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Winter break is the perfect time to leave the East Coast chill and visit warm, golden Morocco. We landed in Casablanca airport, peeled off our layers, and set out to the sun, where Loutfi, our driver, waited for us.

We were off to Essaouira, and though according to Google maps the ride would take about 4.5 hours, in reality, like driving elsewhere in Morocco, it takes more time, especially if you like to stop enroute.

So stop we did. We first freshened up in the old portuguese town of El Jadida where we found a cool rooftop with ocean view and good mint tea and pastries. Le Lokal

Le Lokal

Le Lokal, cute rooftop

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At Le Lokal, mint tea, small pastries, and well… coffee, to handle the jet lag

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Colors of El Jadida

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We stumbled upon the community bakery where  women deliver bread to be cooked in the wood-fired oven

When it was time for lunch, and after some more driving, we arrived in the city of Oualidia, located beside a natural lagoon. There, we had the freshest seafood with a tranquil seaview backdrop. Ostrea 2.

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This small town boasts the freshest mussels

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Serenity at Ostrea 2

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Ostrea 2, Oualidia

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Leaving Oualidia, to Essaouira

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Part I- from NY to Lima to Cusco

I was toying with the idea of going to Peru for quite some time. Now back home, I can easily say it was a fulfilling experience both for us as a family, and as individuals. I encourage you to read this post because it’s unique. It is co-blogged by my daughter (Lior), who has a set of fresh eyes to explore the world, and a flowing language to describe it, and by myself.

Also- be sure to read the next parts of our journey, as it gets better yet!!

“Wow” is almost the only thing I can think of, as I am still in awe of our adventures in Peru. And it’s a good thing that I decided to sit and write as everything is still fresh in my mind. It will take a few days, though.

But first things first. We were lucky that the state of NJ has decided to let most teachers to go on conferences or conventions, or whatever, for a whole week at the beginning of November, which allowed us to enjoy the best time in Peru. Why? because it’s the beginning of the wet season in Peru, which means far less tourists, and cheaper prices. And yes, it does mean rain, too, but not as much. We have already enjoyed that weather in Costa Rica a few years back, so we already knew that we’re lucky to travel during the first week of November.

You’re welcome to read everything, including the small details, or just skip over to some photos. I think some of the tips may be beneficial if you’re planning a short visit.

So, it all begins in planning. Once you decide to go to Peru, start doing your homework. Get the kids involved. It’s fun. I checked out the Lonely Planet from our local library and it contained tons of useful info. Once I knew the dates, I bought plane tickets for all five of us via Kayak. It makes sense to shop around and “play” with dates and airports, until the best deal is found.

Day 1

We flew from LaGuardia airport in NYC, to Miami, to Lima, Peru. We left real early on Thursday, Halloween morning, with more than 4 hours in Miami, to arrive late at night in Lima.

LaGuardia Airport celebrates Halloween

LaGuardia Airport celebrates Halloween

on our way to Lima

Layover in Miami

I’ll admit, for a second there, the kids were starting to have have second thoughts after basking in the Miami sun, gazing at pastel colored buildings, and licking some dripping ice cream.

An approximate five hours of flight got us to Lima, where we were picked up by our hostel driver. Yes, there is a fancy hotel right at the airport, but it’s quite expensive. Though it saves time, and the hassle of a 30 minute drive into town, especially when we had to catch a very early flight in the morning to Cusco, we still preferred the hostel option as it saved muchos $$$. Our hostel, The Place, is located in a very good neighborhood in Lima, the Miraflores. We had no time to explore Lima, as we were dead tired after such a long travel, and had to get up at 5am the next day for our flight. Besides, it was late, where would we go? But we did return to this little, quiet hostel at the end of our trip, and spent some nice time walking around. The staff, especially Louisa and Gustavo were welcoming and knowledgeable, and Gustavo’s English gave us a sense of familiarity. Though we had to leave at 5:30am, they managed to prepare a basic breakfast for us: great coffee, hot chocolate for the little one, and toasts for all of us.

La Place Hostel, Miraflores, Lima

The Place Hostel, Miraflores, Lima

Lior:

The layover in Miami was super convenient (for me). The warm weather was a welcome change from the bitter October cold, even if for just a few hours! It brought back sweet summertime memories, so be careful not to fall into Miami temptation! You are still on a trip to a place way cooler~ Peru!

The drive to Miraflores is really enjoyable! Since Lima (and all of its 43 districts) are on a cliff, there is a highway that runs on the coast line. There aren’t many people on the beaches, as they aren’t developed yet, but you can see some daredevil surfers in the water. Besides, the fresh Pacific Ocean air feels good! I didn’t get to see much of Miraflores that night, I passed out for a much needed sleep instead.

Day 2

We started our day at dawn, rushing to get to our Cusco flight. It’s a short flight. Do try and sit by a window. Cruising at cloud level, you’ll notice the magnificent mountain tops all around, some are green, some snow covered.

Landed in Cusco, we were welcomed and picked up by Marlene of Cusco Hope Travel, who helped and eased our travel. Thanks to Marlene, whome helped us arrange the trip that we wanted, tailored specifically to our needs, things went smooth, or if there were any problems, they were quickly fixed. Traveling with kids, as well as the short time period we had for this trip, made us “round” or “soften” any rough edges that could have popped out, and that’s where Marlene came in.

Driving to the guesthouse, our 9th grader started chatting with Marlene in Spanish. How cool is that? Already a gain! the road took us through a bustling city, lots of people on the streets as well as… Dogs! Lots and lots of dogs. But these were beautiful, healthy dogs. Houses seemed to be half-finished, yet if zoomed out, it looks like a colorful fairy-tale village.

A cute guesthouse (La Rojas), located in a central location, welcomed us with coca leaf tea. We sat (fell) on the couches, drank our teas, and listened to Marlene’s explanations.

It is VERY! important to remember that Cusco is nestled between mountains, yet on itself is at an altitude of 3,400 meters above sea level. You must take it easy. Even the smallest step or climb, will shortly be felt by your heart. Well, not everyone is sensitive, but one never knows. See TIPS for the popular, energizing, stomach-calmer, altitude-fixer, and a remedy to just about anything in Peru: Coca Tea!

one family's journy to Peru

Coca Leaves Tea are offered immediately

Regardless of warnings, we felt so good, we set out to explore our neighborhood in Cusco, which is, by the way, classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Cusco, Peru

Plaza De Armas, the main square

One family's journey to Peru

We had to shine our shoes. Actually, we just needed to sit down

Another view of Plaza De Armas (Plaza of the army)

Another view of Plaza De Armas (Plaza of the army)

Finally, after 30 minutes, back in the hostel, to take it easy, and have more Coca Tea

Finally, after 30 minutes, back in the hostel, to take it easy, and have more Coca Tea, and sleep

After some sleep, yes, even in the middle of the day, we got up for some food, and another lazy stroll in this fun city. There’s admission fee to many attractions in the city and around it, so it’s well worth it to purchase the one ticket that includes entrance to many of the sights, and it’s valid for 10 days. The tickets are 130 soles (~$47) for adults, 70 soles for teens, and free for kids under 10 years.

With the ticket, we found out about the traditional Quechua dances, and we headed down Avenda Sol to see them. It was nice, relaxing, and at times interesting (and even funny) to watch the dances. The costumes were beautiful.

colors, sounds, jumps at the traditional dance show

colors, sounds, jumps and chats at the traditional dance show

Lior:

The flight to Cusco was definitely memorable! From takeoff to landing, there is a perfect view of the Andes Mountains! It is so picturesque to see the top of snow capped mountains among the clouds.

Cusco had a very good first impression! First, the air feels clean, and fun to breath (I know coming from near New York). A lot of people get altitude sickness, but I didn’t! My theory is that because I play a wind instrument seriously, and do breathing exercises, my lungs are used to taking in different amounts of air. Go figure! As a treatment for this altitude sickness (and according to the locals, everything else as well), one can drink coca tea. As an avid tea drinker, this was definitely a plus! If you don’t like tea, they also sell coca candy, which tastes like cough drops.

