by Jo Anne Vaughn
February 27, 2011
Our February 2011 cruise on Infinity to South America and cruise tour to Machu Picchu was amazing. We flew out through Dallas overnight to Buenos Aires on American. We were able to sleep a little, so we were functioning pretty well when we arrived. One benefit of flying to South America is that there is very little jet lag. We were only a couple of time zones east of home.
We followed Trip Advisor's instructions on getting through the Buenos Aires airport and they worked very well. We paid our $140 each, went through immigration and customs, and got a taxi from the Ezezia tax stand. We already had some Argentinean currency, so we used that to pay for our cab, although they would have taken dollars. The cab dropped us off at the Pamamericano Hotel which I booked through their website (http://www.panamericano.us/index_eng.html). We felt that it was a good value. The location is central to all of the main sights, right at the Obelisk on Avenida 9 de Julio. The people at the desk were very helpful. Since it was mid-morning when we arrived, we weren't able to get into our room. They checked our bags for us and we started exploring Buenos Aires.
We picked up our Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus tickets at the main office. I had ordered them on-line at a small discount (http://www.buenosairesbus.com/en/service.htm). Since the line for the bus was long, we walked to the Recoleta area so I could order a leather jacket from the URU Recoleta store (http://www.us-cueros.com.ar/english/home.html). It wasn't quite as much of a bargain as I hoped, but was still a good deal for custom made. We ate a nice lunch at the Cafe Victoria. We found the HOHO bus stop and took the bus back to the starting point. The bus gives an overview of the city with good recorded commentary. When we got back to the hotel, we were able to get into our room. Around 8 that evening we walked through the theatre district on Avenue Corientes for dinner. We felt very safe since so many people were out. We ate at Restaurante Chiquilin. I had my first Argentinean steak which was very good. English is pretty common in very touristy areas, but away from them it is more limited. We felt safe, but we were very careful. Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with very European architecture.
We scheduled a four hour walking tour with BA Walking Tours (http://www.ba-walking-tours.com/) on Saturday. I would book with them again. We had breakfast at Il Gran Cafe and then met our guide on Avenue Florida near Plaza San Martin. We walked through the downtown area to the government buildings at Plaza Mayo, then to San Telmo where we stopped for coffee at Plaza Dorrego Bar. We took cabs (not included) to La Boca where the tour ended. The tour was very good. The guide covered a lot of history and cultural information. We had lunch after the tour in La Boca at La Yunta. The food was good and they had a great show with young dancers doing Tango and traditional dances. The dancers seemed to be having a good time. We took the HOHO bus back to pick up my jacket and then walked through the Recoleta Cemetery. We found Evita's grave. That evening we attended an excellent tango show at El Querandi (http://www.querandi.com.ar/). It was very professional and showy. The theatre provided transportation, so that made it easy.
Sunday morning, we took another walk through Buenos Aires along the Diagonal Norte to the Plaza de Mayo and then to the Plaza del Congreso. We walked by the historical cafes, Confiteria Ideal and Cafe Tortoni, but they were both closed on Sunday. We had great medialunes and coffee at Cabildo de Buenos Aires Cafe for breakfast. Then we went back to the hotel and checked out. We took a cab to the terminal. The doorman had told us it would be 20 pesos, but the driver wouldn’t use his meter and charged us 30. It was still cheaper than the cruise line ($8 total instead of $40 each). No lines for check in so it was fast. We had to take a bus to the ship from the terminal. After we got to our room and relaxed a little, we headed back into town. We walked from the terminal back to Florida Street along Plaza San Martin. It was a long walk and through an area that might not be safe at night. We had lunch, walked around a little, and then returned to the ship for dinner.
I hesitate to say too much about Infinity since it is going into dry-dock for major renovations in the fall. A few things were looking a little worn, but it was still in very good shape. It is a beautiful ship. We really enjoy the layout of the Infinity. Plaza Deck 3 is the base of the Grand Foyer. The Guest Relations and Cruise Excursion Desk are both in this area along with the SS United States dining room and the movie theatre and conference rooms. The main entrances to the dining room and theatre are on Deck 4. The Rendezvous Lounge is right outside the dining room which makes a nice place for dancing and waiting before dinner. The Casino, Online, and Michael's Club are toward the theatre end of the ship. The upper entrances to the theatre and dining room are on the Deck 5 along with the shops and Martini and Champagne Bars. There are several decks of cabins and then the Resort Deck 10 with the pools, spa and fitness center, and the Oceanview Cafe. Deck 11 has the Constellation Lounge which has a great view of the ocean during the day and dancing at night. The sports deck 12 is the highest passenger level.
