ACTIVITIES IN PERU WITH KIDS

We didn’t really know what to expect in Peru and if our kids would appreciate the ruins and culture there. Well they had a blast and it was a great place for young and old.

We landed pretty early in Cusco so we wanted to take some tours when we got there.

We had a car and guide pre-booked through our hotel, but no real plans of sites we were going to visit. After getting in the car we decided to visit the Ruins of Moray and the Salt Mines of Moras.

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While Cusco is not a huge town, there is no interstate. It was interesting driving through and seeing Peru culture for the first time.

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Our first stop was at an Alpaca Farm which made their own yarn and blankets and stuff. Nothing amazing here, but it was nice to interact with the people who allegedly made the items and see how they made their own alpaca clothing. While a table runner was like $300 USD, we were able to get some nice blankets for about $20USD. This was a pure tourist place, but it was a quick n easy stop.

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Eventually we made it to Moray. There is nothing else around it so its a place you need your transportation to stay while you are there. Its a nice walk around to see some of the ancient crop circles that the Incas used for farming. Entrance fee was 70 soles and our kids were free. I think kids 8 and under are free, but our 9 year old did not pay….

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After spending 30-45 minutes in Moray, we sped off to the salt mines of Moras. Again not a huge place and nothing close by. There are a few shops here though for snacks and souvenirs. It was very interesting to see how the mountain spring is naturally salty and how they can basically harvest it. Entrance fee was 10 Soles.

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We purposefully planned nothing on the next day. We didn’t know if we would be jet-lagged and just wanted to have a day to play it by ear. It worked out great as we did a lil swimming in the morning, walked around town, and then took taxi to Ollantaytambo

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Our entrance from Moray was good for 2 consecutive days at multiple sites including Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, and Pisaq.  So we took a $60 Soles taxi ride from our Hotel in Urubamba to the center of Ollantaytambo. It was about a 30 minute ride with the train tracks and river on the side. Ollantaytabo is a nice little town where a lot of people start their trek the Machu Pichu. We got dropped off right outside the ruins and explored them on our own for about an hour.

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We then walked towards the center of town to grab some food and explore. On the way there, there was a Sunday Church parade we stopped and watched for a lil bit.

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There are numerous restaurants all around. Some are quite cheap and off the beaten path a lil bit. Since we were only here for a few hours, we chose one of the restaurants on the main square and sat outside.  We had a few different dishes and not really sure what type of meat was on our pizza, but it was delicious.

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After that we were eventually able to hail a $50 soles taxi back to our hotel. While not difficult, the first few taxis didn’t want to go to Urubamba. Even though Uber is around, there was none in the area when we needed one. (later on I would just check, and there would be some though)

Finally, the next day was the main attraction of our vacation. Machu Pichu. We booked a package through Venturia Travel Agency which is whom our hotel recommended. While you can book everything on your own, it was stress free to be able to have them do it all. When we arrived at our hotel the first day, we had an envelope waiting for us which had our train tickets, bus tickets, entrance tickets, and lunch tickets.  If I was going back, I would now realize that all of these items are actually pretty easy to obtain. However I am very glad in doing it for the first time that I went through an agency. We really only had one day planned for MP so didn’t want to try to plan it myself, mess up and then not see it.

The whole experience is amazing. From the excitement as you board the train. Then going on the slowest train ever that has amazing scenery on the side.  After that just following the crowds to get on one of the scariest bus rides of your life. (You can walk from the train terminal to Machu Pichu as well, most people said it take about an hour, all uphill.) Then the excitement builds as you get closer to the top and see glimpses of it around every corner. We read online they only allow small backpacks, but they weren’t checking anything. You could have brought a large backpack full of food and been fine. They do have several guards throughout the ruins making sure people are behaving  and not eating. But we were still able to eat or snacks throughout the tour. We had perfect weather and spent about 3 hours there. It was amazing. Just seeing this city that was built by such a small group of people and left untouched when the Spanish came. Our kids were probably able to hike it better than what we could. You don’t have to be in great shape, but its definitely not for people who just like sitting on couches. We saw some groups struggling in the first 5 minutes and I don’t know if they mad it to the best viewing areas…

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After our 3 hour tour we had lunch at Tinkuy restaurant. This is the only sit down restaurant at the base of Machu Pichu. The food was pretty good, but they stick it to ya at $40 USD a person. It looked like there was a lil coffee shop with snacks down the path a little but, but those are your only option until you get back down the bus ride.

