While in Peru, I realized a long time dream of visiting Machu Picchu. This trip report is about one of the most scenic flight in South America Andes region - from coastal Lima to Cuzco. Cuzco airport is nestled in Andes at 11600 feet altitude. I took this flight in June.
Click here for earlier report on LAN flights Los Angeles - Lima - Los Angeles.
Cuzco - was capital of Inca civilization and later center of Spanish colonial rule in South America. Cuzco has many attractions of its own and is also starting point for those who want to hike the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Trains to Machu Picchu also depart from here.
For airline nuts, this must be the only route where origin and destination airports are named after great aviators.
Lima airport - Jorge Chavez International Airport. Jorge Chavez, born to Peruvian parents in Paris was the first pilot to fly over Alps and survive (crash landed and died few days later)
Cuzco airport - Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport. Alejandro was the first pilot to fly over Andes (crash landed and died few days later)
Lima to Cuzco on TACA Peru TA007
Cuzco to Lima on LAN Peru LP030
Lima, Peru to Cuzco, Peru
TACA PERU TA007
LIM Scheduled Departure: 06:00
LIM Actual Departure: 05:55
CUZ Scheduled Arrival: 07:25
LIM Actual Arrival: 07:05
Load: 50% in Economy
Check-in/boarding: For a 6AM flight I arrived at J Chavez Int'l Airport Lima at 3:30AM. Only ticketed passengers are allowed inside the terminal. Night cleaning staff had just finished their job and were wrapping up. LAN desks were open, AeroCondor folks were just setting up bag scanner. No sign of TACA personnel!
Around 3:55AM TACA Staff arrived and started setting up scanner, computers etc and line started to form. Most of the folks bleary eyed having slept in Lima airport after arriving from US last night. I had two bags - a roller cabin bag and small backpack.
Before heading to counter, bags were scanned and I was told only one bag is allowed on board - staff gave me a tab and asked me to write address in Cuzco. At the counter was greeted in Spanish. No problems here and was assigned seat 7F and asked to head directly to gate as soon as possible due to lines at the security.
Headed directly to security - after paying 6.05 USD as departure tax. Small line here as there are LAN Peru, AeroCondor flights leaving to Cuzco around same time as my flight.
Lima airport departure tax
Gate number for my flight - 3. This is in ground floor so had to take escalator down. Not many folks in the gate. Though flight was scheduled for 6AM, boarding time was set to 4:45AM. And at 4:50AM a bored agent started the process - announcement was very unintelligible in Spanish and English - and because of light load a single bus took all of us to the plane. Bus driving through all the parked planes in darkness was cool I thought - felt like am part of some movie scene or I was just sleepy. Since my seat was at front, I boarded through front stairs and oddly did not see any FAs welcoming etc.
Note on TACA plane - this is A319 - seemed bit run down - interior and seat clothing. Inflight magazine was missing from my (seat on other side had one). My whole row was empty and soon FA appeared and started closing overhead compartments. Soon she was on PA asking for four volunteers who can move to the back for balancing. A British family moved to the back. Captain came on board and said we will be leaving on time and arrive very early at 6:55AM (50 mins flight time vs 1:25 block time). All announcements were in Spanish followed by English. Passengers primarily tourists, followed by nuns and local Indians.
Doors closed by 5:45 and 5:55 we were airborne. Saw LAN A320 CC-COI to Cuzco right behind us while heading for runway - it followed us all the way to Cuzco and arrived at Cuzco within minutes after we landed.
Since it was dark no photos here and I actually slid to deep slumber during taxi - so no memories of take off and next 15 minutes.
When I woke up we still appeared to be climbing and on my right was Andes mountain range covered in mist.
It was an endless climb over mountains and clouds continued forever, followed by magical sunrise over Andes.
There were snow patches and I could only imagine how magical it may look when these mountains are covered in snow! Here is a picture from the same route in Airliners.net database:
Photo © Joe Corrigan
Inflight service consisted of coffee/tea/coca tea (Matte de Coca) and a cookie.
Initial descent to Cuzco
Finally while we could still see mountains near us, pilot announced that we have started our descent. Cuzco airport lies in the valley surrounded by mountains.
It is visual approach and plane makes a big U turn to land - so for last few minutes of descent mountains are up close! Since I was on the right side I could not see the runway, but this picture gives you an idea.
Photo © Alan Lebeda
Here is another photo. Plane comes from the right, flies over with runway on left side and makes a 180 turn to land from left side (in the picture). I actually witnessed couple of landings couple of days later when I was at Saqsaywaman ruins (from where the photo below was taken)
Photo © Streep
Touchdown at Cuzco
Didn't notice any extraordinary braking while landing - or may be I was busy going through colorful Cuzco city which was just waking up next to airport boundary wall!
As we taxied, I saw LAN A320 taxiing right behind us. Registration: CC-COI. The same plane took me back to Lima few days later.
LAN CC-COI landed a minute after our plane landed
Arrival: Cuzco is a small airport, though reportedly the first airport terminal in Peru to use "fingers". We left the plane through air bridge, though I really wanted to take the stairs for up close photo of TACA Peru plane.
Luggage retrieval: Very small luggage carousel and bags from LAN Peru started appearing before ours. Lot of big backpacks of those intending to hike famed Inca Trail. There were bunch of European kids from LAN wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts. While we waited, native musicians played Andes Mountain instruments. Agents from tour agencies, hotels were inside soliciting business.
Local artists playing music from Andes range near baggage carousel
I got my bags and walked out of the terminal - first feeling was "wow it is very bright", "How come sky is so blue". Saw a person holding my name and was whisked away to Benz coach to hotel.
