PJ and I spent last week in Peru. Our main goal in planning this vacation was to see Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas,” as Hiram Bingham famously called it. This also meant spent most of our week abroad in Cusco, the largest city near Machu Picchu. Before writing what I hope will be several posts about everything we did, I thought I would start with an overview of our trip. It was an amazing experience. We learned a lot, saw magnificent sites, and ate some delicious food. What more could you want from a vacation?!

It was our first time to travel to South America, so we were a little nervous about it. We’ve been to Europe several times now, so that doesn’t seem so difficult. But I, especially, don’t deal well with new things — they make me a nervous wreck. So, PJ had the foresight to book us for a pre-packaged tour through a travel agency, Best Peru Tours.

We purchased the 7-day “Deluxe Package” that included airfare from Lima to Cusco, a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, the train trip to and from Machu Picchu, a city tour of Cusco, the hotels, and the flight from Cusco back to Lima for $999. One of the things that we loved about this package is that someone met us at each stage of the trip to make sure we got where we needed to go. Jorge, for example, met us at the airport when we landed in Lima and accompanied us (with a driver) to our hotel. Along the way, he explained what we’d be doing. The next morning Alonso (and a driver) picked us up from out hotel and took us back to the airport for our flight to Cusco. Gladys met us in Cusco and got us to the appropriate place several times. And another transit officer met us when we arrived in Aguas Calientes to get us to our tour of Machu Picchu.

This made everything extremely easy. Someone else was always responsible for getting us to the right place, so we didn’t have to worry about anything. Furthermore, when our flight from Cusco to Lima was delayed, Gladys kept checking with us to make sure everything was ok. It really made us less worried about the flight knowing that we had someone on call if things went awry. In fact, each of our main transit officers gave us their cell phone numbers so that we could literally call them any time we needed them. It really allowed us to relax and enjoy our visit to Peru.

Just one of many beautiful vistas in the Sacred Valley of the Incas

We enjoyed our three guided tours as well. All three guides were native Peruvians and seemed very knowledgeable about their cultural heritage and history. All three were also fairly fluent in English. These tours were incredibly informative — I don’t think I’ve learned so much in so little time in a long time! The first two guides in particular tended to give mini-lectures, which was nice since it allowed us to get used to the altitude before moving on to the next thing.

Peru is the first developing nation that we’ve visited. It’s very interesting, to say the least, to visit a place that is so economically and industrially different from the U.S. For example, we only drank bottled water while we were there. We also didn’t each any raw vegetables. It was also striking how much cheaper everything is there. A very nice meal might cost 120 soles, the Peruvian currency, which is about $40. Rarely have I ever felt so grossly monied. On the one hand, it does make you appreciate what we have here in the U.S. On the other hand, it makes you realize how spoiled and superficial we are as Americans.

The Pisac Market

In contrast to the economic differences, the native people of Cusco that we met and saw were all wonderful, jovial people who seem really happy. I can’t count the number of smiling faces we saw or the times we saw people laughing together and having a good time — even in the cold rain. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming.

During the first few days of our trip the weather the weather was perfect — low 70s and sunny. It turned wet and cold on Thursday, which dampened our spirits a bit by Friday evening and Saturday morning — we got tired of being cold, wet, and tired.

It was a great trip, and I look forward to writing more about it over the next week. But it was also the first place we’ve visited where we didn’t spend the whole time thinking, “Why don’t we live here?” It was an amazing place to visit, and I could imagine working there if I had had a different academic background, but ultimately it’s a difficult place to live, especially when you’re not a Spanish speaker. I’d love to go back some day, but in the meantime I’ll just have to write about our trip and enjoy my fond memories of our visit to Peru.