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There are a few destinations in the world we reserve a permanent place in our hearts for and Peru is one of them. In 2014, we each cashed in 45,000 Delta Skymiles to fly directly into Lima, Peru with our hearts and minds set on exploring the cuisine, culture and one of the world’s wonders—Machu Picchu.
Besides Thailand, this was the most “unfamiliar” place we’d ever visited but we were up for the adventure. It was also a very interesting point in our relationship and careers. The allure of the fancy traveling gig which we both started in 2012 had begun to wear off, the company we worked for was in a bit of transition [go figure] and our sense of fulfillment at work was evolving. On the positive side, Mrs. r&R moved into a new role and received a significant pay bump [+12% in salary]. Of course, sky high expectations came right along with it. More on that later.
Meanwhile, Mr. r&R was on the complete other end of the spectrum. He moved into a role that was…difficult to explain. There were days where he wondered to himself and out loud, where do we fit into the business? How exactly do we add value? While some people flourish in environments like this it was not one a position he enjoyed at all. On the positive side, he used that time to plan this awesome vacation and a pretty dope marriage proposal.
Getting to Lima, Peru directly from Atlanta is straightforward. The flight is just under 7 hours and there are typically at least two flights leaving ATL daily. Not to mention, we’d come to realize that 45,000 Delta Skymiles was a pretty good was a pretty good trigger to pull. It was small enough to accumulate quickly with moderate biz travel without running the risk of the miles required to fly somewhere on a short booking window ballooning out of reach. Again, our travel loyalty approach is to “earn” and “burn” in under a year because we know that over time the value of your points/miles decrease. Unless you’re on the road more than 45 weeks a year, you’re likely at risk to not reap the full point potential you’re holding onto.
To get from Lima to Cusco, Peru is a short flight and required us to fly LATAM Airlines. This is a really popular route so you can pick from a number of flights going back and forth daily for under $100 per person. We booked directly with them but if you’re more comfortable, you can book using Expedia or booking.com
Hotels | Lodging
Like always, much of our itinerary was shaped by whether or not we had IHG hotels in the destination. In this case, we chose the Crowne Plaza Lima which was right in the heart of the seaside business district of Miraflores. This is a a popular hotel for airline employees so don’t be surprised if your flight crew is also enjoying Pisco Sour’s at the bar with you.
The hotel was cool with a modern lobby and sorta-modern hotel rooms. At the time, they were either in the middle of a renovation or they simply never got around to touching the rooms. Either way, it was clean, convenient and free since we used IHG Rewards Club points for our stay.
In Cusco however, there were no IHG hotels so we chose AirBnb. We could’ve stayed at other hotel brands but this was an adventure after all! We’ve used Airbnb several times in the past and have come to prefer that experience over hotels in most cases. We’ve done it both abroad and domestically so if you’re interested in giving it a try, you’re welcome to a $40 credit on your first visit on us.
We booked a private room bed-and-breakfast (Saya Wasi) owned by one of the sweetest host’s [Denis] you’ll ever meet. Every day, he’d ask us what we wanted for breakfast and without fail, it would be delivered to us hot and fresh. Like many homes above the Cusco valley, Saya Wasi looks as if it was etched into the side of a cliff and offers endless views of Cusco throughout the day. He stayed upstairs and we were on our own level with a separate entrance, private bath and patio.
In Lima, we spent the bulk of our time trying amazing food and enjoying everyday Peruvian city life. Almost daily we would walk to Puku Puku Cafe or stroll through Larcomar, [an outdoor shopping center] for a quick lunch and people watcing. The area is right on the coastline, so when you’re not shopping or stuffing your face with delicious Peruvian roasted chicken you can look over and enjoy incredible panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, you can visit Parque de Amor [Park of Love]; all a comfortable walking distance from the hotel.
We also visited the Larco Museum to take in their amazing exhibits. In particular, we visited their ancient erotic gallery and their incredible collection of pottery and sculptures depicting sexual acts and reproduction.
