Waking up in Ollantatambo at pretty much 4:30am to pack up and get our butts on a train to go who knows where to hike for 8 hours or more sounded super excited and invigorating... :) This is what we came for. Well, not really. But I'm 34 now and I'm not getting any younger. These are the types of trips one has to take while they are young and able bodied. Keep in mind that I don't work out and I was not very prepared for all of this. I knew it would be hard. My friend Christy kept saying, "Maybe we should work out to prepare." Me, "Nahhhhhh!".
So off we were in the wee hours of the morning to hand off our bags to Henry, a SAM Travel guide, in hopes of seeing it in Agua Calientes when we were done. Side note, the hotel rooms were pretty nice. Barebones, but they didn't smell of mold or mildew and they didn't have anything growing on the walls. So far so good!
Here we are getting on the train. Here's a picture of Henry... you know... JIC I had to show someone that THIS was the person who stole our bags. lol In all seriousness, SAM Travel has been around for awhile and they want and need business. It would take one horrible review like they stole luggage to close them down. Who would want to book with a company who steals luggage? No one.
We has a box breakfast that our hotel gave us for the train. I recommend getting a box breakfast every time you have to leave early. You need nourishment. I knew that we needed to eat something before this long, long day. Also, the bathrooms on the train are nice. Use them. You will have little to no bathrooms on the 2 day Machu trek. Trust me. Bring toilet paper. Always bring toilet paper.
Ok. So ... look how beautiful it is. When we got to the end of the hike we made it to the overlook. It was breezy and nice. The perfect weather. It didn't rain. We were worried about that because we didn't have the footwear for the hike. Tennis shoes and trail shoes don't realllly cut it. Day 2 of Machu Picchu was going to be exploring the city.
We woke up and had another awesome breakfast and said goodbye to our home El Balcon. SAM Travel picked us up and we were off. Now, the Sacred Valleh Tour was a lot of car riding. I’m surprised I didn’t hurl on anyone. Actually, I’m surprised I didn’t throw up one time on any form of transportation. Go me! 😄
Look at that morning view! It’s a little slice of heaven tucked in the mountains. ❤️❤️❤️
The Sacred Valley Tour was a bunch of stops. We went to the animal sanctuary, salt mines, terraces, various viewpoints and we had a buffet lunch. Here’s some photos from the tour.
I didn’t indicate this on my feedback form because I just loved Marcelino... but I didn’t not like the buffet lunch. The food just wasn’t that good. There. I said it. Phew. I feel better.
Fhe Switzerland couple we were traveling with were telling us how they trained for Machu Picchu. What does that even mean? I was getting pretty worried. The most training I have done is run to the border and couple of times and also to Wendy’s via my car. What did I get myself Into?!?
The following day was Machu Picchu. I had to start mentally preparing. . .
After the tour we were dropped off in ollantatambo at our hotel. The hotel was nice.The city was small, safe and warm. I’m pretty sure this is just a tourist town but it was lovely. I noticed that every single restaurant was a pizzeria place too. Too bad I wasn’t craving pizza. I know. How ironic.
We dinner at the only little restaurant that didn’t have pizza. I ordered the fajitas. Don’t order that. It was ehhhhhh. Get the farmhouse chicken dish. I was between fajitas and that. I saw them bring the farmhouse out to someone and felt instant food regrets. Food regrets almost hurt your soul it’s so bad. Oh well. Live and Learn.
At this point my head is laying on the table I’m so tired. Tomorrow is a super early wake up of 4:30. One train ride and on route to Machu Picchu. The longest 8 hours of my life. Supe excited... 😏.
How do you like the sound of free? Yeah. Everyone does. There are free walking tours in all the cities. They make their money in tips. It’s another great way to see the city. Most tours start in the Plaza de Armas. I suspect it’s because it’s the easiest to find.
Im not going to lie. I can’t remember most of this tour. What I do remember is that it was cold. Hace frio! Here’s some photos of the city.
After the tour we were starving. It was cold and rainy and we just wanted some good food. We were kind of in a crunch for time because we need to go to SAM Travel for orientation and I desperately wanted a pizza at the Bodega. My nose smelled it as we walked by and I knew...I had to have it.
