Peru: Part 2 – Machu Picchu & Puerto Maldonado

Let me start off by saying that Machu Picchu will probably be one of the most beautiful sites I will ever see in my lifetime.  I’ve traveled all over the world and the view of Machu Picchu, with the endless Andes in the background, ruins in front of you, blue skies and clouds, will forever have a place in my memories.  I mean seriously, does it really get a lot more beautiful then this?


To get from Cusco to Machu Picchu we had to climb aboard the Vistadome train.  That was a fun experience in itself with it’s glass ceilings, spectacular views and ‘fashion and history shows’ put on by the attendants (to show off the different clothes made from alpaca wool).  There was even the Peruvian version of the “devil” who came out decked in a colorful outfit, mask and got everyone to dance with him.  He even made this crazy bird noise while doing it.  It had everyone on the train busting a gut.   It was an experience for sure.


Quite frankly, we were actually very lucky to get out of the Sacred Valley when heading back to Cusco. The day after we left, there was a strike which led to the trains not running, getting cancelled, or not having any seats left.  When we actually showed up to leave Manchu Picchu, there was a mob of people yelling and fighting to get through.  It was a little scary and enough to create some nervous energy about whether the train would leave or not. Our guide told us when we arrived in Cusco, that many people were actually stuck in the Sacred Valley who were supposed to leave the day after this. That my friends, is pure luck.

Because of this, the second day we were supposed to up to Manchu Picchu, the line took us 2.5 hours to get on the bus (the previous day it had taken 15 minutes).  The same was true for the trip down, a 2+ hour wait in line.  It left us without enough time and unable to hike up to Huayna Picchu (the highest point where you can look down at Manchu Picchu) or even the Inca bridge which was a little easier hike but still had a spectacular view.  That was kind of disheartening but we did go up and down the mountain twice which was worth the trip in spades.

The bus trip is crazy.  Literally 2 inches from going over the edge and the bus drivers even reverse to let other buses pass (it’s too narrow at a lot of points for two buses).  The bus drivers (we were told) are actually some of the highest paid people in Peru because it’s such a meticulous job and there CAN’T be any accidents.

We were lucky enough to have two perfect weather days. Blue skies and puffy clouds every day. Manchu Picchu literally took our breaths away the moment we saw it.  You have to go through a ticket gate house and walk around a corner to see Manchu Picchu, but VOILA, it just opens up and it’s just mountains upon mountains of breathtaking views.  There’s actually even a little place to stamp your passport with a Manchu Picchu stamp.

A few cool facts Manchu Picchu.  It’s actually only recently been ‘discovered.’ Locals have known about it since it was built (circa 1450) but it was only discovered by historian Hiram Bingham on July 24th, 1911. It was overgrown and virtually untouched since the Incas abandoned it many years prior.  It’s home to over 150 different buildings ranging from houses to baths, temples and sanctuaries. There are well over 100 different flights of stairs (and I climbed a lot of them!). Unlike most cities built by the Inca civilization (which were destroyed by the Spanish conquest), Machu Picchu so hidden and virtually invisible from below that it wasn’t found by the Spanish.  This makes it one of the most well-preserved Inca cities and an archeological treasure. Llamas walk throughout the area and are the natural ‘lawn mowers’ helping to keep overgrowth from taking over. Soon, Manchu Picchu will not be accessible for tourists to walk through.  The weight and numbers of so many people is slowly starting to destroy this site as it was never built to support that vast number of foot traffic.

Seriously, an awesome place and I’d recommend everyone to see it.  The view alone is worth the trip.  Now you want to see some photos?  I know you do.  Though, truthfully, no photos can truly capture how absolutely stunning Manchu Picchu truly is.

Arriving in the town of Machu Picchu, and looking up at the mountains from the streets and riverbed.

A tiny replica of the buses we took up the mountain and one of the many stray dogs in the area looking at us as we waited in line.


Driving up the mountain the views were just spectacular.


You crest the walkthrough and this is the first thing you see.  Stunning.

Some of the llamas.


Second day now, this fantastic older couple just sat on the top of a lllooong flight of stairs and encouraged everyone who made it up.  It was a wonderful showing of humanity at it’s finest.


Just breathtaking right? I don’t want to be any more ridiculous and just post a thousand photos of this place but… I could.  Seriously.  From there (and that gazillion hours line) we headed back on the bus to catch our train, to meet our guide in Cusco.  Now this is where the magic stopped.  This was where we showed up to the airport and discovered we were ticketless and spent the next 30+ hour waiting to hopefully catch a flight.  We missed A LOT of what we were hoping to capture in the Amazon but we literally crammed as much as we could in one day.  Our guides in the Amazon were amazing at least!  They tried to give us as much as they could we the time we had.

