CUSCO, SACRED VALLEY, MACHU PICCHU AND CELEBRITY ECLIPSE
FROM CHILE TO SAN DIEGO
We booked the Celebrity Eclipse from San Antonio, Chile to San Diego from 24 March 2019 until 8 April 2019 because some cruise friends that sailed with us on that same ship in 2017. While some did cancel the cruise after booking, two couples were with us on that cruise, leading to great companionship and fun.
Since we were booked on this cruise, we decided to visit Cusco and Machu Picchu prior to the cruise. I was a bit concerned about planning this trip in late March, since the rainy season for that area doesn’t end until the end of March. However, we had no rain while in Peru, except once at night.
I selected a tour from PeruAgency Tours for our Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu tour. They had the best value and lowest priced offer. The tour provided 4 star hotels and a private guide for most of the trip. This describes our tour:
DAY 19 MARCH. - ARRIVAL TO THE LAND OF THE INCAS - EXCURSION TO THE CITY
Am Arrival to the city of Cusco. Reception at the airport and transfer to hotel.
P.M. Guided tour of the city of Cusco and nearby Ruins.
Visit to the Cathedral located in the Plaza Mayor. The Renaissance style predominates in the
façade and in the interior, with an interior decoration very rich in cedar and alder carvings.
Then you will visit the Temple and Convent of Santo Domingo (Dominico) and El Koricancha (Inca
We will continue towards the outskirts of the city, Sacsayhuaman, it would have been a
construction of religious character, but because of its location and style it was considered by the
Spaniards and chroniclers as a military building, Qenko continues or "labyrinth" is considered a
sacred place in the Ceremonies were held in honor of the Sun, Moon and stars then Puka Pukara
would have served as a tambo or resting place and accommodation and finally visit to the
Fortress of Tambomachay that would have fulfilled an important religious function linked to
water and regeneration from the earth. Return to Cusco and transfer to your hotel.
Hotel accommodation in Cusco at Costa del sol Picoaga Ramada.
DAY 20 MARCH. - SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS (overnight)
Breakfast at the hotel.
At 8:00 a.m. Approx., the pick-up of the passengers starts at your Hotel. Full day excursion to the
Sacred Valley. Visit to the town of Pisac. Known for its handicraft market and Inca archaeological
sites among which you can see an irrigation system, an astronomical observatory, a solar clock or
Intiwatana and andenería. Lunch in Local Restaurant. Visit to the archaeological complex of
Ollantaytambo. Built during the Inca period as a fortified area that includes a temple, platforms
and an urban sector. You can distinguish two sectors, one linked to worship and religion; and the
second set dedicated to housing. It was an important administrative center that probably also
fulfilled military functions, as its walls and turrets show.
Transfer to the Ollantaytambo train station. After the visit to the archaeological complex transfer
to the train station to take the train to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo, arrival at the
station of Aguas Calientes, transfer to your hotel.
Accommodation at El Mapy.
DAY 21 MARCH. - MACHU PICCHU, WONDERFUL CITY INCA
Breakfast at the hotel.
Very early in the morning I pick up from your hotel and transfer to the station to board the bus
that will take you after 30 min., Approximately to the wonderful Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.
Passenger climbs on his own to the huaynapicchu mountain (1 hour of climb and another hour of
descent) then you will have
Start of the guided tour around 2:30 to 3 hrs. Bus to Aguas Calientes. Buffet lunch at the local
restaurant. When returning, show up at the train station 30 minutes before the train leaves.
Return to Cusco. Arrival, reception and transfer to your hotel.
Accommodation in Cusco at Costa del sol Picoaga Ramada.
DAY 22 MARCH - CUSCO DEPARTURE / ... (D)
Breakfast at the hotel.
At the appropriate time, transfer to the airport, flight to Lima and then return to your country of
Our flight from Atlanta arrived in Lima on 18 March at 12:30pm. We had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Lima Airport Hotel close to that airport. It was walking distance from the hotel, but due to the orientation of the roads in front of the airport, walking to the hotel was not a safe option. The hotel did have a convenient taxi transport available at no charge, which we used. Our flight to Cusco departed at 8am the next morning, so we only managed about four hours of sleep. We arrived in Cusco about 10am and were picked up by Mercedes and our driver, taken to our hotel, the Costa del Sol that was a Ramada hotel. The hotel was very nice and situated in a historic home of a famous Cusco resident from the 18th Century. The hotel had preserved the historic building, while incorporating modern amenities. The restaurant was excellent with very reasonable prices for its meals.
