Peru has so much more to offer than just Machu Picchu, but looking at this photo it is hard not to focus on this amazing location. I will get to Machu Picchu, but let me start from the beginning.
I planned this trip at the last minute and if it had not been during COVID, I would not have been able to see everything I wanted or stay at the properties of my choice....so when you decide to visit Peru, please give yourself plenty of time to plan. The first step (as of the time of this writing), is getting a PCR test to visit Peru. The airline will verify your test results when you check in at your departure airport (for me, Portland, OR), along with your vaccine card.
Since COVID regulations were changing frequently, I worked with my partners in Peru to have them meet me at the airport and help me in each location. As a travel advisor, I appreciate all of my local partners as they know exactly what is going on in the destination and can help my travelers make any needed changes immediately. We landed without incident in Lima and headed into town for a short 2-night stay.
We stayed in the Miraflores district and headed out for a walk by the ocean. Our driver had mentioned that there had been some erosion due to earthquakes, but I was shocked to see it in daylight. Right at the ledge is a shopping mall above and the JW in the background is only a block or so away from the ledge. This is honestly the image I have when I think of Lima now. Of course, there is much more to the city. The food is wonderful and the people we met were all very friendly and welcoming. Lima is for sure worth at least a day in your itinerary (giving you 2 nights here).
Next, we headed to the Sacred Valley---we flew into Cusco and it is about a 2 hour drive from there. The Sacred Valley is a lower elevation (about 8,000 feet) than Cusco (about 11,500) and staying the valley can help with altitude sickness as your body can adjust more gradually. Machu Picchu is also around 8,000 feet.
I knew the Sacred Valley was beautiful, but I felt like everywhere I looked was beautiful. I took hundreds of photos! The Sacred Valley is a peaceful location to do some hiking or biking or simply relax. We spent 3 nights here and that gave me time to sightsee and enjoy some spa treatments (nice balance). The area is very agricultural--they seem to grow mostly potatoes and corn. The corn is nothing like I had seen before....the kernels were huge! They also had purple corn.
From the Sacred Valley, it is a 1.5 hour or so train ride to the city of Machu Picchu. We went on the Vistadome train which has windows on the ceilings and local entertainment during the journey. It was exciting to see the terrain change along the way and there truly wasn't even a moment with a bad view. The COVID restrictions were the strictest on the train---you had to wear 2 masks and a face shield. It didn't deter from the experience from my perspective and gave us a funny story along the way. We had to buy the shield at a little vendor by the train (about 50 cents) and we put it on....and couldn't see anything....it was all blurry! I thought, how terrible...this is supposed to be a beautiful journey. Our driver thankfully knew what he was doing and peeled a film off each side of the shield and suddenly everything was clear. We probably had to tell 20 or more people to take the film off their shield on trip---no one other than out driver seemed to know what was going on.
From the city of Machu Picchu (formerly called Agua Calientes), it is a 30 minute bus ride or a couple/few hour hike up to the actual Machu Picchu ruins. We stayed at the only hotel at the ruins---Belmond Sanctuary Lodge---so we took the bus up right after the train. Arriving around 3pm we were the only ones on the bus up (that is around the time of the last entry into Machu Picchu so everyone was coming back down, not going up).
From the Orchid Garden at the Belmond, you can see the citadel of Machu Picchu (to the left of the mountain in the photo above). We were glad we had seen even that small glance when the next morning at our 6am entry time (best time to go---you avoid a lot of the crowds) it was a downpour and super foggy. We literally could hardly see our hands in front of our faces. We thought the view from the garden might be all we would get. Like I mentioned, I planned this trip at the last minute and got lucky to get tickets....but there wasn't enough availability to get a second entry time (advice: if you have bad weather, it is reassuring that you have a back up time).
Our guide was patient and we waited until the end of our entrance window to enter and then walked slowly up the path. Still raining, still foggy. Then the guide began speaking about how Machu Picchu is a spiritual location and he encouraged us to think positively and actually try to blow the fog away with our deep breaths. I'm open to new approaches, but at that point my husband was looking at me like this was all a bit too crazy for his liking....but after doing the exercise, within about 2 minutes, the fog began to lift and we could see a small sliver of the citadel and a bit of the path into the main part of the ruins. The fog would lift for a few moments and then roll back in. This continued for much of our time at Machu Picchu, but I honestly felt that the mystical atmosphere made the visit more memorable. Each time we could see something, it was like we were finding it for the first time. The weather had scared away lots of people and for the first 1.5 hours or so, we were basically alone. We did get a glimpse of the sun towards the end of our visit and those views are also gorgeous. You are allowed 4 hours at the site, but no one really times you. The path is one way so you can't back track----that naturally limits your visit since once you make the circuit you have to leave.
This is the end of part one.....this part of the journey was 7 nights. 2 in Lima, 3 in the Sacred Valley and 2 at Machu Picchu. Until next time....
Tracey is the owner of Unraveled Travel and has traveled to every continent (thanks to the recent visit to Antarctica!