We started our journey landing in the VERY small airport of Puerto Maldonado.  Literally.  It’s a one plane airport. Our guides picked us up and took us to their office where we stuffed a day’s worth of essentials and gear into a duffel bag.  You then hand them to of the the lodges associates and he literally lugs this around through our journey.  It’s incredible.  We first catch a long boat and head down a tributary of the Amazon river for about 40 minutes, then we have a 3.4 kilometer hike through the Amazon jungle, where we end up in a marsh of sorts and we get on a long canoe. From there, our guides paddle and the marsh opens up to the HUGE Sandoval Lake located in the Tambopata National Reserve.

This reserve represents such a huge diversity of living things from native flora and fauna with 165 species and 41 families of trees to 103 species of mammals, 1300 species of butterflies and 90 species of amphibians.  It’s incredible. It’s also home to the Giant River Otter, with only about 2500 left in the world.  They are about 6 feet long and one of the most unique creatures I’ve ever seen in the wild.  I mean these things are so large they actually attack and eat Caymans.  Freaaking CAYMANS.

Upon docking, you hike up a long flight of stairs where it then opens up to this absolutely stunning Sandoval Lake Lodge.  Sitting back and thinking about them having to drag all the building materials, beds, stove.. everything to this place on that hike and lake it’s just mind boggling. Since we lost so much time, our guide immediately took us on a sunset night tour so we got to see some monkey and birds.  Followed up by a night walk where we go to see scorpions, tarantulas, and lots of other cool insects. We only had power twice a day for a few hours.  Everything else is powered by gas (hot water, stove for cooking, and the lights outside the lodge to keep the caymans away at night).  We slept under mosquito nets with the sounds of the jungle as our backdrop (and the hub’s snoring.. which when you’re sleeping with open roofed rooms.. the comments of your neighbors are quite amusing).  We woke up at 5am to see the sunrise and the OTTERS!! Only to get back on the trail by 8 am to canoe and hike our way back to the airport.  Talk about a whirlwind of less then 24 hours.  I wish we had seen all the wild parrots and macaws but we lost that in our missed day.  We did get to see lots of other water birds on the lake though which was stunning. I’d love to go back and just photograph all the different birds and butterflies.  We’ll see about that lol.  But now, enough describing!  Onto our Amazon journey photos!

The boat and banana leaf lunch on our river ride.

Our sweaty hiking.  It was around 100 degrees and as humid as humanly possible.  You were drenched by the time you were done.

Those are bees on the leaf, isn’t that crazy?

Termites nest and wild tomatoes.


This guy was literally right on our trail.  The guide almost stepped on him.  He hissed at us.  Like a cat. This is the spotted cayman as opposed to the black caymans which are more popular on this lake.

The ‘marshy’ area where we loaded into long canoes.

The lake just opened up.  It was stunning.  Notice the small snake hiding in the leaves by our boat.

The lodge is all it’s beauty.

Our little room + mosquito nets.  And the hubs enjoying the lake view.

Our sunset tour started with monkey spotting in all the trees.  These were a mix of Capuchin Monkey and Squirrel Monkeys.



Our group on the catamaran (just two canoes topped with a ‘deck’). And that SUNSET.


Black Cayman spotting with a flashlight on the boat.  The guide was looking for the ‘red of their eyes.’ Kinda creepy right?


After we left the boat, we immediately started the night hike we had missed the previous night. Black scorpions and tarantulas.

An early 5 am rise to see if we could see the Giant River Otters.

And we have otters!!! Since it was a preserve, we weren’t allowed to be within 50 meters of them with the boat so they’re pretty far away.

They’d dive down and grab fish and come back up and eat them on their bellies!

We immediately got back to the lodge, grabbed my backpack and headed down to do the hike again.  Lots of cool wildlife and we even saw Scarlet Macaws WAY up in the trees along with more monkeys.


Holy cow, what a 20 hour trip the Amazon was!

So many wonderful people we ran across too, sitting in the lodge after a long day and chatting with people from all over the world.  It was a little slice of paradise.  Back on the river boat we went to catch out flight to Lima!  And until the next post this week, that’s where today’s journey ends.  Next post I’m going to show you how to make Pisco Sours (a favorite drink of Peruvians) as well as the famous CEVICHE!  So until then, cheers!