We stopped at Organika, a restaurant that as you could probably guess is all organic. Their farm is in Urubamba. We didn’t eat a lot because we planned on getting something later. We got the sweet potato ravioli and a pumpkin cream soup. Very tasty. Many of our neighboring tables had nice looking dishes.
We ate and scadaddled to SAM Travel before it got too dark. At ST we met our guide Marcelino and our Sacred Valley traveling mates from Switzerland. It was all good until Marcelino dropped a bomb on us and said we could only take a duffel bag of items. What about my other 15lbs of luggage? No way I was leaving it at the building. It’s one of those fears you have when taking a trip out of the country. The fear that all your stuff will get stolen or you’ll get stolen... lots of things getting stolen.
We trusted Marcelino and went with it. See SAM Travel review for more deets >
We wrapped up with Marce and had to make a decision about food. It was dark, dark at this point and the pizza place was far. My heart was crushed but we decided to go back to El Balcon to grab dinner in the restaurant. We needed to rest up for the big tour and also... no one wanted to get stolen.
I had the salami sandwich and my friend the veggie sandwich. All was well. Everyone was back safe. No pizza was had though. 😔
I can’t believe I forgot about La Lucha. A chain it seems in Peru but a very delicious one. It also seems clean. Bonus! 😬
La Lucha Lima was a meal before we left. It was across the street from Kennedy Park (cat park). Just a side. Daniel told us a Story about why this park was named Kennedy park. I couldn’t find the bust of JFK anywhere...
So yes. LL. It’s hard to order here but they will help you. They definitely push the Lucha Sammy. It’s good. I was talked into the chicharron but I should have stuck with my original. It was all delicious. Hot and fresh. Dem fries tho.
Can you say yum? Fresh juice too! Ok, NOW we were ready to fly to Cusco! Sorry. A bit out of order, but can't forget about La Lucha!
r↵It’s been less than 48 hours and it feels like weeks. We flew Avianca to Cusco. Let me tell you... there’s some serious hidden messages in terms of air fare. No one seems to give the same answer so let me give it to you in a nutshell.
Priceline is horrible. Ok. I’m done. But seriously... horrible and disrespectful. Ok. I’m really done this time. Anyway, we got a green taxi (safe) right at the airport and went to our hotel El Balcon. We got a taste of Peruvian driving. Man. It’s scary. 80-100mph down the road, weaving in and out. Stop signs are optional. So are turning signals. It was ... an experience.
El Balcon is a little bit away from Plaza de Armas - Cusco. However, it’s really beautiful. It felt like a little retreat. Everything is organic and they have a fabulous onsite kitchen/restaurant. The food is damn good and fairly priced. This is one hotel I would totally stay in again. The room was so cute. A white painted stone wall. No TV. Comfortable bed. A door that was from Times past with a vintage padlock. They even had these little windows you could open to see outside. It felt like a little hobbit home.
Seriously. How cute is this place? You’d stay here too. Errr you should stay here! 😄
The restaurant was great! They had a fixed menu but it was all fresh. I mean... everything was fresh. You could even see the pasta noodles draped over from them making them in the morning. I fell in love with this little hobbit town. The breakfast was free! Fresh fruit, oatmeal, eggs any way and some different jams and breads. Different kinds of tea and juices. Of course, there was coffee too. Often you’d find travelers just sitting by the wood stove for heat. It was cold in Cusco. We didn’t quite expect that but packed for blizzard and a heat wave.
The food was aesthetically pleasing and delicious! Pasta with sausage, one of their salads and chicken soup was for dinner. Our Peruvian friend Daniel said that people from Cusco eat a lot of soup. He also recommended to eat light since the altitude is higher. Muuuuuch higher and digestion is slow. Good advice. I ate light and it still bothered me. More about altitude sickness, etc. later. Check out breakfast. I miss having someone serve me eggs in the morning. 😕
El Balcon. A diamond in the rough. Onward to free walking tour!
I should probably be writing these while actually in Peru but I couldn’t. I literally had no energy to write. So hopefully my crap memory can remember it all.
My friend and I decided to grab dinner and drinks at Amaz with Daniel, our new Peruvian friend. Daniel is a young Peruvian hipster of 27. Just a kid. Lol 😄 We we’re lucky because the restaurant was literally down the street.
