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

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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!

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay

While the whales were up and breaching at 4:45 AM, I woke up at 7 AM to get ready for Bay day! The view through the fjord was breathtaking with snow-capped mountains with waterfalls of melted snow running down to their bases. Seals heads were bobbing up frequently and you could hear the bird’s songs echoing off of the mountain tops. What a place!

Waterfalls coming from the snow topped mountains in Glacier Bay, Alaska

We were hard pressed to find a table to eat breakfast and, with the announcement of whales on the starboard side, I abandoned my food and Ryan to run upstairs to the balcony to look out on the water. I saw a few whale tails and we passed some smaller glaciers before coming upon the Margerie Glacier. I can’t begin to describe the beauty and the size of the mammoth chunk of ice before us. We had the best view on the top of the front of the boat, but the crew closed our area since the slight rain was making it too slick to be safe. Thankfully, Ryan’s sister’s balcony room had a fabulous view as well, so we soaked it all in from there.

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat was stopped at the glacier for about an hour, so Ryan and I hit the gym. I have never had such a fantastic view from a treadmill as a glacier! The window in front of my treadmill looked over the glacier and it was the most scenic run of my life!

Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

The boat then veered up another channel to Lamplugh Glacier. Again, absolutely gorgeous and huge!

We went to lunch in the back buffet for the “Taste of Alaska” buffet. I really hope that was a poor representation of Alaskan food as it was full of oil / grease and the fish was way over cooked. It was really hard to find a table but I thankfully secured one by the window in the Horizon buffet and I ended up getting a salad there to eat instead. We saw even more whales while we were eating lunch! Such a scenic ride.

Lamplugh Glacier, Glacier Bay Alaska

Post-lunch, Ryan went to the room for a nap and I went to the bar for a margarita and to type up my day’s adventures for this here blog! I ended up talking to a very nice landscape architect / planner from LA for a while and enjoyed the view until I was called up to the top deck for more whale watching.

Eventually, 5:30 rolled around and we met Ryan’s family in the Botticelli dining room for dinner! It was Italian night, even though the menu did not include lasagna, and I had some yummy veal and spaghetti and meatballs. I was surprised at how decent the veal was! I skipped desert in the dining room so I could run to the 7 PM magic show and grabbed some soft serve ice-cream on route instead. Upon arrival however, I realized that I was not the only one interested in the show and the lounge where the show was taking place was completely packed!

We headed to the Princess Theater instead for the tail end of the lumberjack talk. The guy who was talking had such an increasable story of wooing a Nordstrom makeup artist and convincing her to live with him and raise their kids in a cabin in no-where Alaska. They mainly lived off the land, catching fish, digging for clams, and hunting for one big animal a year whose meat would last them until the next year’s hunt! The speaker was a world renowned lumberjack and, at 54, got back into lumberjacking as his son won the world champion title for lumberjacking! He had such an amazing story and, after he finished his talk, 8 cruisers competed in an axe throwing competition and the winner got to partake in the axe throwing contest during the lumberjack competition in Ketchikan! Again, so cool!

Glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska

After the show, we decided to go back to the room and watch movies instead so we could get an early night for our very early arrival in Ketchikan the next day.

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.

Lima, Peru – Day 1

Lima, Peru – Day 1

I am not typically an early morning person, but on trips, the excitement and need to experience as much as possible gets me up bright and early. By 8 am, we were up and getting our needed nourishment for the day at the breakfast buffet. The hotel had these bright pink sausages that looked very strange but tasted delicious – I am never shy about trying something new and potentially tasty!

As our city tour did not start until after lunch, we decided to walk down to cliffs overlooking the beach. It was quite the journey getting down the stairs from the cliffs to the rocky coastline, but totally worth it. My mom wanted to “test the water temp” and needed my dad’s help traversing the rocks to get to the ocean. Unfortunately for my philanthropic father, my mom accidentally pulled him in the wrong direction and straight into an on coming wave that completely soaked through his sneakers! His sloshing sneakers marked the way back up the stairway to the coast trail lined with sculptures, amazing views, and gorgeous foliage.

The 70 degree, sunny day seemed to prompt everyone with the same “lets walk the coast” idea as us. It was packed! There were slack liners, dog walkers, hang gliders, work-outers, and all other types on the trails with us. We people-watched our way to this great outdoor shopping plaza overlooking the coast that housed our lunch destination – a resultant called Mangos. Not only is the patio view from Mangos out of this world, but the ceviche … the ceviche!! I felt like we were in food heaven “cheers”-ing with our pisco sours. If you visit Miraflores, you have to go to Mangos!

After one of the best meals I have ever had, we met our tour guide, and hopped on the van for our downtown adventure. The buildings in downtown Lima are heavily influenced by the French and Italian and are extremely ornate. Our van dropped us off at the Church of St. Francis for a walk-through. The church is packed with gorgeous, old murals that have both Spanish and Peruvian influence. It was fascinating to learn how the styles of the various cultures merged into the art hanging before us. We were also escorted below the church to the maze of a crypts that held over 25K bodies! Slightly creepy but still amazing to see.

A few blocks down from the church is the main square and Government Palace of Peru. We walked around the square, taking in all of the sights, until the sun set and our van picked us up.

We freshened up at the hotel and headed back to the Cat Park to look at the local art and find a spot for dinner. We ended up at a place called Alfresco based on the hotel’s recommendation – another winner! I had a fabulous sea bass in a shrimp and coconut sauce, while Ryan and my sister had delicious curries. We did have some food envy though when the table next to ours got their branzino… until our apple crumble ice-cream desert arrived! So yummy!

Thankfully, we were able to walk off our big dinner on the way home. In fact, based on my FitBit, we walked over 8.83 miles touring Lima. What a fabulous first full day to the trip!