"If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go", I asked my friend Tim one afternoon while I was daydreaming in our law school library. After all, creating pretend travel plans for exotic, far-off destinations is my favorite way to procrastinate, and I certainly did not want to study for finals. I remember him looking up from his book without much hesitation and replying enthusiastically: "Machu Picchu!"
That was four years before he asked me to spend my life with him, back when Tim was just my good friend (and study partner!), and five years before we were married and off to spend our fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon in Cusco, Peru.
Our Peruvian adventure began the day after our wedding, lasting from April 27, 2014 through May 4, 2014. We had booked a flight that took us through an overnight layover in Lima, where we found a cozy hallway to snuggle up in and nap before transferring to Cusco early the next morning. When we arrived in Cusco, the first thing we noticed was how thin and crisp the air felt. At 11,152 feet, Cusco rests high in the Andes Mountains, and while all of the travel blogs and books we read advised us of the high altitude, we really did not think we would be able to feel the difference so distinctly until we were actually there. I was a bit lightheaded, but it was refreshing nonetheless.
We were able to grab a cab with no problem and it was a short, albeit thrilling, trip to the historic city center where our hotel was located. Cusco greeted us with the excited murmurings of bustling crowds, and vibrant tapestries draped from the curio shops selling any number of trinkets, and ponchos, and hats, and scarves made from the softest alpaca fur, while a host of delicious smells wafted from the restaurants and bakeries, taunting us with the promise of delicious foods we had never heard of and could certainly not pronounce.
Once we arrived at our hotel, the Palacio del Inca, we were invited in and offered coca tea and water to help combat altitude sickness, and the staff graciously took our bags to the Junior Suite where we were to spend the next seven days of our first adventure as husband and wife. The room was absolutely gorgeous! The high ceilings and walls were painted in traditional Incan colors with intricate designs, but the furnishings were contemporary, giving the place a very unique vibe. We could peer out of our window down the cobbled streets where merchants carefully laid out their handmade coin purses, paintings, and other wares on vibrantly colored blankets, and the occasional llama or baby lamb was escorted by its respective handler, always dressed in traditional costume, peddling the perfect photo opportunity for tourists like us.
After snapping pictures around the hotel and Plaza de Armas (the main square just a block or two from our hotel) we set out for a tour of the city. Now, while my grandmother generously gifted us our hotel room, flights, and most of our meals, the remainder of our adventure was left up to us - which is where Traveler's Joy came in.
After all of the unexpected little costs of our wedding were added up, our budget was a bit behind where we thought we would be for the honeymoon. By putting things on our Traveler's Joy registry, we were not only able to do everything we wanted, we were able to do it all and then some! It was the perfect gift option for those family and friends who wanted to get us something more memorable than cookware and more thoughtful than cash. Our honeymoon registry allowed us to request (and receive!) all of the luxurious things that set a honeymoon apart from your everyday budget vacation - things like breakfast in bed with champagne mimosas every morning, a horseback riding excursion, a couple's spa day at the uber-luxurious hotel spa, and of course, a guided tour of the city. After all was said and done, the cost of our honeymoon came to just under $5,500.00 including airfare, hotel, food, drinks, and all of our fabulous tours and adventures, and nearly all of it was covered by our wedding guests!
The horseback riding trip through the Sacred Valley (or Valle Sagrado) was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. As it turns out, Peruvian horses are significantly smaller than the horses bred in Texas – a fun fact that my 6’3”, 200 pound husband did not find nearly as amusing as I did. As the guide and I trotted happily along on our horses, marveling at the beauty of the Sacred Valley, Tim fell further and further behind, his horse noticeably annoyed with the fact that Tim was “just barely within the height and weight limits” for riding (according to the guide). Logistics aside, it was a wonderfully memorable experience, and something we will be laughing about for years to come.
The rest of the week was packed full of amazing things to do, from spending a full day at the hotel’s spa and Turkish bath, to the chocolate-making class we signed up for at the ChocoMuseo, to a tour of the salt-mines at Maras and the agricultural wonder of Moray, but the pinnacle of our trip was, of course, the day we spent at Machu Picchu. We left Cusco at the crack of dawn and travelled by taxi to the train station in Poroy where we boarded the Andean Explorer, a high speed train that essentially bypasses the Inca Trail through the Andes to Machu Picchu. The train ride itself was amazing; we were served traditional cuisine and could view the splendor of the Andes through the huge windows lining the train cabin and ceiling (the return trip was even more impressive, including a fashion show with music and dancing!). The train eventually dropped us off in Aguas Calientes, a small, but busy town at the base of Machu Picchu, where a the cost of a simple taco and soda lunch was comparable to what you might pay for lunch in New York or Los Angeles, unfortunately without the quality to match. It was no matter though, we were just excited to finally have arrived.
As the other tourists lined up to take the local bus up to Machu Picchu, Tim and I opted to venture the final leg of the Inca Trail and hike to the top of the mountain on foot. It took us about two hours to navigate our way up, stopping every so often to chat with other travelers along the way, but once we reached the top it was well worth the trek.
The view from the top of the mountain was breathtaking and everything we hoped it would be. One and a half miles into the sky, nestled deep in a crevice of the Andes Mountains, rested the 500 year old ruins of Machu Picchu, where we met people from Scotland, Germany, Japan, and all over the world, united in our quest for adventure and love of culture and history.
Exhausted and breathless, Tim and I peered across the vast expanse, silently taking in the captivating site before us. Llamas roamed freely among the ruins, occasionally breaking from their grazing just long enough to pose for the obligatory photograph or two while groups of small children giggled and pointed. The sun crept out from behind the clouds that so mercifully shielded us during our climb, and we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the countless rooms and corridors of the complex; it was the perfect day.
We booked our flight home from Cusco with a 12-hour layover in Lima (during the day this time!) so we were able to get in just a bit more exploring before returning to the real world. Overall, our honeymoon turned out to be a whirlwind of adventure and romance, made extra special through the generous contributions of our family and friends through Traveler’s Joy, and turned out to be the perfect way to start out our new life together as husband and wife.