Top Places to Travel in 2019 Series

We started my hubby’s 40th birthday trip in Peru. It was a long way to get to from the Philippines given that we first flew to Los Angeles (16 hrs) then stayed a few days before flying to Peru (10 hours).

Since this was our first time going to South America, I decided to go through an agency that was more familiar with this continent. I contacted A2A Safaris who are specialists not just in South African safaris but also Latin American tours. My husband said he would set aside his OCD on planning trips and would sit back and just enjoy the pisco sours!

First Things First

There is no direct flight from the Philippines to Latin America so we chose to visit some relatives in LA and then fly to Lima Peru via LATAM.

We honestly had not heard much about Lima other than it is by the sea and is the capital where we had to fly into. We did not expect much, so we were pleasantly surprised to see how warm and clean the city was given all the warnings we got before coming over.

Our first tour stop in Lima (as in most old cities) was the town square—”Plaza Mayor” which was declared a historic center by UNESCO.

Inglesia de San Francisco

My husband who is always enthralled by military history was fascinated to learn how 160+ Spaniards were able to conquer an entire empire. It would probably be too long to explain here, but in a nutshell the one significant turning point was how the last Incan emperor Atahualpa was ambushed by the Spanish and used as a puppet to control the empire. What an amazing stroke of luck indeed that he was away from his main forces and that he sorely underestimated just how powerful the modern weapons (artillery and horsemen) were of the Spanish.

 


RESTAURANT LA MER

Nothing captures the culinary imagination of Latin America than a Cebiche (yes, they use a “b” in the middle) and Pisco Sour. Located amidst the posh Miraflores district is La Mer, a seafood restaurant and bar where we had a delightful lunch.

We got a sampler of Cebiche. From left to right: Nikei (tuna in a sweet soy sauce – 9/10!), Mixto (Tuna and Octopus 6/10) and Traditional (Catch of the day – 10/10 with just lime… simple and delicious!).


Lobster in lemon butter sauce. So so amazingly succulent and with such great presentation!

Picarones! Let’s bring this over to the Philippines! It’s so light and fluffy and healthier, being made of sweet potato only.

PISCO SOUR. Ahhhh! The iconic drink of Peru and totally worth the hype!

 

Restaurant LA MER
Av. La Mar 770, Miraflores, Lima
Telephone: +51 1 421 33 65
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.lamarcebicheria.com/en/Lima


HOTEL B

It is amazing to discover how such a good boutique hotel (one of the best in our opinion) matched with excellent food could be set against such beautiful Spanish architecture. (Sorry if you are looking for Incan then you have to wait for the next part of the blog: Cusco.)

Rarely do we say that the highlight of a certain place is the hotel we stay in, but in Lima we must say our Hotel B blew us away. It is a boutique hotel that is exquisitely redeveloped from an old house.

The owners, in keeping the old facade but renovating all the interiors to fit in rooms, left the character of the building intact and provided for a cozy boutique feel that made us forget about the typical large 5-star modern hotel.

My husband’s favourite reading corner was overlooking the street with natural light drifting in to fill the comfy space with warmth.

Art and decor adorn all the walls of Hotel B, serving as a museum as well.

Breakfast is served! An amazing spread awaited us every morning, with great care taken in getting the freshest produce. It put most hotel breakfasts to shame! I loved how they always had a fresh supply of avocados served everyday.

Grab a night cap (or a day cap, it’s alright we won’t judge… much) at the Hotel B bar in its timeless elegant style.

Lima, while a bit traffic and messy, reminded us of Manila and how it could have been if Old Manila had been preserved better. It is a great stop after a long trip and an awesome place to discover new things now that it has come out of the shadows of its turbulent past.

 

Hotel B
Sáenz Peña 204, Barranco, Lima – Perú.
Telephone: + 51 1 206 0800.
Website: http://hotelb.pe/


CUSCO

Flanked by the two cathedrals of Cusco: Basilica Cathedral Iglesia (left) and De Compana (right).

One and a half hours flight and we were in Cusco. The first thing you will notice is the shortness of breath. That happens when you go up to 3,000 M instantly. Even if we were armed with Coca pills, we still found it hard to breathe and had to take it easy and refrain from lifting anything heavy. (Thank god for baggage handlers and tour pick up. Do not try this alone haha!)

Cusco, with its high altitude, took a bit of getting used to, but it’s historical center was amazing!

