Peru – Where We Stayed, a Little Travel Hack, and More

Unassuming exterior of the Palacio del Inka in Cusco

Rob tells me that in his last post he didn’t go into any details about our accommodation in Cusco.

The Palacio del Inka – A Luxury Collection Hotel by Starwood was an excellent place to stay so I figured I better get on my butt and write about it.

Of course I can’t be brief, so here are all the details on where we stayed, what we ate and how we got around in and between Cusco, Aguas Caliente (Machu Picchu Puebla) and Lima during our 16 nights in Peru.

Cusco

Our initial plan was to split the family up after a few nights in Cusco. Because of age limitations for hiking the Inca Trail or even trekking to Machu Picchu, Ben and I were going to take it easy in Cusco while Rob, Emma and Hannah were going to do an epic Jungle Trek like this one and meet us in Aguas Caliente, the little Puebla at the base of Machu Picchu.

Palacio del Inka a Luxury Collection Hotel

Beautiful entrance to the Palacio del Inka, filled with antiques.

Needing two rooms almost everywhere we go, I booked one room as a completely free five night stay using SPG Starpoints.

The  Palacio del Inka is a Category 4 Starwood hotel which requires 10,000 Starpoints per night with the fifth night free. So the five night stay was 40,000 Starpoints.

Rob and the girls were only going to stay in Cusco for three nights so I booked a one night cash rate to earn some points combined with a two night Cash & Points rate. Category 4 Cash & Points redemptions are $75 USD plus 5,000 Starpoints (taxes on the $75 rate).

Normally, we don’t redeem our points at higher category hotels because we’d end up burning through our points too quickly. But the cash rates at the Palacio were pretty steep.

At first glance, a prepaid rate for the hotel of $141.46 can easily be found. But there are steep taxes and service fees plus a very annoying $30  ‘destination fee’ that brings the room rate well over $230 USD!, Per night!

Probably okay for a vacation but not sustainable for long term travel.

Booking the free night awards avoided all the extra taxes and service fees and even the Cash & Points rate had minimal taxes. So redeeming points for this hotel was a great value.

The 18% Peruvian Resident tax can easily be avoided for cash stays,

As per the Starwood booking site “Per local tax laws, an 18% tax must be paid by Peruvian citizens and foreigners staying more than 59 days in Peru. To be exempt from this 18% tax (IVA), a guest must present both a valid, original passport and a copy of an immigration card. Guests who are unable to present both documents will be required to pay the tax. All room package reservations are subject to this 18% tax, regardless of a guest’s origin and length of stay.”

SPG Platinum Benefits

Our SPG Platinum status gives us free breakfast, wifi etc so we were able to ‘opt out’ of the Destination Fee’ which did not include much beyond that. Although two Pisco Sours each evening would have been delicious, it certainly isn’t worth the $30 plus USD.

Extensive breakfast spread at the Palacio Del Inka.

If we didn’t have Platinum status, the included breakfast plus other perks would have eased the pain of the otherwise mandatory Destination Fee.

The kids loved their Suite Upgrade. Got to love Platinum status.

Unlike most other hotels, the Palacio del Inka upgraded BOTH of our rooms to Junior Suites. Although we’re both Platinum, generally only one room is upgraded to a suite and the hotel puts the kids on the Club floor (or not even).

We’re trying to be more demanding about Platinum benefits but it’s just not in our nature. I’d rather vent and steam about it to myself than say anything to the front desk. So much healthier. Really, it’s just the kids’ room. But the principle of it.

There is no lounge or any other significant Platinum benefits at this Starwood property. We had to exchange the 500 Starpoint Platinum welcome gift for breakfast.

The Art of Flexibility

Maybe not so much an art, but I do appreciate our ability to be flexible. In the end, we had to abandon the Jungle Trek because of our first serious bout of stomach problems on this round the world trip, food-borne we suspect. We stayed six nights at the Palacio del Inka before I felt well enough to relocate.

