Author Topic: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil  (Read 13137 times)

Offline Naftali

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Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« on: July 21, 2016, 12:47:14 PM »
My wife and I -  and three month old son [call me crazy] -  just got back earlier today from a whirlwind of a South American trip, including Panama City, Lima, Cusco / Sacred Valley, Buenos Aires, Iguazu, & Rio de Janeiro. Eight flights and seventeen days later, I am indebted to the folks on this forum, who have both inspired and guided my planning of this fantastic trip. Ranging from logistics to cost saving, restaurants guides and kosher insights, DansDeals has provided that wide variety of information needed - and tips necessary - to enjoy vacation ( & adventure) to its fullest.

Though I’m not an experienced traveler (and this being my first foray into contribution for the DansDeals Forum), I hope this TR will allow someone else to benefit and enjoy the wonderful majestic world – Thanks again!!

Day One (Tuesday):

I found a United flight for 20k points each from Newark to Lima, with a stopover in Panama City.  Figuring we can enjoy Panama for the day, I scheduled a red eye arriving in Panama City at 4:45am and transfer to Copa Airlines (through United) for a 7:00pm flight to Lima.

(Note about traveling with an infant – most of the flights were booked prior to our son being born. Being a lap infant, all I had to do was call all the airlines to add my son to the flights. International flights, unlike domestic flights, have a 10% cost for lap infants + tax fees. When booking through British Airways Avios, one can use points (10% of points you used to book your ticket) instead of paying 10% of actual ticket $$ cost. This proves to be great saving when using points to travel business class as 10% of the $$ costs is significant.)

We had a driver pick us up at the airport at 6:30am (gave me some time to daven & eat). Our first stop was, of course, the Panama Canal. Though the canal was recently expanded to allow for larger ships to travel through, the primary viewing spot is still the Miraflores Locks, which includes a museum, a short video, and several levels of observation decks of the original canal (cost to enter is $10 pp – Panama uses USD as currency [there is another currency as well but it is linked to the dollar so there is simply no point of changing money]). Rush hour traffic from the airport into the city is awful in the mornings, and aside from a brief stop in Starbucks in the city center, the drive took two and a half hours with bland scenery most of the drive, aside from the city skyline view and colorfully painted busses which are aplenty. We arrived at the Canal right when it the visiting center opened so the crowds were minimal. Unfortunately, upon arrival we found out the next ship would not be traveling through the canal until 12:30pm. We decided to miss this ship and see the other sites in the city which in retrospect was a mistake as there isn’t much else worth seeing in the city!

Regardless, the actual canal is not the most photogenic site, but it is quite amazing to witness the awesome engineering feat of over one hundred years ago. After fully understanding how the canal was built and the technicalities of how the lock system work (and why they are necessary) – the visit to the canal becomes much more enjoyable and impressive. After leaving the canal, we went up Ancon Hill for panoramic views of the Panama City. The views from Ancon Hills are the best in the city and the biodiversity in and around the hill is tropical and pretty.

The impression of Panama City after spending a day there is a city consisting of tall, yet boring high rise building (aside from one high rise building which looks like a screw) and slums of abject poverty within close proximity. Scattered around the Canal Zone area are US government buildings built in what was basically a US colony surrounding the canal (w/ US sovereignty over several miles around the canal the United States turned over the Canal Zone in 1979 - the actual canal was given to Panama in 1999). Some of these U.S. building were built with fine taste, but mostly they are boring government buildings now used for residences and municipal offices.
We then drove around Causeway of Amador area which is a scenic (… not really so scenic) highway connecting some of the islands off the coast. This was mostly a waste of time aside from a photo of the Museum of Biodiversity, which is uniquely architecturally designed. Afterward, we parked in Casco Viejo which is the old historical part of Panama City. This area sort of reminds me of old San Juan in Puerto Rico; however Casco Viejo is much earlier in the restoration process so it is not as nice, but worthwhile. The cobbled stone street and assorted of Spanish (and French?) homes, cafes, hotel, and pubs make for a nice area and I’m sure in several years it will look much nicer.
Panama has several kosher restaurant options. We only had one chance to eat here and we were not really in the mood of meat (Lula by Darna seems to have the best reviews for meat) being exhausted and all, so we went to the dairy Darna's Bread Co. which was (sort of) on are way back to the airport since it is in the middle of the city. It is on the bottom floor of one of the many high rise residential towers and is in the Jewish area. The tables, chairs, and design had this rustic Restoration Hardware feel to it which was nice and relaxing. Otherwise, the food and prices were fine (neither poor nor great). Tired but full, we made our way back to the airport with a quick stop at the ruins of the original Panama City (Panama Viejo) which is just old building of the original Panama City that were burned down. If you are anything but a serious history buff, you can skip this without reservations. We then headed back to the airport (which is boring) were we hung out until our flight. We had to shlep our luggage all day in the car since our connection was with Copa but it was fine since we had a tour guide all day with us.

