Thursday, December 22nd-
Our awesome friend Simone picked us up around 4pm to take us to the airport.
Our flight was scheduled to leave at 8:10pm so we wanted to arrive a bit early to ensure we got through security and to the gate without having to stress or worry. As it turns out, LAN airlines is hardly ever (okay, never) on-time… so we got to the airport around 5pm and our 8:10pm flight didnt actually leave until 11pm.
Not the greatest way to begin a 2 week vacation, but dont worry- we found the airport bar and were able to kill a few hours 🙂
Friday, December 23rd-
We arrived in Lima around 11am, missed a few connection flights due to our initial flight being so late, and finally made our way to Cusco around 1pm local time. Unfortunately our luggage was on the 2pm flight, so we had to wait around the Cusco airport for nearly 2 hours waiting for our bags to arrive. We made some friends on the flight who were also waiting for their luggage (and who were also from Los Angeles!) so we killed some time with them by getting some Peruvian currency (Nuevo Sols, which we would later find out is referred to as just “soles”) and found a small airport cafe so that we could try out the infamous Coca tea (which is delicious, by the way.. and would rapidly become our morning “go-to” drink instead of coffee!).
Our bags finally arrived, and we cabbed it to our hotel: the Inkaterra La Casona in Cusco.
I was surprised at how well I was feeling, and was optimistic that I avoided altitude sickness! With the exception of shortness of breath, I was feeling relatively normal.
We checked into our hotel around 5pm and the staff had Coca tea waiting for us in our room.
We sipped on that, washed our faces, brushed our teeth, and then headed to the intimate dining room for our first Peruvian dinner. We had one of the best meals of our lives that night. Im sure it was partly because we were exhausted, jet lagged, very hungry, and very excited about the experiences awaiting us, but the food really was fantastic. I had creamed spinach soup, vegetable risotto, and cheesecake balls with fruit for dessert. We also shared a bottle of Chilean wine… which, in hindsight, was probably a terrible idea on our first night at 11,000ft above sea level, but it was delicious so we didnt care. They also gave us some bread and butter…. and the butter was divine! Literally the BEST butter Aaron or I had ever had. Something about the flavor and creaminess of it… apparently its a “fancy” butter that is quite expensive and is shipped in from Lima. It would turn out to be one of our favorite things (food wise) of the trip.
After dinner we decided to call it a night and head back to our luxurious and pristine room, have the fireplace lit (with eucalyptus wood!) and attempt to relax but in turn we crashed almost immediately.
Saturday, December 24th (Christmas Eve)-
I woke up around 2am with a splitting headache. I downed a bottle of water and tried to go back to sleep but ended up in a restless sleep until around 6am. My headache only got worse and was then accompanied with lack of appetite, nausea, and lethargy. Thanks to the free wifi of the hotel I was able to google the symptoms of altitude sickness, and voila! thats what it was.
Apparently it can take up to 10 hours for altitude sickness to kick in, so I was a little premature in thinking I had avoided it when we landed in Cusco the afternoon before. Lots of water, Coca tea, and complaining later… I finally started to feel better around 2pm or so. We wandered around the Christmas market that was set up in the Plaza de Armas near our hotel, saw a few ruins south of town, wandered around as much as we could, visited the Central Market (the one Anthony Bourdain goes to in the Peruvian episode of No Reservations), tried a variety of “tapas like” meals, and finally made our way to our “Pre Trek Briefing” at 7pm that night.
In all honesty, we were a bit worried about who would be accompanying us on our 7 day trek. We had NO idea what or who to expect, so you can imagine our delight when we met our group for the first time and everyone seemed to be friendly, outgoing, personable, and all-around great people! There was a family of 4 from Massachusetts, a couple from Nashville, a couple from Madison, WI, another newlywed couple (who were also on their honeymoon!) from Chicago, and us! a total of 12 people, our guide, the assistant guide, and a group of porters (to carry our large packs) and our chef.
After our briefing, we all stopped at the nearby “trekking” store to get a few last minute things (for us, it was 2 pack covers for our day-packs to protect them from the looming rain) and then we headed back to our respective hotels.
The newlywed couple from Chicago, John and Brigid, were also staying at the Inkaterra La Casona so we actually enjoyed dinner with them! It was Christmas Eve and we had a glass of champagne, another bottle of wine, and another great dinner. We crashed as soon as dinner was over because we were being picked up at 7am the next morning (Christmas!) for our trek.
Sunday, December 25th (Christmas Day)-
We were picked up at 7am, and we embarked on our journey.
