Travel Information

I was inspired to post travel information on this site after I was planning to go to Peru and had a hard time securing Machu Picchu tickets. I found other people’s posts very helpful in understanding how to make my trip work.  I hope you find the information here that is helpful for you.

2013-2014
PERU TRAVEL INFORMATION

General Trip Itinerary

12/31
Depart SFO
AA 209 17:40
Arrive LAX 19:10
Depart LAX
LAN 23:20

1/1
Arrive Lima
Jorge Chavez (LIM) 10:55
Lima Hotel
Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores
1/2
Lima
Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores

Medical Interviews
1/3
Lima
Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores

Bay Bike Tour
1/4
Depart LIM
LAN2111 13:40
Arrive CUZ 15:00
Cusco, Peru (CUZ-Alejandro Velasco Astete Intl.)
Casa Andina Private Collection

1/5
Cuzco
Casa Andina Private Collection
One day Trip to Macchu Pichu 1/6
Cuzco
Casa Andina Private Collection
1/7
Depart Cuzco
CUZ 10:05 AM
LIM 11:30 PM
LAN AIRLINES 1022
LAYOVER
LIMA
LIM 1:20PM
IQUITOS
IQT 3:15PM
El Dorado Plaza Hotel

1/8
Amazon -Iquitos
El Dorado Plaza Hotel
Dawn on the Amazon Tour

1/9
Amazon-Iquitos
El Dorado Plaza Hotel
Self Adventure

1/10
Depart Amazon
Iquitos
IQT 1:35pm
Lima
LIM 3:15pm
1h 40m
633 mi
LAN Airlines 2381
Casa Andina Select

1/11
Depart LIM
LAN 2610 09:05
Arrive SFO 15:45
BASIC TRIP IMPRESSIONS

I have a friend who went to Peru and can’t talk enough about how much he hated it. I’ve been there twice now and I really enjoyed both times. De gustibus non est disputandum (“in taste there is no dispute”) However, I think the probability of enjoying a trip goes up exponentially with good planning, an easy attitude, willingness to embrace a different culture and learning some basic phrases of the country you visit.

Peru is a country with many varying levels of natural and man-made beauty, and poverty and prosperity, mostly dependent upon region. I can only speak of my experience of the places I visited: Miraflores, Cusco/Machu Picchu, and Iquitos.

Peru is an interesting country, even just in terms of the diversity of the topography and different climate zones. It was overcast/ warm (Lima/Miraflores), rainy/often chilly (Cusco/Macchu Picchu), and humid/sweaty, and mosquito weather (Iquitos). The different climate zones of the areas also came with different local cultural ambience. It’s important to pack and plan for it all.

Miraflores is probably one of the most developed and richest parts of Lima. It’s about 40 minutes from the airport. It is a vibrant part of the city with a central park area, a lot of shopping, many restaurants, cultural points of interest, entertainment, and it’s next to the ocean. I found the people there to be much friendlier than in Cusco or Iquitos. No one ever bothered me for any purpose, such as to aggressively sell or beg. I did not see any homelessness, nor did I feel endangered at any time, except from the car traffic. The city must send the homeless, criminals and beggars somewhere else; like San Francisco California. The weather is usually overcast, but still warm, and you can get a sunburn like the kind that can happen on a cloudy day at the beach, which is something to keep in mind.

Cusco is the city you fly into in order to visit Macchu Picchu. It is a city with much history and beautiful architecture. There is also an area of historic ruins nearby called Sacsayhuaman (basically pronounced “sexy woman”-a local joke). The biggest economic driver there is tourism so you will get a lot of touts bugging you trying to sell you things. I have experienced begging there as well. Most people in general there don’t seem to have a happy countenance, but will usually lighten up with a “Hola” or other greeting. That part is kind of sad to me. I feel sure that if I lived there I’d get to know a lot of cool happy people though.

Iquitos is one of two major starting points to visit the Peruvian Amazon. The other is Puerto Maldonado. Iquitos is a city where you will see a lot of poverty, and along the river walk area there is aggressive selling of tours and trinkets. The Belen market is a huge area where locals go to by just about any type of food item. Be careful of your personal effects in the market. Given the crowds and cacophony it is a place ripe for thievery. A police officer even told my guide to tell me to take care of my camera. One good thing is that the people here are mostly of Andean ancestry so it’s easy to feel tall and bigger than most there if you are an average sized from the United States. Iquitos is an interesting place, but I would have be happy to spend one less day there and one more in Miraflores.