(Note about Tour Guide/ Drivers – for most of our trip, I had hired tour guides before to drive us and show us around. Though this added considerable expense to the trip, it made my trip much more enjoyable since I was traveling with a wife and baby. We never had to wait at airport for taxis nor find somewhere to store luggage, and always had an English speaking guide to explain to us the culture, history, and political situation in each country. For each location we visited, I searched TripAdvisor for email addresses of local tours guides and emailed 3-5 guides whom had good reviews of where I wanted to go and what my schedule was. They all responded (and in their responses usually added other tips of what should be seen) and I selected the cheapest tour guide of the bunch for each city. The prices per day ranged from about $75 in Sacred Valley, $110 in Panama City, $160 in Iguazu, $200 in Lima and Buenos Aires, and $225 in Rio de Janeiro. This added almost $1,500 to our expenses over the trip – yet rarely used taxis (2x in BA and 3x in Rio) and always had someone taking care of us all day.)


We arrive in Lima at 10:45pm…. To be continued.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2016, 02:24:07 PM by Naftali »

Offline TimT

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2016, 12:57:19 PM »
Nice read so far. Looking forward to the rest. Welcome to DDF

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2016, 01:23:03 PM »
nice!
Don't wait for the perfect moment; take the moment and make it perfect.

Offline stbaum

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2016, 02:13:04 PM »
great first post! waiting for more
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Offline Naftali

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2016, 02:14:16 PM »
Photos of Day One:


Colorful Busses


Screwed Up


Morning traffic into City




The Canal & Locks


Ancon Hill View


Causeway of Amador


Biodiversity Museum




Casco Viejo



Darna's Bread Co.



Offline Naftali

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2016, 04:25:29 PM »
Day Two - Wednesday:

….. So, we arrive in Lima Airport at 10:45pm.

Most tourists who visit Lima either stay in the Miraflores, San Isidro, or Barranco district (the whole metropolitan area is called Lima, though each district is a wholly distinct municipality).  This touristy/upper class area is where there are the nice hotels are – as well as apartment rentals (e.g. Homeaway, VRBO, Airbnb – which are very good value in Lima) However, I did not want to stay here because the drive from the airport south to these districts can take up to 45 minutes and taxis in Lima do not have a great reputation. I was not interested in landing only to have another 45 minutes to the hotel with all our luggage (& stroller) stuffed in taxi, not interested in paying extra money for the taxi ride to there and back to airport on Thursday, and I had an early morning flight on Thursday morning and didn’t want to have to wake up earlier than I have to. However, the Lima airport is in a downright awful neighborhood and there is literally only one hotel - Costa del Sol Wyndham Lima Airport - sensible to stay at near the airport, and it so happens to be literally across the street from the airport. We arrived in Lima and just walked across to the hotel with our luggage to check in (being harassed by cab drivers if we needed a taxi all along the way).
The Costa del Sol Wyndham Lima Airport is part of Wyhdham so if someone has points with Wyndham that is great. I didn’t have any points but I found a promotion online (@ Daily Getaways) where I was able to purchase 15k points (= 1 free night) for $150. So purchased two of these deals (one under my name and one under my wife’s) for Tuesday and Wednesday night. Online on Priceline etc. price per night at Costa del Sol Wyndham Lima Airport is $185 so I had some savings here. The hotel is right across the street from the airport and one can hear some of the muffled outside traffic inside the hotel rooms. Upon arrival, the hotel gives one free bottle of water per person (baby got one too ) which was great. The hotel is a not overly luxurious, but it is nice and clean with a free breakfast in the morning with a variety of fruit and coffee. The pool area is tiny and not nice at all, though the massages were cheap.

