Hi forum, thanks to everyone who helped by answering questions I had before I left. You were all very helpful.
I'm a 30 something year old female, my purpose for this trip was some introspective time to myself. I traveled alone for seven days, left from Boston in the late afternoon. I had connecting flights in Miami and Lima, finally landing in Cusco in the morning. All flights were fine, little turbulence and mostly on time. I decided to book my MP and train tickets right there at the airport with one of the tour companies that had a permanent setup in the airport. I figured I couldn't go wrong. The name of the tour company on my receipt says Inversiones Peru Brasil. It included taxi to Yucay, taxi to train station, train tickets from Ollay to Aguas Callientes and back, Fee to MP including tour guide, bus up and down, and taxi from Ollay to Cusco. The charge was around $450. I told him I could not pay that much and he decreased it to about $410. There was somewhat of a language barrier and I believe we got some details messed up because no one ever showed up after my tour to pick me up at the train station and bring me back to Cusco. I ended up paying $20 for a private taxi back to Cusco. I later spoke with another tourist who used a tour company and paid around $350 for a similar package.
I immediately got into the taxi in Cusco and the driver took me to a place to exchange money. I quickly began to feel nauseous and have a headache. It was bearable, and as we descended into the Sacred Valley it got better. I did drink some coca tea at the airport so I'm thinking that helped as well. The taxi ride seemed so short because I was so excited to be there and look at the scenery. I arrived at my hotel in Yucay, the Sonesta Posadas and I was beyond pleased. This is a fantastic hotel in a smaller town, not touristy at all. I LOVED this hotel. Grounds were beautiful, great restaurant, friendly staff, and just a very unique and authentic place. I unpacked and took a walk around town. I was hungry and found this little place tucked away, it is sort of in a backyard and was operated by a family that spoke no English. I had the best meal of my trip here. It was just a typical dish of chicken with potatoes and rice with lettuce and tomato and a lovely mayo based sauce. The best part was it cost me 4 dollars. The restaurant is outside under a canopy/tent with a nice view. The family was kind, all saying hello and smiling. The woman who ran it sat with me through part of my meal and hugged me goodbye. They seemed very grateful for my business. It was a highlight of my trip. I also ate dinner at my hotel and tried alpaca, it was like Venison, ok. (i did not indulge in guinea pig, sorry!)
I took it easy that afternoon and evening, just relaxing and wandering, taking pictures. I was surprised at how much construction is happening in SV. I guess that is a good sign?
I was picked up for my transfer to Ollay in the morning after checking out of the hotel. I enjoyed the train ride to MP and found Aguas Caliente to be charming. I couldn't believe how ferocious the river running beside the train tracks into AC is! Of course, it was the wet season, raining every day. A security guard at MP told me a young boy had recently fallen into the river and had not been found yet. Very sad..
The bus ride up the mountain to MP was the only part of the trip that was a little scary! Yikes, no guard rails! Even though it was scary, a part of me still enjoyed it. When I got off the bus and got my first look at MP, I was in awe. It was jaw dropping. Not only MP itself, but looking beyond the ruins, noticing that this little city is nestled above all, taking in the whole picture was life changing. I walked around a bit on my own at first as my tour didn't start for another hour and a half. I have to say, I'm in decent shape, and initially, I was winded. I later got with my group and did the 2 hour tour. I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand I wanted to know about the history of the MP and hear all the stories, but on the other hand I went by myself for a reason and I didn't get the opportunity to go at my own pace, sit and introspect, etc. The tour guide booked my train for 4 pm, if I had taken the later train I would've been able to have some additional time to myself. I tried to change my train tickets but they do not allow changes on the day of your trip. I self-stamped my passport with the MP stamp and headed back down the mountain on the scary bus ride.
The train ride back was bittersweet, hard to leave such as magical place. We had to stop along the way to let other trains pass or something for about 30 mins. During this time, a few local children hung around outside the train asking for money, making hand motions to their mouths as if they were hungry. Of course, bleeding heart, I wanted to give them some. The train attendants basically laughed at me and tried in broken English to explain they were just fine and did this all the time.
I arrived back in Ollay and paid for a taxi to take me to Cusco to my next hotel, Tierra Viva Saphi. It was very quaint, up the street from Plaza Armes, just a 5 minute walk. I ate dinner at a place called Tayta Inti. It had a nice atmosphere and I had a $20 meal which included a pisco sour, a bowl of delish soup, spaghetti with beef heart (eww.... beef heart) and dessert. Not a bad price, not the cheapest, but it did include alcohol. I personally don't dig beef heart, but the sauce tasted good with the spaghetti. I have to say, I had 1 and a half pisco sours and I was tipsy! I think it was the altitude issue.