Our caravan included: one vehicle with our guide (Pepe), a driver, the family from Massachusetts (Ken, Kate, Sam, and Lauren), the couple from Nashville (Mike and Pamela), the couple from Madison (Brad and Jeanne); and another vehicle with a driver, our assistant guide (Helen), John and Brigid, and Aaron and myself.
We drove for a little over an hour outside of Cusco to our first stop, the town of Limatambo, to see some of our first Inca ruins.
Then we drove up a VERY steep, and VERY narrow, and VERY bumpy “road” to the mountain village of Mollepata. Here we stopped, had some coffee and/or tea (Coca tea for me!) and snacks while visiting their Christmas day market. Then, we continued along the “road” for a while longer before being dropped off at a tiny structure where we enjoyed a quick boxed lunch, and then began our trek in the rain. We only hiked for a couple of hours, but it was a good introduction to high-altitude hiking. The road was slightly muddy, very rocky, was constantly uphill, and was an all-around wake up call that we were no longer at sea level! Its amazing how quickly one can get short of breath at 12,000 feet! We hiked up about 500 feet and finally arrived at our first lodge: The Salkantay Lodge which was located at 12,690ft above sea level.
We were greeted with warm washcloths to wash our hands and face, along with mugs of hot Coca tea!
We all showered, and hung out in the lodges’ “living room” (talking, playing cards, reading; some even went to the lodges jacuzzi) until our briefing for the next day at 6:30pm, after our meeting we had dinner as a group, and soon after we all went to sleep.
Monday, December 26th-
We woke up, had breakfast, got our day-packs ready, and embarked on our first, real, day of trekking.
This day was designed to be an “acclimatizing” day. We were hiking up to Humantay Lake, which is a glacial lake located at an altitude 1,155 ft higher than our lodge. Again, it was a nice reminder that we were no longer at sea level! The hike was surprisingly hard, but not impossible. Just a bit challenging with less oxygen in the air.
We got to the lake, sat down to enjoy the view, and then were fortunate enough to be a part of a spiritual ceremony lead by our guide’s friend, and local Quechua mountain chaman, to honor the Peruvian Mountain Gods (“apus”) and Mother Earth.
After the ceremony we headed back to the lodge to enjoy another leisurely afternoon. We played more cards, talked and got to know each other more, and even had a private demonstration of how to make the infamous Peruvian drink: the pisco sour! (which, is basically the most amazing margarita you have ever had).
We had another meeting to brief us for the next day, had dinner, and then all headed to bed a bit nervous about the following day (we found out at our briefing that the next day would, in fact, be the most challenging).
Tuesday, December 27th- “the big day”-
We awoke early, had breakfast, packed up our large packs so that the porters & mules could take them on to our next lodge, packed our day packs, and embarked on what would be an exhausting, challenging, amazing, and fun day.
We hiked along the Rio Blanco river valley towards the Salkantay mountain pass….
and… after lots and lots of self-motiviation and many, many breaks to catch our breaths, we made it to the Salkantay pass summit at 15,253 feet!
It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, not really because of the physical demand of the trek, but due to the altitude! A strenuous hike, gaining 2,500 vertical feet at such high altitude already was way more challenging that I had expected.
We were all SO glad to take a group picture.
We didnt spend long at the summit because most of us were tired, short of breath, and ready to get to a lower altitude!
We started downhill on what would turn out to be an even more difficult, very steep, very rocky, downhill trail.
A few hours later we finally arrived at our next lodge, The Wayra Lodge (located at 12,812 feet above sea level) exhausted, hungry, cold, but in good spirits because we had made it through “the big day”.
We were greeted, again, with hot Coca tea and warm cloths to wash our face and hands.
We took off our cold, wet hiking boots, left them by the heater, enjoyed a hot lunch together, and then all retreated to our rooms to shower and some of us (me included) even took a nap.
We had a leisurely evening, enjoyed a few beers in celebration of our accomplishment, and had a great dinner before all heading to bed.
Wednesday, December 28th-
We were able to sleep in a bit, then we had breakfast, packed our things, and set out again.
It was another downhill day full of lots of rain, LOTS of mud, rocky trails, all the while wandering through the Peruvian “cloud forest” towards our next lodge. The scenery was amazing as we saw lush rain forest, a variety of plants, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountain views.
We finally arrived at our next lodge, the Colpa Lodge located at 9,414 ft above sea level.