Hotel Right Across from Airport

Tiny Pool and Spa area

View of traffic from our Hotel Room

(Note about food & Customs – We brought a lite weight slow cooker with lots of raw & cooked meats along with rice/pasta/quinoa which we put in the cooker the mornings we were in Peru for hot evening suppers. For Panama, Buenos Aires, and Rio there were kosher restaurants but in Peru (and for shabbosim) we were mostly – aside from Chabad in Cusco - on our own [we passed a small kosher supermarket in Lima but didn’t bother stopping in]. Upon entering Panama, Peru, and Argentina, customs for each country inquires as to whether one is bringing in meat. Simply put, although in each airport we needed to put all our luggage, including carry – on luggage, through the screener - we retained the meat throughout our trip. I have heard of others, particularly in Costa Rica, whom have had their meat confiscated by Customs.

   Our driver arrived Wednesday morning at 12:30pm (late begin time to sleep off previous days and enjoy nighttime water fountain show in Lima City center). Traffic was horrific heading into the city. We drove around the San Isidro (I stopped into the Shul/Chabad to check it out, not much going on but heavy security getting into) which is a nice area with some beautiful hotels and nice parks. We stopped in to a local market which was interesting as you get a sense of how the locals shop and dine, all intensely watching soccer/football games. We then headed to Miraflores which has fantastic views of the jagged mountainous coastline of Lima with a cool (but expensive/tourist centric) mall called Larcomar. The parks are very relaxing and although Lima during the July/August is always cloudy (it’s surrounded by mountains) and chilly we had a very nice time walking around. One of the parks had a replication of the Nazka lines (google Nazka lines, I had never heard about it before either).



Shul Exterior


Olive Park in San Isidro


Market near San Isidro





Miraflores Coast Line View


Cloudy Lima - Photo from our flight back from Cusco into Lima

Following Miraflores, we took a long drive to the city Centre, where the main square (Plaza Mayor) with the Presidential & Federal offices, along with the Cathedral, are located. This main square plaza is typical of most of the South American cities we visited. Also, this is where I received the best exchange rate of changing money (on the one of the street corners). The exchange rate I received at the Lima Airport was 1 USD for 2.9 Soles, while in the city square I received the more accepted rate (as of this writing of 3.25 Soles for a USD.) After strolling about in the square area, we wandered off into some side streets – not such a safe area – but enjoyed watching the locals have a singing and dancing competition on a side plaza area.





Plaza Mayor

Finally, we headed to Parque de la Reserva which has thirteen unique waterfountain. We arrived after dark and the fountains were marvelously illuminated. After walking around and getting a bit wet in some of the interactive ones, we enjoyed a laser show with the fountains which was really cool. Great music and laser interaction. I think the Fountains are closed Monday and Tuesday evenings so plan accordingly.







Parque de la Reserva

Most people skip over Lima because they are merely there as a stopover to Cusco, etc. However, having an extra day to tour the worthwhile parts of Lima was well worth the visit and time.
                           To be continued…..
« Last Edit: July 21, 2016, 04:31:36 PM by Naftali »

Offline ual902

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2016, 05:15:27 PM »
Very nice report, thanks for posting and welcome to the Dansdeals Forum.

Offline Dawie

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #7 on: July 21, 2016, 05:17:05 PM »
great start! welcome to DDF

Offline sam28

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2016, 05:28:03 PM »
nice TR keep it coming .

Offline E-MAN

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2016, 05:47:40 PM »
Wow sounds like a great trip! Can't wait for the rest.
How did the baby do the whole time?

Offline Naftali

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2016, 07:18:24 PM »
Day Three – Thursday:

   Our flight Thursday morning was a LAN (merged with Tam, now called LATAM, it’s a Chilean based airline; booked through British Airways, 4.5k per ticket one way) 11:00am to Cusco. Being that the airport was basically across the street, we were able to stroll in about 9:15am and with a baby, there was never a moment we had to wait in line since passengers with children under two are considered preferential customers. In fact, everywhere (besides from Buenos Aires) people were obsessed with our baby (perhaps because he’s western looking, perhaps because he’s really cute ) and with absolute courtesy allowed us to skip every line. We brought an Uppababy Vista stroller with an infant car seat attachment to attach and detach to the stroller base. Bringing this heavyweight stroller was a hassle at times, but critical since there was a lot of walking along cobblestone street and one of those cheap lightweight strollers would make it impossible to move about. Otherwise, we brought a baby carrier and we took turns wearing him when we walked along more treacherous paths (nothing slightly dangerous mind you). Traveling with a baby can be limiting at times (eating schedule, bed time, challenging hikes, boating, and horseback riding) but we really enjoyed nonetheless. (And thank goodness my mother took my older two year old child for the two and half weeks to let us enjoy this amazing trip!).

