Machu Picchu: Surprises Encountered on a Trip to Peru

Travel broadens the mind, hence since we’re raising two global citizens, we drag them along with us to see the world. This past summer, we took our two sons, then 6 and 8-years-old, to see Machu Picchu. During this journey, we encountered some surprises I’d thought I’d share here with you, so if you decide to travel to Peru, you’re well-prepared:

1) The Andes Mountains and Acute Mountain Sickness are nothing to mess around with! We all, in one form or another, suffered from altitude sickness. DH got it the worst, just as we were flying home. He was laid out flat for an entire day in bed back home in Medellín. In 17 years of marriage, I’d never seen him that sick for that long. It was terrible and scary. I breathed a prayer of relief when he slowly was back to normal.

Acetazolamide. Should have brought it with us. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.

The mountains were only just beginning….

2) In Peru, you don’t flush the toilet paper. I’ve dealt with this living in Mexico, but I had to teach the kids how to deal with this situation.

3) We didn’t know just how incredible the train ride from the sacred valley to Machu Picchu was going to be! The first-class train has skylights and windows on all sides from which we had vast views of the roaring mountain river running along beside the train tracks. We also glimpsed Incan ruins and terraces as we traveled while being fed brownies and coffee by the attentive staff. (Our guide, because he does so much business, was given this upgrade for free for us. The other trains aren’t as decadent).

And hey, bonus for being able to get by in Spanish. The staff were delighted at us speaking to them in their language and remembered us on our trip back. The conductor went out of his way to seat us in a less populated car and made sure we sat in a spot that would give us the best views on the way back.

The Train went by in front of our hotel. The kids had a blast watching it out the window

(I made sure to leave an excellent review on Trip Advisor. This is a big thing in Latin America, and I’d never done it before, but some people went so out of their way to make us feel welcome that technologically- inept me figured out how to leave reviews for them).

4) We were shocked at how much poorer Peru looks in comparison to Medellín. Colombia is a bustling economy. Don’t overlook visiting Colombia when you’re making travel plans to South America. It’s a much safer place these days.

Flying into Cusco airport

5) In Peru AND Colombia, at times, I wondered if I was charged Gringo prices. Example: I had to pay $10 USD for two bags of good coffee in Cusco. Ah well. We are so very blessed, it’s fine.

6) On that note: as an ex-pat, you could live like a king in Peru, but most people will want to sell you something.

In Colombia, people stared at us A LOT and were friendly, but they left us alone.

7) We didn’t know just how incredible the Incan stonework would be. This fascinating, ancient race were masters at brain-draining the societies they conquered. Their walls had a 5 degree inward tilt so the buildings wouldn’t collapse during earthquakes. Even now, there are spray-painted areas around the sites where people are supposed to run to keep safe if a tremor starts up near an archeological site.

8) We saw snow on the mountaintops in the distance! I was thankful we’d brought layers and hats, as I’d forgotten we’d be south of the equator during their winter.

Peruvians kept trying to sell us their amazing ponchos. They were in disbelief when we told them that where we moved from in Florida, we only wore close-toed shoes and pants about 4 weeks a year, so we had little use for these beautiful, hand made items. (Ok, ok, I still ended up buying a poncho anyway.)

Snow! Actual snow! (Sadly, our guide told us some of their glaciers are melting)

9) How much easier it was to understand Spanish in Peru than Colombia. Our guide told us Peruvian and Bolivian Spanish is easier for us to comprehend since they tend to speak slower and more clearly than Colombians. Whatever the truth is, my brain was relieved not to have to work so hard to communicate.

10) You can’t access a restroom while you’re inside Machu Picchu. You use one outside and then that’s it, you better hold it for the four hours you’re allowed to be inside. Good thing I had everyone tank up on water for the day at the hotel breakfast! (We haven’t suffered from hyponatremia yet)

11) How much our older son blossomed during this trip. He grew in confidence and was talking to everyone.

12) How much chocolate we’d be served everywhere we went. Coca leaves are reportedly good for altitude sickness, so we were given brownies to eat quite often. I looked at it as guilt-free chocolate. Nom nom!

13) I talked about this last post, but I’ll repeat it: the food was incredible. As in some of the best food we’ve ever eaten on our travels. What we had was gourmet standards back home—but at a fraction of the cost.

Peruvians do the most amazing things with potatoes. Even cold potatoes.

14) I didn’t know about the Incan Terraces. They are multi-level marvels the Incans built as agricultural laboratories to see which crops grew best at which altitude. Like Quinoa? Thank the Incans!

Every single terrace has a different altitude and temperature. Between the top and bottom levels, there was often between 22 to 26 degrees Fahrenheit difference! The Spanish didn’t destroy the terraces because they didn’t consider them religious. Instead, they were used as colosseums for bullfighting during the colonial era.

At the last terraces we visited, a Peruvian was playing pipes, and it echoed beautifully—and hauntingly— through the vast space.

15) I never knew the story of El Dorado was an Incan trick. The Incans wanted to hide the sacred city of Machu Picchu, so they told the Spaniards that a city of gold was further down in the Amazon. They knew the jungle would kill the invaders. But there really was a city of gold! Our guide told us that a still-imprisoned Peruvian ex-President, Fujimori, found it and raided it.

The next blog will detail our air travel saga: what not to do when visiting Peru. I hope to see you back here for then, and if you haven’t already, please consider signing up as a subscriber, so you don’t miss a blog. In the meantime, I know you can read up on how to improve your financial situation. You got this!

4 thoughts on “Machu Picchu: Surprises Encountered on a Trip to Peru”

  1. I really want to visit Machu Picchu, but I get altitude sickness even with Diamox. I did terribly on both Mount Fuji (passed out) and Quito (had a headache the the first week and no energy for the whole 2 weeks.) I may have to wait to go to Machu Picchu and other high altitude places until I can take a few months or even longer to gradually get up to these altitudes. And the sad thing is I love being up at altitude as these places are so beautiful!

    1. I hear ya’! These places are gorgeous. So very sad for you. You’ll get there yet! Acclimation is everything.

  2. Wow, great photos! Machu Picchu is definitely on out list and this certainly added some motivation. Food looks great too!

    We saw the toilet paper thing in the Galápagos Islands back in November.

    Happy New Year!


    1. Move Machu Picchu up on your list—it was jaw dropping amazing. Glad you’re all prepared for the TP 😉 Thanks for stopping by.

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