We grabbed some drinks. Bourbon for me. Pisco Sour for my friend. Daniel showed up and we were able to get a table. During that time we were fighting with Priceline to give us a refund. I finally was able to get a refund but then we had no flights. Tours booked for the next day but no transportation. So a little bit of a panic... We had to get flights fast. However, of course, we had no passports on us. I felt kind of rude because Daniel was in the company of two people stuck to their phones. My friend ended up running back to the hotel to get flights and passports.
For a brief moment I thought... “I hope I don’t die here.” Who knows who this kid is? He’s but a stranger in a foreign land. Lol He turned out to be pretty cool. A very live and let live kind of person.
The food at Amaz didn’t rock my socks off. Actually, I will say Amazonian food is not my thing. We had snails, empanada and ribs. I didn’t really love any of it. I’m picky. Not picky enough not to eat it though. 😬
We ended the evening eating some of Daniel’s ‘ex-girlfriend’ chocolate and went back to the hotel. The ex-girlfriend chocolate was a random story told by D. Basically, one of his serious long term used to be girlfriends came into town with her boyfriend and wanted to see him. She brought him chocolate. They must have ended on a good note. I don’t know anyone who wants to bring me chocolate. Actually for those that know me, you know I don’t like chocolate. However, it felt like I should have some of his particular chocolate on this particular night. I still don’t love chocolate. 😄
Daniel lives in Miraflores. He rides his bike everywhere. That seems silly maybe, but if you saw the Peruvian drivers you’d ride too. D walked us back to our hotel and then we parted ways. We actually booked our last tour with him on our last day in Barranco. So this was an hasta luego for now.
Woot! Woot! Off to South America. Pretty awesome that the time change isn’t that great. Most of the trips I have been on the time change is killer. Even the 7 hour layover in Florida wasn’t that bad. Actually I spent most of my time writing a review of why you should never use Priceline. See reviews.
We dropped down in Lima and we didn’t have but one day before we moved onto the next city. We booked a tour with Foodies Peru and honestly you should always do a little walking tour right when you come into a new country. It helps you acclimate to the environment and get to know your surroundings. In this case, get to know the food! We were hungry. Well... some of us are always hungry... 😊
We met Daniel at the gallery by Kennedy Park. The park is two million cats. They were all so cute. I wanted to take them all home. Anyway, back to food... Daniel took us on a nice little walk around Miraflores. Miraflores is basically where tourist stay because it’s the “safe” part of Peru.
I cant remember all of the food had. Sorry. 😔 Unfortunately my memory is complete crap and I will normally forget names not never photos. I know we had ceviche, some potato and cream based dish, a lamb, two different kinds of drinks, one being Chicha Morada, chicolage dessert.
i would have to say that my favorite part was walking around the market and trying the different fruits. We also had a smoothie type drink. I love fresh made drinks. Out of all of the. Food options the cerviche was the best. However, I would have liked a sandwich option or fusion food to try as well.
Oh, before i forget, hereis a photo of one of the pieces in the art gallery. I love that this was community piece. Also, if you can’t read Spanish, The Google Translator app is pretty sweet. Just use the camera function and wave it over the words. It will translate it for you! Technology. How cool. 😏
We finished up with Daniel at the Choco Museo and then exchanged numbers to meet up later for dinner and drink. Stay tuned for Amaz. 😬
Sooooo someone wanted to get regular food after conquering Machu Picchu. The food so far has been decent. For some reason I just wanted a burger. So we stopped at Bembos. Yeah. I should have gotten pizza because the ‘beef’ burger was weirdly mushy in a way that told me I was not eating beef...I blame myself for this meal.
we walked around the flea market shop area. Basically every stall has the exact same thing so it was hard to pick up souvenirs. I hate just picking up junk.
We ended up grabbing a coffee and just hanging out in WiFi for awhile. It was really nice. The coffee was good. The music was soothing and no one was there. Perrrfect! We were heading to the train soon.
it seemed like such a long day. Machu Picchu. Wandering. Packing. Train. Getting off. Finding SAM travel. A couple hours drive to Cusco. In the van I started to feel nausea from the car ride... or the food...
we finally made it to Yawar Inca which was the nicest hotel we have stayed in and it also was the fastest stay. :( Basically we were there to sleep then up again at 4am...
we had not eaten since Bembos... It was kind of late to have dinner but we went to La Quinta anyway. It kind of was a shady walk down the street and over a block. Some guy started talking to us and following us. It was weird. I think he was trying to take us somewhere. No thank you.