Despite four of us having varying degrees of food poisoning (Emma escaped), we enjoyed the Palacio del Inka, would certainly stay again, and can highly recommend it for a base of exploration in Cusco. It was certainly a perfect place to be hugging a toilet or garbage can in a foreign country.

Our double room six night stay set us back 55,000 Starpoints and $1,120.79 CAD ($893 USD). Five free nights (40,000 Starpoints), four paid and three Cash & Points (15,000 Starpoints). Halve this if you just need one room.

This is way more than we intended to pay for our stay at the Palacio. 55,000 Starpoints can get us 13 to 18 free room nights at a hotel like the Sheraton Lima (see below), a Category 2 hotel where a weekend night is 3,000 Starpoints, and a weekday stay is 4,000 Starpoints.

Fortunately, our paid nights overlapped with both the SPG 2018 first quarter promotion and Q4 from 2017 that ended 15 January. So we earned 7,123 Starpoints between the two of us. That’s a whole free night at the Palacio!

One more thing of note, the hotel let us check in to both rooms at seven in the morning. All of Cusco has a crazy-assed 9 a.m check out time. We did not try to extend our check out time.

Inka Wasi Boutique Hotel

Courtyard entrance to Inka Wasi Boutique hotel.

Feeling tolerably well on the seventh day, we checked out of the Palacio and walked to the Inka Wasi Boutique Hotel across from the charming Plaza Regocijo. (We didn’t take our own hotel photos so credit to hotels.com website for all our borrowed but accurate photos).

Double lroom at Inka Wasi Boutique
Triple room at Inka Wasi Boutique

The double room was $61.03 USD per night and the triple room for the kids was $65.23 USD per night. US dollars always sound better. It stings to say $76.24 CAD and $81.49 CAD respectively. A great breakfast in the beautiful but too fancy for us adjacent restaurant was included in the room rate.

We’d stay here again and do recommend it.

Terra Andina Colonial Mansion

At $49.17 USD per room per night, this Cusco hotel was a great bargain. That’s $122.46 CAD for our one night two room stay, for those keeping track. This rate did NOT include breakfast.

We stayed here after our two nights in Aguas Calientes (see below) because the Inka Wasi Boutique hotel was not available.

Annoyingly, upon check in they wanted an extra $40 USD for Ben as the third person in a room. No kid stays free here. Notice that supplement is almost the room rate. Fortunately the manager on duty agreed it WAS ridiculous, In the end, we still had to pay an extra $20 USD for Ben to stay. They gave us a huge beautiful room with three super singles. That helped ease the frustration. The injustice of it!

We’d certainly stay again. It was like my beloved Sheraton but without the chain.

Recommended. Even despite the child extra charge fraud thing.

Transport to (and from) Aguas Calientes

After a two night stay, the Inka Wasi Boutique hotel stored our bags in their secure utility room and we took just a couple of packs on the Inca Rail train ride to Aguas Calientes. At this time of year, the train does not leave from nearby Poroy Station due to it being rainy season. Rather, we had to make our way to Ollantaytambo Station instead. No worries, or not much. The set price for a private car from our hotel in Cusco to the station in Ollantaytambo was 100 Peruvian Soles ($41.68 CAD). A seven seater even.

I found Inca Rail tickets were cheaper than Peru Rail.  And both were significantly less than tickets on the Hiram Bingham rail cars. If you book further ahead, you could have open choice of the less expensive times. We were constrained by slim pickings for five seats just one day before departure and still nabbed seats amongst the cheapest. At $104 USD each, the round trip train tickets set us back $650 CAD for the five of us. We opted not to take the ‘panoramic’ car. I don’t think we missed much, the view out the standard windows was stunning. Of note, you don’t get to pre-select your seats. Fortunately, we were assigned seats together.

There are cheaper ways to get to Machu Picchu. I briefly considered this but I’m not nearly as cracked cheap energetic as this couple, How to Get to Machu Picchu for $1. Hats off to them.

