The year of 2020 has been one to forget for almost all humankind. The COVID-19 pandemic has endured far longer than almost anyone predicted and is here with us at the beginning of 2021. A lost year of lock downs, quarantines, curfews and so forth. This being so, in early January 2021 as a family we decided to confront the travel risks and journey across Peru. I wrote this piece to let the world know on a practical level, of travel during COVID-19 to Machu Picchu. We live in Lima and ventured out on a week long journey to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu and Cusco. I hope the article will help other travelers assess what it is actually like to do such a trip under health and sanitary protocols.
Advice Prior to Travel:
- Print health declarations in advance for travel by plane, train and for hotel stays along your route. Speak to your travel advisor for up to the minute advice
- You will need a face mask and face shield for your trip by plane and train and any public transport
- You can bring water on board to the aircraft in a small bottle
- Best use the restrooms at the departure gate, as access to the airline restrooms in very limited and frowned upon. Stewardesses do not like to see people moving about the plane in flight.
Our travel during COVID-19 to Machu Picchu. We began with a drive to Lima airport and on arrival had our suitcases sprayed with alcohol and our temperature checked before being allowed entry to the terminal building. From there the process was straightforward, online check in or use the machines at the terminal beside the check in desks. At the LATAM Airlines check in staff help with the luggage check in via automated machines. Head upstairs to the security and onto the departure area boarding gates. Here you will see passengers don their face shields which are mandatory once on board the plane. These face shields can be purchased at shops nearby at the departure gates. The journey takes an hour or so. No food or beverages are served on board. Masks and face shields cannot be removed but I expect if you discreetly need a sip of your water you will not be removed from the flight! The wearing of the face shield is bothersome but given that flights in Peru are almost never much more than 1 -2 hours it is a sacrifice worth bearing.
Arrival in Cusco was normal until you exit having collected your luggage. You alight the terminal to an empty carpark! Then walk with your trolley/ bags to the airport exit gate (1 minute) and here you will find your taxi/ driver for onward travel. Our family was spending two nights in the Sacred Valley at Tambo del Inka Hotel. If you travel via public transport the use of the face shield is mandatory but if by private vehicle then only a face mask is required. The arrival and check in at Tambo del Inka was with full protocols of checking temperatures, alcohol hand sanitizer and then completing your declaration of health form at the front desk. It is true to say all travel during COVID-19 to Machu Picchu was accompanied by copious temperature checking and hand sanitizations, which all served to give a good impression of standards countrywide. This included our visits to Pisac Ruins where my daughter fell in love with a toy llama created by one of the trinket sellers at the site. In a time of COVID-19 it was nice to lend some support for these folks by spending a little more than usual. They have been badly affected by the fall of tourism in 2020.
Next day we visited Hacienda Sarapampa and this is a great option as in advance you can book a private meal and while away the afternoon in the pleasure of our good friends the owners Yussef and Maria. This is a true working hacienda farm where they grow the famous Giant Peruvian Corn. Delicious food over some 7 tasting courses makes for one of the very best Sacred Valley experiences as a part of the extended family for a day.
The Journey to Machu Picchu During COVID-19
We drove to Ollantaytambo Station, presented our health declaration documents and boarded the Vistadome Train. Capacity is reduced to 50%, mask and face shields mandatory and there were just a handful of fellow travellers in our carriage. The PeruRail staff’s friendly demanour considerably enhanced the enjoyment of our travel during COVID-19 to Machu Picchu. No food or drinks are served and so a good idea to bring your own water for the journey of about 1hour 30 minutes to Aguas Calientes village. Then you board the shuttle bus (again masks and face shields) for a 25-minute trip to Machu Picchu. Full capacity of 100% was used on this service, I believe this is under review at the time of writing and may become reduced.
Within the citadel of Machu Picchu our guided tour was three hours in duration and throughout you must wear just a face mask. There are many stewards that will discourage you removing them even for photos. In all honesty, we thoroughly enjoyed seeing Machu Picchu. It was the first time for my daughter and the history alone of the site makes the time fly. The clouds were low as normal in January with some mist, it made zero difference to a simply wonderful occasion.
Aguas Calientes & Return from Machu Picchu to Cusco
We enjoyed two nights at Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel. It is one of our favorites and the gardens alone abound with beautiful orchids and two spectacled bears to keep the children interested on a fascinating nature trail. My daughter had an amazing time and said she wanted to see the famous Peruvian bird called the Cock of The Rock. Carmen our guide told us to keep our eyes peeled but they proved elusive. Until, right at the very end of our walk we heard their gregarious calls!
The return Vistadome Train to Ollantaytambo was the reversal of our arrival and we had no further issues. We then had a three night stay at Palacio del Inka Hotel Cusco. Cusco is the heartland of travel in Peru. Many guides, cooks, hotel workers etc. all earn their keep from the travel industry. It is a beautiful city with many Incan and Colonial ruins. Business is recovering and typically at about 30% of normal at this time. There are a number of excellent restaurants open. Paddy’s Irish Pub, on the main Plaza de Armas, is a great choice for tasty bar food and maybe a Guinness or two. Again, enjoying food and good company here is no issue as social distancing is observed and all protocols adhered to. My daughter and wife loved the Quesadillas!
Some days later we boarded a flight ex Cusco Airport. Take note that you will arrive to airport where at the entrance gate you will need to show your passport and proof of travel. Then you are allowed inside to check in. Bring a rain jacket, as the gate procedures can be slow and form a queue of 10- 15 minutes on occasion.
Conclusions on Travel During COVID-19 to Machu Picchu
Planning and doing any travel experience trip at this time has much apprehension and that is wholly understandable. However, one can readily find a million excuses not to travel, that is a personal choice. After over a year of zero travel we decided we were going to go. Once en route one needs to remain in a positive mindset and expect small issues along the way. You may not have the swimming pool or spa in some hotels for example. Menus are less expansive but still great. A plus of travel at this time is surely the lack of crowds, it was great at Machu Picchu for sure.
Is it enjoyable or worthwhile to embark upon travel during COVID-19 to Machu Picchu? The worth of these journeys in troubled times is that have become more relevant than ever before. Coming over the plateau of Chinchero Sacred Valley to a carpet of patchwork verdant green fields, conversing with new friends and cultures along the way, viewing Machu Picchu together or strolling the lush grounds of Inkaterra Machu Picchu with darting colibri hummingbirds overhead. These shared moments of mother nature and human nature have not disappeared but are awaiting you all here in Peru. Coming back from the airport to Lima spontaneously both my daughter and wife hugged me and thanked me for one of the best trips of their life. Life does not often bestow fairy-tale endings like that.
See our selection of trip ideas on our Peru Luxury Tours page.
This article is purely an account of an individual trip and all protocols, laws and accessibility are subject to change. Contact your Peru expert travel adviser here for the latest information and an honest expert travel planning service.
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