There was so many good sounding options on this menu but... since I wasn’t feeling well I opted for the kids chicken nuggets and fries. Lol
Anyway, we don’t need to get into details but I was sickity sick. It just got worse and worse. We woke up early and was at the airport. I could barely keep my eyes open. I slept until we boarded the plane and just before the plane started its ascend I felt like I was going to throw up. I resigned myself to doing it in my cap. I felt bad for the guy sitting next to me. He probably thought I drank too much Chicha the night before. I made it to Casa Arequipa without getting sick on myself or anyone else. It was a win. I’m underplaying it a little. It was a bit serious. I’ve never felt so sick. It was a combination of weird food and dehydration. Maybe some altitude issues. No bueno. Make sure to take care of yourselves!
Oh Thip Samai, you don't need a review, but I'll give you one anyway. After scavenging the Internet before we took off for our trip for good food places I stumbled across many websites about Thip Samai. They are getting a lot of Internet play with some people saying that they serve up the BEST pad thai in Thailand. That's a pretty serious statement. When hundreds of people say they are the very best... you go check em' out! After a pretty long self-guided temple tour in what seemed like 1000 degree heat and 100% humidity we were ready to eat. Part of the plan was to find two places that I just had to go to, Thip Samai being one of them. So off we went to try to find our two destinations.
Along the way we happened to pick up a random traveler on the ferry. His name was Dave (we call him bohemian Dave - behind his back) and he was an American from Boston. We thought it was kind of strange that he asked to tail along on our foodie adventure, but we let him anyway since he seemed harmless. After talking to him for several blocks I came to realize that he was a new-age hippie. Wanting to travel and be free, probably living off of someone else's income. He wasn't in school and I could sense he didn't have a job, but he was traveling around the world. So either his parents are paying for his living, he is independently wealthy, or he has a sugar mamma. Either way, I didn't care. It was interesting to analyze a random stranger. He went with us to eat at Tian Song Paed Yang (the next review - sorry it's out of order!) and then wanted to keep temple touring, but I could NOT be deterred from my quest to find good food. So we parted ways and said goodbye to our strange new friend.
When we got to Thip Samai we saw a long, long line. So what did we do? We ran to the back of it and got ourselves ready for the BEST pad thai in Thailand. Don't be scared of the line it moves really fast. We may have waited 20 minutes or so. I'm glad that we waited because it was in fact really quite delicious. It's a mix of locals and tourists and it's hoppin' at night. We got the coconut juice because it looked like everyone was ordering it and the pad thai (obviously). We also ordered an orange juice. I know... why orange juice? Uhhh... why not? Hot damn! It was good. I would skip the coco juice and get a large orange juice. It was very refreshing with large chunks of fresh oranges in every drink. MMMmmm! That's my only regret...that I didn't buy a huge bottle.
I wouldn't say this was the BEST pad thai I have ever had, but it was definitely well above average. Make sure to stop in! Even it is a bit touristy, it's still great food!
Thip Samai Restaurant
Address: Samran Rat, Phra Nakhon Bangkok 10200, Thailand (if you are taking a cab, tell the driver “Pad Thai Pratu Phi”)
Probably one of my favorite restaurants/food stalls from Thailand is Tian Song Paed Yang. I saw a photo of this duck soup they had online in the states, screen shot it and made a pact with myself to find it and eat it. So, I did just that. On our walk to find Thip Samai we stopped off first at Tian Song Paed. Yang. There are a lot of duck food stalls by City Hall so make sure you go to the right one. It's across from City Hall. I read that online and thought, "oh I should be able to figure this out." Well City Hall is huge and we got lucky because it was right were we were, but I could have walked all the way around City Hall looking for it. To make it even more difficult, I didn't know the name of it and my Internet wasn't working on my phone. All I had was a photo of the soup.
So, I relied on my memory of what it looked like (that's a scary thing) and was pretty certain I found the right duck stall. If you are facing the front of City Hall, it will be on the left side. Walk down that street and look for the Tian Song Paed Yang sign. It will be in Thai so make sure you look at the photo above and save it to memory or screen shot it for your phone.
