Ask anyone what the top destinations are on her bucket list and Machu Picchu is sure to be in the top 10. I was lucky enough to go there in November and I’m happy to report it does not disappoint.
Most journeys to Machu Picchu start with a flight to Lima. Getting to Lima from the U.S. is easier than ever now that Jet Blue launched a flight there from Fort Lauderdale. They have one daily flight which leaves at 5:40 pm and arrives at 11:22 pm. (Disclosure: My trip was courtesy of Jet Blue.)
In Lima, we stayed in the picturesque Miraflores District at the J.W. Marriott. The name translates into “see flowers”, because the train used to stop there so the passengers could get out and stretch their legs in the gardens. The hotel is across the street from a cliff overlooking the Pacific and the El Malecon. If you wake up early make like a local and get out for a walk or jog. More of a night owl? Swing by Love Park a popular hangout for amorous locals and tourists alike. If you’re more into adventure, you can parasail off the cliff overlooking the Pacific. You’ll see plenty of the sails going by your window at the J.W. Marriott.
Things to do in Lima
With only a day to spend in Lima, we took a quick tour around town, starting at the Plaza San Martin and walking to the Main Square where both the Cathedral of Lima and the City Hall and the Presidential Palace are located.
A favorite stop was the Aliaga House. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but once you step in, you’re transported to another world. It was built in 1535 by a contemporary of Francisco Pizarro and is reminiscent of a Medina with open-roof rooms. Be sure to take a glimpse at the original conquistador sword of family patriarch Jerónimo de Aliaga.
Lima is becoming increasingly known for its food. Malabar and Central are two of the top rated restaurants. Opt for the ceviche wherever you see it on the menu and stay away from cuy, aka guinea pig, if you’re not into eating your childhood pet.
Now on to Cuzco
Cuzco is a short flight from Lima on LAN airlines. The charismatic mountain town is 11,000 feet over sea level, so take it easy on your first day. Everyone will tell you to drink the coca tea or eat the coca candy and you should. It did seem to help and only leaves you minimally buzzy. It is recommended that you spend a night in Cuzco before venturing on to Machu Picchu to adjust to the altitude.
Our home base was the charming, newly opened El Mercado Tunqui hotel. It was an easy walk to the Plaza del Armas square and center of town. You can buy cute crafts like pottery or paintings along with alpaca sweaters and scarves galore. The sweaters and scarves come in a range of colors and sizes, it’s a challenge to narrow down the options!
Machu Picchu at last!
To get to Machu Picchu, you have a few options. You can take a helicopter, train or hike it. We took the Vistadome train. Its a three hour ride from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes and the train ride is part of the fun itself. It is a glass-dome topped train so you can watch the Urubamba River rushing by outside the windows. Once you arrive, you hop on a bus to the entrance. The bus ride will make thrill seekers happy, as you twist and turn up a windy road that should be one way but is of course two.
Machu Picchu was built as by the Incans in the 1400s. Standing on the overlook reminded me that the world is old and my life is short. It’s always amazing to me that something built 600 years ago still stands. It’s worth it to hire a guid to get the insider’s experience to understand more bout the ruins from where the old quarry lies to which boulder was chipped by a Peruvian advertising film crew.
After two hours of touring, it was time to head back down. If I were to go again, I would definitely want to hike and go glamping. The El Mercado Tunqui sister properties, all part of the Mountain Lodges of Peru chain hotel offers a 6-night lodge to lodge trek that sounds like the perfect combo of exertion and hot water.
Time to Head Home
When it’s time to head home, be sure to book your flight from Cuzco to Lima early in the day. Our flight was canceled due to thunderstorms, which I hear is quite common. We were able to get on another flight and make it back to Lima for our red eye Jet Blue flight back to Fort Lauderdale.
For more information on traveling to Peru, check out the Trade Commission of Peru.