”, which we thought said “Punch your mama”, that we kept singing all night long. My mama loved it so much she bought the CD…

With warnings of the sun’s face-scorching capabilities in the thin Cusco air, we stopped to get some colorful hats for the next day’s ruin tours. My sister and boyfriend came to the conclusion that I look funny in hats, a fact I’ve come to accept over many years of trying, so naturally I bought the brightest hat I could find just for fun! With hats in tow, we walked around the square and admired the city lights before heading to the hotel for much-needed sleep.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco Peru