Peru Pt IX: Chilling in Cusco

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Qorikancha, Cusco

We only had 1.5 days in Cusco and we spent the first afternoon doing admin stuff: finding our accommodation, getting our laundry done and figuring out our onward transport to Puno.

After settling down at our accommodation, we headed out with our dirty clothes. The place which our host Ruth told us to go to didn’t exist but luckily with Cusco being a tourist town, it wasn’t that difficult to locate a place to drop our dirty clothes.

Souvenir shop along Avenida del Sol – agreed to wash our laundry for 5 soles per kg

After the ordeal, we decided to reward ourselves with helado.

Amorino

First of the many ice-creams we had in South America (4.50 PEN)

After the ice-cream treat, we went around asking for information about our onward transportation to Puno. We couldn’t come to a decision and by the time we were done it was time for dinner.

Mural along Avenida del Sol

Dinner was at a Peruvian place located several blocks away from our accommodation. We ordered a set for two and the amount of food that arrived was enough to feed a family.

Polleria Rios Los Angeles

Super salty chicken

Peruvian Chinese dish – Arroz chaufa

The meal also came with fries, sausages and soup. We could barely finish half of the food served.

On our way back, Ying and I stopped by one of the many souvenir shops in Cusco.

Junk Souvenirs for sale

Junk Souvenirs for sale

The llama keychains caught Ying’s eyes and we managed to get 10 of them and a bird flute for 15 PEN. By the time we left Cusco, we would have many more llamas.

We had a late start the following day due to the chat with our host Paul. We didn’t get going until it was almost eleven and like the day before, we walked up Avenida del Sol.

Incan-inspired designs on road dividers

Incan-inspired designs on road dividers

There were many moneychangers on Avenida del Sol and by then we were running a bit low on our Peruvian soles. We got the best rate in Peru in Cusco – 276 PEN for 100 USD so our advice would be stock up on your soles before heading to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

Some guy being interviewed outside Cusco’s city hall

Colourful mural in the background

We stopped by Plaza de Armas, centre of tourism in Cusco. There were plenty of tourists with the same idea as us.

Plaza de Armas

Fountain in the middle

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus

Cusco Cathedral

We needed the bathroom and spotted the Starbucks on the plaza.

Starbucks

Coffee sacks

While sipping on our special lucuma drink, we surfed the net to research where we should have lunch. We shortlisted a few choices near the San Blas neighbourhood and made our way there after our finishing our drink.

Llama for photo

Climbing up the steep streets of Cusco

Hotel in San Blas

We ended up dining at the restaurant Marcelo Batata, a decision that we didn’t regret.

Marcelo Batata

Menu in English

We got served by a nice staff who spoke pretty good English. She brought us cassava chips and dips after getting our drinks orders.

Cassava chips, energy booster and Inka Cola

Awesome chips and salsa

Between the two of us we ordered a starter and a main. Avocado and shrimp cocktail was our choice of starter.

Fresh avocado and sweet mango tossed with pomegranate and passion fruit couli topped with grilled shrimp and served with a sweet and spicy tamarind sauce

The starter was absolutely awesome and we literally licked every drop of the sauce off the plate. Worth every soles (21 of them to be exact) paid.

The main was char-boiled alpaca tenderloin (43 soles).

8 ounces of char-broiled alpaca tenderloin in wild mushroom sauce, served with potato casserole, purple corn quinotto, onion strings caramelised with algarrobina

It was the first time that we were trying alpaca and it tasted like a cross between pork and beef.

Juicy alpaca steak

The sides were outstanding as well; Ying really loved the caramelised onions.

Funny sign in the toilet

It was a satisfying meal and the total bill came to a very reasonable 84 PEN (inclusive of a small tip for our excellent server).

We found ourselves back on the streets of Cusco, trying to walk off the calories.

Walking back

Awesome school bus

Shadow

Cobble-stoned

Wall

Trash can reminded me of minion

Fountain

When we were taking a rest near the fountain, the peddlers would approach us with their wares. Ying drove a hard bargain on the llama keychains and we got several more. However, before we finished the transaction, a police officer tried to shoo the peddlers. Quite pro-active of Peruvian authorities to improve the tourist experience in Cusco.

Bust

The cathedrals under glorious sunshine

We collected our washed laundry on our way back and retreated back to our accommodation before sunset.