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Then there was a very long line to get back on the bus. It took about 30 minutes to get on a bus. After the bus we walked to the train station where we had about 30 minutes of shopping until we boarded the train back.

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Then it was back on the 2.5 hour train ride to Urubamba. While we brought cards to play, they also had some nighttime entertainment, fashion show/dancing.

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Overall, The Sacred Valley area was a great place to explore with our family. There is plenty to keep them busy and appealing food for all. It can look like a pain to get to, but in hindsight its actually quite easy. Its just a lot of long complicated names to keep straight.

PERU MAKES FAMILY TRAVEL EASY!

As our kids grow older, we lose some of the benefits of traveling with kids.  Several US airlines offer early boarding for infants in arms and Southwest offers boarding between A and B groups for children 6 and under. Our kids are 7 and 9 so we haven’t had any benefits lately.

Well Peru loves kids 12 and under. Not only Latam airlines treats kids 12 and under special, but so do all the airports.

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Upon arriving in Lima and transiting to Cusco, you have to get your bags and then check them back in at the normal check counter.  A Latam employee insisted that we use the special needs line since we had kids. We said even with kids 7 and 9? and they insisted.

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Then going back through security, there was a special line that their TSA equivalent insisted we use.

Then boarding the plane, special needs persons and kids board first. Ahead of first class and elite members!

Then coming back to the airport departing Cusco and then transiting in Lima to Guayaquil it was the exact same thing!

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I was hoping this was a Latam policy, or something throughout South America. We tried to use these lines again once outside of Peru and got shot down by airline and airport employees. So this was in Peru only.

REVIEW: HILTON COLON GUAYAQUIL

We had a one night stay at the Hilton Colon Guayaquil.  It was just a quick transit stay after our flight from Cusco to Lima to Guayaquil, then the next day we had our flight from Guayaquil to Baltra, Galapagos. I used 30k Hilton points for 2 queen beds. Regular room rates were about $160 a night plus taxes.

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We landed got our luggage and planned on taking a short Uber ride to the hotel. Upon walking out we saw a man holding a sign with a Hilton sign on it. He said the bus was leaving in 5 minutes. Perfect timing for us! At 7PM there was probably 12-15 people on the bus. We hopped on it and it was a short 5 minute bus ride to the hotel.

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After we got our bags from the bus we walked into the hotel and a person handed out warm towels, which is always a night touch. I stood in line for a minute and then when it was our turn and of course I asked for a diamond upgrade. He looked in his system and confirmed I was a diamond member and said we should use the executive lounge checkin.  A bell person grabbed our bags and said he would meet us up there. Up we went and got to the exec lounge a minute later. I asked for a diamond upgrade and she said they didn’t have any rooms. I informed her online they have junior suites and she just shrugged. Eventually got our keys and the bell person lead us and our bags to our room a floor down.  While I sometimes like the separate checkin at a lounge, I don’t like when its setup like it was here having to stand in multiple lines and go to multiple floors. I just want to get to my darn room. (I also believe that my credit card information was stolen here. Waiting to here back from Hilton on that.)

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Our room resembled most Hilton’s around the world. There was a nice welcome gift and note waiting for us there which is always a nice touch. The 2 queen beds were really just double beds. I hate it when hotels call them queen beds, but they obviously aren’t.  The bathroom was bright and had all the amenities we needed. One nice thing is there was plenty of USB and regular plugs throughout the room.  Overall, the room was nothing special, but was perfect for our one night stay.

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The next morning I wasn’t feeling great, so the rest of the family went to the lounge for breakfast .My family said the lounge was underwhelming for breakfast.

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At checkin they only mentioned breakfast available at the lounge, even though as a diamond member we should have been able to use the restaurant. It looked much better there.

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The Spa, Pool, and Healthclub area looked very nice and upscale. I wish we would have had more time to use some of their facilities. The pool was large with plenty of lounge chairs. The gym was huge and fairly crowded. It could have been used by the public as well.

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The public areas were nicer than most other Hiltons. Walked around a little and they have quite a few nice nooks and crannies one could relax. The hotel is also connected directly to a mall.

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Below is a view from our room. There was not a lot to do around the hotel. Nice and close to the airport, but not a destination hotel

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The shuttle bus leaves on the hour every hour to get back to the airport. This worked out perfectly for us and we left at like 10am for our noon flight. One the way back, the bus was not as crowded, only 6 of us total.

