Lima Tours, Inc.
There are several large tour agencies in Peru and we used Lima Tours. We dealt with Mrs. Ana Cecilia, who speaks fluent English [fax: 51 (country code) 1-426-9878]. This is the largest tour company in Peru and very professional in most respects. We decided on our itinerary and Lima Tours did the rest which included business class type hotels (see below), all transfers from airport/hotel/airport (this may seem like an extravagance but in a third world country where we do not speak much of the language, this proved to be an essential service for us), and some tours. The company was very quick to respond to our faxes, but there was a misunderstanding about confirmed reservations in Cusco during the very popular Inca Festival (Inti Raymi Festival--June 24th). I recommend Lima Tours but be sure that they have actually confirmed your reservations rather than just quoting prices. Their field operations were very well organized. We were always met exactly as scheduled at the airports by polite, English speaking guides, and all of the hotels and other arrangements were exactly as planned-- not one problem in this respect.They were ablle to obtain hotel rooms at a considerable discount for us.
DAY 1& 2
We arrived in Lima, met at the airport and stayed at the Ariosto Hotel in Miraflores (about $ 70 per night for both of us, including a full buffet breakfast). This was one of the most comfortable hotels in which we stayed. English was spoken at the desk and the hotel was well located in an area filled with interesting shops and restaurants. One night we went to see The Negro Ballet which is more folk dancing than ballet. It was excellent. It was in a restaurant: the food was good but be sure to check your bill!
Day 3 & 4
We were picked up at the hotel and flew on Faucett to the beautiful colonial town of Arequipa. We stayed at the Portal Hotel ( $50 per night including a full breakfast). The hotel was located right on the main square and was very comfortable. Arequipa is a very interesting town worth perhaps two days. There are many beautiful 17th and 18th century churches and a most interesting convent. Lima Tours arranged for a private half day tour out of the city which was most interesting. This city is highly recommended.
NOTE: We should have spent two days going to the Colca Canyon instead some of the trips we did do later in this tour (see below). We met several people who did this trip (four hours one way over dusty roads and a very basic but OK hotel) and they found this very interesting and worth the journey.
Day 5 through 11
We flew to Cusco, which was our favorite city in all of Peru , and we had no trouble spending so much time there. It deserves at least three full days (excluding the two day trip to Macchu Pichu) if your schedule is tight. A day's trip to the Sacred Valley is a must--beautiful scenery . The market at Pisac is OK but if your time is limited, I'd miss this.
We had hotel problems in Cusco because it was festival time so I can report on several hotels:
This is one of those Relais et Chateau type hotels-- one of the most beautiful that I have ever seen and a bargain at $220 or so a night (we did not stay here but had dinner there, met the manager, and had a complete tour of this converted monastery.) This is indeed a unique hotel and if your budget permits, I highly recommend it. At least have dinner there (we had an entry, and a bottle of good wine for a total of $50.00 for two)
Holiday Inn (Carlos V)
A very comfortable hotel in which we spent three nights. ($147 per room per night). The rooms tend to be a little dark but we asked for additional lamps (and an electric heater-- it is quite cold in Cusco during these winter months).
Hotel San Augustine International
One of the worse hotels in which we have ever stayed ($51). Many tour groups go here but we spent one long, noisy night here and moved out. Not recommended
Royal Inca II
This is a very comfortable hotel ($78) with an English speaking staff-- very polite and helpful. Well located. The best place to stay in Cusco in our opinion.
The Inti Raymi Festival is of great interest and it is definitely worth planning a trip to Peru around this. The nights before the festival the town looks like Times Square on New Years Eve! The festival takes place out of town and we made arrangements with Lima Tours for tickets and a private guide and transportation (well worth the $106). We heard that tickets can be bought at the last minute and you can just go there by taxi. Tourist are not in the majority: the festival is attended by 10,000 or so local people. It is quite the spectacle and worth the trip.
