Sunday, January 13, 2008
WHO: Kathy Orr, 55, and her husband, Mike, 62, of Edgewater, plus her brother and sister-in-law, of Houston. All four are retired.
DREAM TRIP: Peru.
BACKGROUND: Orr and her travel mates wish to explore Peru by land and river -- specifically, an Amazon cruise, a land tour of the rain forest and a visit to Machu Picchu. They'd like to stay at the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco or the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, both Orient-Express properties, but worry about blowing their $8,000-per-couple budget. Over two weeks, Orr hopes to see a lot of wildlife, especially the blue macaw. Their ideal time to travel is late fall, which is Peru's spring.
OUR SUGGESTIONS: It was hard to stick to the couples' budget, but we came close.
DAY 1: Orr did not wish to linger in Lima, but Jim Lutz of Vaya Adventures (800-342-1796, http://www.vayaadventures.com), which specializes in South American travel, recommends spending at least one night in the Peruvian capital -- if not for the delicious cuisine, then for a solid night's rest. After the eight- to 10-hour flight, the group should kick back with some seviche, surf and sleep in the districts of Miraflores, an upscale enclave along the coast, or Barranco, a beachy artists' haunt. For accommodations, try the midrange Sonesta Posadas del Inca (Alcanfores 329, Miraflores, 800-SONESTA, http://www.sonesta.com/Miraflores), with doubles from $85 a night. The next day, fly to Iquitos and catch a boat into the heart of the Amazon.
DAYS 2-7: This is where trying to plan a half-river/half-land adventure in the Amazon gets tricky. Most cruises run longer than a week, which would leave no time for the rain forest lodge portion, unless the group wanted to drop Machu Picchu. (Plus, that's a lot of jungle.) Or they could do the Amazon by land, with some river forays.
If they choose the cruise, International Expeditions (800-633-4734, http://www.ietravel.com) offers the 10-day Amazon Explorer trip for $3,048 per person, not including air from Lima. As an alternative, the company can customize a six-night tour with lodge stays and some boat excursions. In this scenario, the group would spend all but one night at Ceiba Tops ( http://www.explorama.com/ceibatops.htm), a luxury lodge on the river banks. From here, they would depart on such daily outings as forest hikes to view primates and birds, piranha fishing, a pink dolphin tour and a visit to a Ribere¿o tribal village.
For one overnight, they would go deeper into the jungle to trek along a canopy walkway suspended more than 100 feet above the forest floor. They'd slumber at Napo Camp, a comfortable yet primitive lodge with mosquito nets and unheated showers. While there, they'd take a nighttime hike along the canopy bridge and embark on wildlife walks to scout for blue and scarlet macaws. With round-trip air from Lima, the trip costs about $2,400 per person.
NOW WHAT? Here comes the next hurdle: the group's budget. The bank is running low. To squeeze in Machu Picchu, the couples could take the train from Cuzco, traveling about 10 hours round trip for only three hours at the site. But they've come so far, it's worth the extra grand to do it right. And the right way is to dedicate at least six days to the Machu Picchu leg. (Note: If the couples use frequent-flier miles, which they could do, this itinerary fits their allowance.)
DAYS 8-9: From Lima, they should fly to Cuzco (about $300 round trip) and spend the night. The grande dame of hotels is the Monasterio (011-51-84-24-1777, http://monasterio.orient-express.com), with rooms running $495 a night. Ouch. Instead, book the more modest Casa Andina Cuzco Plaza (between Mantas and Del Medio streets, 866-447-3270, http://www.casa-andina.com; $99), a small Peruvian chain, or El Balcon (Tambo de Montero, 011-51-84-236-738, http://www.balconcusco.com/en), where rooms in the old colonial house go for $60 a night. In Cuzco, highlights include the Temple of the Sun and the Sacsayhuaman Inca fortress.
DAY 10: Arrange for a private guide (check with a tour operator such as Vaya Adventures or your hotel) to take the crew to the Sacred Valley of the Incas for a primer in ruins. Poke around Pisac and Ollantaytambo, or, if truly adventurous, mountain-bike past such sights as the Moray ruins. Hotel recommendations in the valley include Sol y Luna Lodge (011-51-84-201-620, http://www.hotelsolyluna.com; $150-$180), which has a spa, ranch and restaurant on-site; and El Albergue (011-51-84-204-014, http://www.elalbergue.com/en; $62), a B&B inside the gates of Ollantaytambo's train station to Machu Picchu.
DAY 11: All aboard the train. Two hours and a shuttle later, the group will be standing before one of the Wonders of the World. (Plan B: Disembark at Kilometer 104 and hike five hours along the Inca Trail.) A private guide will lead day hikes of the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu. Lutz recommends staying until 5 p.m. to watch the sun set over the mountains, without hordes blocking the view.
Everyone -- or at least those able to drop $450 on a bed -- raves about the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (800-442-5042, http://www.inkaterra.com). A cheaper alternative is the Inti Inn (Pachacutec Avenue, 011-51-84-234-312, http://www.grupointi.com/index-ing.htm; $80), in a valley surrounded by rain forest, mountains and a river.
In the morning, catch the first shuttle up to the ruins for sunrise before taking the four-hour train back to Cuzco. Spend another night in Cuzco and catch the sights missed the first time around: Plaza de Armas and its churches, for example.
DAY 12: Fly back to Lima, then home. But don't forget to have one more pisco sour before takeoff.
SPLURGE: Soar over the Sacred Valley of the Incas in a hot-air balloon (very weather-dependent). The Lost Adventures (800-999-0558, http://www.lostworldadventures.com) trip includes transfers, champagne toast and breakfast at a country manor. Cost: $350 per person.
For an equally romantic (and decadent) mode of travel, take the deluxe Orient-Express Hiram Bingham train from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. The $588 rate includes brunch, dinner, cocktails and music entertainment onboard; exclusive transport to the ruins; afternoon tea at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge; and more. Info: 011-51-84-238-722, Ext. 318, 319 or 320, http://www.orient-express.com.
TOTAL COST: Flights from the Washington area to Peru cost about $750 round trip. The flight from Lima to Iquitos runs $375 round trip, and the plane ride from Lima to Cuzco and back is $300. The Amazon land/air portion is $2,400. For Machu Picchu, expect to pay about $350 for transportation, guide services, admission fees and hotel. Other accommodations throughout the trip add up to about $450. Not including meals, tips and incidentals, the trip should cost about $8,880 per couple. (Total cost does not include the $3,048-per-person Amazon cruise, which would be Dream Trip B.)
-- Andrea Sachs