We were greeted with Chicha (a sweet, black corn drink) and some locals who were preparing a traditional Peruvian “barbeque” for us. They dug a hole in the ground, heated stones and rocks in it, and once we arrived they put duck, pork, guinea pig, and a few varieties of potatoes into the hole, covered it with the pre-heated stones and covered that with burlap. While our barbeque was cooking we each took showers.
Our lunch was quite a feast! and I was proud that most of the group (excluding me) actually tried the guinea pig!
In order to relax after lunch, several of us grabbed a beer and sat in the outside jacuzzi which was located in the front of the lodge with unbelievable views of the mountains around us. It was so beautiful to sit there, take in the scenery, and chat with new friends.
We had our meeting with our guide about the plan for the next day, and then sat down to enjoy yet another amazing meal with our group. Our guide surprised Aaron and I AND Brigid and John with 2 bottles of champagne to celebrate our honeymoons; which we shared with everyone in our group. It wasnt long before we all headed to bed.
Thursday, December 29th-
We got up, enjoyed breakfast, got our day packs ready, and then headed out towards our last lodge.
(that’s the Colpa lodge nestled in the forest!)
It was an easy hike, but there was one section that required us to wear hard-hats due to the recent landslides in the area (thus making the terrain near us unstable)….
we walked a total of about 8 miles through banana and avocado orchards, and then we arrived at a vehicle that was waiting for us to take us to the entrance of the Llactapata Inca Trail (about 30 minutes away).
We were dropped off at the entrance of the Llactapata Inca Trail….
and walked uphill for half an hour through coffee plantations, and then arrived at our last lodge, the Lucma Lodge located at 7,003ft above sea level. This lodge was set in the middle of the beautiful rain forest and was right in the middle of a coffee plantation. It was truly beautiful.
It was raining when we showed up, but the rain quickly stopped and we were able to enjoy the warm sun for a bit.
Then we headed across the Inca Trail to a Lucabamba woman’s cottage where we were able to see coffee being picked, shelled, roasted, and then brewed right in front of us! The coffee tasted amazing and we ended up purchasing 3 bags of coffee to bring home. The woman roasted the beans for us that night and dropped off the coffee at our lodge at 6am the next morning.
We came back to the lodge, enjoyed a wonderful dinner, and sat around drinking Peruvian beer and chatting until we were all tired and went to sleep.
These were the stars that night:
Friday, December 30th-
We did our usual routine: get up, get ready, have breakfast, pack up the day packs, and be on our way.
We knew it was going to be a long day, but I wasnt really expecting it to be “hard”… but boy was it! We were heading along the Inca Trail, uphill, for a couple of hours before reaching the summit of the Llactapata pass at 8,970 ft above sea level.
It wasnt a “hard” hike, but our bodies were so tired that the steady incline was starting to wear us out.
We took a short break at the pass, and then headed downhill for about half an hour before we were able to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu!
We were able to see it from the Southwest, which is a view that few people are able to see, and were also in the midst of the Llactapata ruins from the viewing area.
We had lunch in view of Machu Picchu and then headed back downhill along the trail for a few more hours. We crossed the Aobamba River on a rickety old bridge and wandered towards the train station that would take us to Aguas Calientes (the town of Machu Picchu).
We were a bit early for our train, so we stopped at our guide’s (Pepe) friends establishment and shared a few beers with the group before the train departed.
The train ride itself was short, but beautiful. We arrived in Aguas Calientes, checked into our hotel (The Inkaterra Machu Picchu) showered, and then all met up at the hotel bar.
We were each given a free pisco sour, and then Pepe treated us to another round! At dinner I ordered a Peruvian beer and by the time dinner was over I was definitely feeling the effects of the pisco and beer.
Dinner was delicious as usual, and after dinner Pepe managed to talk me, Aaron, and the couple from Madison (Brad and Jeanne) into going “out” with him in Aguas Calientes. I really wasnt in the mood to “go out”, I was tired, a bit tipsy from my few drinks, and was in yoga pants, a track jacket, and not wearing any make up… but I figured “what the hell, how often are you in Peru with a Peruvian native who wants to show you a good time?” so off we went to downtown Aguas Calientes for another drink.
Saturday, December 31st-
The alarm blared early. We had to be meet up at 6:30am in order to take the bus up the mountain to Machu Picchu. I was sort of regretting going out the night before, but quickly forgot about my tiredness when I realized we would soon be roaming around the Machu Picchu ruins!
We arrived at Machu Picchu, were herded in like cattle (I’m not kidding) and had a quick, breathtaking first glimpse of the ruins.
The first view really does take your breath away. It was truly amazing and the sun was shining bright so it make for the perfect picture.
