Have you ever wondered what it is like to hike up the trails of Machu Picchu, stand at the top and look at the world beneath you? Have you ever dreamed about experiencing the different cultures in the Sacred Valley, Ollantaytambo or wondered what life is like in Cusco? If you answered yes to any of these questions then our Flightie Anita recommends travelling to Peru with Contiki Holidays. She recently returned from an 8-day tour and shares all the amazing things she experienced along the way:
I recently returned from experiencing a trip of a lifetime with Contiki Holidays. My experience began in Lima continued onwards to Puerto Maldonado, Cusco, The Sacred Valley and magnificent Machu Picchu. Painting a picture of every city I visited is the only way to show what Peru and Contiki Holidays can offer a traveller wanting to experience this country at its best.
Lima is a city situated along the Pacific coast and offers spectacular views of the ocean and the many surfers trying to ride some waves. I walked along the coast only to come across a beautiful park dedicated to love called Parque Del Amor. This park is where many couples come to express their love for each other. I also came across an American-style outdoor food court section with an eating area overlooking the coast and the many cathedrals with breathtaking architecture. Speaking of the architecture in Lima, you can find everything from early colonial styles with Spanish-influence to French-influenced buildings. I stayed at a beautiful hotel that Contiki Holidays has picked as part of their tour called the Girasoles Hotel. This hotel is perfect for the average traveller; it has everything you could need and is walking distance from all the city has to offer.
We took a flight over the Andes to Puerto Maldonado and upon arrival we checked into a hotel called Caban Quinta Hotel. With beautiful rooms that have a separate bedroom and a fridge, one could not ask for more. And don’t let me forget to mention a swimming pool to cool down in. This tiny city offers true Peruvian culture and what one would expect in Peru. Contiki Holidays provided a hosted lunch in a remote family-owned farm area outside of the city. This campground offers swimming in the river, soccer playing on the fields with locals, or just simply sitting on picnic tables taking in the amazing splendor of this area. After a lovely afternoon we took a tour of the local market and the main square. Later that evening we went into town for a fantastic meal.
What can I say about this wonder. Just knowing that you are in the Amazon is enough to make you smile. We woke early for the best views of some of the wildlife and had a boat ride take us downstream to Tres Chimadas. We then boarded a simple Catamaran ride and with the help of our local guides we were able to learn about the flora, fauna and wildlife in the area. After an afternoon full of tree climbing and kayaking, we returned to the hotel and experienced the fantastic climb on the Canopy Tower which is 120 feet high. During these 2 activities I was able to see some amazing wildlife and, with the help of our local guides, learned about everything I was seeing along the way.
For dinner, a show was put on by local children (and yes they get the guests involved in their dances). We stayed in beautiful accommodations called the Posada Amazonas Lodge. This hotel, due to its location, does not have electricity, but that makes no difference because the staff is more than helpful; you will find candles in every room and a kerosene lamp to help guide your way. The rooms are open to the Amazon and, as you fall asleep to the sound of monkeys and birds, it actually dawns on you where you are. Believe me -there is no greater feeling than this. Once back in town before leaving for the next destination you should try a local taxi ride to the market. The memory will be with me for a lifetime.
Another flight over the Andes Mountains took us to the beautiful World Heritage Site of Cusco, situated 3400 meters above sea level. Some travellers worry of altitude sickness, however, with keeping yourself hydrated with water and coca tea you should be fine. We checked into yet another fantastic hotel called Hotel Tupac Yupanqui. Words can’t explain how beautiful the layout of the hotel is and the rooms are fantastic as well. In true Contiki Holidays style, we were quick to get out there and see everything this town had to offer. We walked to the famous Plaza de Armas, also known as the “Square of the Warrior” in the Inca era. This is one history lesson you do not want to miss. Some of the greatest architecture I have ever see was part of this cathedral and it is no wonder there are so many questions asked about how the structures were built in the Inca era. Once the sun went down, our group enjoyed a buffet dinner in a great restaurant with again some of the greatest local entertainment I have ever seen.
