Country #25

Country #25 - Peru Day 2

Machu Picchu

Today was a very busy day but it was one of my favorite days of my trip if not one of my favorite days ever. I started the day with a 5:20AM flight out of Lima to Cusco, Peru. My flight landed at 7:00AM which meant I had an hour to check into my hotel and then make it to the train station. Luckily, this was one airport in Central / South America that was not an hour outside of town. Within five minutes I was at my hotel, Sonesta Hotel Cusco, and was able to drop off my things and reduce the weight of my backpack substantially for the day. I called an Uber and headed off on the thirty-minute drive to Cusco Poroy station which is on the edge of town. Be careful when calling an Uber in Cusco as taxi drivers will try to pretend they are your Uber driver - this happened to me when leaving the airport but it was not a big deal as it was such a short ride. Always check the license to make sure you are getting in the right car! I was in a hurry and forgot, but it was a nice reminder to make sure I do so in the future to avoid it ever potentially being a problem.

The drive to Cusco Poroy station was winding and very highly elevated. At one point we were up in the clouds! I was regretting not dressing warmer when I arrived at the station and it was freezing. However, light clothing would pay off later in the day. I made it to the train station with about twenty minutes to spare. I boarded the train and luckily had an empty seat next to me for the trip. The man sitting across from me was really cool - he was an American who is also traveling around the world and spent time working in Antarctica. So many of the tourists were actually American it was a little surprising. However, it was also the Fourth of July so it was kind of nice to be surrounded by other Americans for the day.

The train ride in itself was an amazing start to the Machu Picchu journey. Other than hiking it is the only way to visit Machu Picchu. The train winds through the mountainous terrain, and the train cars have huge almost floor to ceiling windows to allow you to enjoy the stunning views. You lose cell service almost the second you depart from Cusco, but it does not matter because you spend the entire four-hour train ride staring out the window. The train also played traditional music and would talk about interesting places that the train was passing by. I rode on a PeruRail train. They served a meal on the train which was much appreciated. It wasn’t the best food ever, but it was something.

After the long ride, I arrived in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu. When you exit the train you walk through a giant touristy market to get to town. You can ask anyone where to go for the bus up the mountain and they will point you in the right direction. Basically, just look for the main street with all of the busses and you’ll have no trouble finding it. The bus is another expense to consider, costing $50 round trip for the ride. It may seem steep, but when you see how steep the drive is you are willing to pay that much. The drive takes over thirty minutes, and it is literally straight up the side of a mountain. The bus winds and winds over and over and the faint of heart should not look out the window at the sheer drop (with no railing) from the side of the bus. After the ride, you finally make it to the entrance. I bought my ticket ahead of time so I don’t know the specifics on buying tickets at the gate.

To give you an idea of how uphill the walk is.

To give you an idea of how uphill the walk is.

Just when you finally think you’ve made it to Machu Picchu, you get hit with a major uphill hike. It took me probably thirty minutes of walking up to finally reach the top, and by that point, I was very glad to have dressed lightly for the day. The hike is not too bad, as people of all ages were making it, but it definitely wears you down. However, it was 110% worth it. All of the travel today was. When you finally get to the top and look out and see Machu Picchu it’s such an amazing feeling.

I only had about three hours before I needed to head back down, so I spent tons of time just walking around. I first walked around above Machu Picchu with more of an overhead look down onto it. This area is the best for taking pictures (I took literally hundreds today) and for meeting llamas. The llamas are very friendly and photogenic. There are also ruins all along this area as well. I then made my way to walk around the actual ruins for a bit.

My only complaint was the lack of information/maps at Machu Picchu. Many people (with much larger budgets) had guides, so it was almost impossible not to overhear information which was a plus. I definitely had lots of reading to do when I got back tonight about the history of Machu Picchu (which is super interesting and you should definitely check out; one fun fact is that Machu Picchu went undiscovered until 1911!).

After thoroughly exploring the main area I started the journey back down. The walk down was much easier, though the bus ride down was just as terrifying. I was a little early to the train station so I walked around the market for a little while and bought a few inexpensive souvenirs. I boarded the train and my seat was in the middle of a family of four, so the train found a seat for me to move to allow that family to all sit together. I was pretty excited about it because the family had a very, very excited but would have gotten old very quickly seven year old, and because I moved to sit with an awesome family of three from Chicago!

They were so cool; we literally talked the entire four-hour train ride back. I laughed so much and just had such a great time talking with them about anything and everything. Meeting people when you travel is one of the best parts about it, and tonight reminded me of that. I left the train with a giant smile on my face from laughing so hard during the ride from our great conversations! There is also a weird fashion show put on by the train that involved a very smelly man in a bird costume that was pretty hilarious on its own.