Something funny:-

Ying really loves llamas

In fact she bought so many llama keychains that she could form something meaningful with them.

Peru

Could you count how many llamas were there?

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Peru Pt VIII: Nice Room near the main square in Cusco

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Night view from the apartment

The collectivo from Ollantaytambo dropped us at Plaza San Francisco in Cusco and we were disoriented. After asking for directions from several people, we managed to find our way to our accommodation booked on Airbnb.

The apartment was situated beside Wanchaq swimming pool and the neighbourhood was noticeably more local than the touristy historic centre. Our host Paul had communicated with us before hand that his sister Ruth would be receiving us.

We paid 28.50 SGD per night for our room, the cheapest for the whole trip. The price should have alerted us on its (lack of) quality. Our first impression of the house wasn’t great; in fact the condition of the house kinda shocked us. While one might describe it as homey, it could also be seen as messy. It was also dusty and the renovation didn’t seem to be ‘completed’.

Our room was a twin one on the second floor and there were two other rooms. One of them was occupied by a Swiss couple whom we spoke briefly to every morning.

The other two rooms and toilet (extreme right)

Twin room

Our room was fairly spartan but it was clean enough. The bad thing was that it was outside the wi-fi range and we would need to go down to the living room to stay connected to the world.

Ruth was a friendly woman and tried to make us feel at home. However, her lack of English and our inability to speak Spanish meant that we couldn’t communicate effectively. When my questions became too difficult for her, she would call Paul to ask him to speak to me on the phone. We needed the laundromat and she sent us the wrong way while the nearest one was only around five minutes’ walk away.

We were also given the wrong set of keys and we couldn’t enter the apartment when we returned in the evening. Ruth was out and there was no one in the house.

Locked out

Luckily my phone was within the wi-fi range and we messaged Paul on Airbnb. Ruth returned and let us back into the house before going out again. I had to message Paul again as the toilet paper had ran out and we didn’t know how to switch on the heater for our showers. While none of these things were really huge issues, they didn’t make our stay a pleasant one.

Breakfast was included in the rate and Ruth would wake up early to prepare it for us. Both mornings we had rice with fried bananas. The fried bananas were nice but the rice was prepared too hard to our Asian taste. Ying struggled to finish them every morning.

Paul dropped by on the second day and he was an interesting person to talk to. We learned more about Peru and Cusco through our conversation and his English was pretty good. That was probably the best aspect of the stay.

Randall, a guest who stayed after us, had a similar experience to our time there although we didn’t have an issue with the noise.

The room was very small and the building still a building site. It looked nothing like the advertised double room. The noise before midnight was very loud in the building from many sources, within the unit complex and within the unit and there were many comings and goings on the main stairs outside of the window behind the bed. As well, the light in the stairwell foyer outside the bedroom came on and off regularly.

The rooms are unfinished with a space above the doors of two bedrooms and the bathroom not having glass or other infill in them allowing noise to travel and giving little privacy.

The bathroom is small and when we arrived on Monday had not been cleaned and was not cleaned until Friday. It has no system for stopping water from the shower from wetting the toilet, the basin and the floor, meaning everything gets wet. A simple shower curtain would suffice. There is nowhere to hang a towel while showering so the toilet seat is the only option.

The circular stair from the main lower rooms to the bedrooms is made of steel and is noisy. The light for the stair was not functioning and despite Paul saying he would fix it that didn’t happen while we were there. It felt unsafe to use at night without a torch.

Paul collected us from our previous accommodation and was pleasant. Ruth was an absolute delight and made a significant effort to communicate with us.

The location is fine and convenient for visiting the centre of Cusco.

Not recommended for those with acute hearing, in need of sleep and any hint of claustrophobia.

At the end of our two-night stay, we were glad to move on and Ruth sent us off with a small gift each. On hindsight, we should have paid more for somewhere more pleasant and comfortable.

Peru Pt VII: Aguas Calientes

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Aguas Calientes

The shuttle bus dropped us back at Aguas Calientes, near where we boarded the bus earlier in the morning.

Shuttle bus

Fountain

The first thing that we did was to buy a big bottle of water to hydrate ourselves. We had long exhausted our supply of water on our hike up Huayna Picchu and quenching our thirst was the priority when we reached Aguas Calientes.

After getting hydrated, we took a walk along the train tracks.