 

REVIEW: Tambo del Inka, SPG Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, Valle Sagrado Peru

As part of our visit to Peru, our family of 4 stayed 3 nights at the Tambo del Inka in Urubamba Peru. We originally booked 2 rooms at 12k SPG points per night each. Considering these rooms can go for about $500-$700 USD a night, 12k SPG points is a great deal. (Besides staying at hotels to obtain points, SPG has credit card bonus’ from 25k to 35k points throughout the year. You can open up one credit card and about 3 months later have enough points to stay here for 3 nights.)

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I contacted them about a month beforehand to make sure we had connecting rooms. They said they were sold out during our stay and it was unlikely we could get connecting rooms because they only have like 7 of them. The hotel mentioned the rooms have 2 queen beds and that they could provide a rollaway bed for guests 12 and under at no charge. So we opted to cancel our second room, which ended up being a great decision.

The hotel has a on site tour company. We were to arrive in Cusco at about 11am and arranged a 4 hour tour/transportation to the hotel through them. It was about $200USD total, but was great with a person waiting at baggage claim with our name on a sign, who led us to a large van with our guide and driver who took us through Cusco, Ruins of Moray, and Salt Mines of Moras before ending at our hotel right at checkin time. (we also booked our Machu Picchu tour through this company. More on that in an upcoming post)

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Check in was quick and they sit you down on a couch to relax a lil while they go over all the information. As an SPG Gold member we were to receive 10% off food, and a special breakfast price of $15USD per person (more on that below as out total breakfast bill ended up being about $15 total). As well as a coupon for 2 welcome drinks at their bar or restaurant.

Some of the common areas which double as the check in area.

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Our room was larger than what I was expecting for a standard room. As I mentioned the double beds were actually queen beds, and a 3rd bed fit in there with plenty of room. There was a large walk-in closet with a safe and plenty of storage. The bathroom was large with a separate tub and shower head, as well as a separate toilet.

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The room was pretty quiet and while the view wasn’t amazing, it was nice and peaceful. They had a mini-bar but you could still fit a few bottles of water in there. They did give us 4 free bottles of water per day. They also had turn down service with chocolates at night. The TV was easy to use and you were able to get English or Spanish on most of the channels. There was not a lot of outlets in the room so when charging our electronics we were always searching for one.

The pool and spa area was very nice but a lil too fancy for kids. Our kids liked it but got bored pretty quick. They also had a indoor hot tub, but the water wasn’t that hot. Along with several steam rooms.  There was a very nice hot tub/aromatherapy section, but you had to pay for that. The workout room was in the spa area. It was larger than I was expecting for the size of the hotel, with several machines, free weights, and plenty of room to just do whatever you want.

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The food here had some positive and negatives. The restaurant was the same for dinner and for breakfast. It was very nice with white tablecloths and cloth napkins. Our dinner there one night was nothing special, yet fairly expensive. In the bar and the restaurant Pisco Sours were 38 soles. In town we could find them at most places for 15 soles, and even some places had them 2 for 15 soles. We did use our coupon here though and they were pretty darn good.

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The breakfast was great though. Lots of options as you can see below. It was interesting that while they told us it was $15 per adult, our bill didn’t reflect that. They didn’t charge any of us for the first 2 days. On the last day, we told them that our daughter didn’t want the buffet and only wanted a bowl of cereal. While it took a while to explain this to them, eventually they figured it out. Unfortunately they brought the fruit loops out with warm milk. (this happened more than one time in South America so beware) We just got some off the buffet then and made sure to use cold milk. They charged my son like $9USD for the buffet and my daughter like $5USD for the fruit loops, but they didn’t charge the adults anything.

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One dinner we decided to eat in the bar area. It was pretty crowded so we found some a small table in the room off of the main bar that had the pool table and TV (with lots of people watching the Rockets vs Warriors game.) We ordered food and drinks and after 20 minutes our drinks never came out. I went back up to the bar and they said its coming soon. Another 10 minutes went by and a manager came out apologizing and brought us 2 lemonades and 2 Pisco sours at no cost.

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It’s an easy walk to town though where food is much cheaper. We ate at one of the recommended restaurants from the hotel called Tres Kerros. While not as cheap as some of the street food, it was very good and considerably cheaper than the hotel.