   The flight was pretty empty which is always significant because we were then allowed to bring the car seat part of the stroller aboard the plane and not have to hold the baby. Arriving in Cusco airport (which is a terribly neglected airport in poor state of disrepair – parenthetically, there is a new international airport being constructed in Chinchero which allow travelers to bypass Lima which is generally a nuisance stopover on the way to the Sacred Valley. Cusco is sure to remain an attraction without its airport; …it is amazing) we were picked up by our guide. Our first stop was Qurikancha which was the primary Incan Temple and subsequently a church or cathedral of sorts. It is now solely a museum and a visit there will both introduce you to the incredibly sophisticated stonework of the Incas as well as some of the locals dressed in their traditional garb who expect tips when you take a photographs with them. I would note that you get a much more authentic view of the locales culture and dress when you visit them in the Sacred Valley towns such as Pisac, Ollantaytambo, and Chinchero.



Flight from Lima Airport




Qurikancha – Incan stonework finesse



Locals around Cusco – the lamb is for photo opps.

Note about Halacha & our trip:
1.   Visiting old temples/churches – While churches which are in use are deemed to be forbidden to enter, I am under the impression that temples and churches which are now tourist sites are permitted to be visited. I asked my local orthodox Rabbi who permitted my visiting these no longer in service religious sites, and subsequently found that Rabbi Chaim Dovid Yisraeli (Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv) who permits this explicitly (שו"ת עשה לך רב ח"ד סימן נג). I wonder if anyone else has input on this issue….
2.   Milk – In the U.S., I rely on the heter of chalav stam. However, this is based on government inspection policy of milk and I was uncertain whether the countries I was visiting the milk was permissible w/o a hechsher. Crucial for folks like me who need milk in their coffee.
 The OU responded to me that they are unfamiliar with these countries so I emailed the local kosher agencies. In Panama, the Beneficiencia Israelita Beth-El & Sinagoga Beth El responded that I could not rely on the government inspection. In Peru, the website - http://www.kosherperu.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=53 – lists some Leche (milk) companies which are fine. In Brazil, the BDK responded to me “Generally, plain milk, from big brands is ok. Nestle, danone, shefa, paulista, elege, parmalat, etc.”
I was wondering if anyone had more info on this in Panama and Argentina?
3.   Question: Is Inka Cola in packaged in Peru Kosher? The Star K permits in when packaged in North America  (http://www.star-k.org/resource/list/RWSWUC19/Beverages) – what about in Peru?

The Inca Empire was relatively short lived (mid 15th & 16th century) but constructed fascinating buildings and agricultural systems which are amazing to visit and learn about. Cusco was the capital of the empire and there is a lasting legacy of the Incas, as well as the Spanish conquistadors, throughout the city. It is a magical city to walk around, with hippies, adventurers, and locales milling all around. There is a classic Spanish Main center plaza square and there were children in large groups practicing their folk dances and nice shops of alpaca wool and pubs.

The altitude is very high and some people get sick hanging around Cusco (I got lightheaded and nauseous myself). There are advertisements for some sort of pill to take, but I would recommend simply heading to the Sacred Valley below which has much lower altitude and only later visiting Cusco. As for the baby, our pediatrician noted that he would have an easier acclimating to the altitude than we would. I believe this was correct.