FORMAL TRAVEL DETAILS
VISA INFORMATION
http://lima.usembassy.gov/documentation.html
No visa necessary for less than 90 day stay and traveling with a valid U.S. Passport.
Important note: You will be given a customs/tourist document to fill out on the airplane which you will hand to immigration upon arrival in Peru. Immigration in Peru will tear the smaller portion of this tourist document and hand it to you. It is a small piece of paper which will fit in your passport. Do not lose this piece of paper as you will need it when to show Peru immigration when you leave the country. Also, every hotel will ask you for, and take copies of your passport and the tourist document. This is standard practice in Peru.

FLIGHTS
Flights can be arranged through any travel site such as Orbitz or Expedia, but the airline that will most probably be booked through any site is LAN Airlines. http://www.lan.com/en_us/sitio_personas/index.html LAN is a OneWorld mileage rewards partner which includes American Airlines, so you can accumulate miles on your AA account. The roundtrip ticket should cost less than $1000 including all taxes and fees. Air travel within Peru will almost exclusively be with LAN. The LAN airplane had a free entertainment system with lots of good movie selections. The monitor is on the seat back. The meals were good too, and above par for flight food and served with actual silverware and glass. Classy.

GROUND TRANSPORTATION TO/FROM AIRPORT
All the guidebooks I read stated that it is best to arrange a taxi service in the airport at the taxi service counter, so that is what I did upon arrival into Lima. In arranging it this way, a one way transfer to Miraflores costs $42 U.S. not including tip. It’s not unreasonable, but Responsible Travel “ResponsTravel” (contact information below) arranged the rest of our transfers to/from airport/hotel for $30 U.S. While you might be able to negotiate a cheaper rate on the spot with a random taxi driver or service, I found that the cars and drivers that ResponsTravel arranged in Lima and Cuzco were of very high quality and the most cost effective way, and low hassle way to arrange the transfers.

PERU BASED TOUR OPERATOR ASSISTANCE
I have found it VERY helpful to utilize a local based tour operator in Peru for specific services. Transfer to and from the airport and hotel are much more time and cost effective when pre-arranged, and it takes one less worry/hassle out of the equations. They also arranged very cost effective and high quality private car service for tours of the city. I recommend the following:

Responsible Travel “ResponsTravel”
Lima Contact=Diana Leon
Email:= lima@responsibletravelperu.com
Cuzco Contact=Agnes Moes
E-mail= vt@responsibletravelperu.com
These people did a wonderful job. Both Agnes and Diana speak and write English fluently and will respond to your e-mail requests expeditiously. Agnes was instrumental in securing our Machu Picchu tickets, which I will go into more detail below. Diana helped secure an interpreter and driver for a special project. I am not being compensated in any way by ResponsTravel for this endorsement. They just did a great job for me, and will probably do the same for you.

Dawn on the Amazon Tours
http://www.dawnontheamazon.com/
If you go to Iquitos this is the tour operator to work with. I couldn’t really find another one that appealed to me, but these guys are the biggest game in town anyway. And they also operate a restaurant popular with tourists. The one day tour I took included a guided tour through the Belen Market, The Butterfly Farm, and searching for pink dolphins (which we found). The cost was $85 per person. A discount applies if you pay at least 48 hours in advance. The tour was the highlight of the Iquitos portion of the trip. Our guide, Jose, was awesome and I really enjoyed the entire experience. It was good to have a guide at the Belen Marketplace which was chaotic, but really cool. The sell just about everything there, from exotic fruits, to batteries, unusual meats, edible bugs, medicine and hard on herbs. We had some charcoal cook grubs there. They have a kind of nutty flavor, and a little chewy. I say give it a shot. I’m still alive. There’s a lot of hiking involved to get to the boat to the butterfly Farm, and more after you get closer, but it was all a great experience because it felt like and adventure through real neighborhoods. The boat ride to look for pink dolphins was very comfortable and relaxing and the crew seemed to really work hard to find them for us, which they did.

I'm pretty sure they only sell FDA approved not out of date drugs and medicines at the Belen Market. You can try and let me know.

I’m pretty sure they only sell FDA approved not out of date drugs and medicines at the Belen Market. You can try and let me know.

Octopus, and octopus eggs- I think? Belen Market

Octopus, and octopus eggs- I think? Belen Market

View of part of the Iquitos city area Amazon. I think that water front property here is not very expensive.

View of part of the Iquitos city area Amazon. I think that water front property here is not very expensive.

Howler monkey chilling at the butterfly farm. These guys are loud! I guess, hence the name.