On our way to the Sacred Valley we made a marvelous stop at Awana Kancha. The little pit stop made me smile from ear to ear as I was surrounded by Alpaca’s and Lama’s. You can actually hand feed them and pet them! There was even the opportunity to sit on an Alpaca and have your photo taken. As if this wasn’t great enough, there were also local women making blankets. I can promise you that these places are not something you can just research and head to on your own – but thanks to Contiki Holidays this stop was organized and put into our tour. Next we headed to the Sacred Valley, also known as the Urubamba Valley. This is believed to be the heartland for the ancient Inca empire, so marvel and soak up the picturesque fertile plains. A hike of the Pisac Ruins was next on the agenda. Prepare yourself as this hike is not too easy, but if you pace yourself the reward is well worth it. As you hike the views are unlike anything I have ever seen before – truly breathtaking. At this point, I urge you to take a look at the photos that I have included in this blog and take a minute to see the marvels and views this country has to offer. I can honestly say that I have never seen such beauty in my life. Contiki Holidays provides the tour groups with fabulous guides so that you are actually learning about the ancient cultures of the Pisac Ruins as you hike to the top. Upon arrival to Ollantaytambo – the last fully functioning Inca town, we checked into our hotel called Hotel Sol Ollantay. Another fine pick by Contiki Holidays! We headed out again for a much easier hike of the National Park of Archeology of Ollantaytambo. Once you get to the top, spectacular views of the city are seen and just behind you are amazing views of the snow peaked mountains. The evening was at leisure so whether you wanted a great dinner or just wanted to fall asleep, the choice was up to you.
This morning we were given free time to explore the Sacred Valley. We also had choices of activities to pick from such as biking, hiking, rafting or horseback riding. I personally chose horseback riding and had an amazing time. The ride lasted about 2 hours and gives you an opportunity to enjoy the outstanding views of the mountains and colors this magical place offers. I again urge you to look at the photos I have attached just so you can understand what I am talking about. After this great optional activity we headed to board our train ride to Machu Picchu Pueblo, which is the town at the base of the ruins. The train ride was fantastic. Not only was it relaxing but on the way, there is an audio track playing explaining all the areas you are passing through. Again, get your camera ready because there too many photo opportunities. As we arrived we checked into our hotel called Hotel Grupi Inti. This accommodation was located in a great part of town and was not far from anything. This evening I choose to head to the hot springs also known as Aguas Calientes. I enjoyed a relaxing evening moving from pool to pool until I found the hottest one of course. Upon arrival to the hotel we all gathered for a group dinner at a fantastic restaurant. We called it an early evening as we knew our alarms would be waking us for 4:00am for a life-changing day.
Today the alarms were beeping and the porters were knocking on doors to ensure everyone was awake. We were about to experience what every person comes to Peru for. That’s right, it was time to see Machu Picchu also known as The Lost City of the Incas. As we left the hotel it was a short walk to the buses that take you to the entrances of Machu Picchu. As we were waiting in line to get in it began to rain. I thought I would mind but it just made the experience that much more authentic. The hike to the Sun Gate and Guardian House is about 2.5 hours and is completely uphill. The good news is that after this hike the reward is worth millions. By the time we reached the top the rain had stopped but the clouds were still making it impossible to see the Lost City. The group of us just sat in silence, and at that point it truly dawns on you what you have accomplished and where you are. I have never been more at peace in my life than at this exact moment. As I hoped the clouds would part, Mother Nature made it happen. The first views of the Lost City were magnificent and I think I have about 500 photos to prove it! We sat in silence for a while longer and then I realized that what goes up must come down. We began a hike down the same path we came up. As we got closer and closer to Machu Picchu our guides (provided by Contiki Holidays) began explaining the history lesson. Our fully guided tour lasted about 2 hours and then some free time was given for anyone that wanted some solo exploration time.
We headed back towards the exit where you can actually stamp your passport with a Machu Picchu stamp and left the Lost City of the Incas. We stopped for lunch and just when you think the day couldn’t get any better, we were serenaded to by a group of local musicians. I mean these things don’t happen all over the world but what a perfect end to the best day of my life. After lunch we had some time in the markets and then left Machu Picchu to head back to Cusco by bus. When we arrived it was quick shower and a night out on the town in the main square.
Waking up today was different because I knew my adventure was over and it was time to fly home. I went to the local markets to get some Alpaca scarves, packed up my suitcase and was off to the airport.
All I can really say is that you owe yourself this experience in life. I thought this trip would be out of my comfort zone but Contiki Holidays managed to find fantastic hotels that were comfortable and very accommodating. The food was amazing throughout the trip, as was the transportation and people. Very special thanks to Contiki Holidays for making my bucket list a little shorter and for allowing me to fully experience a trip of a lifetime. To those reading this, all I can say is that words can’t explain how magnificent this trip was but I hope the day by day synopsis gave you a bit of an understanding so you can one day experience it for yourself!