We left Cusco to the outskirts of the city to visit Saksaywaman which is this massive Incan temple/fort overlooking Cusco with great views of the city and surrounding landscape and the token llamas and alpacas grazing about. The stones are huge and architecture amazing – though anyone who has enjoyed the tunnel tours by the Kosel will not be impressed by the size of the stones, all the more so being the Herod had those walls constructed more than 1500 years before the Incan walls. The days was breezy and rainy, but we continued to Qenqo which is another Inca holy place but it can be skipped. To visit these and other Inca sites around the valley, one must purchase a pass (not cheap, about 150 Sol.). Some of the sites have their own small fee (Salt Mines) and Macchu Pichu is a whole different beast…








Saksaywaman



Views of Cusco from Saksaywaman – Shame it was a cloudy day 

We then left to walk back around Cusco and have a dinner at the Chabad house which has both a meat and dairy restaurant (quite informal, we were the only customers in the courtyard while the Israelis played cards and joked around). This was truly the highlight of our day. Free spirited Israelis roamed the courtyard of the Chabad house and helped with the preparation of the food, while the Rabbi showed me how he makes his own cheeses. The Rabbi is a holy Jew doing great work for many of these wandering souls. The food was really really cheap and really really good. It is a shame we were not able to join again for more. And Mazel Tov to the Rabbi and his wife who just had a baby boy several weeks back!!











Scenes from around Plaza de Armas (main plaza) in Cusco

Chabad Courtyard/Restaurant/Social Gathering Place/ MATZAV!

Afterward, already late in the evening, we left Cusco for the Sacred Valley for our hotel in Urubamba.                                     To be continued…

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2016, 08:15:34 PM »
Great trip report so far, keep it up.

Offline Naftali

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #12 on: July 21, 2016, 10:09:36 PM »
Day 4 Friday –
   Thursday evening, after a long day flying and touring the Cusco area, our tour guide brought us to our hotel ion Urubamba. I had my heart set on staying at Tambo Del Inka Resort & Spa in Urubamba while planning the trip. However, at first the resort seemed out of my price range. I did not have any Starwoods points and booking online through Booking.com etc. costs about $285. Though I generally do not play a points game, I decided to sign up to AMEX SPG several months ago to receive 35k Starwood bonus points for our vacation (after spending $3k in 3 months). Using these points, I booked four nights (6k +$110 a night) at Tambo del Inka.
The hotel is truly spectacular. The exterior façade of the hotel does not stand out with the rest of the Urubamba, but once when enters the grounds it is nuanced and striking beyond belief. The general design is in the local cultural taste, with Incan symbols and style throughout the resort. The hard wooden structure, the calm Urubamba River flowing through the back of the grounds, an amazing indoor outdoor pool, large  hotel rooms, walk in closets, sophisticated bathrooms, semi-private deck areas for each room with unparalleled views…. it is now wonder the President Elect of Peru stayed in this hotel shorty before we arrived.  No free breakfast though there is coffee out for hotel guests in the main lobby throughout the morning.



View from our hotel room deck



Friday Night Seuda - all set up

\

Pool

   On Friday morning, our tour guide (a local kid, 21 years old, spoke ok English but always upbeat and knew everything about the culture and history of the area) took us to Ollantaytambo, which to me has retains the most authentic verve of the culture. As an aside, the guides and books like to focus on the history of the ruins, but what we found much more interesting was the sociology and culture of the present day inhabitants of the area. Their customs and dress, employment and social mores were far more interesting to us than Incan ruins. We first visited the Ollantaytambo Temple and terrace ruins (lots of steps, beware) which provide fantastic views of the Sacred Valley in one of its most narrow points. Subsequently, we walked around the adjoining market (outside each tourist site is a market of locals selling their touristy items) and neighborhood. The buildings still have many of the original Inca walls and canals, and elderly woman walk about carrying these very heavy loads in their blissful way. My wife was shown how to put on and use the local baby carrier which is quite unique.
 



Ollantaytambo Ruins - View from below






Ollantaytambo Ruins - View from Above



Our baby in local baby holder






It takes a village




On the Way to Pisac

After Ollantaytambo, we drove about an hour southeast to Pisac, which has a big market (both for tourists and locals) and an Incan ruin of immense agricultural terraces. Along the road, there are people trying to sell you barbequed Guinea pig  (which people eat there) and these batman mobile/scooter like mini taxis which are cute at first but then become annoying – sort of like squirrels.  The market in Pisac is known for being amazing on Sundays (when all the local merchants come to sell their goods), yet although we came on Friday we still enjoyed and bought an Alpaca blanket (checked online later and found that if I bought it in the U.S. it would be double the price). We also bought an assorted of potatoes for our chulent (there are over three thousand variations of potatoes in Peru, the Incas were excellent at agricultural experimentation).
 