There were a few reasons we picked this hotel rather than its sister property in Cusco.  One is the altitude is lower here than in Cusco. While we may have a harder time going up steps than back home, we never got any altitude sickness. The second reason is the train station on site. Yes, on property- its a lil hidden but a 5 minute walk from the lobby. We had limited time in Peru and decided to do a 1 day trip to Machu Picchu. If you stay in other places most tours start at like 330am and you eventually end up on a train in Ollantaytambo to take you to Aquas Calientes. However there is a train station on site and we were able to get a lil more sleep to make a 620AM train. Breakfast opens at 530 so its perfect to eat breakfast then hop on the train. I did see some people ask for foil and they wrapped some breads up to go as well. Either for breakfast or to have a small lunch later. The train was empty at first when it left the hotel in Urubamba and then it got completely filled up at its only stop in Ollantaytambo.

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The hotel is gated so they didn’t have a lot of taxis available on site. Uber was around, but whenever I tried to find one, there would not be any in the area. So you have to go through the concierge for a taxi and it seemed more expensive than getting one of the street. Not major, but a few extra dollars. We asked for a taxi to get us back to the airport and they said it would be $60USD. I did a lil research and asked them why its so expensive cause it sounds like it should only be about $35.  She got on her computer and said well its because we are in the Hotel’s Nissan Armada. (which I dont think we would have been until I questioned it) We kept it since the roads aren’t the greatest and this would be more comfortable than the 90 minute ride in a small taxi.

There was a wedding going on one night. It seemed loud from the main lobby, but luckily we were on the opposite side and never heard it. Overall this is  a  great deal to stay on SPG points. There are also often deals from AMEX hotel collection for like 3rd night free. I would stay here again in a heartbeat.

Just a few last pictures from around the hotel grounds.

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CHANGE OF PLANS FOR OUR SOUTH AMERICAN TRIP- WE CAN’T FLY FROM ECUADOR TO COSTA RICA

A few weeks ago I wrote about our upcoming trip to South and Central America here. This included stops in Peru, Ecuador, Panama, and Costa Rica. Originally we had flights to Brazil but ended up changing our plans due to yellow fever.

Well as one should, I review our flights every few weeks. Something I just now ran across was the entry requirements for certain countries. If I was coming from the US, this would not matter. But traveling from country to country, you have to confirm the entry requirements from where your flights is from. (Visa entry is still based upon your passport)

I first ran across the warning below from the CDC website which states that if you are traveling from a country where Yellow Fever is present to Costa Rica, they may not let you in with out vaccination record.

YV Costa Rica

I then did some further research and found it doesn’t matter where you visited in those countries, it just matters the country itself. Both Peru and Ecuador are on the list for yellow fever. Even though I am transiting through Panama, they require 6-10 days before entry from one of those countries or the vaccination cards. According to Copa Airlines, the Costa Rica Consulate, and Tripadvisor, this is strictly enforced.

YV Copa

 

Now instead of visiting Costa Rica and using some Free Hyatt Certificates, we will be staying in Panama for a few more nights. We will stay a night in the city, and then head about 100KM west towards some of the beach towns. Fortunately we were all on a single award ticket from GPS-GYE-PTY-LIR. So we are just not going to use that last leg to Liberia Costa Rica. We used United miles for this leg and I called United for more information.  They told me it would cost the same amount of miles to stop at PTY instead of continuing to LIR but would be a $125 per person change fare. The customer service rep even recommended not changing it and just stopping in PTY. I also called Copa Airlines to see what they would do with my bags since the flight is operated by Copa. The CSR confirmed I would be able to check my bags only to PTY if I wanted to.

Then you gotta love Southwest. I used them for our flight from LIR-OKC. So that amount spent on tickets just goes back into a voucher that I am sure I will be able to use over the next year. I was then able to find flights from PTY-OKC for our new date at 17.5k miles each in economy. I transferred points form my Chase account to my United account and booked 4 tickets.

Luckily we were still able to piece a pretty good itinerary together with very little extra cost. Just a lil bit of stress and frustration. I sure am glad I caught this 6 weeks before we left instead of at at the airport.

Now traveling from Peru to Ecuador you are also supposed to have a yellow fever vaccination card, as well as onto Panama. However in researching online and through different airlines websites, its not enforced. This has already been the second time i have had to rebook flights because of Yellow Fever. Here’s to hoping I am correct…