SUMMARY - Emily Richards with Peru For Less (PFL) did an OUTSTANDING job planning our March 2018 trip! PFL’s attention to detail was amazing. I’m a planner by nature and appreciated the little things. I will definitely use PFL (aka Latin America for Less) for future trips!
We thoroughly enjoyed our guides - Cusco City Tour (Freddie), Cusco Rooftop Kitchen (Xavier), Sacred Valley, Pisac and Ollantaytambo (Fabrizzio) and Machu Picchu (Peter).
ABOUT US - We’re a family of four - two adults and two teenagers, a 17-year old and a 14-year old. My husband and I have done budget travel and self-guided tours but like the context provided by local guides. Our objective this time was to do a memorable Machu Picchu family trip though not as part of a larger group tour. We knew what type of experience we wanted (personalized, customized) but didn’t have either the time or the energy to do the research and planning, We booked our March 2018 trip in November 2017.
DAY 1 (SATURDAY, 3/24) - This was a travel day for us. We departed from Los Angeles at 11:00 am PT and arrived at Lima at 9;40 pm CT. PFL representative met us at airport and walked us to our hotel. Even though the Costa del Sol is literally across the street from the terminal, it was nice to have someone help us get oriented upon arrival.
PFL’s 24-hour emergency number was greatly appreciated. The first leg of our trip was SFO-LAX on Friday. We were supposed to be on the 1:00 pm LAX-LIM flight, but it was at first delayed and then cancelled at 8:00 pm PT. We consequently missed Lima to Cusco flight. The PFL team rebooked our Lima to Cusco flight and also managed the hotel changes.
DAY 2 (SUNDAY, 3/25) - We took an early 7:10 am flight (arrived at airport two hours beforehand) from Lima to Cusco. We were met by a PFL representative at the airport and transported to our hotel - the Casa San Blas. Our guide (Freddie) for the Cusco City Tour (Sacsayhuaman, Q’enqo, Qorikancha, Cusco Cathedral) picked us up from the hotel. Tour was approximately 4-5 hours. Total size of tour group was six people, our four plus two more.
Absolutely love (and can’t rave enough about) the Casa San Blas! PFL rates it as a 3-star hotel. Casa San Blas has a reverse osmosis water purification system so plenty of water to easily fill our CamelBak reservoirs. Except for the Costa del Sol (4-stars, Lima), we stayed at 3-star hotels. None of our 3-star hotels had air conditioning though not an issue for March travel. All hotels included breakfast with stay. Casa San Blas had consistent hot water for showers and great WiFi. Casa San Blas location could not have been better.
DAY 3 (MONDAY, 3/26) - We intentionally spent two days in Cusco to adjust to the high altitude. Our second day was a “free, take it easy” day, so we visited the Inka Museum and the Choco Museum before our Rooftop Kitchen host (Xavier) met us at our hotel.
Rooftop Kitchen is a 2-hour Peruvian cooking class that starts with a tour of San Pedro Market before heading over to the Rooftop Kitchen building to prepare a classic pisco sour, appetizer and entree. Great recommendation by Emily for our “free, take it easy” day!
DAY 4 (TUESDAY 3/27) - Our Sacred Valley guide (Fabrizzio) met us at our hotel. The purpose of this day was two-fold:  visit Pisac and Ollantaytambo archaeological sites and  drive to Ollantaytambo to catch train to Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. Tour was approximately 6 hours. Travel time from Cusco to Ollantaytambo without tour is roughly 2 hours. Total size of tour group was 12 people, our four plus two more families.
Our Ollantaytambo hotel was the El Alberge which is located next to the train station - very convenient given our 7:45 am departure time, trade-off is not staying closer to the center of town. Our guide (Fabrizzio) said the El Alberge restaurant had the best food in town. The food was indeed very good with farm-fresh menus at both dinner and breakfast.
DAY 5 (WEDNESDAY, 3/28) - Train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes was 90 minutes. We were met at the Aguas Calientes train station by a PFL representative who then escorted us to the bus station. While only a 20 minute bus ride from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, we waited in line for about an hour even with multiple buses in service.
We met up with our Machu Picchu guide (Peter) and then entered the site. Tour was approximately 2 hours and a good orientation of the site. Private tour, just our family. Since we were coming back the next day to do a self-guided Huayna Picchu hike, we opted to return to Aguas Calientes shortly after the end of our guided tour.
Our Aguas Calientes hotel was the Hatun Inti which was a short walk from restaurants, bus station and train station. Dinner was at Indio Feliz, a unique franco-peruvian menu. Indio Feliz is highly rated by multiple travel guide books and sites, and it did not disappoint!
DAY 6 (THURSDAY, 3/29) - Buses to Machu Picchu start running at 5:30 am. Our goal was to catch one of the first buses out to stay ahead of the crowds. Our guide suggested getting in line at 4:00 am. We did arrive at 4:00 am and there were already 20 people in line ahead of us!
Our Huayna Picchu hike was definitely memorable in spite of Jurassic Park-like weather. Our entry time was from 7:00 am to 8:00 am. It rained during most of the hike and visibility was less than stellar at the top. Rain did stop and fog burned off later in the morning. The group with the 10:00 am to 11:00 am entry time likely had better weather and picture perfect views from the top.
We decided to hike up to Sun Gate (hadn’t originally planned to do so) with the hope the fog would burn off by the time we reach the top. So glad we did this! It was amazing to watch Machu Picchu / Huayna Picchu “reveal” itself throughout the morning.
We took the late afternoon train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo. A PFL representative met us at the Ollantaytambo train station to drive us back to the Casa San Blas. It was an absolute zoo at the Ollantaytambo train station, so we were thankful to have a stress-free trip (two hour drive) to Cusco after a very long day.
DAY 7 (FRIDAY, 3/30) - We spent the day in Cusco before a PFL representative picked us up at the hotel to drive us to the airport. We took an early evening flight from Cusco to Lima (arrived at airport two hours beforehand) and spent our last night in Peru at the Costa del Sol.
We took Uber to the San Pedro Market (explored on our own, took pictures, picked up a few souvenirs) and also visited the Machu Picchu Museum. The Machu Picchu Museum is very well done with 300+ artifacts from Hiram Bingham’s 1911 expedition, which were only returned by Yale to Peru in 2011. Glad we did this after our actual Machu Picchu site visit.
DAY 8 (SATURDAY, 3/31) - We took a 12:20 pm CT flight from Lima (arrived at airport three hours beforehand) and landed in San Francisco at 12:30 am PT. Thankfully, no mishaps or delays on the return trip home!
OTHER NOTES AND COMMENTS
 Purchase travel insurance!
 Flew LATAM from LAX-LIM (Boeing 767) and then LIM-LAX (Boeing 787-8) with meals, service and in-flight entertainment all better than expected, making the 8.5 hour flight bearable
 We packed light and did not check our bags - i.e., only two carry-on items per person
 No mosquitos at Machu Picchu in March our guide said mosquitos a big problem in the high season but not so much in the low season
 We all took acetazolamide (Diamox) to help manage altitude sickness
 We each had a CamelBak reservoir in our day packs
 For those bothered by cigarette smoke, only people we saw smoking were the tourists
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