Our travel plans included two places we had to visit and one was Machu Picchu. So we had booked the train ticket (to get from Cusco to Macchu Picchu) and the entry tickets online before leaving the UK. All we had to do was get from Lima to Cusco. The options were either a long bus journey along mountainous roads or a short, one hour flight.
The flight was smooth and although the descent into Cusco airport was steep we were soon through the airport and experiencing what it felt like to be at 3400 meters high. Fortunatley for us, no immediate effects from the altitude.
After dropping our luggage off at our hotel we went exploring to orientate ourselves and to find the historic centre of the city. The walk was downhill and along narrow, cobbled streets. Quaint yet busy with traffic; we later learnt that heavy traffic and coaches were not permitted in the historic centre.
We soon found ourselves in a large crowd and realised a carnival was in procession. Carnival groups were in very colourful dresses although some were wearing worrying masks! And then — “ Are they carrying dead baby llamas on their backs?” — (no, must be puppets).
Arriving at the main square of Plaza de Armas we soon realised Cusco was set up for tourists. There are many shops selling souvenirs , artisan products and tours; street sellers lined many streets; touts were out in force; and eating places were aplenty.
Acclimatizing to altitude
After a tasty meal we had to walk back to the hotel and it was uphill. We remembered to take it steady because of the high altitude. The pace enabled us to survey the street scene which had a contrasting mix of property standards. Even on the same street there were tin roof shacks, multi-level apartments and modern stylish affluent housing.
We saw a pack of dogs and although we were wary of them we knew we couldn’t out run them! The man in Lima had been right about the dogs. Fortunately we didn’t need to break into a sprint and we ended an enjoyable day with just a brief shortness of breath from the steepness of the final section.
One of the experiences we wanted to gain from travel was to meet local people. Our first days in Lima got us off to a good start although our final encounter before leaving the city left us in a ponder.
Our hotel in Lima satisfied three important essentials – comfy bed, good food for breakfast and friendly service. The variety and quantity of the buffet breakfast allayed my fears that we might go hungry on our first day.
We were staying in a suburb of Lima called Miraflores which was described as one of the better ones. Turning left would take us a short walk to the Pacific ocean. Turning right was the city centre. We had planned to spend only a few days in Lima so our first priority was to see the city centre.
We headed off equipped with a street map supplied by the hotel but soon realised that it only covered the centre of Miraflores. Our sense of adventure was soon being put to the test..and so was our navigation skills!
I spotted some high rise buildings which I thought could be the centre and worth aiming for. It wasn’t long before we were expressing concerns to each other that “this area looks a bit off-the-tourist-beaten-path”. We needn’t have worried though as everyone we asked directions from were helpful with cheery smiles and waves.
Passing the high rise buildings, (which were not the centre!), and a modern shopping centre with familiar chain stores, we reached the historic central area.
The walk had been much further than we thought and we were in need of refreshments. Bowls of mixed fruit with yoghurt in a small cafe caught our eye and the price pleased our purse.
Recharged enough for sight seeing, we followed well placed tourist signposts to the main square with the cathedral. The Basilica cathedral had numerous chapels all with intricate decorative sculpting and beautiful works of art. The main square, Plaza Mayor de Lima, was surrounded by grand ornate Baroque style of buildings and the Presidential Palace which was guarded by special soldiers at the front and at the far side by a tank!
Nearby San Martín Square, had groups of people listening to speakers and reminded us of “Speaker’s Corner” in London.
The historic area had pedestrianised shopping streets which gave us a good chance to do one of those things you do on holiday…. window shopping to compare prices with back home. We found a bar and enjoyed a hearty fish soup with everything in it including fried egg and rice – a meal in itself.
It was then early evening and the city had become crowded, the traffic crazy and we couldn’t face the long walk back to the hotel so we broke one of the rules of safe travel and flagged down a taxi. Despite the jaded state of his vehicle the driver got us through the congested roads without bother.
On our second day we stayed local in Miraflores and went for a stroll to take a view of the Pacific Ocean at Larcomar where we found a modern shopping centre which opened out to the sea. The area had upmarket hotels including one fronted by a waterfeature with lots of turtles. We also found parks with lots of cats. At first we thought they were stray cats but they were more like street cats which were fussed by everyone. We got talking to a local person who told us people tolerated the cats and , on learning that we were heading to Cusco, he warned us to watch out for dogs. As we headed back to our hotel we pondered his caution “Lima has cats, Cusco has dogs”.
Where we stayed: San Augustin Exclusive Hotel, Calle San Martín, Miraflores, Lima.
Date of visit: September 2016
The main square in Lima is surrounded by scenic buildings including this Government Palace which is the official residence of the President of Peru.
Hope the guest have more space than these turtles get!
People tolerate lots of cats and leave them to curl up or forage in public places and parks in Lima.
After months of deliberating, planning and dreaming, we eventually flew out of Gatwick on 4th September 2016 for our extended travel trip to South America. Feeling smug that we had saved money by buying our flight tickets in BA’s sale our level of satisfaction increased with a smooth 12 hour flight. Shrugging off the uninteresting choice of in-flight movies and laughing at the standard of catering we applauded the skill of the pilot for a smooth touchdown after such a long journey.
Then the fun began. No sign of the taxi that I thought I’d asked the hotel to reserve and complete bedlam in the arrivals hall. “Oh the joy of D.I.Y. travel instead of using a tour operator” I thought to myself. After circulating the numerous ‘Meet and greet’ boards an official must have spotted
us getting dizzy and took us to the official/registered taxi desk. Problem sorted and as we trundled with our baggage past all the unofficial taxis we formed our first impression that Peru wants to impress tourists.
I’d like to say that we were whisked off through Lima to our hotel but the reality was more like a scene from “Fast and Furious” only stopping when got caught in a snarl up near the entrance to a Food Festival on the sea front! But that didn’t deter our taxi driver and we soon learnt that changing lanes, cutting up other cars and not indicating, was the norm. Seriously though, whilst it appeared pandemonium on the roads there was no beeping, no two-fingered salutes and no road rage. Pretty calm people.
A warm friendly reception at the hotel, nice clean room,comfy bed and a Welcome drink of Pisco Sours completed our first impression of Peru and it’s people … friendly, want to give great experience and they just get on with things.