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Monday, October 17, 2011

South America Tour with LAN Airlines: Part I

In late September, a few lucky FROSCH agents were taken on a whirlwind trip around South America by LAN Airlines. Prepared for a manic itinerary including little sleep and tons of sightseeing, we all boarded LAN flight #531 from JFK to Lima. The excitement made it difficult to sleep even in the Business class comfort of our lay flat beds although after a nice glass of Chilean wine and delicious 3-course dinner (they offered a speedier option for those of us who wanted to sleep more), we were all sleeping like babies. Our connecting flight to Cuzco was cancelled due to mechanical issues, but we quickly hopped on one of the other 13 daily flights LAN makes to Cuzco, so it didn't make a dent in our itinerary.
Amatista from Abercrombie & Kent greeted us upon arrival and transferred us from the airport to Ollantaytambo, where our Peru Rail train brought us on the last leg of our journey. After almost 24 hours of traveling we arrived at our hotel in Aguas Calientes, the town located at the base of the Machu Picchu citadel. We quickly purchased our tickets into Machu Picchu (they only allow a limited number of visitors in daily, so make sure to do this ahead of time) and retreated to our sanctuary in the middle of the jungle, the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo. Complete with waterfalls, Jacuzzi, full spa and orchid gardens, we couldn’t have asked for a better way to end our hectic day. We were whisked into the magical lobby where we were treated to warm towels and coca tea, a magic concoction that helps cure altitude sickness among other ailments. 

Our junior suites were stunning with massive windows and doors that really made you feel as though you were sleeping in the jungle with the comforts of a 5 star accommodation. They were even equipped with our very own fireplace and a complimentary bottle of Pisco, a delicious grape brandy native to Peru & Chile. When our hunger pangs were too strong to bear, we enjoyed our first Peruvian culinary experience in the hotel’s restaurant which was a huge hit. We tried to stick with local cuisine; however, we couldn’t quite kick the American out of us enough to delve into the real local delicacy, guinea pig. I went straight for the seafood with a classic ceviche followed by a delicious Andean sea bass. Stephanie Serino ended the day perfectly by relaxing in the outdoor hot spring Jacuzzi nestled in the middle of the jungle. In 24 hours we went from the sounds of the honking taxis in Manhattan to the sounds of wildlife in the Peruvian mountains, well worth the time spent traveling.

Having such an early wake up call to the aforementioned sounds of nature wasn’t easy, but the anticipation of the trip up to the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu helped provide incentive. After dabbing on the all- natural bug repellent (a complimentary room amenity) and eating at the Inkaterra’s delicious breakfast buffet, I was ready to go. The trip up to the citadel can be done two ways, by bus (20 minutes) or by foot (about a 4 hour hike). Under our time constraints, we were required to take a bus. No matter how you decide to accomplish the journey, your breath will be taken away by the scenery. Our A&K tour guide, Jimmy, took us through the citadel explaining the magic and mystery at each stage and the fascinating significance behind the Intihuatana, Temple of the Three Windows and the Intimachay.

After hours in the ruins and soaking all the positive energy from the Intihuatana, we made our way down the mountain and into the markets of Aguas Calientes to satisfy the cravings of the shopaholics in the group. Later that afternoon we sadly had to depart the beautiful mountains by way of the Peru Rail train (where we are entertained by a fashion show by the train crew) back to Ollantaytambo and into the comfort of our A&K van which took us 11,000 feet above sea level into Cuzco, where a magical dinner at the Orient Express’ Hotel Monasterio awaited us. Built in 1592 and still under the ownership of the Catholic Church, this centuries-old property serves as the perfect place to relax in the energetic yet historic little city. We were given a tour of the hotel to the sounds of opera singer serenading diners in the El Tupay restaurant. The Chapel of San Antonio Abad onsite is an astounding event space with a gold altar. 

Following our tour we started our meal with a round of Pisco sours and ended with full stomachs, tired eyes and an overwhelming appreciation for what we had just experienced. We walked only four blocks through the main square to our hotel, the Aranwa. If not for our 5:30 a.m. wake up call, we wouldn’t have been able to resist the bustling nightlife. We soon forgot this sad fact when we reached the Aranwa hotel with its beautiful d├ęcor highlighted by the dramatic chandeliers lining the hallways and bedrooms. The Deluxe rooms were complete with 2 queen beds, bathrooms with separate shower and a massive bathtub, a perfect place to relax after our long day of sightseeing.

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