The entertainment on the ship is good, if fairly standard. The production shows are enthusiastic. They include a pair of flyers who are very good. The musical groups range from a ballroom dance band, to the more modern dance band, pianists, a guitarist, and the acapella group. Our first evening on the ship we were overnighting in Buenos Aires and a local group of dancers did a tango and traditional dance show which was fun. We also had two speakers, Rod Jory and Graham Sunderland who talked on various aspects of culture, history and nature. They were always fun to listen to, but not always terribly informative.
The food on Celebrity is consistently good. Not 5 star great, but well prepared and varied. We always enjoy dinner in the dining room. There is usually something on the menu that we like. We tried the SS United States this cruise and had a great experience. The food was definitely better than the dining room and the service was wonderful. Food in the buffet is fine; we usually head for the pizza or salads rather than the hot food line. The burgers from the grill are good.
Infinity spent the night in Buenos Aires so we had another day to sightsee. We took a ship's excursion to an estancia for a Gaucho Fiesta and lunch. The riding show was exciting, but we didn't understand everything that happened. We were disappointed that no one explained. We had the opportunity to take a short horseback ride, just 10 minutes en masse around a field. The food was good. They served empanadas and wine before lunch. Lunch was a variety of salads and meat. The first serving of beef was overcooked so it was a little tough, but they brought another serving out later that was great. There were also sausages and chicken. I really liked the chicken.
Tuesday we were in Montevideo, Uruguay. I arranged for a walking tour with Liz Cowley of Real English Tours (http://www.realenglishtours.com/). We met her in the morning outside the port area. She took us all through the old part of the city and gave us a good background on the history and culture. The older part of Montevideo is pretty run down. Some of the buildings are now being renovated. We had a great tour. Liz did warn us to be careful with bags, etc. After she left us, we stopped at Don Peperone for lunch of a chivito and beer which was good. Then we returned to the ship to meet our afternoon tour to the Juanico winery. We drove by small bus through the countryside to the winery. We stopped in the vineyard to taste the grapes. Then we had a wine tasting in the wine cellar. They also served a variety of meats, cheeses, and empanadas which was great.
Wednesday we spent at the beach resort, Punta del Este, Uruguay. We tendered into town and spent the day wandering around on our own. Pay attention to the signs on the pier after you get off the tender and turn right. We didn't and wasted about 45 minutes going the wrong way. It is on a peninsula and we walked through town and around the peninsula. We stopped for lunch at El Pobre Marino. We had very good shrimp and empanadas.
Thursday was a sea day and the rest and relaxation were great!
Friday we had a full day excursion to Peninsula Valdez from Puerto Madryn. Puerto Madryn is a big city right on the coast, but we didn't see much of it. Our excursion went into the World Heritage Site to see wildlife. It was a long bus ride, but worth it. We saw guanico, rheas, matas, sea lions, sea elephants, armadillos, and penguins. The penguins are really interesting. Their burrows are spread out over a huge area. They also lined up on the beach like they were staring out at the ocean. We had lunch at Estancia San Lorenzo, a very good lamb barbeque.
We had another sea day on Saturday. We went on a bridge tour through Captain's Club. They also had tours for Cruise Critic members. We went on deck in the evening and were able to see the Southern Cross.
Sunday was in effect another sea day, since we sailed around Cape Horn in the afternoon. We were lucky that it wasn't rough, although it was windy and cold. We sailed all the way around the island of Cape Horn. We could see the weather station and seamen's memorial.
Monday we docked in Ushuaia, our last port in Argentina. We did a Tierra Mayor hike in the morning. It was a good hike - not too long or too strenuous through gorgeous country. We walked across a valley through an area of beaver dams and ponds and then up the side of the valley to a waterfall. Beaver were introduced from North America. We spent the afternoon walking around the town and had a very good crab lunch at Moustacchio. That evening we sailed along the Beagle Channel past a beautiful area with a series of glaciers.
Tuesday we tendered into Punta Arenas, Chile. Our excursion was a bus ride to the historical site of Fort Famine and to the reconstructed Fort Bulnes. It was mostly just a long bus ride which unfortunately seemed disorganized, not one of our better excursions. When we returned to town we stopped at Estancia Rio de los Cierros and had a tour, snacks, and a dancing demonstration which were all very good. We had some time to walk around the town before we returned to the ship. It has a central plaza with a number of beautiful colonial buildings. There was a small tourist market in the plaza and another at the dock.
We were at sea on Wednesday going through the Strait of Magellan and out into the Pacific. We entered a storm when we got to the Pacific so it got really rough. The ship had a definite list. They said we had 100 mph winds and 20 foot waves. At dinner, our waiter was even a little green. They had to cancel the show scheduled in the Constellation lounge because it was so rough. The captain took the ship through some islands when he could to avoid the rough seas.