Travel Tip: Fly into Cusco then take a bus immediately to Sacred Valley or Machu Picchu so you can acclimate first at lower elevation (2,000 M or so) THEN go to Cusco on your way OUT, and it will be much easier. (Or take the 21-hour bus ride up, ouch!) You may be tired after such a long journey, but it will pay off in the long run.

 


HOTEL MONASTERIO

We arrived late at night and it was super cold, yet lo and behold a beautiful garden awaited us. A restored monastery connected to a church, this hotel was enchanting yet a little unnerving with all the religious paintings on the walls. (Jesus was literally looking over our bed. Luckily, we are married!)

Best Breakfast view ever!

Breakfast was delightful as well with a wide range and excellent service. We always woke up at the crack of dawn because the high pressure made it hard to sleep but, fortunately, coca tea was always there to help a bit.

 

Hotel Monasterio
Calle Plazoleta Nazarenas 337, Cusco, Perú
Telephone: +51 84 604 000
Email[email protected]
Website: www.belmond.com/belmond-hotel-monasterio


FORTRESS SACSYHUAMAN

Ruins of walls that have since become part of the landscape.

Ollantaytambo Village

Ollantaytambo Storage Shed

Old Inca Town. One of the few towns with the original foundations preserved and without Spanish Architecture.

So cute! Sadly, they eat these little guys (guinea pigs) as “CUY” delicacy. Hey!

 


PISAC

Pottery with traditional Inca Design.

A disappearing art. Very few next generation artisans are taking up the craft.

My birthday boy was really impressed how amazingly organised things were (actually it was A2A, don’t tell him!) and how similar the cultural heritage was to the Philippines. Our shared family values and warm smiles mixed with the rich Spanish heritage created an atmosphere that felt like home yet not quite the same.

 


VISTADOME TRAIN

A lovely clear ceiling train that brought us up to Machu Picchu.

Pisco sour on board! A must to pass the time!

Vista Dome Train.

 


MACHU PICCHU

Upon reaching Machu Picchu, we had a decent buffet lunch, which had alpaca beef, at the top before proceeding with the tour. It was as breathtaking as we had imagined and the weather, while cloudy (it was most of the year—hence the name Cloud forest—we were told), was cool and pleasant despite a slight drizzle.

Travel Tip: It rains for most of the year due to humidity, so wear a light waterproof  jacket and on top of thermal on the cooler months. (You can always store it in your backpack once you start warming up with the climb.)

Pathways cut in and out of the ruins. I heard they will be adding metal ramps for PWD (Persons With Disabilities).

Travel Tip: Come early as it can get quite congested in the afternoons.

A hut where the famers would rest during their daily toils.

Llamas resting on the grass.

Our stay at the lovely Inca Terraces surrounded by rich vegetation and a meandering river.

Breakfast along the river overlooking the train station.

We had a lovely room service meal that was divine as well as romantic with the backdrop of the jungle canopy.

After a long hike up Huayna Picchu, you are rewarded with a great picture if the day is clear.

Only 200 people a day are allowed to hike up the mountain overlooking Macchu Pichu plus extra pay for a very challenging uphill climb… but it is SO WORTH IT!

Our old school train that brought us back in time to the era of the steam trains.

Lovely cabins where you have your meal.

Travel Tip: Make sure you do not get motion sickness as the train is old and not so stable. My husband had to sit in the dining car up front and have a drink as he was facing backward and got dizzy.

 

Belmond Hiram Bingham
Telephone: +51 84 581 414
Email: [email protected]
Websitehttps://www.belmond.com/belmond-hiram-bingham/


SACRED VALLEY

We stayed at the Sol Y Luna which was nested in the valley. It was highly rated, and we soon discovered it was due to the wonderful backdrop and lovely pool that reflected the clear sky.

Our guide: PASO is the term used for the cowboys here.

Enjoyed my half day riding tour with this beautiful Peruvian horse named Diamond.

A lovely ride in the countryside was just the thing to get some fresh air and some blood running in the veins.

 

HOTEL SOL y LUNA
Urubamba, Perú
Telephone: (51_84)60_8930
Email: [email protected]
Website: www.hotelsolyluna.com


CHILE

After a long arduous trip, we arrived in Chile  where the local agency partner mistakenly read our flight and left us at the airport. This led to a two-hour delay, and we ended up reaching the hotel at 2am! Ugh! Well no trip is perfect, but the agency made it up to us by upgrading us to a nicer room in the hotel.

