Peru & Galápagos & Tropical Nature Travel

An article in the June ’05 issue of ITN, “Inca Ruins and Amazing Animals on a Private Tour of Peru and Ecuador” by Fred DeVinney, prompted us to contact Elizabeth Sanders of Tropical Nature Travel (Gainesville, FL; phone 877/827-8350 or visit

My wife, Dorothy, and I together with our friends Frani and Ted Bickart threw some crazy requirements at Elizabeth, but over the next few months she solved a number of scheduling problems and arranged a wonderful trip for us to Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands. Mr. DeVinney’s excellent article covered most of the features and essentials of what we did, but it might be interesting if I made some comments regarding our own adventures, Dec. 6-17, ’05.

One of the complicating factors was that we were starting and ending our tour in Lima. Ted and I participated in an engineering accreditation workshop in Lima, Dec. 3-5, so that was the South America terminus for our flights from and to the U.S. Our time was limited but our expectations were not, yet Liz was able to accommodate all of our wishes (except, of course, for more time to enjoy those fascinating places).

Frani and Ted Bickart and Lyle and Dorothy Feisel at Machu Picchu.

In Lima and in the Cusco area, we were placed in the care of Inkanatura Travel. We can give them only the highest-possible marks. We were picked up at our hotel in Lima, escorted to the airport and assisted with check-in. At Cusco, another agent met us, introduced us to our guide and sent us on our way.

We toured the Pisac market and the sites at Maras, Moray and Ollantaytambo described in the June article and also had an opportunity to sample chicha, a lightly alcoholic drink fermented from corn. We then spent a delightful night at the Sol y Luna hotel near Ollantaytambo.

It was at this point that the Peruvian railway workers union threw a wrench in the “best laid plans” by staging a 2-day strike. With the railroad being the only way to get to Machu Picchu, some changes had to be made. Instead of our being taken to the railroad station at Ollantaytambo, we were picked up and returned to Cusco, with a very interesting stop at a cooperative where llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos were raised.

We spent the rest of the day and evening touring Cusco on our own. It is a very interesting city, especially the cathedral — but remember that stairs are steeper at an elevation of 11,000 feet.

The next morning the strike was over and we boarded the 6:00 train for Machu Picchu. To get out of the valley where Cusco is located, the train has to go through several zigzag switchbacks, passing through neighborhoods of various economic levels. The ride gave us an interesting look into the backyards of the local people.

And then there is Machu Picchu. Words cannot describe the feeling of walking into the ruins for the first time. And staying overnight at the Sanctuary Lodge, thereby having the ruins almost to yourselves in the late afternoon and early morning, is an experience not to be missed if you can afford the rather hefty tab.

Visitors do not have to do a lot of climbing, but, of course, the best views are from some of the higher vantage points. We “pushed the envelope” a bit but survived the climbs and enjoyed the experience immensely.

In the afternoon we took the train as far as Poroy, where we were met and taken back to the hotel in Cusco. The next morning we were on the early plane to Lima, continuing on to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

At this point, I want to stress that the travel company had to change our arrangements from Wednesday night in Machu Picchu, with trains on Wednesday and Thursday followed by two nights in Cusco, to Wednesday night in Cusco, with trains on Thursday and Friday, and Thursday night in Machu Picchu followed by Friday night back in Cusco. Did you get all that? To their great credit, Inkanatura did and it all came off without a hitch.

In Guayaquil, we spent a delightful afternoon and evening walking along the recently redeveloped waterfront and the wide, clean streets and visiting the cathedral and art museums.

The next day we caught the morning flight to San Cristobal in the Galápagos. There we were met by the agent from Ecoventura Travel and transferred to the M/V Letty, our home for the next five days. The normal cruise is for seven nights, but, because of our time restriction, Liz arranged for Ecoventura to give us a 5-night package and send us on our way from the airport at Baltra while the rest of the pilgrims continued their voyage. Once again, it all came off without a hitch.

Our cruise aboard Letty could not have been better. During our five days and nights aboard, we landed on five different (and I mean different) islands and crossed the equator six times.

All of the boat’s staff were well trained, friendly and conscientious. Our naturalist-guides, Malena and Janet, were very knowledgeable and excited about sharing their knowledge with all of us. We saw, up close and personal, all of the usual wildlife of the islands, including sea lions, iguanas, giant tortoises and an astonishing variety of birds. The Galápagos Islands are unique and are not to be missed.

This was not an inexpensive trip. Our payment to Tropical Nature Travel was about $3,500 per person. This covered all transportation from Lima to the various sites and back to Lima, all transfers and about half of our meals.

We had told Liz to lean toward comfort rather than economy, and she was able to accommodate our wishes. We spent the night at the Sanctuary Lodge (costly) at Machu Picchu and had higher-grade cabins on the Galápagos cruise. Letty was an upscale boat with comfortable accommodations and gourmet-quality meals.

It was a great way to check Machu Picchu and the Galápagos off our life list of “places to see before we die.”


St. Michaels, MD