|View from the Lima Airport Wyndham: Not that Glamorous|
Expedia lets you book flights from the U.S. through Lima into Cusco and then return from any other destination in Peru (such as Arequipa or Trujillo) back through Lima into the U.S. This saves you about $100 on each leg versus booking as four separate flights. If you want to stay overnight in Lima, however, you'll need to book your return from Lima and a separate leg from Arequipa, Cusco, or wherever you've ended up at the end of your Peru journey: return flights from other towns such as Arequipa all come in to Lima in the morning and for a single-booking return you'll need to take a late-night red-eye home on the same day. Plan the return carefully. If you are flying on a non-LAN-code-share airline such as United you can't check luggage through (no matter what the United agents may tell you in Newark). We missed seeing Lima as there was no place to store our luggage and the gate doesn't open for check-in until two hours before the flight. The only option is to plan an extra day in Lima at the end of your trip (which I'd recommend if we were doing it over again) or hire a tour guide in Lima that will take your luggage with you.
Also - you will need to check in to each leg of the flight separately, but you need to be checked in and ready to fly on the first leg first. If you have a laptop with wi-fi that's easy enough to check in to the second leg on LAN (or United on the return) from the airport in the U.S. (or Arequipa, if flying back on a joined leg). This bit of double-check-in is a worrisome hassle but we had no problem checking in online once we flew the first leg of each portion. Peru has two major airlines - LAN and Peruvian. The LAN website has an English version that's as easy to use as any major U.S. airline.
Most flights from the U.S. arrive in Lima between 8 and 10pm, with onward flights to Cusco starting at 5:30am the next morning. You could hang out at the airport all night but I recommend booking a room at the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima Airport - it's across the street from check-in and the Ikea-like rooms are serviceable enough to get a good nights sleep before a day of intense touring in high altitude. Don't be fooled by fashionable pictures on the hotel website: there's nothing memorable about this European, serviceable hotel, but you get two free tickets for Pisco Sours with your room and you'll be happy you got a bit of sleep. Or you can hang in the lobby and befriend other English speaking tourists headed off to or returning from deep jungle hikes. If you're like us you'll be excited to start your Peruvian adventure and so the Pisco Sours will be a necessary nightcap as a few hours of sound sleep is essential.
|Flying Over the Andes|
|Many who come to the Sacred Valley never leave|
Oscar suggested our itinerary - visit Pisac and the Sunday market on our way to our hotel in Urubamba (a great start to our stay, the first day felt like an entire vacation all on its own). It was a great kick-off to the experience, though you may huff and puff your way up the hillsides at Pisac on your first day in the high altitude. Remember to take it easy and drink plenty of water, the Sacred Valley being a desert.
|Alpaca Weavers of Chinchero|
The second day he toured us around Chinchero, where we saw native weavings and the local
|Agricultural Terraces of Moray|
|Salinas de Maras|
|Tambo del Inka|
The food at Tambo is okay (the outdoor bar is outstanding), but to really start to enjoy Peruvian cuisine, walk the short distance from the hotel to one of two most excellent restaurants. Tres Keros, which is a romantic second story family affair with simple but delicious grilled meats, or El Huacatay, which is recommended in the tour books. Getting off the hotel grounds also gives you a flavor for the local culture. (Hint: if you haven't noticed the Peruvian dogs running free by now, you will surely be commenting on their uncanny ability to avoid the cars. American dogs would be in mortal danger, here. Yet perhaps happier....)
The third day, check out of Tambo (say goodbye to paradise) and head for a day of touring at Ollantaytambo, the hiker's jumping-off point to Machu Picchu.
You will need to purchase your train tickets from Ollantay to Machu Picchu in advance. Do this on the PeruRail website a couple of weeks before you leave (in high season they will sell out the day of the trip). Despite what the website says, you can bring your luggage on board, but if you want to be super safe like me, you can email the PeruRail customer support office and ask for a pass for your luggage. They will send you a confirmation email specifying your luggage size, which you can show to the train conductors. This won't be needed but can be a comfort.
The hour and a half ride from Ollantay to Machu Picchu is an adventure in and of itself. You are headed lower in altitude and towards the Amazon, so the vegetation slowly changes from high desert to jungle. Watching the terrain change before your eyes, you realize you're headed to the higlight of your trip: the bucket-list item of Machu Picchu, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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