In our defence, we did hike up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes rather than take the $12 USD per person bus in each direction. I think Ben would have been $7 USD one way (under 12). After the 90 minute climb, I was more than a bit bagged and worried we made the wrong choice. But we trekked for hours more around the Machu Picchu site and still managed to decide to hike back down to Aguas Calientes. $110 USD savings there. And a free hike!

True story. We were trying to decide which Machu Picchu tickets to purchase and were going to choose the more expensive ones that included a further hike above Machu Picchu. Fortunately we settled for the base tickets.

This blog has a great post on how to buy tickets to Machu Picchu. We opted to purchase them at the Cultural Center in Cusco the day before we departed for Aguas Calientes. As the least expensive option, after conversion our five tickets were $207.67 (156.14 PEN for Rob and I, 74.14 PEN for Ben, Emma and Hannah as students). Bring your passports.

The return transport by private car from Ollantaytambo to our hotel in Cusco required a bit of easy bargaining to get the same rate back. Be firm.

Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Puebla)

Since the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge toward the top of Machu Picchu was definitely NOT an option for us at $800 per room per night, we had to choose the best value amongst a pretty mediocre selection of hotels. Tourist town. With tourist prices. But set amidst the remote Peruvian mountains with amenties to match.

Quilla House

The view from our balcony
We were across from the kids room and could see their balcony

I’m not saying it was the best choice. But Quilla House was clean. White bedding (yay!). Nice decor. And it didn’t look any worse than our other options.

And it was certainly cheap. $26.89 USD per night for a double room and $34.19 per night for a triple.

This hotel could so easily be so much better than what it was. Little details add up.

I’d stay again. I’m not sure if I can recommend it given … well, I used to be really picky. I don’t know what my standard is anymore.

My only complaint, breakfast was exceedingly poor. Bread and water.

Okay, coffee, orange juice, bread and jam. No water. Serious.

Who knows, maybe that was the standard for Aguas Calientes. Our view was certainly standard. Too bad they built this town in such a haphazard way.

Transport from Cusco to Lima

Shockingly the taxi from our hotel in Cusco to the airport was just 10 Peruvian Soles. $4.17 CAD. That was without bargaining. It was what we were expecting. And it just happened. Like it was supposed to.

Of course, we were so grateful that we gave an exorbitant tip. Oh well, shock will do that.

No award flights from Cusco to Lima. We booked FIVE one way fares for $494.43 USD taxes in. Don’t get too excited, that was $614 CAD for the five of us. Oh well, we earned some Aeroplan miles, I guess.

We’ve been told that there are no metred taxis in the city of Lima (by a taxi driver – he was super helpful and sincere). We didn’t see any metred taxis.

Upon exiting the Lima airport it was almost like being back in Vietnam. Lanes of different coloured taxis. Driver’s offering crazy rates in USD. The low typical fare seemed to be 50 Peruvian Soles. But that’s over $20 CAD. Exorbitant for the distance.

We held our ground (kind of) and gave up at 40 Soles. Upon arrival at the hotel, the driver was not terribly happy about the traffic and didn’t help us with our bags. No tip. We are terrible for overtipping so this was a nice change.

We ended up using Uber from the Sheraton Lima back to the airport for our flight to Ecuador. But that’s another story. Ecuador, not Uber.

Lima Peru

Sheraton Lima

Ah, back to lounge access and … well, that was it for Platinum benefits here. Although the website prior to our arrival showed an upgrade to a suite, upon check-in they must have given it away to someone else. We could have changed rooms after the first night but we were already settled in for our five night stay. We’re lame.

Truthfully, the standard Club Floor room was spacious and had a balcony. And we’re lame.

The Sheraton Lima is a Category 2 hotel. Free award night stays are 4,000 Starpoints for a week day stay and 3,000 Starpoints for a weekend stay. Cash & Points rates are 2,000 Starpoints plus $35 USD.

We combined a four night Cash & Points stay with one weekend free night award to both rooms.

The five night two room stay cost us 22,000 Starpoints and 1,016.40 Peruvian Soles in total. That’s $391.40 CAD ($312 USD). We earned 5,000 Starpoints between our two accounts.

