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Planning a trip to Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

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By Carol Sottili
Sunday, December 20, 2009

Who: Sally Otis, 29, and her husband, Brad Pittack, 29, of Cheverly

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Where: Machu Picchu, Peru, and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Why: To celebrate their 30th birthdays

When: April 2010 for 10 to 14 days Budget: $5,000-$7,000

"Brad and I have a passion for travel and enjoy getting off the beaten path to gain a better understanding and appreciation of other cultures. We're open to staying in hostels or low- to mid-range hotels."

Sally Otis and Brad Pittack couldn't have chosen two more intriguing yet controversial tourist destinations. Both Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands are popular places for avid travelers to cross off their "been there" lists. More than 300,000 people visit the 500-year-old ruins at Machu Picchu each year. Nearly 175,000 visit the Galapagos, an archipelago about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador, known for endemic species that were studied by Charles Darwin.

Conservationists fear that tourists may be endangering the unique qualities that make these places so attractive to visitors in the first place. So the ambitious goal is to see these places with minimal disruption and a rather modest budget.

Right off the bat, airfare is going to take a nice chunk out of the kitty. Taca offers the cheapest fares: Expect to pay about $1,000 per person to fly from Dulles to Cuzco, Peru (overnight stop in Lima required), and then on to Quito, Ecuador, with return from Quito. Add an extra $400 for the flights from Quito to the Galapagos; your Galapagos tour operator typically arranges this, but if you go it alone, Tame (http://www.tame.com.ec) and Aerogal (http://www.aerogal.com.ec) fly this route.

And we're off.

Day 1: Arrive in Lima at about 8:30 p.m. There is a layover of about nine hours before the flight for Cuzco departs. Stay in the airport (it gets decent reviews on http://www.sleepinginairports.net) or at a nearby hotel: La Hacienda Peruana Hostel (http://habitacionesenlimaperu.blogspot.com), about five minutes away, has an airport shuttle and double rooms for about $58.

Days 2 and 3: Arrive in Cuzco. Most travelers stay here for at least a couple of days to acclimate to the 11,000-foot elevation. There are plenty of inexpensive hotels in the city. Niños Hotel (http://www.ninoshotel.com), for example, is $44 a night double, and profits go to child aid projects. Cuzco, the continent's oldest inhabited city, offers wonderful architecture, including the Cathedral of Santo Domingo, which took 100 years to build, and many examples of Incan architecture, including the Coricancha temple.

Days 4-8: Start the four-day, three-night hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Most tourists take the train (http://www.perurail.com) from Cuzco to Machu Picchu, but about 200 start the 28-mile trek each day. You must be accompanied by a registered guide. Mike Weston, who runs Andean Travel Web (http://www.andeantravelweb.com), an online guide to adventure travel in Peru, is also manager of Peru Treks (http://www.perutreks.com), which offers guided Inca Trail hikes for $465 per person. "This trek needs to be reserved three or four months in advance since the trek permits issued by the government are limited in number and sell out pretty quickly," Weston warned in an e-mail.


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