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Quechua Indigenous Women


Machu Picchu wasn't the highlight

Peru has been on my bucket list for as long as i remember, and i always thought Macchu Picchu would be the highlight of my trip, but it was not. Not because it is not impressive, breathtaking, or inspiring, it is for sure all of these things and more, but because everything else was even more touching, especially the people of Peru.

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I started my trip in the Sacred Valley to beat the altitude sickness as you need a couple of days for acclimatization to be on the safe side, but altitude affects everyone differently (it is a genetic predisposition).

  • Lima at 1550m

  • Arequipa at 2380m

  • Machu Picchu at 2450m

  • Ollantaytambo at 2790m

  • Cusco at 3300m

  • Puno (Lake Titicaca) at 3860m

  • Arequipa at 2380m

So Plan your travels from low altitude to high altitude places. The best way to help prevent altitude sickness is making sure that you stay well-hydrated (drink LOTS of water) and avoid caffeine and alcohol for the first few days. Also take it slow, as you might feel tired; I was extremely tired during the hike and was short of breath but the scenery made it all worthwhile. Hotels have oxygen tanks and i had to ask for one during my stay at Lake Titicaca even though i came from Cusco. 
There is so much to do and see in the Sacred Valley, and these were my favorite:

  • Pisac Market: popular for its huge and colorful Sunday market, a good place to shop for local souvenirs. Women are dressed in their finest, usually with a colorfully dressed child; they are there to pose for photographs, and will expect money if you take their picture.

  • Pisac Ruins: famous for their rows of agricultural terraces cut into the mountainside and held in place by stone walls

  • Moray: The fascinating and impressive symmetrical circular terraces. You ask why? Because each of the different levels of terracing has its own microclimate, which the Incas are thought to have used for testing the optimal growing conditions for their crops. With this information, the Incas could determine what areas were best for growing various crops, which in turn determined where they should settle.

  • Salinas de Maras: Salt mines. An astonishing mountainside lined with 5,740 small pools, called pocitos. Each pool can yield 150 kilos of salt a month.

  • The Skylodge Adventure Suitesof Natura Vive are a set of capsules where a maximum of 12 people can stay a night or visit for lunch, all at 1,312 feet above the valley. To get there you need to climb a mountain via ferrata or by zip-lining. You need to book your stay or lunch at least two months in advance.

  • Mountain Lodges of Peru invited me to experience one of their typical adventure days, so i joined them for a one day hike as my schedule was packed so couldnt do the whole itinerary. Basically they offer hiking from one lodge to another through the Andes Mountains eventually arriving at Machu Picchu, but by a different route than the more better-known (and more crowded) Inca Trail. We explored breathtaking landscapes, cultural immersions, and luxury trekking without having to sleep in tents at the end of the day with no hot showers. 

Next, i boarded the Vistadome train for Aguas Calientes, as it follows the path of the Urubamba River, i enjoyed the scenery from the 360 windows and took it all in. When i arrived i had to take a public bus to reach Machu Picchu.
In 2017, the number of foreign tourists visiting Peru was 3.8 million (France ranked first in 2017 at 86.9 million visitors). And there are a lot of people (see the photo below) entering Machu Picchu every day. A 1 night stay in the charming Belmond Sanctuary Lodge is the smart thing to do, for the reason stated above, and also because you have less crowds early in the morning and in the late afternoon. But the most important reason is because the clouds. It will be heartbreaking to buy one entrance ticket (tickets sell out) and go for one day and not see Machu Picchu because of the clouds/fog/rain. The minute i left Machu Picchu it started raing, and i was told that the next day was a horrible day for all the tourists visting as visibility was bad. 
Please note: As of 1st July 2017 entrance to Machu Picchu will only be possible if you are accompanied with an official registered tour guide. And times are limited to two entry windows: 6am - 12pm, and 12pm - 5.30pm. You can only enter within one of these two entrance windows, and you must leave the site before the end of your session. 
Please dont forget to take your passport with you as you will be denied entry to Macchu Picchu if you dont have it. Also please dont forget to get the Macchu Picchu stamp on your way out, it is the coolest stamp you will even have in your passport.
Next i took a flight to Puno (the original plan was to take the luxury sleeper train Andean Explorer to Ariquipa, but it was fully booked), and drove toTitilaka  a Relais & Chateaux Boutique Hotel on Lake Titicaca. I think the photos are worth a million words, but i could say that the Uros floating islands expeience was one of the most facinating things i ever experienced in my life. 
Ending my trip in Lima was perfect, but i do wish i had more time there.
We had customers who said "we'll just do a layover in Lima" but now i know that Lima is not to be missed or done in 1 night. This city is a burgeoning culinary destination for serious foodies, and home to two of the top ten restaurants in the world, Central and Maido. I selected some very special experiences to do in Lima from art, to museums, to surfing, to cooking and shopping. 
On my next trip to Peru, i am determined to visit the Peruvian Amazon and get on a river cruise to see the pink dolphins and swim with pirranahs, and take the Andean Explorer luxury sleeper train to Colca Canyon to see the giant Andean condor, and maybe even cross the boarder to Bolivia to experience the world’s largest salt flats.
When to go? I think late May is the best time, as everything is greener after the winter months. 
If you want to have a great Peru trip, plan in advance, way in advance. Availability is a problem, a lot of things are fully booked months in advance. 

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