We also gorged ourselves on our fair share of traditional Peruvian ceviche which was nothing like any ceviche we’d ever had in Panama and other corners of the Caribbean. Often times, it had chunks of sweet potato and roasted corn in it which added a hearty and textural difference we were pleasantly surprised by. But hands down, our favorite meal was at Amaz, globally recognized as one of the world’s best restaurants and inspired by the cornucopia of widely unknown flavors found in the Amazon rainforest. All we can say is that if you dine there, you will see colors, feel textures and taste flavors you likely didn’t know existed. It’s also surprisingly affordable.
In Cusco, we dined in mostly small and local restaurants but made sure to try the unique local cuisine which included llama [aka alpaca] and guinea pig [aka cuy]. Trust me, you don’t want a picture but you’re welcome to Google it.
In general, Lima is treated as a stop-in for most tourists that are headed to Cusco and Machu Picchu. Having experienced it and if you’re an adventurous diner, you can easily spend 3-4 days there.
The only drawback to this entire experience was Mrs. r&R’s painful neck and back spasms. Admittedly, this was a direct result of her over-working herself prior to our trip and the entire flight from Atlanta to Lima. She did this because she’d just started her new job and was feeling the pressure to not lose momentum since she’d just started. The result was us searching both Lima and Cusco drug stores for a constant supply of pain meds and muscle relaxers to relieve the painful tension in her neck and back.
The Engagement (according to Mr. r&R)
Smuggling an engagement ring into another country is nerve-wrecking but Mr. r&R did it anyway. It was all part of his master plan to pop the question while the future Mrs. r&R was staring at the wondrous Machu Picchu. For obvious reasons, I didn’t want to let the ring out of my sight but also didn’t want to behave so oddly or obsessive that she felt something was up so I hid the ring in a tiny bag and stuffed it in a Tylenol bottle covered by pills and cotton. That way, it wouldn’t seem unusual for me to have it on my nightstand or in my bag while we were out. Don’t ask me why…it made sense at the time!
Either way, after getting to Cusco, taking Peru Rail to Aguas Callientes [the town just below Machu Picchu] and then a bus up to the base of the mountain, I was excited, nervous and ready to get it over with all at the same time. But eventually, after we’d climbed to a good height and in between the seemingly constant transition from bright sunlight, to intense fog, to light rain and cold breeze I found the courage to pull out the tripod and record a moment that changed our lives forever.
Travel Tips for Lima, Cusco and Machu Picchu:
- Almost all international flights into Jorge Chavez International Airport arrive between 10 PM and midnight. This creates a huge backup at customs so plan accordingly and pack light if you can.
- Give yourself a full day or two in Cusco to adjust to the altitude. There are plenty of steep uphill walks and you will lose your breath very easily. Altitude sickness is REAL and common so plan accordingly. The locals will offer [and you should drink] coca tea which is a tea made from the leaves of the Coca plant. Yes, this is the same plant that is used to make cocaine and NO it doesn’t have the same effect.
- Be mindful the alcohol you consume in Cusco. This can help bring on altitude sickness.
- You won’t need cash for Lima but may need it for Cusco depending on where you go.
- If you’re looking to save money, skip the Hiram Bingham train and opt for Peru Rail. It’s clean, spacious, comfortable and considerably cheaper. There is also a low tier train option. If you’re a hiker, you can also take this journey on foot which we saw plenty of people doing as we sped by…on a train.
- When you arrive in Aguas Callientes (the town just below Machu Picchu), you’ll need to purchase a bus ticket to get to the top of the mountain unless you’ve planned in advance with a tour group. They only accept cash so build that into your time while at the site (e.g. 45 minutes)
- The hotels near Machu Picchu are CRAZY expensive. Besides the accommodations, the real benefit is that you’ll get early morning/sunrise access to the grounds which is a photographers dream. We opted to join with the crowds and it was fine because the site is so big.
- Plan to spend at least two hours at Machu Picchu. There is no way you can take it all in within a daytrip though.
- Skip the lunch they offer at the hotels. There are plenty of less expensive lunches in Aguas Calientes.