Pisac Marketplace

 



Pisac Terrace Ruins

 Tip: Most big bus tours starting from Cusco start in Pisac in the morning and head to Ollantaytambo in the afternoon. Doing the reverse commute (Ollantaytambo then Pisac) helps to avoid the crowds.
After Pisac, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for our Shabbos alone in the Sacred Valley. Sunset was early (about 5:45) so we didn’t have the long summer Fridays we had back in NY.

Offline Naftali

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2016, 10:16:56 AM »
Day 5 Shabbos –

   As I previously had mentioned, we brought a lite weight slow cooker/crock pot with frozen meat for our meals in Peru as well as Shabbos meals (most hotels didn’t have enough freezer or ice space so we used up the meat pretty quickly since I was worried it would spoil). In Tambo del Inka they actually had 110v outlets so we didn’t need any outlet adapters, though when in the other hotels in Peru, and in Argentina and Brazil, we brought from the U.S. adapters and also a voltage converter for appliances that need to have their voltage changed over (shavers, cookers, etc.). We brought with us Challah rolls, grape juice, Havdala paraphernalia from NY. The Chabad in Cusco told me that they only make Challah & Shabbos food late Friday afternoon and anyway do not provide catering services. 

   I was able to walk around the hotel on Shabbos since our manual deck door opened to the outside. The extended grounds of Tambo del Inka are gorgeous; they even have an organic garden where they grow they vegetables for the restaurant and have cows grazing along the river in that area.

For Shabbos day, we opened the main room door and plugged the lock with a sock to allow us to walk around the interior of the hotel with the stroller without the door locking (see http://dinonline.org/2010/10/21/eruv-in-hotel/ for discussion about carrying about on Shabbos in a hotel – when we were in BA we were in an apartment building so I was stuck inside all Shabbos since we didn’t want to carry the key into the hallway - http://www.yeshiva.co/ask/?id=7212 ).

There is a game room with a small selection of books and a billiards table which we enjoyed most of the afternoon. After Shabbos while walking the grounds we came across a dancing performance by some locals for a tourist group; it was really fun and quite spooky. A Peruvian version of a Motzei Shabbos Kumzitz I guess.










Kumzitz

Offline Luvtotravel

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2016, 11:34:53 AM »
certainly an original trip report on ddf! very interesting!
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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #15 on: July 22, 2016, 11:49:28 AM »
Day 6 Sunday Machu Pichu   8) :D :) ;)


Machu Pichu is incredible. Simply. Truly. Majestic. It is beautiful yet powerful. An indelible experience…. And these are not platitudes.
However, arrangements to visit Machu Pichu are not simple. There are several steps:

1.   You need a ticket to enter Machu Pichu. Peru has limited visitors to 2,500 per day so it is highly recommended that you purchase they tickets several weeks (or months) in advance for the date you’d like to visit. I purchased the tickets online at http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/ which has an English option but is not that simple to navigate. Cost is about $50 per person (baby was free). They only take Visa CC. You have to provide all your passport info for the ticket (on my wife’s I forgot to change country to US so it said Afghanistan. I call up the Peru Culture Office and they said as long as the passport number is correct that is fine. [Important: You must bring your passport to be able to enter Machu Pichu and to get on the train.] You can also buy tickets on the aforementioned site for the Huayna Picchu hike which is supposed to be incredible but there was no way I would be able to do that arduous hike carrying an infant (regardless, I think there is an age limit).  Huayna Picchu is limited to 400 ppl a day so plan accordingly.

You purchase the ticket online then check in online and then receive the tickets. You must print the tickets and show them at the park entrance.

2.   Getting to Machu Pichu – there are only two ways to get to Machu Pichu 1. Train 2. Inca Trail. The Inca trail is a renowned 2 or 3 day hike which was not relevant to us so I can’t provide any info…. The Train: There are three train station with trains departing to Machu Pichu. 1. Poroy – this station is about 20 minute drive from Cusco (there is no longer a station in Cusco proper). 2. Urubamba – there is a station on the hotel grounds of the Tambo del Inka hotel. 3. Ollantaytambo (aka “Ollanta” on the train ticket) – This is in the town I had previously visited on Friday. The train is not in the main center of the town but taxis drivers and locals know where to take you.

