- Australia to South America in Luxury (PER-AKL-PPT-BOB-PPT-SCL-EZE)
- Argentina from Top to Bottom (AEP-IGR-AEP-FTE)
- LAN Around South America (PUQ-PMC-SCL-GIG-SCL-LIM)
We arrived in Lima late at night, spent a few hours sleeping at the Crowne Plaza, and then jumped on a bus to Nazca. The Cruz del Sur bus service is actually a lot like an airline. Luggage gets tagged to your destination, there are two classes of service (we were in the VIP zone downstairs), you're served with a small snack and a drink on board, and you even get an amenities kit! Unfortunately, there was a smell of diesel in the cabin for our entire journey.
Cruz del Sur amenities kit
Driving through the desert
After a six hour lesson on how to use the horn while driving in Peru, we arrived into Nazca. Transport to our hotel was interesting - I don't understand exactly how the system works, but it seems that most vehicles in this town can be commandeered as taxis when required. Our hotel utilised this service to give us a free transfer with my wife's suitcase balanced precariously on the roof. The hotel we stayed at - Casa Andina - looks like the finest hotel in town but only cost us about US$62 for the night, including hot buffet breakfast. On the downside, our reservation had been lost so we had to stay in a triple room rather than a double.
At the hotel we organised a flight over the lines for the following morning. We were given three options for the flight - a cheaper, shorter flight in a larger aircraft (with the risk of getting a middle seat), a 40 minute flight over the Nazca lines in a smaller aircraft, or a longer flight which also included the Paracas Lines. We chose the middle option, which cost 200 soles each (about US$68) and included transfers to the airport. We were also given the choice of a morning or afternoon flight, so we chose the morning because visibility tends to be better.
The next morning we got up fairly early and ate responsibly at the breakfast buffet, despite it being the only hot buffet on our entire trip. A car arrived about ten minutes late to take us to the airport, but the town is really small so it was only a five minute trip. We shared the car, and later the flight, with another Australian. "Aaah, Australia... kang-goo-roo!" said the Peruvian driver. We arrived at the small airport, went through one of the many entrances, and were given our pre-flight briefing where our path over the lines was described to us on a map similar to the one below.
Aereo Servicios Santos
Wednesday November 21, 2007
Nazca (Maria Reiche Neuman) (SPZA)
Departure: 08:00 (scheduled) 08:11 (actual)
Seats: the two in the back
Aircraft: Cessna 172 OB-657
When we were told it was time to go, we walked over to the aircraft and climbed into the back seat - it was reminiscent of climbing into the back seat of a car. Each seat had a sign on the back saying "tips are welcome/propinas son bienvenides" and every seat except mine had a sick bag. The pilot pointed out the location of the sick bag, told us to put on our headphones (which were mighty uncomfortable after a while) and we were ready to go.
Our aircraft for the flight
Us in the back seat
Having the headphones on meant that we could hear air traffic control, but as they were speaking rapid Spanish I couldn't understand anything apart from our registration (seis siete cinco). We taxied rapidly to the end of the runway (it felt rapid anyway - I don't know if we were actually moving faster or if it was just the smaller plane). Then after final clearance from Nazca tower we were off. Taking off in a Cessna is a very different experience - it seems to be a case of accelerating to the maximum possible speed, waiting until the last possible minute, and then climbing at approximately 45 degrees.
In flight in the Cessna
Within a few minutes we were approaching the first of the figures - the whale. Our pilot pointed out each of the figures as we made two passes, once for those on the right (me and the other Australian) and once for those on the left (my wife). I read somewhere that taking good photos of the lines is practically impossible so you should try not to spend the whole time looking at the lines through a camera. I paid no attention to this advice whatsoever, and I think my photos have turned out well. The only problem was when the auto-focus decided not to work (due to lack of contrast) and I had to switch to manual mode.
We flew over each of the figures in the sequence shown on the map. It was amazing how clearly you can see the lines, considering they were made simply by removing rocks to reveal the lighter soil underneath. They have survived for over a thousand years due to the very dry, windless climate.
For those people who travel to Nazca but don't want to pay for a flight over the lines, there is an observation tour from which you can see two figures - the hands and the tree. But why you would bother to travel all the way to Nazca to view the figures from a little tower is a mystery to me. From above, it was obvious that the tower would not give a good view.
Observation tower with hands and tree
Returning to Nazca over the desert
Having completed our circuit over the lines, we were once again only a few minutes away from the airport. The photos below show our approach into the airport, including a 90 degree turn.
Coming in to the airport
Back on the ground, we all agreed that the flight had been enjoyable but with the constant manoeuvring we wouldn't have wanted it to be any longer. I paid the so-called "airport tax" (I am very dubious about where this money was going) and some sort of "flying over the Nazca lines fee" (which seemed marginally less dubious). Finally, we sat around in a small room watching a BBC documentary about the lines which would have been far more interesting before the flight than after.