 The city has cobblestone streets, with many plazas. Plaza des Armes is really nice, but I soon realized that it is the epitome of a tourist trap. Which is OK! That is, if you like tourist traps, which is totally respectable! There are lots of women and children walking around in traditional clothes and carrying sheep, wanting you to take a picture. Also, there are TONS of sweaters (perfect for the sweater weather in America). If you aren’t one for tourist traps though, just walk a little bit up the road, or find an cool looking alley. There may not be as many stores, but you get to look at the real life, and see how people live!

 As for the stores, they are a good chance for a cheap buy! Don’t take the initially offered price, bargain! There are nice shoes, sweaters, socks, and fuzzy leggings that you can buy for a good price. The sweaters may or may not be good quality, so be careful. If you want top notch clothes, you can buy in the official looking stores, otherwise, just buy from the people on the street market type shops. One particular alley off of Plaza des Armes, Procuradores, has a lot of neat stores and restaurants.

Tips:

General + Lima

  • If you’re traveling with children, most airlines will allow you to board the plane before the others, or at least right after first class. In order for that to happen, make sure the flight attendants at the check-in counter sees your kids, or better yet, hears them. Another good tip: we each carried a small back-pack that contained one set of emergency clothing, and a book. With only one small carry-on, airlines allowed us to board first, before others. Of course we each had our own suitcase that was already checked in.
  • once going through Peruvian immigration, you receive a little note/form per each passenger. Keep that note in a safe place. You will have to present it once exiting Peru. If you don’t have it- you’ll have to pay $$.
  • make sure you have a pick-up from the airport by your hotel or hostel, as well as a drop-off at the airport, for your next flight, and that its included in the price.
  • At Hostel La Place, be sure to ask for the better rooms upstairs, especially rooms 212 and 205, as they had newer showers. We always had 2 rooms- one for the kids and for us, adults.

Cusco

  • We did not have much time to spend in total, so we cut our stay in Lima to minimum. Try  to find a flight that leaves Lima asap if you’re like us. We ordered our flight to/from Cusco with Star Peru. We had very good experience with them.
  • Get a seat by a window, it’s worth it. Views are amazing.
  • On your way to Cusco ask for, and drink the coca leaf tea. It will not only get you used to the (almost) popular drink and make a true Peruvian out of you, but it will seriously  help you with altitude sickness.
  • If you’ll stay at La Rojas (our hostel), make sure to ask  for the rooms upstairs, especially the ones facing AWAY from the main street (Tigre) and the crossing little street (Teqsiqocha). Though they may seem pretty innocent during the day, those streets are very noisy during the night. There are discotheques and pubs not far, that are erupting all of the sudden in the middle of the night, and you’ll feel, like I did, that you’re surrounded by drums. Not a good idea, unless you’re a party animal.
  • A good, reasonable priced restaurant, that serves local Peruvian dishes next to some key western dishes (Pizza anyone?) is Pacha Mama located between Plaza de Armas and the hostel, on Saphi Rd (or Plateros). I had the best Ceviche here. Notice some streets have 2 names: one in Spanish, and one in Quechua.
  • First day in Cusco is a good day to take it easy and walk slowly to Avenda El Sol, to buy: tourist ticket (Boleto Turístico del Cusco) that allows entrance to many of Cusco and surrounding sights. Also on Avenda El Sol, are many money changers. To avoid high exchange rates and commission charges, only exchange a minimal amount of cash at the airport upon your arrival, and the rest- in Lima or Cusco. It is better you take small denomination bills or pocket money as vendors, shops and taxis do not often have change. Be careful with bills and examine that they are not old, worn or even slightly torn, as nobody will accept them. Finally, be sure to buy water bottle, and sun screen. Unfortunately, the tap water isn’t drinkable, and it is important to drink lots of water. Although the temps might not be too high, think that you’ll be at around 3,300 meters above sea level, so the sun hits pretty hard! Oh- also- the hostels we stayed in did not have shampoo (did have soap, though). So, we had a little shampoo sample we brought with us from the US for the first night in Lima, but bought a bigger bottle in Cusco.

See Part II- Cusco and around

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