For train tickets, you purchase the tickets online (no AMEX) , print the receipt, and then have to show the printed receipt to one of the many ticket counters around Peru. We went to the PeruRail ticket counter in Lima Airport (you have to be passed security in departing domestic flights to access the ticket counter) and picked up our tickets on Thursday on our way to Cusco. There are other PeruRail counters in other locations such as Cusco Airport, etc.

There are two main types of trains, the Expedition and the Vistadome (There is a luxury Hiram Bingaham train which was not relevant). The Vistadome is more expensive and advertises better windows for views from the train.  We took the Expedition and were fine with the service and views. So happens to be that I was not overly impressed with the views and scenery of the train ride. The train goes along the Urubamba river with nice mountain views but not all that it’s hyped up to be. 

Although we were staying at the Tambo del Inka, I decided to take the train from Ollantaytambo since it was considerably cheaper (about $70 per ticket per way = $280 total per tickets [+ $100 for Machu Pichu ticket entrance + $50 for busses makes this not a cheap day at all for two people]).  We arranged to have a cab pick us up at Tambo at 6:45 since the train ticket states you need to be at the station half hour before the train departs. I suspect that this is not the case because things are not that official. We got the Ollantaytambo station and it was totally freezing outside but found warmth in one of the coffee shops at the station. There was another train from a different company which departed first but then our train came.

The train ride was mostly uneventful – they bring out free drinks and then souvenirs for purchase. The train goes very slowly. The left side of the train has far superior views of the landscape and we lucked out that this is where our assigned seats were. I don’t know if there is an option to preselect seats on that side of the train.

The train arrives as a place called Aguas Calientes (aka Machupicchu Pueblo) which is a little town at the bottom of the Machu Pichu mountain. We followed the crowds through another local tourist market (hard to miss) and got to the center of town. Aside from walking up the mountain (which I hear is not recommended), the only way up is to take a bus which is $25 round trip ticket per person. They do not sell bus tickets in advance so we had to stand in line waiting to buy tickets (very slow line – and for some reason they needed our passports for these tickets also).

The bus ride up the mountain is as windy and scary a ride can be. Only busses go up and these narrow roads on the edge of deep cliffs make for a harrowing experience. Once we got up to the top of the mountain, we checked into the park.

Words cannot do justice for the views of Machu Pichu. Pictures are also an injustice but see below for some shots. There are many steps (some scary) to walk up and down at the site and Llamas roaming around freely all about. There are many deep drops which demand much caution.

 I read up a bit before in travel guides about the history of the site, its “discovery” by Hiram Bingham (I enjoyed a great book called “Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time”) and other information but one does not need any background information to be impressed by what the Incas did here. Truly remarkable. We walked around for about four hours and were utterly exhausted (I was holding a baby and a knapsack the whole time). We left the park only to find a two hour line waiting for busses back down to Aguas Calientes but upon seeing our baby we were ushered to the front of the line. What a relief. Back down at Aguas Calientes we hung out in some restaurant watching a soccer game with some local folks and walked around the town. People give the town a bad rap but we enjoyed walking around the town. Our trip back was uneventful and we had the driver from the morning pick us up (we paid $15 each way; I think if you book through the hotel it’s a little more expensive).







Ollantaytambo “Ollanta” Station

 





Pictures from the Train Ride






Aguas Calientes:



Waiting for bus tickets

 



Machu Pichu Entrance:

 





 






















Offline Yaalili

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #16 on: July 22, 2016, 03:39:36 PM »
Really nice, it's on my list. Was featured on TFD too - http://www.theflightdeal.com/2016/07/22/practical-travel-tips-machu-picchu-peru/.

Offline zow

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #17 on: July 23, 2016, 10:45:57 PM »
Great TR.  You're a natural! Love all the pictures. 
Thanks for all the time and effort you put into it.

Offline Denverite

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #18 on: July 24, 2016, 12:13:37 AM »
Great TR.  You're a natural! Love all the pictures. 
Thanks for all the time and effort you put into it.

Amazing pics!

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Re: Trip Report of Panama, Peru, Argentina, & Brazil
« Reply #19 on: July 24, 2016, 01:56:13 AM »
Great report, thanks!
״וזה כלל גדול: שישנא אדם כל דבר שקר. וכל מה שיוסיף שנאה לדרכי השקר – יוסיף אהבה לתורה.״ - אורחות צדיקים