I slept well, got my stuff together for the Amazon the next day and checked out in the morning. I took only a backpack for my 3 day, 2 night trip to Puerto Maldonado. Tierra Viva held my luggage for me until I returned. I took a quick flight with StarPeru to PM. PM was very different from Cusco and SV. It was obviously much hotter, high 80's and busy with motorcycles and people. I took an hour and a half boat ride up the Madre De Dios river to EcoAmazonia where I stayed for 2 nights. The first thing I did was have lunch, it was very good chicken, rice and veggies wrapped in a banana leaf. I got settled in my cabin which seemed pleasantly bug proof and spacious, and then met the small group for a quick jaunt to Monkey Island. I felt unsure about this part of the tour. I still can't decide if what is going on is exploitation or conservation. Maybe both, I don't know. The monkeys are brought to the island to be kept safe in a natural, protected environment. But, the tour guide also is chopping down plants etc. to make a path for us to bait and feed the monkeys bananas. I did get to see 7-8 monkeys up close, but something just felt a little unnatural about the experience.
I did another tour later that night, which was pleasing. We took the boat out on the river and did a little mindfulness exercise while star gazing. The we shined for caimans. Didn't see much, but it was still fun. The next day we went on a challenging hike through the rain forest. We also canoed through a channel, swamp and hiked again. We climbed to the top of an observation tower overlooking a palm forest. I was glad it was protected and not falling victim to slash and burn farming. On the tour, I got to see some wildlife. I saw a ton of caimen, some monkey, tarantula, lots of birds and insects, and some type of strange rodent I referred to as a beaver pig. I also learned about the local flora and fauna. My tour guide ate larvae, said it was good for the lungs. We all lost our appetite! Gross.
I spent the afternoon hanging out with a few of the other guests, drinking cerveza and playing pool and swinging in the hammocks. We took a walk around the grounds and up the trails a bit. I had a delicious dinner of what in the USA we would say is like chicken parmigiana. But, it was with a peruvian flare, very good. I forgot to put bug spray on that evening and got eaten alive. I probably didn't notice because I was a bit tipsy. I had about 20 bites, some from ants, ugh.
The next day I flew back to Cusco. I checked back into Tierra Viva and went sightseeing in Cusco. I saw some of the main attractions and wandered as well. I met a young college student and he was kind enough to bring me just outside the plaza to a souvenir shop that was cheaper than shopping in the plaza. I got a few things for my family. He pointed out and explained the meaning of the snakes carved in the stones and took a few pics of me standing next to sacred stones/buildings. We talked about his dreams of coming to the USA and the culture in Cusco. It is very touristy and you are literally, constantly being asked to buy various souvenirs such as paintings, bracelets, textiles, alpaca scarves etc. Get used to the phrase "No Gracias por favor'".
The next day was more of the same sightseeing. I did got to a very tasty restaurant called Limo and had the best ceviche and sushi roll I have ever had. Limo is rated #6 on here for a reason, it is upscale and very good. The view is great of the plaza, you can sit back and people watch while having a pisco sour. I also visited a trattoria just near the plaza and had an espresso and a piece of tiramisu. I know, not Peruvian, but still delectable!
I returned to my room just before a bad storm came with hail and thunder. I later ventured out to go to Chez Maggies for some brick oven pizza and some live piano music. I found it humorous that he was playing New York, New York and some very cheesy American tunes. The atmosphere is pretty cool there, you can dine in or outside. On my way back I met a dog (one of a million roaming around!) I saw that he was very malnourished and sad looking. I tried to feed him some left over pizza but he didn't want it. He just wanted to be pet. It was a moment where I cried and felt appreciative for what I have in life. I spent a half hour just sitting on a stoop petting this sad dog that I'm sure will not be alive soon.
The next morning I checked out of my hotel and went to the airport after a little wandering around town. My flights went well until I got to Miami. I had one hour to get to my next flight to Boston. If anyone know Miami, that is not enough time. I had to go through passport check, customs and security. Not happening in one hour! Luckily, a TSA person took pity on me and pulled me through 2 of the 3 lines which got me to my gate just as they were announcing last call to board. I made it by the skin of my teeth. Make sure you have enough time between flights when you are reentering the country!
My flights and hotels were booked by a travel agent. They got messed up when my TA left for surgery and didn't confirm my flight, so there was some juggling and last minute changes that were not great. So my itinerary is not what most would do, but it worked fine for me and what I wanted to accomplish. Of course I wish I had more time, but one week is better than none. All in all I loved my trip and hope to bring my family back in the future. I had no feelings of being unsafe, and other than the taxi issue, no problems otherwise. Any questions please feel free to PM me!