Photography and writing by:

Alysha Yoder Photography

(b) (w)

(e) (p) 610.762.7810

Peru: Part 1 – Cusco Region

I know, I know.  I’ve been a slacker.  Like a HUGE slacker.  I dropped off the face of the planet for a few weeks.  Frankly, I’ve been super duper busy with just life stuff. Between traveling, tons and tons of email inquires, siblings in from out of state, a workshop in Upstate NY (there will eventually be a blog post for that too) and sick doggies.. I’ve been a busy bee.  Not so much in the photography or blog sense, but more in the, ‘there is soo much going on in life right now and I’m like a chicken with my head cut off.’

But PERU!  Whew, what a trip.  And with sooo many details, experiences, and photos, I’m breaking this up into three different posts!  If I tried to fit it all in one, this might be the longest post in history or qualify as a novella.  I’m also going to share some Peruvian inspired recipes too!  Hopefully bringing together some of our favorite flavors from our journey, stay tuned for more of that deliciousness!

This trip, we had some close calls, wonderful tour guides, three different climates, a BIG mishap by the travel agency we booked with (which caused us to get stranded) and many, many beautiful sights and sounds! There was just sooo much experiences crammed into eight days. Not to mention food!  We seriously ate like kings and queens!  And hey, if you want to skip to the photos feel free, you’re about to hear all the good, the bad and the ugly of this trip.  In my mind, we start with the worst and go to the best of our experiences!

Now hey, HEY YOU!  The one reading this who is sitting behind their computer screen saying to themselves, wow, what an adventure.. but I could never to something like that.  Let me say, if my curvy girl self and my 6’5″ hubby can cram ourselves in planes seats for 13+ hours, climb all over Manchu Picchu and survive at 13,000+ feet…. let me tell you, YOU can too.  And with places like Peru and much of the Central/South America’s where the dollar is far superior with ratios of 3 and 5 local currency to a dollar, you can travel very very cheaply!

We ironically chose to do it all our bookings through a travel agent to take the stress out of planning.  Hopefully to ensure that everything taken care of and we didn’t have to think about all those details.  Unfortunately, that was not the case.  Half way through our travels, while waiting at the check in airline counter, we were told we didn’t have tickets on this flight.  The travel agent had booked our tickets on the wrong day.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a huge problem, we’d just find another flight… freak out later.. and catch our next transfer.  However, this wasn’t the case.  We were stuck in a tiny airport, in a solely Spanish speaking area, with no more flights leaving that day. Thankfully, we were able to get a hold of our last guide who came to try and help us to no avail.  We caught a taxi back to a crappy hotel and literally spent the rest of the day by the phone waiting for the travel agency to figure out what was going on and if we were even able to get to the Amazon.  It sucked.  There wasn’t even a lot of worry or apologizes on the agency’s part that day either.  They didn’t help us find better accommodations, or get us dinner, or even have someone there to help us translate. The whole thing sucked.

For once, I took the travel out of my hands and gave it to a company who was supposed to take care of everything and they didn’t.  They failed miserably.  And I can’t lie and say this didn’t put a damper on our trip.  We missed going to the clay picks (which I was most looking forward to) where we would have gotten to see tons of parrots and other birds in the Amazon, i.e. literally a photographer’s dream.  With very limited bags too the jumbo lens I lugged around this whole trip just for that opportunity wasn’t used as much as it should have been.  We missed a once in a lifetime sight of a Giant River Otter family attacking a Cayman on the lake we were supposed to stay at.  Not to mention missing more then 30+ hours in the Amazon, as well as our nice hotel, guided tours, and pre-arranged meals.  It sucked.  Like bad.  But let me tell you, it could have been worse if we didn’t keep our heads together.  It would have sucked more if there weren’t any flights the following days. And the final icing on that cake would have been if the strikes in the Sacred Valley (that started while we were there) made it impossible to get out of the area we were in.  There were lots of obstacles thrown at us throughout this trip.  But thankfully, our travel smarts, ability to separate ourselves from the situation until we got back on our home turf, and resilience definitely helped us out here.

But whew, that’s my angry spiel about the whole thing.  Now onto Peru, the good, great and awesome parts!  Day 1, we started our journey in BWI arriving in Lima, only to catch our connecting flight to Cusco.  Ladies and gents, that’s like going from sea level to 13k+ feet.  I would not advise this as altitude sickness will kick you in the ass, but hey, it’s how our journey began.  We arrived and were immediately given coca tea (a remedy to altitude sickness as well as nausea) as well as advice on eating habits and physical activities.  What is altitude sickness you might ask?  To me, it’s like being a drunk hungover baby.  Dizzy, headache, shortness of breath and your balance is all wonky.  But for a more ‘clinical definition’ it’s defined by google as, “illness caused by ascent to a high altitude and the resulting shortage of oxygen, characterized chiefly by hyperventilation, nausea, exhaustion, and cerebral edema.”  And yes, it happens to just about EVERYONE who doesn’t live up that high.