Howler monkey chilling at the butterfly farm. These guys are loud! I guess, hence the name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOTELS
Miraflores
Radisson Hotel Decapolis Miraflores
Avenida 28 De Julio 151, Lima, PE, 18
I highly recommend this hotel. The service and staff were excellent. The location is terrific as it is centrally located to all of Miraflores. The room was very clean, big, modern, and comfortable. There is a wonderful rooftop bar area with a small pool and workout room. Included in the price was a daily buffet breakfast for two and a $10 US credit per room that could be used at the bars or restaurant. It averaged out to about $175 per day with all fees included.

Picture from along the walkway toward the beach from the hotel

Picture from along the walkway toward the beach from the hotel

View of the ocean from the Radisson rooftop pool area.

View of the ocean from the Radisson rooftop pool area.

Radisson rooftop Pool

Radisson rooftop Pool

There is a lot of really cool art on the streets.

There is a lot of really cool art on the streets in Miraflores alleyways.

More art.

More art.

 

 

 

 

 

More art.

More art.

 

 

 

 

 

Casa Andina Select
Calle Schell 452, Miraflores, Lima, L 018
We stayed here on our return to Lima. This is also an excellent hotel. It is very clean, modern, centrally located, and the staff is very attentive and helpful. This property also has a gym area and hot tub (free) which you can reserve. We reserved it. It was nice! $132 U.S. for a very big and comfortable junior suite.

Casa Andina Select hotel room.

Casa Andina Select hotel Miraflores.

 

 

 

 

 

Cusco
Casa Andina Private Collection
Plazoleta De Limacpampa Chico – 473, Cusco, N/A
We had a great experience at this hotel. It is centrally located to both the Plaza de Armas (the central square) and is walking distance to the bus departure area for Machu Picchu. The hotel is very interesting in that it looks a modernized monastery. It can be a little confusing getting around it at first. It’s kind of a maze. We had a big, comfortable and clean room tucked away in a corner. In walking through the hotel and peeking into open doors I saw that there are any different room types, so we might have lucked out on the room we got. Even so, the on-site restaurant was excellent, and the staff was friendly and attentive. It averaged about $141 U.S.
Iquitos

Casa Andina Cusco courtyard

Casa Andina Private Collection Cusco courtyard

 

 

 
El Dorado Plaza Hotel
Napo 258, Iquitos, Loreto
This is undoubtedly the nicest hotel in Iquitos. The room was very large and clean, there is a decent restaurant on-site and there is a very nice pool area. The service was not commensurate with the price tag though. There was no airport shuttle service as stated in travel guides, the pool was mysteriously closed for 1.5 days with no explanation of why or when it would re-open (and it’s one of the coolest things about the hotel-see below), there was no towel service at the pool, and the front desk staff said they would “try” to arrange a transfer to the airport for 30 soles for EACH of us. I instead arranged a transfer to the airport by motocarro for 10 soles for the both of us. Motocarros are how most of the population gets around. They are just like tuk-tuks in Thailand, three-wheeled motorcycles with a canopy. And exciting ride when it’s pouring rain and even when it’s not. Traffic laws, if there are any, must just be suggestions. I expected a much higher level of service for a hotel that costs about $196 per night. However, I was happy we stayed there for the mere fact that after a day in the Amazon it as nice to come back to a clean modern place. And there were a couple of liquor stores close to the hotel. A hotel room buzz watching Mike Tyson’s one man show on HBO while enjoying air conditioning and eating good hotel food was a great way to spend the night. The citywide black out was fun too. I heard they happen pretty often. Always travel with a flashlight.

El Dorado Plaza Hotel Iquitos pool

El Dorado Plaza Hotel Iquitos pool

El Dorado Plaza Hotel room

El Dorado Plaza Hotel Iquitos room

A motocarro

A motocarro

 

 

 

 

 

ACTIVITIES

Miraflores
There is a lot to do in Miraflores. There is a lot of shopping, musical entertainment, a wide variety of cuisine and many cultural and historical areas to visit. There are even excavations of pyramid structures nearby.

I definitely recommend taking 3 hours out of one day and doing the Bay Bike Tour arranged through ResponsTravel. It cost $60 US per person. The guides were very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about sharing insights into the culture of Peru and the areas of Miraflores, Barranco, and Chorrillos. The bikes were comfortable and the ride is not strenuous at all. It is a scenic relaxing ride and the guides make sure that it is a safe ride. A snack at a historical bar in Barranco is included.