The Hermana suite in the Hotel Casona Matetic was lovely and so warm. It made us forget the worries of the night before.

Beautiful vintage style bathrooms with white and blue checkered tiles.

A lovely and elegant living room made us feel right at home in our favourite aunt’s house

Meals were excellent at the resort. A warm breakfast, full of cold cuts and cheese, awaited us.

A set lunch was prepared for us with the highlight being the Syrah braised lamb and delectable Abalone…

… and Asparagus risotto paired with the local vineyard wines. I recommend their award winning “Riesling.

We took a bike ride along the fields surrounding the vineyard, and we came upon two “hermanos” or brothers who are local cowboys called “Huaso.” It was so nice to see the older brother teaching the younger one how to ride (passing on the tradition).

Black Beauty is here!

LUCHO! The most active and funniest Llama we ever saw. He acted more like a dog jumping around with bright inquisitive eyes!

 

LA CASONA HOTEL
Telephone: +56 2 26111519
Email: [email protected]
Website: https://matetic.com/la-casona-hotel/

 


PATAGONIA

We took a 4-hour flight from Lima then got on on a 5-hour car ride to finally reach Patagonia. It was a long trip but was worth it once you get there and see this backdrop awaiting you as you arrive!

We checked in to the Explora Patagonia resort and headed for our first hikes. The views were breathtaking and the location of the resort in the middle of the National Park was unparalleled.

It is truly a resort to be remembered both because of the lovely people and the delectable food/drinks that awaited us after each hike.

Explora Patagonia
Telephone: +56 2 2395 2580
Website: https://www.explora.com/patagonia-hotel/

Hiking was the order of the day with half day and full day hikes at your very doorstep!

Do have a drink with them after a long trek. Drinks by Bartender Mano always hit the right spot!  (Yes, drinks are included so load it up!)

The next day was for horseback riding. This is what Patagonia pictures always seem to feature and with good reason. The majestic backdrop combined with beautiful horses while breathing in the cool crisp Chilean air make for a fantastic experience.

My husband rediscovered his love for horseback riding with the lovely horses, which were a mix of British/Arabian along with local breeds, that allowed for smooth canters.

With their simple hardworking style of handling the horses, our local guides, “Huasos,” were amazing and always smiling

.

The “Mate” is their favourite drink which they make themselves then pass around to everyone.

Walking sticks greatly aid the sometimes long hikes.

Travel tip: For those are less active or those who want to rest, just choose a half day hike and come back to the lodge for a nice meal before going out again in the afternoon.

The “Huemul”  are always on the look out for pumas. We would get excited every time they would all look up and stare towards one direction which indicated a puma was nearby

This is truly remarkable as it rises up instantly amidst the blue lakes and rolling hills.

 


Final Thoughts

I am so proud of myself for hiking the signature “Torres Del Paine” to the base of the Towers, a 22k hike that took a grueling 8 hours with many portions  going up steep trails, creeks and mountain ledges.  The view on the top of the granite Towers is just spectacular with snow covered cliffs and a frozen lake in the middle.

Travel tip: Bring layered thermals as going up may be warm as you exert yourself, but once you get to the top, it gets very chilly.

When we finally walked back to where we were dropped off before the ascent, I thought the coaster would be waiting for us. In fact it was another 30-minute walk to get to the parking lot! When your feet are so numb already, you just have to keep going no matter what. Truly one of my most challenging hikes. My hubby said it was the first time I was too tired to talk after a hike, and my body was so tired the next day. Luckily, there was a hot bath in the room awaiting me.

With a toast of a Strawberry Margarita, I say farewell to the beautiful Torres Del Paine Park and the wonderful Explora hotel. Truly one of the best trips ever—a discovery of the “active” vacation which combines hiking and fine food. My husband and I did not gain any weight for once! We will be back one day, and hopefully they have a nearer airport by then.

We flew via LATAM airlines from Santiago Chile back to LA and from thereon flew back to Manila.

 

Live an Awesome Life,

 

Catherine Rufino

Disclosure: We paid for our trip. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions and insights.

P.S. Final Tip: Go soon as there are more and more people discovering the area which will spoil the untouched beauty of the place. It almost felt like what Iceland was more than 5 years ago but is now so packed, and prices have easily doubled from what they used to be.