We arrived in Peru for the international portion of our adventure year to an inauspicious start. Five people with 102 degree fevers. Then the altitude sickness hit. At 11,200 feet high, tourists seem to drop like flies around here. I had naively assumed we would have some protection from living, hiking, skiing, and camping in Colorado. After two straight days of vomiting, with O2 sats in the 70s, my wife told me she wanted me to marry again, so her children could have a mother. Then… our guide arrived to take us to Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu, at about 7,200 feet. It was a meandering trip, but once there we were instantly cured from the altitude, with only small colds remaining. The four days we spent in Aguas Calientes were sufficient to acclimate us, and we said bye, bye to altitude sickness.
(Here I should mention too that our flight to Cusco was the worst ever. We arrived at the Lima airport at 8 pm and our connecting flight to Cusco left at 5 am the next morning. For whatever reason, flights to Cusco only leave in the morning. The Lima airport is loud and crowded, and they wouldn’t let us into the waiting area until 1 am. We couldn’t find a place, even on the floor, for the kids to sleep. But, like a shining beacon of hope, a sign alerted us to an amazing hotel attached to the Lima airport. The five hours of sleep there were the best, even if the most expensive, ever.)
On the route from Cusco to Aguas Calientes (also known as the Machu Picchu Pueblo), we visited Incan ruins, dropped by a traditional female weaving cooperative, and took the coolest train ride ever, the Vistadome train on Peru Rail. They served us snacks and drinks (and on the way back performed a “devil” dance and fashion show). The train itself was slow and steady, and the scenery gorgeous – lush green mountains and the Urubamba River – through the large windows. Our guide (Inca Footsteps) told us that this, the Peruvian summertime, was the best time to visit. Crowds are minimal as there are no North American schools-out families, the high-altitude Peruvian weather is warm but not hot, and the hills are green green green. We were told that restaurants in Cusco have two menus – one for their summer (cheap prices), and one for their winter (North American summer + lots of tourists = expensive prices).
My wife was a little apprehensive about taking three small children to Machu Picchu. We had read about a terrifying bus ride on a dirt road with tight switchbacks and about drop-offs in a city built precariously on a mountainside. But apparently the government closed a dangerous portion of the trail where the tourist died in 2017 trying to take a selfie. And we really didn’t experience a moment where we thought one of our kids was going to fall off a cliff. It was just beautiful and interesting and felt very safe overall. And here’s where being from Colorado helped us… the switchbacks were nothing – nada – compared to Colorado!
Back in Cusco, the kids took Spanish language classes for a week at the Amauta Spanish School. It’s a cool small school with a good number of students and teachers, and lots of services for international students, like laundry, field trips, and even an on-site doctor. (Hey, we could’ve really used that last week!) We took a family salsa class there! This school was truly a highlight of our trip for the kids. We stayed for a week with a host family, a lovely couple from Cusco, who were very welcoming, but the one thing we missed on our trip were having lots of other children around. Our Macchu Picchu guide helped us out with this one. He brought his daughter for a day to play with our kids, and they shared their love for pasta and “Ladybug and Cat Noir”.
So now the kids have some very basic Spanish conversation skills and know their colors, numbers, animals, etc. We are finding our Spanish is coming back – apparently, it really was hidden back there somewhere for 20 years! Although my wife says I have a great deal of confidence when speaking Spanish, but not a great deal of ability.
The kids have some favorites in Cusco – in between the big amazing touristy stuff. Their absolute favorite is Qucharitas, an ice cream place where they actually make everything on site. You want strawberry ice cream? They mash in fresh strawberries to their ice cream base. We also signed the kids up for a class at the ChocoMuseo, a chocolate factory where they offer two hour long chocolate making lessons.
Cusco Park was a hit as well. It’s half museum, half park with baby alpacas and goats, Incan historical exhibits and a makeshift rope bridge. We also explored the Catacombs (Catacumbas del Convento San Francisco de Asis de Cusco) – the bones were a little scary. The nearby San Pedro market is quite an experience, but we decided not to take the kids – just too much stuff around in such a small area.
Our favorite hotel to stay so far on this leg has been Novotel Cusco – a beautiful 16th century structure with original wall paintings in the historic center of town. The hotel stone walls are four feet thick! (Interesting fact – the Marriott next door is a 5-star hotel that pumps extra oxygen into their hotel guests’ rooms. Extra oxygen into your room! This cracks me up, except I would’ve totally wanted it during our first couple nights.)
Next up, more Spanish practice with 25 days in Spain!