View of Miraflores from Barranco

View of Miraflores from Barranco

There is a big mall called Larco Mar carved into the hill overlooking the ocean in Miraflores. This mall has many good restaurants, and one of the two Wong stores in Miraflores. Wong is a supermarket chain which will carry anything you may need. Given the views, the food, the ability to stock up on supplies, and the relaxing park above the mall, this is definitely a good place to visit.

There is a centrally located park called John F. Kennedy Park which is a great place to just hang out with the local population. It felt very safe there, and people are there mostly relaxing with their families, shopping, eating, playing and having a good time.

Two other interesting things to do are gamble and surf. There are many casinos in Miraflores. The casinos are small, but comfortable, and offer free drinks and food for gamblers. We won $50 U.S. and split. Dinner was on the casino. If you make your way to the beach you will find many little stands renting surfboards and wetsuits. They also sell surfing lessons. I found that the water was not as cold as I imagined it would be and in the wetsuit I was very comfortable. I figure the water was about 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The waves are not dangerous and mostly kind of mushy, at least on the day I went out. Even though I am an experienced surfer I think a beginner would have fun there. One important aspect of the place is that the surfers are not very aggressive and the vibe of the people surfing was very relaxed. The “beach” is really a bunch of small pebbles and rocks and there is a pretty extreme dip from the “beach” into the ocean. I rented my equipment from a guy named Fernando. If you go down there you can’t miss him. He’s a big older guy with long dirty blond hair and has a really beat up beige VW bus. He’s cool. He charged 30 soles for a surfboard and wetsuit with no exact time limit.

Cusco/Macchu Picchu
Cusco is a visually interesting place. It reminds me a little of Venice with its small winding streets and alleyways that lead into plazas and courtyards…except with lots of cars zipping around. Cusco is located at about 11,500 feet in elevation so the air is thin. I definitely felt it, with a low grade headache and occasional dizziness in the first 36 hours there. However, I still drank wine, so it wasn’t that bad. Take it easy the first 24 hours and drink the Cocoa tea (made from leaves of the plant from which cocaine is derived). It helps. Visit the Plaza de Armas which is the central plaza in Cusco which is bordered by shops and churches. It looks kind of magical. However, if you sit down on one of the benches in the park be ready to be inundated by people (most of which are small children) trying to sell you their goods, and they have the sad puppy dog look down to perfection. And they don’t leave. There are many stores to shop in there too, but Mercado Modelo de Huanchac that’s a little outside of central tourist Cusco is the best place to shop. It’s a big building that houses many souvenir vendors and some eating places. That’s where we got our fried guinea pig.  There are also many ruins close to Cusco which can be visited by private or public tour. We arranged for a driver for 3 hours to show us around, but we didn’t purchase entrance tickets into the nearby ruins. Cruising around above the city and seeing the ruins from outside was good enough for us.

View of the wet streets as we walked to the bus station heading toward Machu Pichu. It rained a lot while we were there. It was about 5 AM. This picture really encapsulates the walk for me, it was cold and wet and kind of magical.

View of the wet streets as we walked to the bus station heading toward Machu Pichu. It rained a lot while we were there. It was about 5 AM. This picture really encapsulates the walk for me, it was cold and wet and kind of magical.

Deep fried guinea pig. It's famous in Cusco. It's really tasty even though it looks angry! Not much meat though.

Deep fried guinea pig. It’s famous in Cusco. It’s really tasty even though it looks angry! Not much meat though.

The train to Aguas Caliente

The train to Aguas Caliente

Aguas Caliente

Aguas Caliente

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cusco is one of the main starting points for travel to Machu Picchu. If you do it in one day from Cusco, it’s a long day that starts with a 1.75 hour bus ride from Cusco to a train station, usually the one located in Ollantaytambo. From there you will take a train that ends at Aguas Calientes, the town at the foot of Machu Picchu. The main train operator is Peru Rail and during the “rainy season” they operate what they call a “Bimodal Service” which is a fancy way of saying that half of the trip is on a bus. You can purchase your train tickets online at http://www.perurail.com/. It’s pretty easy to purchase the train tickets; however, Peru Rail doesn’t really describe how the actual logistics will take place, especially during the “Bimodal” season. In fact, the explanation of the “Bimodal” logistics came in an e-mail one day before the service date while I was in Cusco.

 

The trip begins at a bus station in Cusco at 05:15 AM. There are many small (20 to 25 passenger) buses that cart people off to the train station as they arrive to the bus station. You will need to show your passports and train tickets before boarding the bus. We departed from the bus station and arrived at Ollantaytambo train station at about 07:15 AM. You will need to show your passports and train tickets before boarding the bus. The bus station was walking distance from our hotel. I saw a group of people get picked up from our hotel in a taxi, and we beat them to the bus station by walking.

