I spent the first eight days of April on a whirlwhind tour of Peru. It took me until the more-than-ripe age of thirty-eight to travel outside of the U.S. for the first time, but this was my third international trip in the past year and a half!
As with my previous trips to Guatemala and to Italy (which also included a two-day jaunt to Austria), this trip came about through a generous invitation. Samantha’s close friend Ginny was taking a family trip organized by her brother, Devy, who owns and operates an adventure travel outfit based in Santa Monica called Andes Adventures. What was initially intended to be a trip just for their family grew into a trip for “family and friends” and we were extended an invitation to join them, which we graciously accepted.
Devy is meticulous in the trips that he organizes, so we had a very fast-paced and highly structured itinerary for our eight-day exploration (known on his company’s website as their Wonders of Peru offering). The trip included a variety of activities, including expertly guided tours of historical sites in Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and Lima; unique opportunities to witness the craftsmanship of local weavers and artisans firsthand; fine dining (and dancing, for those who were game!); and the mesmerizing highlight: a hike to and exploration of the world-famous ruins of the Incan city known as Machu Picchu.
This was my first experience on such an elaborate group tour, and I wondered how I would feel about it versus traveling in a more self-directed way. The trade-offs are that you have to adhere to a regimented schedule, follow the prescribed itinerary, and there are fewer opportunities to, say, interact with the locals or be spontaneous about where to eat or what to explore. But there were some key advantages, as well:
1) Everything is done for you in terms of meal planning, lodging arrangements, and traveling logistics (this felt a little weird to me at times, like something I wouldn’t want to get used to as a lifestyle, but it certainly was nice enough to not have to worry about any of those things for eight days).
2) We benefited from the expertise and experience of people who really knew the places we were visiting and had personal contacts there. This meant having greater access to certain things (i.e., touring an actual Quechan home) and having experiences it would not have necessarily occurred to me to pursue on my own (I may have missed out on the ruins at Ollantaytambo, for example, a huge highlight of the trip for me).
3) A major advantage was traveling for much of the trip with the guide Devy had selected for us, Abelardo Vignati, who added an incredible amount to our appreciation and understanding of the sites we visited. I recommend him highly if you are planning on visiting Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and/or Machu Picchu. I believe he is available for independent hire as well as through Andes Adventures, although I could not find his direct contact information online.
What follows is a slideshow showcasing some of the highlights of our trip. Our adventure began by flying from L.A. to Lima, and then hopping on a connecting flight to Cusco. A word to the wise: both L.A. and Lima are at sea level; Cusco is at 11,150′ (and we would be ascending as high as 12,350′ within the first few days). I had prior experience with hiking at similar altitudes, but not without acclimatizing first. At the strong urging of a colleague of Samantha’s (a doctor whom she has great respect for), we both decided to consult our docs to obtain prescriptions for Acetazolamide (aka Diamox) to help with the adjustment to the swift and significant change in altitude. Some strange side effects aside (tingly extremities, slight lightheadedness), this was a decision neither one of us regretted. Those in our party who took the medication did not suffer from the ill-effects of altitude. A number of others who did not take the medication did.
You can pause the slideshow below at any time by moving the cursor into the frame and clicking on the “pause” button in between the arrow buttons at the bottom. The arrow buttons allow you to scroll through in either direction at your own pace. Captions are available on some photos – click on the bubble icon (second from the left) – green turns them on, white turns them off):
The next post will cover the Machu Picchu portion of our trip. Stay tuned!