Day 11 & 12
We also traveled by tourist train (about $100 RT) to Macchu Pichu. It is possible to go by a very crowded, regular train with the hordes of locals for less but we met some people who did this and they did not enjoy this 5 hour trip. We stayed overnight at the very comfortable Hotel Macchu Pichu Ruins (about $125 per night). There is a rather poor restaurant there but there is no other choice. We learned that this hotel is usually fully booked in advance by travel agencies but they release rooms about two weeks before arriving so you may want to check at the last moment for cancellations. It is possible to stay in the village of Macchu Pichu (there is bus service to the ruins) but we heard some bad reports about the hotels there. Macchu Pichu was the highlight of our entire trip to Peru and is not to be missed. It is possible to do it by tourist train in one long day which would be better than not seeing it at all but it really deserves more time.
We traveled by train from Cusco to Puno.
NOTE: This was a serious mistake in our opinion. The trip takes 10 hours and it is very dusty and uncomfortable. There is some interesting scenery for about 4 hours out of this 10 hours trip. Not recommended. Better to fly for $15 or so more.
In Puno, we stayed at the second worse hotel in Peru: Colon Inn Hotel (about $50 --they should pay you for staying there). Rooms are small, dark, cold, and uncomfortable. The staff is very rude. A most unpleasant experience in our opinion. Better to stay at the Hotel Isla Esteves ( $75 per night-- a special promotion rate but if not available, I think the hotel is worth the regular rate of $150 when one considers the alternatives. Or you could stay at the Sillustani (about $50 per night) and while it is not a modern hotel, it seemed to us to be definitely better than the Colon Inn.
We went by private car (arranged by Lima Tours) to the rather depressing town of Copacabana (do not spent a night here if you can avoid it). We then went by hydrofoil across Lake Titicaca to Huatajata. This was a most interesting trip and is recommended. We then went by private car to La Paz We stayed at El Dorado Hotel ( $65).
NOTE: This was a mistake. La Paz is not a particularly interesting city. Better to overnight at the very comfortable Inca Utama Hotel & Spa in Huatajata, visit their museums the next day and go to Suriqui Island (where they make the reed boats). Return to Puna on the following day.
In La Paz. Morning tour of the city and a visit to a few interesting museums.
Spent in returning to Puno by hydrofoil and private car.
In Puno. A very impoverished and uninteresting city. We did visit the Uros Indians on the reed islands in Lake Tikicaca. Very poor and all rather depressing.
En route to Iquitos and the Amazon River. We stayed in the very comfortable Victoria Regina (formerly the Acosta Hotel $75)
In Iquitos. Not a particularly interesting city but the embarkation point for the cruise down the Amazon River.
Days 20 to 26
We were undecided whether to take a 7 day cruise on the Amazon or to stay in a jungle camp. We decided to take the cruise on the 100 year old M/V Amazonas. This is the best of the several boats that make this trip but that's not saying much. For $1000 or so per person one should expect a little more than what we got, such as hot water. The water in the cabin was pumped directly from the muddy Amazon and did not encourage one to take frequent showers. The cabin was small but bright with a large window. It was air conditioned. The food was pretty good -- perhaps more variety would have been appreciated. But the public areas on the boat were not comfortable-- no lounge chairs in which one could read. The full cruise involves a three and one half trip down river from Iquitos to Leticia and then the trip back to Iquitos. The visits to the jungles, villages, the performances of Indian dances were very interesting and worth the trip but the return trip covered the same territory. The 7 days seemed very long to us.
I would recommend only the first half of this cruise (Iquitos to Leticia) and then a visit to a jungle camp in the area (these are not cheap: someone said they paid $ 250 per day per person but they also found the camps in this area of Peru far more interesting than those in Puerto Maldonaldo).The cruise back was just too repetitious and uncomfortable for us.
We flew back to Lima and stayed in the Ariosto Hotel (lots of hot water there!).
Day 28 & 29
Lima gets a bad press. Actually, we had a very pleasant two days mostly visiting museums.
In conclusion, while Peru is a very interesting country, we did not plan our trip all thatwell and spent more time (and money) than we should have think that 21 days would bequite enough time to really see the country. It would have helped a great deal if we were able to speak Spanish