Local kids playing along the tracks

Train station for the local trains – foreigners are prohibited from riding them

Police station

Train passing through

We somehow found ourselves at the town’s main square.

Cathedral

Bienvenidos

There was a kindergarten round the corner and the pictures drawn by the students were displayed on the wall outside it.

Pre-school

Drawn by 3 year-olds

By 4 year-olds

By 5 year-olds

It was apparent that the only economic activity in the town was tourism. Almost every business is a hotel, souvenir shop or a restaurant.

Street of AC

Street of AC

There was also a fair bit of touting as well; we were persuaded to have our dinner at one of the restaurants where the staff promised to throw in free pisco sours.

People watching while waiting for our food

Our dinner – trout for me and alpaca steak for Ying (20 PEN each)

The food wasn’t top quality and Ying complained about how tough her steak was. My fish was better though.

With the dinner out of the way, we spent some time walking through the souvenir shops outside the train station. It seemed that the prices there were quite steep and we would find cheaper souvenirs in Cusco.

Train Station

Flood evacuation route

Train: PeruRail Expedition 84
Depart: Machu Picchu Pueblo – 18:45
Arrive: Ollantaytambo – 20:15
Duration: 1h40m
Seat: 52

The train back to Ollantaytambo was similar to the one that we had in the morning. A snack and drink were offered.

Tea and biscuits

After all the passengers had disembarked

After a short auto rickshaw ride, we were back at our accommodation. Both of us were happy to get a good rest after a long day out.

Peru Pt VI: Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu

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Machu Picchu – the name says it all

We spent around six hours inside the Machu Picchu site; of these six hours, almost three of them were used to hike up and down Huayna Picchu

Sign listing the Don’ts

Site map

Immediately after the entrance, there was a place where visitors could leave their bags. I wasn’t sure of the cost though since we didn’t use it. As the day was getting warmer, We took off our fleeces and put them into our backpack before continuing.

Trail to the site

Plaques

Plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s exploration of Machu Picchu

We were awed by our first sight of the ruin.

In awe

Wow

As we had quite some time before our scheduled climb up Huayna Picchu, Ying and I went around taking photographs from the higher view points. Our arrival time at around 9am coincided with the visits of many tour groups and there were queues at the more popular photo spots.

Tourists enjoying the sun

Classic shot

Patrick, isn’t it awesome?

Majestic

En-route to the starting point to the Huayna Picchu hike, we saw our first llamas.

Llamas

Restoration work – I’ll like to think that the entrance fee goes into maintaining the site

Each day only 400 visitors were allowed to hike up Huayna Picchu; the first group of 200 could start from 7am and the other group (which we were in) would start from 10am. There is a checkpoint at the start of the trail up Huayna Picchu.

10am came and passed and we were still allowed in

Instructions

The queue began to move slowly and we understood why when we got to the front. The visitors were required to sign in and out and the staff told us that we would need to return to the checkpoint by 2pm.

After signing in

While I had read reviews of the hike, I didn’t understand how strenuous it could get until we were doing it. The heat and my load didn’t make it easier. We would stop several times to rest and catch our breath.

I wish that I didn’t have to carry so much stuff

There was no bag check conducted at the entrance and our packed breakfast were undetected. To lessen our load, we would eat the content inside the pack. The bananas and juice were our saviours; they seemed to give us the extra energy to keep going.

Up

There were loose rocks in part of the trail and we had to stay alert. You could imagine our happiness when we reached the view point on Huayna Picchu.

Looking back

Near the top; Patricks pose encapsulated our feelings

Machu Picchu – it sure looked different from Huayna Picchu

Hiram Bingham Highway – the switchbacks which brought us from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu

Continue

Top of the world

Top of Huayna Picchu

2700m high

We made our way back down slowly and reached the checkpoint slightly before 1pm. Spent the rest of our time walking around the site and took pictures.

Sacred rock

Llama

Cloudy

Window

Ying imitating Patrick

Trees

Wild

Still amazed that we climbed up Huayna Picchu

Flirt spotted

Shadow

On the way out

There were no dustbins inside and one had to bring all his/her rubbish out. Washroom facilities were only available outside the site.

It was really a hot day and we decided to leave at around 3.30pm. We would have two hours to kill at Aguas Calientes while waiting for our return train to Ollantaytambo.

