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South America in 2016

June 1, 2015

Unicorn Sighting in the Peruvian Amazon

Llama photobomb in Machu Picchu

I just got back from a trip with three friends to Peru with Monograms. On the itinerary were Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and an extension to the Peruvian Amazon.

Church of San Francisco, Lima

Church of San Francisco, Lima

We started in Lima, labeled by Herman Melville as “the strangest and saddest city” because of its constant fog. We were lucky however as the fog lifted and we were able to enjoy a sunny included tour of the city with a brief but memorable walk through the bone filled catacombs of the church of San Francisco. The food in Lima is outstanding. Among its highlights was La Mar, Chef Gaston Acurio’s renowned ceviche restaurant. The food and drinks were delicious and the atmosphere lively.

Ceviche, yum!

Ceviche, yum!

 

Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman

Off to Cusco (elevation 11, 150 feet) the following day. Our Monograms’ Local Host® was waiting for us at the airport, checked us into our hotel and gave us a briefing before the included city tour with a Local Guide. Just some of the places we visited were the Cusco Cathedral; the Church of Santo Domingo built around the Incan Coricancha Temple and the pre-Inca site of Sacsayhuaman.

 

 

 

After Sacsayhuaman, we relaxed at the hotel  and enjoyed some of the local favorite Coca tea and crunchy salted broad beans, habas saladas before dinner. Then, we grabbed a very large, warm and inviting bowl of soup at Mr. Soup. They have an extensive menu of both International and Peruvian soups. Yum.

Woman at Sacsayhuaman

Woman at Sacsayhuaman

The next day we were off to the Sacred Valley, we saw many Incan ruins and a Peruvian market where I bought enough silver rings to fill up one hand. Highlights of this day were the ruins and terraces of Ollantaytambo with a representation of the messenger Viracocha in the rock facing the ruins.

Ollantaytambo (with Viracocha in the rock)

Ollantaytambo (with Viracocha in the rock)

Ollantaytambo Terrace

Ollantaytambo Terrace

Early the next morning we were off to Machu Picchu via train. The ride was breathtaking with views of raging rivers, snow topped mountain peaks and the countryside. Once we arrived in Machu Picchu Pueblo we were taken to the shuttle bus for the 20 minute ride up the mountain to the Machu Picchu ruins. The views of the valley and river below were outstanding. Machu Picchu is everything that I thought it would be and so much more – awe inspiring, jaw dropping, goose bump inducing… No picture you have seen in the past and no picture you will take during your visit will do it justice.

Machu Picchu selfie

Machu Picchu selfie

The included tour was informative and our local guide was both educational and funny, he dubbed our group “Team Puma” which stuck with my group of friends throughout the rest of our adventures. Also included this day was a buffet lunch at the only hotel on Machu Picchu. There was a vast array of local favorites like ceviche, alpaca, potatoes with Huancaina sauce (local spicy cheese sauce), quinoa and the infamous Inca Cola which has a very sweet bubblegum flavor. After lunch we had the afternoon to explore the site on our own. We chose to hike to the Inca Bridge which was carved into a cliff edge and believed to be used as a secret entrance to Machu Picchu for the Inca army.

Inca bridge

Inca bridge

Included in our Monograms package were two entrances to Machu Picchu. We hiked about 45 minutes to the Sun Gate, the official end of the Inca Trail. On this hike are stunning views of Machu Picchu from a completely different perspective. On the way to the trailhead we ran into some very happy and photogenic llamas.

Llama smiling for the camera in Machu Picchu

Llama smiling for the camera in Machu Picchu

View of Machu Picchu from Sun Gate Hike

View of Machu Picchu from Sun Gate Hike

 

Our room in the Amazon

Our room in the Amazon

Our vacation ended with an extension to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and a stay in an Eco Lodge. What a crazy, amazing 3 days we spent in the jungle. We were picked up at the airport by our guide, taken on a 45 minute bus ride to the river, then a 2.5 hour boat ride up the river where we saw caiman, capybara, macaws and egrets. A tasty lunch of fried rice wrapped in Jurassic Park sized leaves and star fruit juice was provided on the boat. Early morning jungle hikes were on the schedule during the next two days. We saw Titi monkeys, a tapir’s footprint, piranhas, agoutis, many bird species, spiders, poisonous frogs and bullet ants and the rare Harpy eagle with its chick. I later found out seeing this eagle is like seeing a unicorn, it’s that rare. We also visited a local fruit farm across the river and tasted exotic fruits like star fruit, cocona which tastes like a lemon tomato and the copoazu, common in the Amazon basin; it tastes like a magical blend of chocolate, pineapple and banana. If you can get past its slimy texture it is quite the treat for your taste buds.

The "unicorn" in the Amazon, a Harpy eagle

The “unicorn” in the Amazon, a Harpy eagle

Capybara in the Amazon

Capybara in the Amazon

Caiman in the Amazon

Caiman in the Amazon

So what are you waiting for? Visit Peru and see photobombing llamas, eat amazing food and possibly even get to find the unicorn in the Amazon (okay, fine, a Harpy Eagle)! It’s a trip of a lifetime!