Donkeys carrying oxygen tanks, just in case.

According to our trekking guide Antonio, the difference between hiking and trekking is the intensity and the terrain. When we did the Lares Adventure with Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLOP), we trekked every day for 3 to 5 hours and at altitudes of up to 1400+ feet. Sometimes we were accompanied by donkeys carrying oxygen, and sometimes we had horses with us to carry our packs. The horses were also there in case anyone needed a ride.

Photo by Tori Zissman

The trails used by MLOP are gorgeous, and we didn’t see any other tourists for our first three and a half days of trekking. Until we reached the crowds of Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, we didn’t realize what a gift this was. We saw a lot of llamas and alpacas and their herders, but the trails were always quiet and isolated. Because of the ruggedness, some of our group used trekking poles, especially where there were a lot of loose rocks and when going down the steeper inclines. We stopped on the trail often, just to appreciate the beauty around us. It can be difficult to to look around when you are watching your footing and trying to breathe at the same time.

At the end of each day’s adventures, we stayed in a different lodge or hotel. The best were definitely the Mountain Lodges of Peru properties, where we stayed on the first two nights. Although they are in the process of opening more rooms at the Lamay Lodge, right now each group has the property to themselves. You are greeted at the door by the entire staff with something to drink and a warm towel. Before dinner, there is coffee, tea and snacks, and even pizza. Again with the Italian food. And the turn-down service! When climbing into bed, Ken said he felt an electric blanket. But no! Turn-down at the lodges includes hot water bottles strategically placed between the blankets at the foot of the beds. Then in the mornings, besides breakfast, there is a snack bar for you to pick up nuts, fruit and candy to get you through the day. On the first morning, you are given small reusable canvas snack bags (all meals are included).

Lamay Lodge by MLOP

Although the amenities are the same at both lodges, the designs are slightly different. The Lamay Lodge has gorgeous grounds! And llamas! And a hot tub in the beautiful courtyard. If you hadn’t seen enough camelids during the day, you can watch them from the comfort of the hot tub.

Upon arrival at Huacahuasi Lodge, we were asked to remove our shoes upon arrival, and this was so we could feel the radiant heat in the floors throughout the hotel. To tell the truth, the heat is inconsistent and not all that cozy, but this is more than made up for with the jacuzzis on the lanais of each room. Yes, each guest room has its own lanai and jacuzzi; if you’re modest you might want a swimsuit because, funnily enough, some lanais are visible from other rooms. Imagine sitting in a hot tub with an overwhelmingly beautiful view of the Andes mountain after a long day of trekking.

The third night was at the Kuyuchi Rumi where we each had our own full casita, complete with a sunken living room, dining room, full kitchen and two bedrooms. The bedroom downstairs has two twin beds and there is a master suite upstairs with a king bed. The casitas are lovely and well decorated, if not as well appointed as the MLOP lodges.

Our final night was at the Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel in Aguas Calientes. After our experience at Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, we had high expectations and these were met easily. The grounds are lovely, the suite was well appointed with the same wonderful linens and great bathrooms. I would stay at an Inkaterra property anytime.

Machu Picchu

Our lead guide Wilfredo

Machu Picchu (MP), the whole point of the trip, was everything we expected. Thanks to the expertise of our lead guide Wilfredo, we got to experience it at its best. Although our MLOP schedule had us spending the afternoon on our own in Aguas Calientes (AC) and only touring Machu Picchu on our last morning before returning to Cusco, Wilfredo gently suggested that we purchase extra entry and bus tickets and go to MP on the afternoon of our arrival in Aguas Calientes, as well as the next morning. The afternoon visit was the best part of the MP experience. As soon as our train got to AC, Wilfredo sent our luggage on with the hotel porter and pushed us quickly along to purchase the MP and bus tickets and, then into the bus line. This involved several stops, including money exchange points because the MP tickets required payment in Peruvian soles and the bus tickets required USD. Although there were credit card stickers on MP ticket window, Wilfredo said that they are “purely for decoration.” Ha!

Machu Picchu is a 15th-century complex, built probably as an estate for the Inkan emperor Pachukutiq. When in Cusco, he is the ruler you will hear about the most and the one depicted in the statues. Pachukutiq is credited for uniting the Inkan people, often through conquest, and being their greatest and most successful emperor. Machu Picchu was started in the mid 1400’s and then abandoned just over a hundred years later when the Spanish arrived in Peru. According to our guides, Machu Picchu was saved because, when the Spanish arrived, the Inkans smartly destroyed the roads to MP, so the Spanish invaders never knew it existed. In 1911, a local farmer led American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham to MP and then he brought the rest of the world. In 1981, an area surrounding Machu Picchu was declared an “Historic Sanctuary” by the Peruvian government. In 1983, UNESCO designated Machu Picchu as a World Heritage Site, describing it as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

The craftsmanship and building expertise of Machu Picchu is awe-inspiring. The incredible terracing down the face of the mountain should be impossible without modern engineering techniques, but there it is. I can’t even describe the scale and beauty of the complex. You need to see it for yourself.