Peru Pt V: Getting to Machu Picchu

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PeruRail

Machu Picchu is always going to be a highlight for any traveler to South America, us included. The Peruvian authorities know this and priced the admission fee accordingly; we paid 152 PEN each for the privilege of visiting Machu Picchu and climbing Huayna Picchu. The entrance fee for foreigner to Machu Picchu alone is already 126 PEN; it is really a very expensive place to visit.

There are several ways to get the tickets apparently and we chose to get ours online from the Peru’s Ministry of Culture’s website ahead of time. The portal is in Spanish only but luckily there was a very useful step-by-step guide online to see us through. We would need to print out our own tickets for entry to the site.

After settling the entrance tickets, we started to look into the transport options from Ollantaytambo. Both PeruRail and Inca Rail operate trains between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes (now known as Machu Picchu Pueblo) and PeruRail had slightly cheaper fares for the timings that we wanted.

The return journey cost us 116 USD each, another expensive outlay for a journey which is 100 minutes each way. We booked our train tickets on PeruRail’s website and we had to print them out ourselves like Machu Picchu entrance tickets.

It was an early start for us as our train would depart slightly after 6am. The lovely staff at Picaflor Tambo was already up and he passed us our packed breakfast before wishing us a good trip.

Still dark in Ollantaytambo

We decided to take an auto rickshaw (2 PEN) and it was a great decision. It was close to freezing outside and the road to the train station was longer than expected. The shops outside the station were already open for business. Gotta admire the work ethics of these Peruvians.

Shops leading up to the train station

Our tickets were checked before we were allowed in

Fast-flowing Urubamba river

To get away from the cold, we headed to the waiting room where there was a band providing some entertainment to the bleary-eyed travellers.

Expedition 81

Arrivals at Ollantaytambo

There was a small cafe which I believed to be more expensive than the shops outside the station.

Pretty well-stocked

The time for boarding came and we followed the other travellers to the train. Our tickets were checked by the PeruRail staff before we boarded our carriage.

Expedition 81

Train: PeruRail Expedition 81
Depart: Ollantaytambo – 06:10
Arrive: Machu Picchu Pueblo – 07:40
Duration: 1h30m
Seat: 51

I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the train was.

Onboard the train

PeruRail logo

Originally Ying and I were separated but luckily the seat opposite was free and I moved over.

The sun was rising and the scenery outside of our windows were fantastic.

Countryside

Through the panoramic windows

Snow-capped mountain

There was service provided on the train and we got to choose a snack from the basket as well as getting a drink from the crew. The crew also pushed through a cart of PeruRail merchandise through the aisle after the snack service ended.

Bun and tea

90 minutes after departure, our train pulled into Machu Picchu Pueblo station. Took a few pictures of the train which took us there.

Carriage 1642

Cool PeruRail logo

Both of us agreed that Aguas Calientes had a pretty nice natural setting.

The hill that dominates Aguas Calientes

Machu Picchu Pueblo

PeruRail ticket counter – tourists are prohibited from using the local trains though

Inca Rail ticket counter

It wasn’t apparent how we could get to the shuttle bus stop after exiting the station. We had to pass through a covered market with stalls selling typical tourist souvenirs before reaching the river where we spotted the shuttle buses..

Spotted the shuttle bus; we would need to cross the bridge to get to the boarding point

Pretty scary to see the back of the car was over the river

There were two locations (from what I observed) where one could buy the shuttle bus tickets; one was beside the river while the other was just before the boarding point. The one beside the river had a much shorter queue.

The sales point with a much shorter queue

The shuttle bus cost 18.50 USD for the return journey and the sales person refused to accept our less-than-pristine dollar bills. We parted with 53 PEN each instead with the exchange rate obviously not in our favour. With the Machu Picchu and the shuttle tickets in hand, we joined the queue to board.

Waiting to board

With tickets in hand

The person in charge of the boarding ensured that we had both tickets before allowing us up the shuttle bus. It was the morning peak period and the shuttle ran at a regular interval. We didn’t need to wait more than five minutes after joining the queue.

The bus had to negotiate multiple switchbacks up the mountain and took around 40 minutes to reach the entrance of Machu Picchu. I was surprised to see many people were already leaving the site at 9am.

Entrance to Machu Picchu (Taken later when leaving)

Our day at Machu Picchu awaited us after the gate…