When you walk in you can tell this is definitely a local eating spot. We got a lot of strange, "what are you doing here?" looks. I thought it was awesome. I joke with my friend that the Thai people probably thought I was a food tour guide because they (Bohemian Dave and her) were the only white people in there. lol
I couldn't figure out what the soup was called so I took my phone out and said, "I want this!" No more than 10 minutes later our waitress came back with something she recommended the other two and my soup. Oh Gawwwwwd! It was good. It was extra delicious with a ton of chili flakes. The duck was crispy, the broth was flavorful, and I was in heaven. I would have eaten two bowls, but I knew pad thai was up next. So we paid our bill and kept going on our Hobbit-like journey to find Thip Samai.
I highly recommend stopping here. If you didn't already pick up on it from above... I LOVE the soup.
Tian Song Paed Yang
Address: Thanon Dinsong (left side of city hall, directly across the street)
Another place to try out is Som Tam. They have a list of different Som Tam Salads (papaya salads) and a smattering of other food items. This place was a bit touristy. Maybe it was because they were in the area with all the huge malls? I don't know, but if you are around the Siam Square area it's literally right next to Paragon on the left side down a small street.
I liked the papaya salad. We got the one with dried shrimp. It was spicy and good, but I think my favorites were the chicken wings and the smoothie. The chicken wings were an interesting flavor. When you think of chicken wings in the states, you think just fried chicken. Well, the good fried chicken in Thailand had a little extra somethin', somethin' that made them taste better than just fried chicken. Fried chicken + awesome seasonings and sauces = mind blown. Also, take a look at their mixed berry smoothie. ALL the smoothies in Thailand were made from fresh fruit AND even better they were CHEAP. In the states a smoothie can cost you 5-8 bucks. In Thailand a smoothie can cost you 1-2 dollars. They are amazing. Make sure to get as many smoothies as possible. I recommend passion fruit and mango if you're on the street. But this mixed berry smoothie was one of my favorites.
If you're in Bangkok (in July) you will see a lot of orange and pomegranate juices. If you're in Chiang Mai and Koh Samui you will see passion fruit. Get it. It's simply amazing.
Address:392/14 Soi Siam Square 5, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok
Address: +66 (0) 22 51 4880
When I arrived in Koh Samui, I was a little bit of a mess. I was coming off of a stressful school year (is there any other kind in the life of a teacher?), finishing a thesis, preparing for a three week trip in a country out of my comfort zone, jet lag of the most extreme variety, and about a three month lack of sleep. And then… I arrived at the Mantra Samui Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand. The second I arrived on site, I knew I had found the perfect antidote for about $90 USD per night. If you’re familiar with Thailand hotel prices, you might think this is pricy. But compared to what you’d get for $90 in the states, or even another resort on Koh Samui (tourist capital of Thailand), this place was a goldmine of the paradise variety. The amount of luxury we got for our buck exceeded my greatest expectations and soothed my tired soul the entire time I was there.
Let’s rewind a bit… I mentioned that the second I arrived ON SITE I recognized perfection. However, the 30 minutes prior to that moment were a little scary. Arriving in Koh Samui, the most picturesque airport I’ve ever set foot in, my friend and I looked for our complementary airport shuttle from Mantra. There was a handwritten sign in the hands of a driver that read “Mantra.” He said that he wasn’t our driver, and passed us off to another guy who didn’t show us an ID, or even our names on a list. We entered a big white van with no Mantra sign, and took off into the black night. Now yes, it might have been our paranoia, but we both got a little scared when he turned onto a very steep hill (felt like a mountain) with no lights, that seemed to twist and turn up, up, up into oblivion. We looked at each other nervously. “Are we being… stolen?” I whispered. And just like that, we arrived in Utoptia. Utopia looks like infinity pool melting into the ocean with a swim up bar and platters of food everywhere, buggies at your beck and that drive you up and down the hill from your perfect, enormous room to the reception, pool, restaurant or yoga studio, and a most beautiful view from my room’s large balcony made for lounging.
I still fantasize about what it felt like to relax into my vacation at Mantra, and I hope I make it back there someday. Here are some tips for you to enjoy your stay, and possibly a few recommendations to the Mantra folks!