On the way a road is named after Alejandro Velasco - first person to fly over Andes in a plane. And there is also a statue of him wearing aviator gear.
Alejandro Velasco statue
ALTITUDE SICKNESS IN CUZCO (11600-12000 feet) : Altitude sickness is a real issue, especially to those who fly in from Lima. Remember Lima is in sea level and within one hour you are landing at Cuzco which is almost at 12,000 feet. Body really does not adjust quickly to this rapid change. At baggage carousel itself I felt bit odd breathing and increased beating of heart, but luckily during my stay in Cuzco/Machu Picchu I did not encounter altitude sickness. However I did meet tons of people who were wasted.
I took simple precautions: Day of arrival in Cuzco, did nothing for 6-8 hours except lay down in hotel room. This gives time for our body to generate more red blood cells which helps in sparse oxygen conditions. Altitude sickness can't be predicted based on your physical condition, family history etc - i.e.it is random. Locals say drinking "matte" (coca tea) helps - however be aware that it contains cocaine. (i.e avoid it especially if you are required to take mandatory/random drug test in your country as part of your job etc)
Some Cuzco photos below. Time flew by in Cuzco. Lot of history, superb colonial architecture and you can visit tons of Inca ruins within few miles. Mind boggling to see how such stones were moved around in such high altitude and conditions. Has terrific night life. Felt pretty safe. Peru Rail Vistadome service to Machu Picchu of course was the major highlight. (complete with on board IFE - fashion show, entertainment by coach attendants who magically transformed to models and artists!)
Plaza de Armas
Saqsaywaman ruins - some stones weigh 100-200 tons!
Cuzco, Peru to LIMA, Peru
LAN PERU LP030
CUZ Scheduled Departure: 12:00
CUZ Actual Departure: 12:05
LIM Scheduled Arrival: 13:20
LIM Actual Arrival: 13:15
Load: 40% in Economy
I arrived at Cuzco airport around 10AM. Since LAN has bunch of departures at 10:30, 11:00, 11:15, 11:45, 12:00, 12:15 there were around 20 people in the line at LAN counters.
LAN counters after two bus load of Japanese arrived
A smiling agent quickly printed by boarding pass with seat 13A which I had already selected. I was allowed to carry both bags on-board (unlike TACA).
Cuzco airport - though small had some interesting stores. There is a coffee shop run by local coffee growers. (BTW Peruvian coffee has been a discovery of this trip for me - dark and just terrific!). I purchased some and there was also a philately (postal stamp) store also selling cards etc. Peru postal system is privatized, so bit pricey. However postcards I sent to Asia, Australia, UK, US were delivered between 7 (US,UK) and 15 days (India)
View of check-in counters and Sun god by the escalator
There are also book stores, restaurants and Internet. All in all well maintained small airport.
I was able to photograph this Aero Condor flight arriving from Lima.
Security was quick - departure tax stamp was punched out here.
There is a display of Alejandra Velaso within the airport.
I went to gate 4 and did not find many people. Soon CC-COI arrived - from the number of passengers disembarking it looked like a packed flight. Boarding started around 11:30 and to my surprise there were hardly around 40 people to fill this A320. (I made this trip in early June considered to be starting period of tourist season)
Very bright cabin and a FA welcomed onboard. Again I saw FAs volunteering to lift bags etc. Very different vibe compared to TACA. Later during the flight one of the FAs gave me feedback forum - after realizing I don't know Spanish she took it back and gave it to other passenger.
Push back, taxi around 11:50. Captain announced we will be arriving at Lima on time with bit of bumps on the way.
LAN planes CC-COT, CC-COM were in the terminals as we taxied.
My whole row (row 13!) was empty. My memory is fuzzy about the take off - I was probably sad to leave Cuzco and was lost in thoughts about Inca civilization, amazing Machu Picchu trip and the fact that my vacation is about to end with trip back to California.
After 20 minutes or so a sandwich was served along with a chocolate and drinks. I did not eat the sandwich as it contained fish (and this was the only option). So just drank Inca Cola.
Soon mountains disappeared and instead haze started appearing outside.
Landing. Passed through bunch of military planes, helicopters and small GA planes.
Lima airport airside looked quite empty except for some LAN planes and a Wayraperu Fokker.
Baggage claim: Had to descend to ground level. Within couple of minutes bags started appearing. Collected them and went out and met limo representative holding my name and headed to my Miraflores hotel before flying later at night to US.
TACA Peru - Just another flight. Nothing special rather felt crew were indifferent to passengers. On plus side flight was on-time. FAs and ground personnel at Lima can be more friendly.
LAN Peru - continued to be impressed with LAN. Has a great website, FF programme, excellent phone support, friendly agents and FAs, on-time, clean planes. Very professional.
This sums up my Peru aviation related reports. I am halfway through PERU RAIL report (Cuzco - Machu Picchu), will publish in non-aviation in a week or so.
Thanks for reading. I will be happy to hear your comments and answer any questions.
My earlier trip reports
Trip to Peru - LAN 767 Los Angeles - Lima - Los Angeles
Trip to China - United 747 San Francisco - Beijing RT
Trip to Hawaii - ATA - San Francisco - Honululu
Trip to Cambodia - Silk Air - Singapore - Siam Reap - Singapore
Singapore Airlines - Inaugural flight Singapore - Bangalore
Air Deccan India - First week of Air Deccan Operations - Bangalore - Mangalore
[Edited 2006-08-29 08:28:25]