Another day at sea, cruising the Chilean Fjords. We wound in and out through the islands and inlets. It was beautiful. The sea was still fairly rough in the morning but had smoothed out by evening.
Friday we tendered into Puerto Montt. Our excursion included a short walk through an alerce forest (type of cypress tree, very old and tall), a stop at a German museum, and some time in Puerto Varas. The activities were all pleasant, nothing outstanding. Puerto Varas would be a good place to wander around, we bought some great chocolate. After we got back to Puerto Montt, we walked down to the fish market and tourist market. I always enjoy the local markets; this one was amazing with lots of shellfish and fish. We found a little restaurant, Iguana, and had empanadas. I liked the seafood filling best. I bought some necklaces from a local who spends his summers in Colorado! The area was on alert for the tsunami from the earthquake in Japan, but we didn't have any problems.
Saturday was our last day and a sea day. The big band show that had been cancelled earlier happened in the Constellation. I always like having the last day to wind down and get ready to leave. It was especially good this cruise since we were leaving for the cruise tour to Machu Picchu the next day.
The tour to Machu Picchu was a really good trip even though it was expensive. It was very intense and tiring. Most days we were up at 4 or 5 and going until 7 or 8 in the evening. The days were highly scheduled and we had very little time on our own. Two more days would have been wonderful, but would have made it even more expensive. I am sure I could have booked it myself for less, but it was easier to have everything handled by the cruise line. We saw a lot and they took very good care of us. The hotels were 4 and 5 star and most of the meals were very good. We had good breakfasts each morning in the hotels. You needed to be in fairly good shape since we had lots of steps and walking. A few people in our group had a hard time getting around and while the tour director tried to make accommodations for them, I think they had a hard time.
We left the ship Sunday at 8:30 and took a bus to the terminal. The baggage pick up felt a little disorganized since we had trouble finding the tag for our luggage tag color. We had trouble finding our group, too. Our tour director, Lucero, was very upbeat and well organized. We had a bus ride from Valparaiso to the Sheraton Santiago that took about 2 hours. We had one stop on the road for coffee and restrooms. We didn't have any touring on the way to Santiago. We arrived about 11:30. The hotel provided juice and cookies while we were checking in. All of the check-ins for the hotels were a little slow. The hotels had to have copies of our passports and would not let Lucero email them or provide them ahead of time. The rooms were not ready that early, so we had lunch and then went to our room. The Hop On Hop Off bus stops right outside the Sheraton, so we bought tickets from the office in the lobby (http://www.turistik.cl/en/productos/santiagoturistik/index.htm). The HOHO bus gives a good overview of the city. We rode the bus to the old center of the city, the Plaza des Armas. We walked around the plaza and saw the colonial government buildings and cathedral. It is a beautiful city. We also walked to the old Market. It would have been fun to have lunch there. Then we walked to the Plaza Constitucion and saw the Palacio Moneda where the President's offices are. We found the HOHO bus and took it back to the hotel. We were able to see quite a lot of the city in a short time. The bus spends a lot of time in a newer area that we could have skipped. We went to Plaza Azul for dinner as a group. Dinner was great: pisco sours, empanadas, tilapia or salmon, and dulce de leche crepes.
Monday we were up at 5 for our flight to Lima. We had to check in individually. Lucero kept track of everyone. The airports were all a little chaotic, so it was nice to have someone telling us where to go and what to do. She helped with the check in process by getting us to the front of the line when necessary and providing a list of all of us with our reservation numbers to the check in agents. We went through immigration and customs in Lima. Our first stop was the Larco museum for lunch and a tour. The risotto we had was okay. Meals everywhere were slow. The tour of the museum was well done. It has thousands of Pre-Columbian artifacts: pottery, jewelry, and figures including a collection of erotic art. Then we did a city tour by bus and on foot. Lima has a beautiful old town. We stayed at the Hotel Melia Lima which was very nice. The staff was helpful and the rooms were pleasant. The neighborhood near the embassies is very safe, but there are not many places around to eat or shop. The hotel restaurant was good, but on the more expensive side. The bar where we had dinner served small plates that were very good, especially the Peruvian sampler.