Ken, Antonio, Marc at the Cerveceria del Valle Sagrado

And if you can, see it with a good guide. I can’t say enough positive things about our guides Antonio and Wilfredo, who were extremely experienced and very patient. They were like mother hens. You could see the concern on their faces when a small portion of the group went off on a biking excursion without them. They made sure the bikes were in good working order and that our biking guide had a good first-aid kit, and that there were options in case someone couldn’t do the whole ride. Antonio, the official trekking guide, was especially knowledgeable about the physical effects of the altitude on our tourist bodies and local and pharmaceutical remedies. He carried a very well stocked first-aid kit, which almost all of us took advantage of at one time or another for everything from tummy troubles to the sniffles. Wilfredo treated us one evening to a talk about indigenous instruments and played beautiful music on his own handmade pan flutes. Every guide we had in Peru was exceptional, and we were grateful for the passion for their culture, country and their people.

The whole MLOP experience was great, but what really made it spectacular was the people we and the Andersons connected with. Besides our guides, the other people in our group of 16 were wonderful too. Rex and Betty came all the way from Australia with 3 of their adult children and 1 of their grand-daughters. Rex and Betty became the patriarch and matriarch of the whole group and were a delight (don’t worry, Rex. I’m not posting your dance video here). Sue, Karen, Lynn and Emma were so much fun. I’m sure they were just as much of a joy with every group they were with, but I like to think our Machu Picchu group was special. Adam and Angie, our honeymooners from Colorado, were sweet and never complained about being with all us older folks, even when we slowed their trekking down to the speed of a pub crawl with our frequent stops. And our special buddies Tori and Marc from Boston were kind and generous, even going as far as lending their walking sticks to me when it was hard going downhill. Everyone was supportive and patient of each other and made each shared adventure a joy.

Notes:

Although many say that the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the place to stay, we opted to stay at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Aguas Calientes with the rest of our group, and were very glad we did. As it turned out, the entire group opted to stay there and we were able to have our last evening’s dinner with them. The Inkaterra was luxurious with beautiful rooms and grounds. The Sancturary Lodge is a basic hotel with basic amenities. Yes, you have the beautiful view of the MP and surrounding mountains, but we had views just as spectacular on the first two nights of our trip. If you stay at the Sanctuary Lodge, you cannot get into MP any earlier than anyone else or stay later. Yes, it takes extra time to wait in line for the bus and then ride it up and down, but you have to take the bus to and from the hotel anyway. Also as a price comparison, for around the cost of one night at The Sanctuary Lodge, around $1500, Ken and I were able to spend 3 nights at the all-inclusive Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica.

I’m sure I have more to tell you about our trip, but this is about all I can think of right now. Please email me if you need any details or have any questions. Just go! Machu Picchu should be on everyone’s bucket list. The whole trip was a wonder and a joy.

Notes:

Water bottles: Both the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica and Mountain Lodges of Peru gave us refillable metal water bottles as an amenity. These are great for those who are carrying them, but we liked our collapsible water bottles because they were much lighter. MLOP always made sure we had plenty of water available and that our water bottles were full if there was going to be limited access to water.

Flights: I booked these flights well in advance and using miles when United was having major public relations problems. I had decided we probably were going to start using other airlines more so I decided to blow the miles I had on this trip and booked first class tickets. Thank goodness! Those international red-eyes were a dream in first class. Ken can attest to the fact that this was the first time I actually slept well on a flight.

But our intra-Peru flights on Avianca were a pain. On our flights in and out of Cusco were very delayed due to what Avianca said were “air-pressure, weight and balance” problems. Is that why you made 10 people switch to later flights? Yet when we looked, there were no empty seats. Another passenger said that Avianca notoriously overbooks. We did feel badly for the Avianca staff in Lima when they had irate passengers yelling at them and the staff had to explain that Avianca had pulled 36 bags off the flight and would be sending them to their owners in the next 2 or 3 days! Linda and Mike were good because they were headed home and didn’t need anything from their luggage. One gentleman was headed into the Brazilian jungle without his medication. (Yes, we all know that you should pack a change of clothes and your medication in your carry-on.)

Jorge Chavez Int’l Airport, Lima: And here is my best piece of advice if you go to Machu Picchu. As soon as you confirm your flight, if you have more than a couple of hours in the middle of the night at the Lima airport and almost everyone does, book a room at the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima hotel at the airport. You don’t have to leave the airport grounds, just walk across the skybridge. You’ll even get a complimentary Pisco Sour. Then in the morning, you can check your luggage and come back to the hotel for breakfast. When we arrived at the Lima Airport around 11:30pm, people were sleeping everywhere in the hallways. I saw a mom and her three kids cuddled up on a blanket while dad stood guard. There were couples and singles in every corner and along every wall. It was well worth the $150+/- to have a bed and a bathroom.

Next week: Manhattan