We checked into the hotel and were ready to explore the city. Ginny and I had started taking a medication for the prevention of altitude sickness prior to the trip, which worked pretty well during our tour that included altitudes of up to 12,000 feet. Mercedes was our tour coordinator during our stay in Cusco. After lunch, we had a walking tour of Cusco, followed by a tour of four Inca archeological sites surrounding the city. Our hotel was conveniently located close to the Plaza de Armas (historic center). The huge cathedral and Temple and Convent of Santo Domingo were the highlights of the tour. The Convent of Santo Domingo included Inca structures that were part of a temple. The structures demonstrated the amazing engineering of the Incas. The stones were cut without iron or bronze tools in a very precise manner with interlocking pieces that showed no gaps between stones. Also, the Inca structures proved to be earthquake resistant as opposed to the Spanish construction that followed.
After our waking tour of Cusco, Ginny and I, as well as six other persons took a minibus up into the surrounding hills to visit the four Inca sites: Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, Puka Pukara and the Fortress of Tambomachay. There was much climbing up and down hills with visiting these sites. Sacsayhuaman was the largest, with massive structures as well as many terraced fields, which the Incas were famous for building. These terraces were evident almost anywhere we visited in this part of Peru. The terraces allowed for agriculture and prevented erosion. During this part of the tour, we also visited a shop that sold alpaca clothing. There were numerous llamas alpacas and vicunas just outside this shop. We learned that the Peruvians eat alpaca meat as well as use their fur. We did not try alpaca meat.
The next day, our guide Danny picked us up early at our hotel with the van for our trip to the Sacred Valley (on our way to Machu Picchu). He was our private guide, we had no others on the tour with us. The drive through the valley was very scenic as well as the two archaeological sites that we visited. We visited Pisac and Ollantaytambo on this day, with a very nice lunch that was included in the tour between the two sites.
Both sites were extensive with much to see. Ollantaytambo was an ancient Inca city that had largely been preserved, with stone streets and buildings and drainage channels throughout the city. It was a bit like visiting a smaller version of Pompeii. We learned that the Inca engineering excelled at channeling water in its cities.
At the end of the day, at Ollantaytambo, Danny left us at the rail station, where we picked up the vistadome train to Aguas Calientes, which was about 5 miles from Machu Picchu. The vistadome car is an option that we selected and worth the cost. The car had large windows with additional windows in the ceiling of the car. The train ran next to the river that was sometimes flowing heavily. Also, since we were in the mountains (this entire area of Peru is mountainous), the views were very scenic. Upon arrival at Aguas Calientes, our guide for Machu Picchu was there to take us to our hotel for the evening. The hotel was the El Mapy. The hotel was very nice, but rooms were a bit smaller than in Cusco. We were restricted to bringing luggage no heavier than 5 kg, therefore we didn’t need much room for storing clothing and luggage. Dinner that evening as well as breakfast the next day at the hotel was included in the tour. Our guide was Jay and he was, like Danny a great guide. We agreed to get an early start for Machu Picchu and meet at 6 am.
The next day, we met Jay at 6 am and took the bus up (yes UP) to Machu Picchu. We saw many hikers that elected to skip the bus ride in favor of a hike. Most were people in their 20s. Jay took us through the gate at the site and explained that we had the option to come out and take a break for the toilet and/or refreshment before reentering the site later. Jay took us over about 90% of the key places identified in my guidebook. We entered about 6:30 and didn’t take a break until about 10 am. Still, our tour took us up and down the site, which has 500 year old stone construction with uneven steps that we took care not to fall. Machu Picchu is even more amazing in person than from the photos. We were told that the city was about 70% preserved of the original city. The city was the major Inca city that was not destroyed by the Spanish, since it had been abandoned by the Inca during the long war with the Spanish. Vegetation had grown, covering the city. The city was rediscovered in the early 20th Century by Yale Professor, Hiram Bingham III. Actually, he was not the first to discover the city, but he did make the most of the discovery. I recommend reading the book “Right Turn at Machu Picchu” for the details of this interesting history.