The hotel stored our excess luggage, so we were down to one bag and our carryons when we left on Tuesday. We were up at 5 again. The flight to Cusco took about an hour. We could really feel the over 11,000 ft altitude in Cusco. We had coca candy and the hotels had coca tea to help prevent altitude sickness. Shops at the airport sold oxygen bottles. We took buses into Cusco and toured Koricancha/Santo Domingo, a Catholic church built on the remains of an Incan temple. The Incan construction is amazing. In the temple, the blocks are so well made that they fit together without mortar and with no space between. The Inca walls stand up to earthquakes that destroy the Colonial buildings. Then we drove through the Sacred Valley to Pisac for the local market and tourist market. There were lots of things to see and buy. We had a snack on the bus and then shortly after we stopped for a very good buffet lunch at Muna Restaurant. The food was mainly Peruvian, even cuy (guinea pig). The location in the countryside was lovely. Then we went to Ollantaytambo and toured the archaeological site. All through the Sacred Valley you can see hillsides that the Inca terraced for agriculture. At Ollantaytambo, you can walk up through terraces to a ceremonial center at the top of a hill. It looks steep, but if you take it easy, it is not bad. Another tourist market was just outside the walls. We then drove back to Yucay to the Sonesta Hotel Posada del Inca. The hotel in an old monastery and beautiful, but we didn't get to see much of it since it was dark when we arrived and dark when we left the next morning. We ate dinner in the bar where a musician was playing local pipes, much different than the Peruvian musicians that seem to be in every city in the world. I bought some baby alpaca scarves in the gift shop.
Wednesday we went to Machu Picchu. We had another 5 am wake up. We took buses to Urubamba and caught the train to Aguas Caliente, just outside Machu Picchu. We took the Vista Dome train which was very comfortable and included a snack each way. The train ride is gorgeous, along the Urubamba River and through the mountains. The river was really high and wild. We saw the beginning of the Inca Trail. We took a bus from the train station to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The guides divided us up by physical ability for this tour which I wish they had done earlier. Darwin, our guide in the site, had been guiding there for 31 years and was very good. Our tour lasted about 3 hours. We walked all over the area. When we arrived everything was clouded over but throughout the day the clouds would break away and then reform. It made for a very eerie, but beautiful day. We had rain periodically. The valley is beautiful and would be worth seeing even without the ruins. The Inca construction is amazing. The one major disappointment with the whole tour happened here. According to our original itinerary we were supposed to have lunch at the Sanctuary Hotel at the site and then have more time on the site on our own. Instead we left the site and had lunch in town, so we were not able to wander the ruins on our own at all. Instead we had time in town, which was not worthwhile. The lunch at the Cafe Inkaterra was good, but we would rather have had no lunch and more time in Machu Picchu. The town is very touristy. We took the train back to Urubamba. The crew performed a native dance and an alpaca clothing fashion show. We were supposed to take the train all the way to Cusco, but they were having problems with the tracks, so we took the bus to Cusco from Urubamba. We stayed at the Novatel in Cusco, again a very nice hotel in a great location, but we didn't see much of it. We had dinner in the hotel and then walked to the plaza and around a little. The shops were just closing around 10:00. Cusco seems like a very interesting place, I wish we had had more time there.
Thursday was the last official day of the tour. We slept in until 6! We visited some very interesting ruins at Saqsaywaman just outside Cusco. Again we saw the huge blocks of stone fitted tightly together. Some alpacas were grazing in the area. We flew back to Lima and returned to the Hotel Melia Lima where we had a farewell lunch. Lucero helped us with our plans for the next day. Our flight didn't leave until evening, so we had the whole next day on our own. We spent the afternoon wandering around the area near the hotel. We saw some beautiful houses, with lots of security everywhere. We saw a couple of places we could have eaten, but we ended up having a very good dinner at the hotel. I had ravioli, with a Peruvian filling and sauce.
Friday's breakfast at the hotel was included with the tour. We were able to say goodbye to Michael and Judy with whom we had spent a lot of time on the tour and who had been at our table on the ship. We really enjoyed their company. We checked out and left our bags at the hotel. We took a taxi to Mira Flores which is a lovely area along the coast with lots of restaurants, hotels, and shopping. We stopped first at some tourist shops. As we were walking around we saw a sign to the pre-Inca site, Huaca Pucullana. We walked there and took a very good tour. Then we had a nice lunch at Cafe Haiti at an outdoor table. We walked the rest of the way to the Larco Mar area right on the cliff overlooking the ocean. We walked along the coast and then had a drink and shopped a little in the shopping center and had one last ice cream. The ice cream was wonderful everywhere on the trip, especially the dulce de leche. We got back to the hotel in the afternoon and had some wine before our shuttle to the airport. We had a great last day. It was nice to have some time on our own to do what we wanted.
Our flights and connections all went well. Our bags did miss the connection in Dallas, but the airline delivered them to us that evening. We had a wonderful trip, but it was really exhausting.