The lounge had excellent breakfast and evening service. Very attentive.

On the down side, the only complimentary libation was sparkling wine. No beer or spirits. That was perfect for me of course. And frankly Rob needed the variety since he was at risk of becoming a beer snob.

Ben loves his lounge access. Fortunately we could finally accommodate him. Seriously, he kept asking when our next lounge stay would be. So much it stopped being funny.

The Sheraton Lima is adjacent to the old quarter. Many people recommend Mirafores as the area to stay. We took a day trip to Miraflores and found it to be a modern and overpriced touristy (or at least wealthy) suburb of Lima. Regardless, the hotel offers a free shuttle to Miraflores if you find this area is not hip enough.

We highly recommend this hotel. And we’d certainly stay again.

Travel Tip – How to Save 12% on Hotel Bookings

I book all our non-chain paid hotels through hotels.com. They have their own ‘reward’ program which essentially gives 10% cash back for future bookings. They call it getting ‘the tenth night free’ but it’s just an average of ten qualifying cash stays.

I don’t go directly to hotels.com though. After doing my research, I clear my cookies (important, don’t forget) and then I login to greatcanadianrebates.ca.  It’s just a Shopping Portal. Currently their cash back for hotels.com is 2%. Don’t scoff. It adds up quickly.

Everyone should be using a shopping portal for online purchases. Seriously.

You end up paying the exact same price as if you were purchasing direct, but the shopping portal gives you a portion of their commission as cash back. Say you booked a hotel through an online newspaper ad or an ad for a travel agency. That site would get a kickback. Great Canadian Rebates shares their kickback with the customer.

Not already a member? If you join Great Canadian Rebates using my referral link greatcanadianrebates.ca you’ll get $2.50 to kickstart your cash back account. Again, the same as if you joined without my link.

If you’re new to hotels.com you can get $50 USD off your first booking of $200 or more if you join using my link for hotels.com. Although this is the US version, you can switch back and forth between Canadian and USD dollars (as well as country of origin) by using the options on the top. AND be billed in the corresponding currency at the spot rate. I joined the US  .com version because the Canadian .ca version did not have the $50 welcome bonus. I can even redeem the free night credits in either currency.

Where We Ate

Clearly this post is too long. Where we ate will have to wait.

ATMs in Peru

I place Peru firmly in the large list of countries with egregious ATM practices.  Though it’s not as bad as Argentina.

The maximum ATM withdrawal that we could find in Cusco and Lima was 400 Peruvian Soles. That is equivalent to $155.66 CAD. Add in an 18 Soles ATM fee and that is a 4.5% service fee to access your own money. And this was the low end.

Peru is a cash based society. Those fees add up fast.

Hopefully your own bank doesn’t add in their own ATM transaction fees on top of that. Our All-Inclusive TDCanadaTrust account does not add their own fee. I could  (and will in a future post) go on and on about ATM fees and limits. Caught myself there.

Almost Up to Date – What’s Next

That’s enough! I didn’t intend this post to be so long. I thought I only had a few things to say. As always, my apologies for being full of air.

We’re in Quito Ecuador right now. We’re off to a lodge in the ‘deep’ Amazon tonight. After that we’re in Panama City for a week.

Stay tuned and thanks for following along,

Colleen

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Replies to “Peru – Where We Stayed, a Little Travel Hack, and More”

    1. Hi Ryan!
      SPG and Marriott Platinum can still be hacked. SPG Gold from the Platinum Amex Personal (or from gulp $40k annual spend on SPG Amex. SPG Gold=Marriott Gold (free breakfast at Marriott. Marriott Platinum Challenge is nine STAYS in three full months plus the remainder of the month of enrolment (example: enrol 2 March, rest of March, April, May and June). Marriott Platinum=SPG Platinum. Travel with family and get Stay credit for multiple rooms.

  1. Excellent post. Keep writing. I hate those hidden fees which add up. When I was in NY the hotel added some type of facility fee to my bill. Really! It added another 60US to my bill. So much for getting a great deal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *