May 302014

Thanks to the hotel, had another “taxi of death” experience up to El Alto, where the driver showed absolutely zero fear weaving in and out of traffic as he worked his way up the side of the mountain to the airport.  There was no traffic at this hour, and we made great time.  Got to checkin, and only had to wait one person to get an agent…who was so uncomfortable in English that we carried on the check-in in Spanish.  I mean, I really appreciate all the practice, but I was blown away by just how reluctant Bolivians were to speak English.  All four boarding passes came out, and I was set for today and tomorrow.  Then, it was off to passport control.  There was a 15 minute wait or so, but no problems at all…but again, the whole thing was conducted in English.


Most surprising, was after exit immigration…there was a luggage check.  Open it up, and go through everything.  Not too sure what they were looking for, but I got really good at the phrase “es ropa…sola ropa!”  (it’s clothes, just clothes!) on this trip…and they let me go with a fairly minimum check.

Headed into the lounge, which was surprisingly nice.  Juice, water, etc and a few small munchies on display, but more importantly there were outlets and a comfortable quiet place to wait for the flight.  I could have used Priority Pass to get in, but Avianca business class also did the trick.


When it was time to board, the lounge agent came and got us, and escorted us to the plane.  The jetbridge had an entrance from the lounge, so there was no need to go back into the terminal.  A very nice touch which I never would have expected in La Paz!

Avianca flight 908 (Operated by TACA Peru)
La Paz, Bolivia (LPB) to Lima, Peru (LIM)
Depart 8:00, Arrive 9:05, Flight Time 2:05
Airbus A320, Registration N492TA, Manufactured 2005, Seat 2A

OJ and water offered prior to pushing back, and a view of the airport:


There was a great graveyard of old planes, but unfortunately with the sun and earlier rain, it was hard to get a good shot:


A view of El Alto on climbout.  It was really unnerving taking off from El Alto, because with the high altitude the plane takes what feels like forever to get off the ground. I was hoping we’d go over the city to get a shot of how it sits in the valley, but no such luck.  I was so excited to take pictures that I asked for a window seat, something I rarely do.  Didn’t matter, because the aisle ended up staying empty.


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Mar 112013

We’d booked a slightly later flight to Cuzco, thinking it would let us sleep in at least a little bit and a terribly early morning, but the one thing we didn’t take into account is that a 9:55 departure meant we’d be leaving for the airport in the middle of rush hour traffic. Fortunately, the trip was still quite quick and maybe 30 minutes at most, and we got to the airport just a bit over an hour before the departure of our flight.

The domestic check-in line for TACA was crazy long, and even the business class/Star Alliance gold line took probably 15 minutes, but check-in was pretty easy. Unfortunately, the flight was going to be rather full meaning the middle seat in between us wouldn’t stay open. Security took another 15 minutes or so, and by the time we made it to the gate it was 30 minutes before departure and we expected them to be boarding. Except they weren’t. Boarding finally started about 9:50, when we were allow to go out to…the bus. No jetways here. By the time we boarded and closed the door it was nearly 10:30. Not horrible because we had no place to be, but it was handled very casually as if this was completely normal.

TACA Peru flight 809
Lima, Peru (LIM) to Cuzco, Peru (CUZ)
Depart 9:55, Arrive 11:20, Flight Time 1:25
Airbus A319, Registration N520TA, Manufactured 2007, Seat 8K

The flight was almost completely full in economy, meaning the seat in between us was taken, so we shifted to the middle and window seat.  It was maybe an hour in the air, so no big deal.  During the flight, the crew managed to serve a quick snack/sandwich and drinks to a full plane, which was pretty impressive.  The snack didn’t look appetizing and we’d just had breakfast so I decided to skip it, but it was still pretty impressive that they offered it.  Overall, there was nothing special about TACA, but at the same time nothing really went wrong.  To top it off, milage posted to United about five days after the flight, so score one for the partnership working as well.

Upon landing we got our checked baggage in 10-15 minutes, and had arranged for the hotel to meet us and transfer us so I can’t comment on how easy it would be to get a taxi.  On the way back to the airport, however, we had the hotel call a taxi which was many, many times less expensive at only 20 soles.  It was not quite as comfortable, but still plenty nice, so I think this is definitely the way to go.

When we arrived at the Hotel Monasterio we were asked to take a seat in the lounge / bar area while they got our check-in information.  They brought us a pot of coca tea to help with the altitude, and sat at the table with us while they completed registration.


The room was spacious and comfortable, and had the added benefit of extra oxygen being pumped into the room to help with the altitude.  The hotel was a converted monastery, so it definitely had that “something old” charm about it.  It’s not usually my preferred decorating style, but it was really cool to be staying in a place with so much history.  The beds were extremely comfortable with great bedding, and the only small gripe I had about the rooms is that both rooms we had were slightly on the warm side for sleeping.  We tried to get them cooler, but no matter what they stayed quite warm despite the fact the temperature would drop to about 10C outside at night.

On our second stay, the hotel actually upgraded us to a small two-level suite for the night, with the bedroom and bathroom upstairs, and a large sitting area on the entry level.  It was very nice considering we hadn’t requested it, and the bags we stored with the hotel were waiting for us in the room when we checked in.  Big plus!


As mentioned above, service was amazing.  From our bags waiting for us in the room on the second stay, to friendly staff everywhere (reception, breakfast, bar/lounge, etc) the hotel really went out of its way to go that little extra step from doing what was expected to anticipating what would make your stay easier and more comfortable.  Despite some challenges in communication (English skills of some staff were rather limited) it was still clear they were intent on delivering excellent service and it really showed.


The location of the hotel was absolutely perfect, located 2-3 blocks off the main plaza.  Just far enough away that the noise of the plaza was nonexistent, but close enough that it was an easy walk.  Location was absolutely perfect!


What can I say about the breakfast – absolutely awesome.  The only thing that was slightly lacking is that the staff seemed slightly overworked, and getting refills of coffee took a bit of time.  Now, onto all the great stuff!  There were amazing breads of all sorts, pastries, danishes, meats, cheeses, cakes, pies, pretty much you name it and they had it.  Not to mention fresh squeezed orange-carrot juice that was amazing.  Oh, and the first day…we actually had breakfast in the courtyard of the hotel with a musician playing soft music while we ate.  It blended in perfectly with the old monastery atmosphere, and again although it’s not really my style I definitely enjoyed breakfast al fresco!

A shot of the courtyard, you can see the tables we ate at:


Restaurants / Bars:

We didn’t have any meals other than breakfast at the hotel, but we did have evening cocktails before dinner each night at the hotel.  I really enjoyed the lounge space.  There was a nice fire going in the fireplace each night, big cozy leather couches to relax on, and fantastic service.  They also made amazing cocktails with pisco, and I really wish I could remember the name of the one I ordered over and over – it was delicious, and at roughly $10 for a drink in the lounge of a rather nice hotel I thought prices were incredible reasonable.  There were also small bar munchies too, which were kept filled.

Pool / Gym / Facilities:

Unfortunately we didn’t check out any of the facilities, but there was a rather nice little gift shop that sold local items.

Overall Review:

I think the best thing I can say that illustrates how much we like it is that we stayed for two nights once we arrived from Lima, and then promptly canceled the hotel we’d booked on our way back from Machu Picchu in order to stay at the Monasterio again – it was just that good.  On top of everything, the taxi that took us to the train station for Machu Picchu was waiting for us upon our return, and drove us back to Monasterio.  It was little details like that made this one of the most flawless hotel stays I’ve ever had.  I’ve never felt a hotel went so far above and beyond with little details that you have a hard time thinking of negative things to say about it.  I’m even willing to give them a pass on the room temperature, since I know I like my rooms a bit closer to arctic than most people do.  Other than that, to me, there’s no doubt this is the place to stay in Cuzco!

Mar 082013

Warning before you read this post. It contains drastic food porn, and should definitely not be viewed when hungry. 😉

When browsing on TripAdvisor for places to eat in Lima, we found Central which was the number one rated restaurant in town. We had no trouble reserving a table for 8pm on a Saturday night (that’s because, it turned out, nobody really eats that early but since it was one seating per table it didn’t matter) and couldn’t wait to try their amazing ten course tasting menu of local and regional ingredients which looked amazing and was reasonably priced.

Although you can’t really compare the two, the concept reminded me of Noma in Copenhagen, sourcing unusual local ingredients and the freshest of the season to come up with something that was fine dining, but at the same time local and unique. We were seriously excited!

When we arrived at 8pm, they asked if we’d like to sit now or have a drink in the bar, and we took the hint and went to the bar for a pisco first. This turned out to be a good plan, since the restaurant hadn’t really kicked into gear yet and it was a bit early to eat. The drinks came, and were definitely the best ones we had on the entire trip!

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Mar 072013

We had two full days to visit Lima, and decided to roughly split them up and use day one to explore the older part of the city and the historical centre, and use day two to visit a museum as well as walk around the newer and happening Miraflores district.  We started out late morning (after a midnight arrival the night before we were in no rush to get going!) by grabbing a cab to the Centro Historico and the Convento de San Francisco church.



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Mar 062013

We arrived at the hotel after an easy 30 minute or so taxi ride, and checkin was quick and efficient. This hotel receives very good reviews online, so we were really looking forward to our three nights here before setting out for Cuzco and Machu Picchu.


As a Starwood Platinum member I was upgraded to a one bedroom suite without having to ask.  The room was clean with a very large shower room.  The only slightly odd feature is that the door/wall of the shower room that faced the hallway was glass and completely transparent.  Slightly awkward if you don’t want to be watched while showering.  It was a nice rainshower, and there were plenty of towels, soaps, etc in the room without having to ask.

The room had the standard Westin Heavenly Bed, and I did ask – all suites in the hotel are single king bed only.  There are no suites with doubles at this property.  The bedroom had two walls of floor to ceiling windows, giving a fantastic view over the city.  In the living room, one of the walls was also floor to ceiling glass with a fantastic room.  There was a nice desk and sofa in the living room, and plenty of room to spread out, work, or entertain just a few guests.  Temperature control in the room was excellent.  I like my room very cold when I sleep (somewhere around 16-18C) and the air conditioning in this room had absolutely no trouble handling that.

Sunset view from the room:



All the staff we encountered were friendly, helpful, and went well beyond the call of duty.

Reception was warm and friendly when we checked in, and the agent spoke excellent English and was genuinely helpful, explaining all the features of the hotel.  In the executive lounge, all the agents we encountered were friendly, although English ability seemed to be a bit more limited here.  They did, however, remember us from day to day and welcomed us back each time.

When we checked in there was a problem with our keycard, but one of the bellmen helped us with the elevators, and he was exceptionally friendly as well.  Finally, the concierge helped us a few times with taxis, directions, and restaurant reservations, and was also extremely friendly.


Perhaps the one minor downside of this property, although it never really came into play for us.  The hotel is definitely not in a tourist area, but more in the financial district.  There is a huge grocery store and plenty of restaurants within walking distance, but beyond that it’s not ideally situated for tourists.  Getting a taxi was really no problem, however, and since taxis are incredibly inexpensive in Lima it never once bothered us.  It was a short 10 minute (20 max) ride to most of the places we wanted to go, so the inconvenience was minimal.


We had breakfast in the executive lounge each morning, which had a large spread of both hot and cold food.  There were several breads and pastries, cheeses, cold meats and fish, and an assortment of fruits including some local fruits I’d never seen before.  On the hot side, there were pancakes, bacon, etc.  It was way more than a continental breakfast, and definitely one of the better executive lounge breakfasts I’ve ever had.


Restaurants / Bars:

Although we didn’t try any of the hotel’s restaurants or bars, we did do cocktail hour in the executive lounge both nights.  It ran for two hours from 6-8, and featured a huge spread of hot and cold foods as well as complimentary local beer and wine.  The attendants were never shy with refills, and I think we finished off several glasses of wine each night.  Another plus, the lounge was nearly completely empty.  I don’t think I ever saw more than 10 people in it, and it was a nice quiet getaway and place to unwind after the day.

IMG_4919 IMG_4921

Pool / Gym / Facilities:

Unfortunately we didn’t use the pool or gym, although it was pointed out to us that they were included.

Overall Review:

Overall, this was a fantastic property and felt like a bargain for the rate we paid of under $200.  Although the location isn’t the best, the service was fantastic and everything “worked like it should” throughout the property.  It felt new, clean, and never once did we feel like there was something missing.  Combined with the excellent service and features in the executive lounge there’s no doubt I’d return to this property if in the area again.  We didn’t have any problems during our stay, so we didn’t get a chance to see how they’d recover from them, but I suppose that’s better than having problems in the first place!