I just got back from a nice trip to Peru. I really needed a vacation and Machu Picchu was definitely on my list of places to see. Machu Picchu is quit stunning, but there are actually a lot of others things to see in Peru. Of course, keep Machu Picchu for the last since it makes everything else look a less impressive in comparison. I only scratched the surface of places to visit in Peru, though it was fantastic.
Originally I had planned to go to a few more places like Lake Titicaca and Arequipa, but ended up having limited time, so I stuck mostly to the Sacred Valley. There is plenty to see there and I was not disappointed. Almost everyone flies in to Lima and I was no exception. I spent a couple of days in Lima. Lima has some rough spots being such a big city in Latin America, however the neighborhood of Miraflores that I stayed in was really nice.
This was the first place I have ever traveled to outside of North America and northern Europe where a taxi driver did not try to screw me once. I was rather shocked. Taxis are the ambassadors of fraud for most countries, so it was quit pleasant to not have to go through that crap. Everyone in Peru, including in Lima, is really nice and helpful. I expected people to be a bit more jaded with the huge numbers of tourists that move through Peru, but that was not the case—Peruanos are pleasant people.
Prices are not that cheap, especially in Lima and the Sacred Valley. Things start to add up quickly, especially once you get to Machu Picchu. Fortunately, Peruanos are great at setting expectations. They are clear about the price and what you will get for it. I love this. I am happy to pay the price if I know exactly what I am getting. The only problems I encountered where related to this peculiar idea that US dollars need to be in perfect condition. I probably would have thought this insane if I had not encountered it so many times in previous travels.
I believe this picadillo about the need for currency to be in perfect condition stems from the lack of the faith in currencies in general. Developed nations generally do not have massive devaluations, currency crisises, or other currency problems that render their currency worthless (though, just look at what those crazy wackos to the right say in the US and you will see that there are segments of every society that lack faith in their currencies for various reasons). Developing nations have gone through these currency issues more recently and just prefer to make sure that the money is in perfect condition so they have no problems when they try to render it into something tangible.
Cash machines dispense both US dollars and Nuevos Soles. Most places take either, though some places prefer dollars. My trip to Nazca needed to be paid in dollars and a hotel in Ollantaytambo wanted dollars. It is rather amusing to watch people review each bill for perfection. Only slightly annoying when one is refused, especially when it came from the local cash machine.
Of course, many places, like Peru Rail for train tickets to Machu Picchu, take credit cards so that renders the whole issue moot anyway. Using a credit card where possible is best in my opinion, especially with large purchases, because it provides a few levels of additional protection should anything go wrong (in the US, you are protected against fraud, failure to deliver, problems, and usually cards provide some general insurance). Just make sure you are ready to spend. Macchu Picchu requires a bit of planes, trains and automobiles to get to and it is not cheap.
You can save some soles by taking the bus. They are extremely nice in Peru and on my bus to Nazca, Cruz del Sur, my bus company, was giving a breathalyzer test to the drivers and attendant. They also took a video of the process and made them state they were not doing anything they should not have been. They keep track of the passengers too. Given the roads in Peru (and my own slight reservations after my nasty bus accident in Malaysia), I found this reassuring. Bus travel is clearly the way to go in Peru.
Unfortunately for me, I found this out too late. I used LAN Peru to fly to and from Cuzco. That was a mistake. They have a terrible online reservation system that is riddled with flaws. The price of tickets is astronomical for non-Peruanos. LAN Peru prevented me and my friend from sitting together, not because a seat was not available (one was), but because they messed up the reservation. Do not try to talk to them about it. They just give some general excuse and move on without really listening or caring. The sad irony is that the flight was full, but because their system is a mess and their customer service so poor, they turned people away when there was actually a seat available. I got two seats for the price of one, though I was not allowed to sit next to my friend.
Whatever. Not such a big deal for a one and half hour flight. The bus is much better, though. They have bathrooms, food service, sell extra food if you want, and the bus is nice and comfortable. Roads leave a bit to be desired as you are usually climbing up some mountain or come down from some mountain. This can be a bit disconcerting for some people, as they bus sways through the sharp switchbacks, though I did not think it was too bad. You are in Peru, after all, so might as well get used to it.
I managed to take over 1500 photos while in Peru for 11 days (crazy)! Over the next week or so I will post some photos galleries and show you some of the great experiences I had. There are a lot of great things to see and do, and while I only managed to scratch the surface, I had a great time.