Ginny and I did exit the city briefly for a break and returned to see the upper part of the city. That was a significant effort on our part, due to the altitude and again much climbing up and down the ancient stone steps. We visited the Caretaker’s Hut and the scenic vistas from up high. This was the best place to take photos of the city.
We finished our visit of this wonderful city after noon and used the voucher for lunch at a nice restaurant overlooking the flowing river with scenic mountain views. Lunch was a buffet and excellent. We loved the Peruvian cuisine and mealtime was great while in Peru. Ginny and I felt that with all the climbing up and down hills that even with the good eating, we probably lost weight.
After lunch, we picked up our small bags from the hotel and relaxed in the hotel bar for a couple of hours, waiting for our train back to Ollantaytambo. From that city, we picked up a bus that took us to Cusco. We arrived late in the evening; Mercedes and our driver were at the bus station to pick us up to take us to our hotel.
Cusco was about 70 miles from Aguas Calientes. Most of the trip was on the bus and we found the highways to be a mixed blessing. We found that large speed bumps were very common in Peru on highways when inside a city or village. Also, the roads were good in some places, but in other areas filled with terrible potholes. The bus had to slow down to negotiate these potholes and speed bumps. With all the road traffic, we probably averaged 25-30 MPH along the entire route.
Upon arrival at our hotel in Cusco, we received our stored luggage and were informed that our room was upgraded to a suite. The suite was huge and very nice. We had a huge spa in the large sitting room. I decided to use the spa and take a hot bath to soothe my tired muscles. The spa was so large, it took a very long time to fill, and I decided not to try to fill it completely, but I did have a nice warm bath for a change. It did help with the tired muscles.
By the way, if you want to see Machu Picchu, I recommend not waiting until you are in your 70s.
Our last day in Cusco, Ginny and I decided to visit some of it many museums. We slept a bit late, but then took in the Machu Picchu Museum as well as the Inca Museum. After those museums, we did a small amount of shopping, returned to our hotel and relaxed prior to Mercedes taking us to the airport for our 6 pm flight back to Lima and on to Santiago, Chile.
We had a wonderful trip to Peru and were to return to that country on our cruise that stopped there in a few days. Our tour with PeruAgency was excellent and total cost was $799 per person. The roundtrip airfare from Lima to Cusco was $148 each. The modest admissions to two museum and about three meals added, our trip cost us about $1050 per person. Celebrity was selling an excursions from the ship for a three day tour that cost $3700 per person.
Ginny and I had been to Chile twice, in 2011 and 2014, in connection with cruises. We had spend several days in Santiago, Valparaiso and taken two wine tours as well. We elected to not try any touring of the area again. We arrived at the Santiago Airport after 4 am on 23 March. I had booked us for the remainder of the night and the next night at the Holiday Inn, Santiago Airport prior to our cruise on 24 March. The hotel was very nice and easy to access from the airport. It is just across the street from the airport and we simply dragged our luggage to the hotel. We slept late that day and didn’t leave the hotel at all. We relaxed and recuperated from our Peru tour. The hotel restaurant was great. It far exceeded our expectations. I had arranged for transport with SouthExcursions, a Chilean tour company that we had used successfully on our two previous trips to Chile. We had a group of 10 from the cruise critic roll call that shared the ride to the port of San Antonio for $60 per person.
The 15 day cruise north to San Diego included seven ports:
25 MAR LA SERENA (COQUIMBO), CHILE
28 MAR LIMA, (CALLAO) PERU
30 MAR MANTA, ECUADOR
01 APR COSTA RICA
03 APR HUATULCO, MEXICO
05 APR PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
06 APR CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
08 APR SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
We had visited Coquimbo, Lima and Manta on our December 2011 cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Chile. For this cruise we tried to visit places at those ports that we had not seen on the first cruise.
LA SERENA (COQUIMBO), CHILE
Last time, we took a walking tour of Coquimbo, which was the port city where we docked. This time, we didn’t take a tour, but hired a taxi to take us to La Serena, a larger city about 9 miles from the port. We spend about two hours walking around the small city. We had refreshments and a snack as well as a bit of shopping. Since the wrist band on my watch separated, I purchased a new watch for $23. The cost of the taxi each way was about $20. The most interesting thing about this city was that it was not a tourist destination at all. We were able to see a Chilean city without the flood of tourists that normally cover these ports. We didn’t see many from our ship in the city. This was a port that Celebrity probably could have skipped.