After making it back to town I bargained with a taxi driver to get a reasonable rate, as there were no Ubers within range at such a late time. I was exhausted by this point and so happy to make it back to Sonesta Hotel Cusco. Until I walked in my room and none of my things were there. I was panicked for about thirty seconds until I remembered an email I got from my contact at the hotel, Adriana, that they had moved me to a new room with a “surprise”. I walked with a still elevated heart rate back to the front desk and they gave me my new room number and key with no problems at all.


And the new room was definitely worth a moment of shock - Sonesta Hotel Cusco did one of the sweetest things that I have ever seen. Remember how it was the Fourth of July? They decorated my room for the Fourth! There were balloons all over my room, a sweet note, an American flag cut-out, and yummy chocolates to help celebrate. I honestly could not believe the kindness when I arrived back from my long day visiting Machu Picchu. The smile on my face was, once again, huge. It was such an incredibly kind and thoughtful gesture and I can never thank Sonesta Hotel Cusco enough! It was the perfect ending to an incredible day.

My new room was great even without the surprise - it’s much bigger with a balcony that looks out over the city. I can safely say that Sonesta Hotel Cusco is without a doubt one of my favorite hotels on my trip so far. I can’t thank them enough for sponsoring this night of my trip. If you ever visit Machu Picchu, be sure to look them up! After such a long day I fell asleep almost instantly. Thankfully tomorrow morning is not a super early day, but I am very excited to head to the highest altitude capital city in the world: La Paz.

Overall, I had an amazing day filled with incredible experiences and the kindest people. I would definitely love to visit Machu Picchu again in the future and spend much more time exploring it. But even just getting to spend a few hours was such an amazing experience. I cannot emphasize enough how amazing that it is to see in person. You should definitely add this one to your bucket list, and if you ever have the chance to visit you should without hesitation take it. It is worth all of the effort and then some!

25 countries down, 171 to go.

Read about my first day in Peru here.

To learn more about Sonesta Hotel Cusco click here.

Country #25 – Peru Day 1

Churches, Catacombs, and Chicken Sandwiches

After a restless night, I woke up ready to get out of my hotel and see Lima, Peru. I met the manager of the TUPAC on my way out for the day and she again made sure I was okay after the fireworks scare last night. I got an Uber from the hotel to the heart of historic Lima, Centro Historico. Uber is so inexpensive here it is great and really helpful. My driver did not speak English, but we were stuck in traffic for a while and began to communicate using Google Translate on his phone which was pretty cool.

The drive was through some pretty rough looking neighborhoods, but once we crossed into Centro Historico it looked like a completely different city. I ate lunch at a restaurant called T’anta and then walked around the main square of Lima, Plaza Mayor de Lima. The square is lined by beautiful buildings including Catedral de Lima, the Archbishop’s Palace, and Palacio de Gobierno del Peru.

I tried to visit the Cathedral first, but the lady inside would not take my $10 USD because it had a small crease which I found pretty ridiculous. Fortunately, the ticket was a joint ticket with the Archbishop’s Palace, so I visited the Archbishop’s Palace first where they readily accepted my money. The Archbishop’s Palace was beautiful and very decorative - it is where the Archbishops of Lima used to reside. The Cathedral is also really amazing. It was partly under renovation but still worth seeing for sure.

I then took a lot of pictures of the Government Palace next door before walking some more around Centro Historico and then heading to the Catacombs of the Convent of San Francisco and the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima. The Catacombs were really creepy but also so interesting. You walk through the Convent first, which was a stunning building. Then you go down into the Catacombs where there are just thousands and thousands of bones. The bones are in different pits depending on the type of bone. It was definitely a unique experience as I had never visited Catacombs before. Afterwards, I headed into the Basilica which was as beautiful as the Convent.

From there I briefly visited the Convento de Santo Domingo and then headed on to eat dinner in the Miraflores area at La Lucha Sanguchería Criolla. It is a small shop with outdoor seating but it was very trendy and the chicken sandwich was one of the best I have ever had. I was stunned when there was a Pinkberry next door. Pinkberry is my favorite frozen yogurt and I had no idea they had a store in Lima! After some fro-yo for dessert, I headed to the Miraflores Lighthouse and to walk along the water for a bit.

The Miraflores area of Lima is very modern and trendy and walking along the water was one of my favorite parts of the city. The views were amazing and even though it was quite chilly it was nice to just sit and enjoy Miraflores for a bit. I then took an Uber back to TUPAC. The ride was over an hour but somehow was still very cheap. It was fine other than when the driver told me to lock my doors in a not so nice part of town. After a long day on very little sleep, I had no problem falling asleep tonight. I have a super busy day in Peru tomorrow filled with travel to make it to Machu Picchu - I’m really looking forward to it!

25 countries down, 171 to go.

Read about my second day in Peru here.

To learn more about TUPAC Airport Hostel click here.