We departed from the bus station and arrived at Ollantaytambo train station at about 07:15 AM. There is a restroom there. We left Ollantaytambo train station at about 08:00 AM. The seat assignments on the train sometimes don’t make sense as you can purchase tickets in pairs and be seated in different rows, so it might be necessary to trade seats with people to sit together. Also note that the left side of the train on the way to Machu Picchu has more interesting sights. There is a nice breakfast served on board and each car has a restroom.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes, the end of the train portion of the journey at around 10:00 AM. At Aguas Calientes you must take a bus up to the entrance to Macchu Picchu. You can hike up the trail to the entrance, but it’s not a scenic hike and I imagine that it would take more than an hour. This bus trip takes about 20 minutes. You can purchase the bus tickets at Aguas Calientes. We took the 16:30 train back toward Cusco. The trip then operates in reverse. We arrived at the bus station in Cusco at about 20:30.

View of Machu Picchu from Machu Picchu Mountain.

View of Machu Picchu from Machu Picchu Mountain.

 

Classic Machu Picchu picture

Classic Machu Picchu picture

It's not easy taking pictures with nobody in them here.

It’s not easy taking pictures with nobody in them here.

You must purchase your Machu Picchu Entrance tickets prior to arriving at the actual entrance. They do not sell entrance tickets at the entrance. There are many places that sell entrance tickets, with some locations in Cusco and some in Aguas Calientes, but if you have a tight schedule and want to ensure that you will have your entrance tickets, I recommend contacting ResponsTravel to purchase the tickets for you. The only other way to pre-purchase entrance tickets is on the Peru government website http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ , which, to put it politely, needs a lot of work. Even if you are able to pre-purchase your entrance tickets you must go to a government office in Cusco or elsewhere to receive the actual tickets. In certain seasons, only a limited amount of tickets are sold. The fee that ResponsTravel charged for the service of securing the entrance tickets was very reasonable and we also secured the bus tickets from Aguas Calientes to Machuu Picchu entrance too so that we wouldn’t have to wait in line on the day of arrival. ResponsTravel hand delivered the tickets to our hotel. ResponsTravel definitely took the worry out of that aspect of the trip.

IQUITOS
Iquitos is an interesting place, but I would have been happy shortening my trip by a day to 2 days instead of 3. It would have been more than enough to fly in, explore the city that day, go on the Dawn of the Amazon tour the next day, then leave the following day. On the third day there I didn’t feel that there was much more to explore. Many people go to Amazon lodges from Iquitos as the starting point. That is probably a really cool experience but that’s not really my cup of tea, plus mosquitoes really love me and I don’t feel compelled to try to be around more of them. The city itself looks like what the history of the place is, it looks like a place that was once booming then abandoned when all the wealth was sucked out of it. There are a good amount of empty buildings that looked like they were beautiful once upon a time, but are now empty and sad. There is a small central park area, and a lot of the surrounding streets are buzzing with low level commercial enterprise. The Eifel building that all the guidebooks describe is a completely underwhelming. If it weren’t for the back story, it would just be another drugstore.

One thing that was common in Iquitos restaurants is that service is very slow. After living in Hawaii I’m accustomed to “Hawaii time,” but “Hawaii time” seems like New York time compared to Iquitos. I waited for 45 minutes for a to-go order. It was some kind of fish dish which was actually pretty good. I waited another 40 minutes for a hamburger and another fish dish. Waiting doesn’t bother me when that’s the way it is in a place. Well, in Iquitos that’s pretty much the way it is.

View of the River Walk area

View of the River Walk area

This is the Eiffel Building you might read about. It's an underwhelming drugstore now.

This is the Eiffel Building you might read about. It’s an underwhelming drugstore now.

There are casinos here too. I didn't go in though.

There are casinos here too. I didn’t go in though.

The heat and humidity also makes the dog population here tired apparently.

The heat and humidity also makes the dog population here tired apparently.

Amazon McMansion

Amazon McMansion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready....Steady....Go!

Ready….Steady….Go!

 

 

 

 

All in all, Peru is a place that I doubt I will have a chance to visit again in my lifetime, although I’d be very happy to. I can’t imagine going to Machu Picchu three times in my life. But, I wouldn’t mind. If I go again I’d probably spend more time surfing and hanging out in Miraflores eating great food, seeing live bands, and hanging out in the park.

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