Barb, our friend from the 2017 transatlantic booked this tour, as she did three other tours that we took on the cruise. I had recommended Monica’s Tours, since we had used them in 2011 and they were excellent. Our tour guide was good and advised us that we could see a number of places. Of course, we didn’t have time to do it all. The day we were in port turned out to be a local holiday, which meant heavier traffic than normal. That was unfortunate, since we probably could have seen more on a normal day. We were taken to two main squares in downtown Lima, the second being the Plaza de Armas. It was a huge square and the cathedral was on the square. Just prior to arriving at that square, we walked through a street with some interesting building frontages and balconies. The next place on the tour was a monastery with catacombs that we had seen in 2011, so Ginny and I asked to meet the group later, so we could visit the cathedral. We had not seen the cathedral. Pizarro, the Spanish conqueror of Peru was buried in the cathedral. The massive building was filled with valuable art. After spending about an hour at the cathedral, we walked to the Monastery to meet our tour. There was a huge long line of local people waiting to enter the Monastery, so we waited outside the entrance of the catacombs as instructed and ran into Monica, the owner of the tour company. She remembered Ginny and I from 2011. She gave us a couple of small gifts, as she did last time we were in Lima.
Our next stop was to visit an ancient pyramid, predating the Incas. The pyramid grounds were in the direction of Miraflores, the more upscale area of Lima. Our group decided to skip lunch in order to spend more time touring. We walked up the pyramid while our guide explained details about the civilization that built it. There was a small museum that we visited as well.
After the pyramid, we found a scenic seashore at Miraflores with a nice park. Driving around the city was slow due to the traffic and after the seashore, we heading back to the port to make the ship on time.
It is worth mentioning that we found the cuisine in Peru to be absolutely fantastic. Peruvian food can match up to the best in the World, even French and Italian.
Barb has arranged for our private tour in Ecuador. The tour included a short hike through a “dry rain forest,” lunch at a restaurant on the beach and a visit to the city of Montecristi, Ecuador. Our guide at the rain forest told us that we might see howler monkeys. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, be we all enjoyed the walk through the forest. Despite being at the equator, it was not that hot in the forest. Our guide pointed out some wildlife, including large spiders. Lunch was very nice at a restaurant right on a scenic beach. Later, we visited the city of Montecristi and did some shopping, then back to the ship.
Ginny and I had not been to Costa Rica before and our tour there was a ship’s excursion called “Walk in the Clouds.” Our bus took us into the interior of the country that was up in altitude. This rain forest hike was more extensive and the path included several bridges, some suspended high above a flowing creek. Prior to beginning our hike, we entered a large butterfly enclosure, with hundreds of colorful butterflies. Everyone was trying to take photos of them, before the butterflies flew off once more. After the forest hike, we visited a humming bird station with many hummingbird feeders and small water sprinklers that attracted the birds. Scores of hummingbirds of different colors were feasting on the feed stations. The hummingbirds were more of a challenge to photograph than the butterflies. Finally, after leaving the forest, we came to a balcony were tropical birds were attracted. The birds were colorful, but not the large tropical birds. The birds were robin or cardinal sized, however there were many beautiful birds.
On our bus trip out to the site and return, our guide schooled us in the history of Costa Rica and some facts about the country. The country has no army and a history of peace. Our guide told us that the country has no gold or silver that attracted attackers. The country has mandatory education for its youth and the elite students go on to a state university at no cost. Other universities are private and require payment. The country doesn’t seem to have the same problems as most of the other Central American countries and had a history of stability. As in nearly any tour from a cruise ship, we did stop at a large tourist oriented store for souvenirs. The store was huge and many purchased items there.
This port was still a mystery to us, no one had ever heard of it before. The coastal city was about halfway between Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta. The port and nearby area appeared to be under development. It didn’t seem that extensive development had take place. The small coastal town was rather new and tidy, clearly geared toward tourism. The coastal area was very scenic, and our tour with Enrique’s Tours focused on finding the most scenic places for us to visit. Barb had organized this tour for us. Our first stop was near a lighthouse (abandoned) at the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean and the port. Also, Enrique took us to visit to a nice beach, as well as his small village a few miles from Huatulco. We learned that Enrique had lived in Ohio for several years, saving his money to come home and start a business. He provided us with as good a tour as could be made for this area. Some people took tours that went into the interior, higher up into the mountains, as we had done in Ecuador and Costa Rica.