After a quick backstory, our Machu Picchu guide (not Pepe) gave us a 2 hour guided tour of the ruins. After the guided tour we roamed around a bit, took pictures, and met up with Brad and Jeanne who accompanied us as we walked around.
By this time, it felt like an amusement park. People were literally everywhere! Our group came to the conclusion that instead of offering busses to bring people to the top of the mountain, everyone should have to hike there. There were just TOO many people! It got a bit annoying because the people were your typical “tourists” who were oblivious to the history, sacredness, and respect of the ruins. They would ignore posted rules, cross into restricted areas, bump into you, walk into your photos, and be all-around frustrating.
So it wasnt long before we found a small, quiet place and sat and took in the views. Unfortunately our “quiet” space was quickly infiltrated, so we ended up making the decision to leave. It wasnt that we werent having fun, and we were able to enjoy the ruins earlier that morning before it got too busy, but it was getting pretty frustrating as the herds and buss loads of people kept showing up! We got our passports stamped (yay for a Machu Picchu stamp!) and headed back down to Aguas Calientes.
We, of course, ended up at the hotel bar again, and met up with the rest of the group for our last group lunch.
After lunch we walked the rest of the group to the train station, they were all headed back to Cusco.
Aaron and I had elected to stay in Aguas Calientes for 2 more nights, just the two of us. Once the rest of the group left we wandered around the market, and then ended up back at the hotel in the jacuzzi. It was New Years Eve and dinner was included with our room, so we showered and headed to the main dining room to enjoy our dinner and champagne while listening to a local Peruvian band play. It was a great dinner but neither of us had the energy to stay up until midnight.
We headed back to our room, read for a bit, and then both crashed early.
Sunday, January 1st-
Our alarm blared early again. We were headed back up to Machu Picchu and, from the previous day’s experience, we wanted to get there early. We arrived and quickly headed over to the Huayna Picchu entrance so that we could begin our Huayna Picchu hike. It ended up taking about 4 hours for us to reach the top and then over to the Grand Caverns.
It was also raining pretty hard that day so our views of Machu Picchu were not nearly as good as the day before. We were both so exhausted from our whole trip, so it wasnt long after we completed the Huayna Picchu hike that we headed back down to Aguas Calientes.
We showered and then headed to downtown Aguas Calientes to have lunch at Indio Feliz. After lunch we came back to our hotel room, took a nap, and read for a few hours before heading back to downtown Aguas Calientes for dinner at Tree House.
Both meals were fantastic, but we were so tired from our trip that we couldnt wait to get back to the hotel room and sleep!
Monday, January 2nd-
We were able to sleep in a bit, then we went to breakfast, packed up our things and checked them with the front desk of the hotel. They were nice enough to offer to carry our bags to the train station for our 1:40pm train, so we had a few hours of free time before our train departed.
We went to the hot springs to check those out, then walked around the market again, wandered around the downtown area and took lots of pictures. We were able to sit and enjoy some Peruvian pizza with a view of the river and then we headed to the train station.
We took the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, then took a car from Ollantaytambo to our hotel in Cusco.
We checked into our hotel to discover that Brigid and John had left a bottle of wine for us with the front desk! We got settled into our room and were each then treated to a half-hour massage, and then we headed over to Chi Cha, the restaurant of a renowned Peruvian chef Gaston Acurio, for dinner. It was a fantastic meal but again, we were so tired we were ready to get back to the hotel to sleep… and after being around 7,000ft in Aguas Calientes for a couple of days, the 11,000ft altitude of Cusco was starting to get to me again.
Tuesday, January 3rd-
Our alarm was set to go off around 5:45am, but I was up with an altitude sickness headache around 5am. I went ahead and got up, packed up my things, and then Aaron and I went to the dining room for a delicious breakfast before we headed to the airport.
We got to the airport around 7:45am to begin our 20 hour commute back home.
We went from Cusco to Lima, Lima to Miami, and then Miami to Los Angeles. We got back to our apartment around 1am completely exhausted!
It was a FANTASTIC, WONDERFUL, AMAZING, PERFECT honeymoon. I couldnt have asked for a better trip!
The destination was perfect, our fellow trekkers were such great people, our guide was amazing, our hotels and lodges were perfect, the food was wonderful, and weather (although mostly rainy) was great.
We seriously couldnt not have asked for a better honeymoon or experience and I cannot say enough great things about Mountain Lodges of Peru who really went out of their way to make the entire trip flawless.
Not only did we have an amazing honeymoon but we met some life-long friends and had an experience of a lifetime!