We met up with our guide who took us on a tour of some of the ancient terraces in Cusco. Cusco, literally translated means, “navel of the world.” This was once the holy city which was the nexus of the Inca Empire.  Our first stop was Sacsayhuaman, built by the Incas starting around 1200BC and it overlooked the whole city. Followed by Korikancha, known as the Temple of the Sun during Inca Empire, now the site of the Santo Domingo Convent. The Cathedral, which faces the Plaza de Armas in the heart of downtown Cuzco. As well as many different Inca stone ruins including Q’enqo, Puca Pucara, and Tambomachay.


At one of the many stops we made with locals selling their wares.  How lovely are the colors and backdrop?

Looking out from one of the ruins where they preserved the bodies of royalty.  The dry cool air up in the Andes greatly helped this process.

Couldn’t escape the weddings, even at 13,000 feet haha!


Now Peruvian food is now seriously in my top three favorite foods!  So many fusions of so many different cultures.  It was awesome to try to figure out different influences in each dish.  This foodie was in heaven. Did you know they have over 5,000 varieties of corn and potatoes in Peru?!  How nutty is that? By far, one of our favorite places we ate the whole trip was Morena Peruvian Kitchen.  Asian Peruvian Fusion with to-die-for drinks (frozen lemonades, actually confusingly enough made with lime.. were one of our favs) as well as one of the best salads I’ve ever had in my life.  Sean fell in love with their rice bowls.  We loved it so much this is where we ended up again after we got stranded here.  Seriously, check out all this goodness.


Walking up from the city center to our hotel after dinner.  This is where altitude sickness hit me the hardest.  Every like 20 steps, I had to stop and breathe.  I hadn’t adjusted to the air yet.  A very odd feeling to be that weak, when you normally aren’t.


Day 2 was followed up Chinchero, Maras, and Moray. Our first stop was a local artisan who showed us how they harvested and dyed llama and alpaca wool as well as how they made the blankets and textiles Peru is known for.  Our next stop was a local market where we learned about local wares, produce, and various local specialties.  Sooo many colors,  it was a photog’s heaven. Following a beautiful country drive, our guide took us to Maras, a village set on a plateau, famous for its salt mines or pans. The salt is drained into separated shallow pools built into the hills, where it then dries in the sun before it is harvested. It’s fed by a natural salt water spring running down the mountain.  The salt has been extracted this way for hundreds of years, even during the reign of the Inca Empire.

Funny story, as some might know, almost every place I visit, I bring back fun little souvenirs for my creative team coworkers.  Nothing ever too big because we travel very light.  At the salt mines, you could buy little flavored salt bags which seemed to me to be a perfect gift!  That is, until we tried getting through security back in the states.  Where they thought we were packing cocaine.  Yes, cocaine. Not only was my hub’s bag searched but they also took some of the salts out and chemically tested them.  Lesson learned.  Small bags of salts make you look like a drug mule.  

Our next stop was Moray, which is one of Peru’s most popular tourist stops. Here we learned how the terraces were used to produce different types of crops and cover a range of microclimates.  We ended at a Peruvian buffet, Tunupa, where we were able to try local favorites like ceviche, alpaca, and dulce de leche cake. They also had llamas in the back with a stunning garden, wildlife, view of the mountains and river running through the property. The whole trip was breathtaking as well driving from location to location with the Andes in the backdrop.  We ended our day in the heart of the Sacred Valley at a beautiful hotel with an Andes sunset in the background and surprisingly enough, even sported a brick oven for pizza for dinner.

This was actually one of the craziest naturally found dyes.  Here our host was pulling a parasite from the cactus (it’s that small white critter in her hand).  Once harvested, it’s smashed and produces that BRIGHT red color. Below, is how it looks once dyed into wool.


The sheep blocking our path on the way down to the salt mines.


The quinoa.  The freaking QUINOA pretty much harvested in the backyard.  I was in heaven.


And that’s all for this post!  Stay tuned for TWO more this week. Until then ta ta for now!

Photography and writing by:

Alysha Yoder Photography

(b) (w)

(e) (p) 610.762.7810






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