PUERTO VALLARTA, MEXICO
This port is a famous resort and has been for many years. It was well developed and we saw many US businesses there like Home Depot, Starbucks, Walmart, and more. The port city was fairly modern, prosperous and well maintained. Our tour was another Celebrity excursion called “Colonial San Sebastian.” As we left the port city into the interior, we passed through some small towns and farms that clearly were not part of the more prosperous resort. Our tour took us up into the Sierra Madre Mountains, with many scenic views, including a huge bridge that crossed a large gorge. I noted that some graffiti artist had bravely climbed under the highway span to paint his work on the underside of the bridge.
Adolfo was our excellent tour guide on our excursion. The tour was provided by Vallarta Adventures. Adolfo provided us a detailed history of the local area, Puerto Vallarta and Colonial San Sebastian. San Sebastian was a former silver mining town. Mining ended after the 1910 Mexican revolution. The town shrunk in population, but preserved its colonial heritage. The town had its cobblestone streets and Spanish colonial architecture. The bus took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes from the port, but we saw vistas of the mountains up to about 4700 feet. We had a very nice lunch and on our way back to the port, we had a fun tequila tasting. The tour guide was excellent and we enjoyed the tour very much.
CABO SAN LUCAS, MEXICO
This was our last port before arriving back in the USA. The port is situated very near land’s end of the Baja peninsula of Mexico. We saw the scenic land’s end from our cruise ship prior to tendering into the port. Barb had organized the tour with toursbylocals. Our local guide was Alejandro Olivares with amazingcabos. First, he took us to the harbor where our small group boarded a boat that included a large glass bottom for viewing sea life. The tour didn’t focus on sea life, but we did see some fish after some bread was handed out for us to throw into the water. The tour took us past a lot of scenic rock formations and around the end of land’s end into the Pacific Ocean. We saw beaches that apparently flood at high tide as well as some sea lions. Some were sunning themselves on the rocks. Our boat approached them fairly close, so we managed some nice photos.
After the boat ride, we visited a nice restaurant on the shore opposite the land’s end. Then we visited a luxury hotel that was right on the beach. The hotel was a Sheraton. We had permission to walk through the hotel and pool area to the beach. It was very nice. Also, there was a golf course nearby. At the end of the tour, we visited a factory that turned recycled glass into glasses and other items. Phil, one of our friends on the cruise and tour did blow some glass.
After the tour we did a little shopping and prior to returning to the ship stopped at Señor Frogs for a drink and snack. Eight of us endured the very loud music for a while, but prior to becoming deaf, I decided to relieve the pain in my head by returning to the ship. The others stayed for a while longer and I understand Ginny, Barb and Joyce did a dance for the crowd.
After a sea day, we arrived at San Diego and prepared to depart for home. Celebrity had assigned us a time in groups to go through immigration. US citizens and residents had a separate line from non-citizens. We were told about when that would happen and that our number would be called. Celebrity decided to call numbers 3, 4 and 5 all at one time, then number 6 soon thereafter. The numbers only went to 7, so they called a very large portion of the ship at one time, flooding the elevators that we were told to use. Nearly everyone was climbing the stairs, including people with canes. It was not quite chaos, but it was crazy. We finally found the end of the line on deck 12 and waited almost an hour to go through immigration. This was totally unnecessary, since the groups could have been spread out evenly to avoid the mess.
Still, we had a nice cruise and enjoyed our cruise friends. We hope to see them again on other cruises in the future. The dining was, as usual, excellent. However, my most favorite dessert from Celebrity is the crepe suzette that has been so downsized these days that it is nothing more than a sampler. We didn’t go to most of the evening shows, but thought the Argentinian show was excellent. The Rock show was glitzy and included some very good circ sole elements. However, the songs selected for the show were largely third rate songs. We missed what everyone acclaimed as an excellent comedy show, so we went to another afternoon comedy show that was excellent. Still, Celebrity’s entertainment could learn something from Royal Caribbean or NCL.
Service was generally first rate and the two excursions that we took from Celebrity were excellent. Read Less