1. You will be happy every morning because you’ll head straight to a most amazing brunch. Think unlimited lattes (the iced lattes were to die for!), platters of Thailand’s best fruit (which is pretty much all of Thailand’s fruit, since it was just plucked from the tree), croissants that rival and possibly surpass Paris served with fresh jams, made to order egg and pancake dishes, and an Asian chicken noodle soup bar. Oh, and a pretty amazing salad bar too. Since ‘chicken noodle soup’ doesn’t quite capture it, let me tell you why it’s a big deal. Walk up to the station and someone will meet you there. Choose a noodle from the three types and DO add every vegetable that’s offered. They cook to order with deliciously flavored broth and add fresh, tender chicken drums and/ or pork. And if you’re me, you liberally add red pepper flakes to spice it up. My advice? Go slightly later in the morning to stuff yourself as much as you can in order to skip lunch. If I could experience one aspect of Mantra at home, it would be this breakfast in my house.
2. Breakfast is free, the other meals are NOT. And the good stuff on the menu is pretty expensive. If you want a coffee in the room, it’s around $2 USD. If you want a coke, it’s about the same. There are a few cheap and lackluster options, and the buffets which sound amazing and probably are, will run you about $25-30 a person without drinks. We figured out pretty quickly that when you visit town on one of their shuttle busses, you buy snacks and cheap beverages, and then when you have a hunger pang back at the ranch you don’t have to spend ten bucks minimum to satisfy it. And also: Bring instant coffee, preferably of the Starbucks variety. My other advice is to order what Thailand makes best- THAI FOOD. We were pretty sad about our cheap hotdog and chicken burger. However: We had a fantastic meal from the Thai room service menu (same price to order in room or eat in the restaurant). Spicy king prawns and a glass of red wine for me, tender and flavorful fall off the bone ribs for my friend. The Thai flavors are what made it, and they know their business with their regional cuisine.
3. Transport: Call the main office any time you want a buggy to bring you anywhere, and then be ready within 60 seconds. It’s the easy way to navigate the hill, which is easy enough to walk down but quite a steep climb. The other advice is to book their shuttle to and from Chaweng Beach and Bophut ahead of time. I read reviews about their service being late or unreliable, but we had no problems. Maybe it was because we were there in low tourist season, but the deal is- if you’re on the list and there on time, you’re good to go. Otherwise it will take you a minimum of $10 USD to go the shortest distance from the resort, and MUCH more to go to a beach such as Chaweng. Even better to book a cheap tour such as Tours Koh Samui ($65 a person) which includes transport and a great day out. Otherwise it’s hard to go anywhere from Mantra. But if you’re there for the same reason we were (RELAXATION!!!!) then you won’t mind too much. We were perfectly happy by the pool and in our gorgeous room watching their included movies. Which brings me to #4….
4. Pool: Go- it’s wonderful. It was pretty small, which I saw in other reviews. However, we never had a problem in July during the Thai coup. Maybe in high season it would be different, but they did have their fair share of guests and we always got a spot. We did go early though- it may fill up later in the day or on busy days. You can buy lunch by the pool, but one MUST do is to be there between 11:00 and 12:00 to drink their complimentary virgin fruit juices. Our favorite was the freshly scooped and blended passion fruit mixed with sparkling water. It began an obsession actually. This same drink cost $5 when we bought it ourselves, so the ‘free pool version’ was the way to go. I also remember a delicious strawberry drink. We floated around until we had prune fingers and sunburns.
If we had a little advice for Mantra, first I’d say keep it up! We were sublimely content and rested by the end of the week, which we celebrated at their free cocktail hour. (Saturday from 5:30-6:30pm). The drinks kept on coming and it felt like a goodbye celebration for us. A few other things though: They could definitely benefit from either a bigger pool or a second pool. It also would have been nice for them to have more shuttles to different locations so any trip out wouldn’t cost so much (other than their two provided locations). Third, don’t make it so hard to get affordable food other than free breakfast time. It made me feel like I had no choice but to order expensive food, and while the price of the room was right, I booked this hotel because I’m on a tight budget. Other than that, I can’t give it less than five stars. It was the perfect first week to my favorite vacation, and I wouldn’t have chosen any other place to spend my time.
Thank you, Mantra, for a wonderful week.