We spent a few hours later that morning visiting Chauchilla Cemetery and a couple of other places and then went back into town, had lunch, and caught the bus back to Lima. Interestingly, this bus driver liked to use his high beams rather than horn to negotiate the roads, giving us a far quieter trip. And this bus didn't smell of diesel! From the bus station, we took a taxi back to the Crowne Plaza hotel (and got lost on the way). It is very irresponsible of them to put a Plaza Hotel and a Crowne Plaza Hotel in the same suburb.
Sunset over the desert as we return to Lima
LAN Peru LP27
Thursday November 22, 2007
Lima (Jorge Chávez) (LIM/SPIM) - Cusco (Velasco Astete) (CUZ/SPZO)
Duration: 1h15, 364mi
Departure: 09:20 (scheduled) 09:20 (actual)
Arrival: 10:35 (scheduled) 10:30 (actual)
Seats: 6A/B (economy class)
Aircraft: Airbus A319-132 CC-CPQ
The next morning we had to get up early for our flight to Cusco (though it could have been much worse). We were driven to the airport in a car provided by the hotel (didn't want to risk a taxi). We chose to fly LAN for this segment because they had later departures than TACA and seemed less dodgy than Star Peru or Aero Condor.
After several other LAN flights around South America, we didn't have high expectations of check-in. However, Lima surprised us with the efficiency and ease of the check-in process. LAN check-in is a two stage process - firstly you check yourself in using a self-service machine (you can also do this step online, but we learnt that this is completely pointless and doesn't save any time). Then you drop your bags off, which is usually where you end up standing in a queue for 20 minutes or more. At Lima, however, there are plenty of staff so it only took a couple of minutes. Well done LAN!
At this stage we were looking for breakfast. There are several food shops outside security but we didn't see anything we wanted. We paid the airport tax, which is annoyingly set at US$6.05 rather than a nice round number of Peruvian soles. They have a special tray full of one centimo coins for change (the only place we saw them in Peru). Then going through security, you split into domestic (where liquids are ok) and international (where liquids constitute a major security risk and must be confiscated).
The area of the terminal with the domestic gates is split into two parts. Upstairs is quite modern, and there are four gates with aerobridges and a coffee shop, where we had ham and cheese croissants. It seems that some places in South America are yet to discover airport pricing (where some sort of parity system ensures that travellers are ripped off no matter which airport they find themselves in). Lima is unfortunately not one of these places.
Once a gate number appeared for our flight, we found we had to go downstairs to where they have the other eight or so gates. This area has about eight gates (some with aircraft close to the terminal, some requiring buses to remote stands). The entire area is full of plastic seats but not enough when there are eight gates in close proximity. The situation becomes worse when people start queuing for boarding, which is somewhat of a mystery when there are assigned seats.
Boarding commenced on time and was supposedly by row number, but given the large queue that formed about 15 minutes earlier it was hard to see how this could work. We had to take a bus to a remote stand, where amazingly it seemed that the rear of the aircraft was quite full and the front was quite empty, so the boarding process had achieved some measure of success.
Boarding the LAN A319 in Lima
Photo © Andres Contador
The LAN safety demo is long and tedious (partly due to being in two languages), especially when seen for the tenth time in a few weeks. We departed on time (as we did with nearly all our flights within South America) and taxied around to runway 15. There were some interesting things to see around the airport - parts of Jorge Chávez International look like an aircraft graveyard. Soon we lifted off into the foggy Lima sky.
Dead aircraft in Lima
Flying over a very hazy Lima
The flight itself was short and unremarkable. LAN showed an episode of "Just for Laughs" which we had seen on an earlier LAN flight, and there was a snack service in a box. I didn't really enjoy any of the snack items, but it was better than nothing. We kept a bag of Inka Corn as a gift for my sister (she likes quirky food gifts) and surprisingly had no trouble getting it through quarantine in Australia.
Snack box contents
Once we were outside Lima the weather cleared dramatically and we were rewarded with beautiful views of the mountains, which got bigger and bigger as we approached our destination. The descent into Cusco was noticeably shorter than usual; understandable given that the elevation at the airport is almost 11,000 feet. There were some great views of the city during our approach. We flew past the airport and then did a 180 degree turn before landing on runway 10.
Flying over Cusco
The airport terminal was quite modern, having four aerobridges which we shared with the Aero Condor and Star Peru aircraft that left Lima only a few minutes before our flight. Note that the Star Peru aircraft (OB-1841-P) has Machu Picchu on the tail.
Cusco airport terminal
Photo © Miguel cano alva
Monday November 26, 2007
Cusco (Velasco Astete) (CUZ/SPZO) - Lima (Jorge Chávez) (LIM/SPIM)
Duration: 1h25, 364mi
Departure: 07:55 (scheduled) 07:48 (actual)
Arrival: 09:20 (scheduled) 09:00 (actual)
Seats: 4E/F (economy class)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-233 N496TA
We spent four days seeing Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, which in my opinion is the absolute minimum to be spending in this area. We just had time to see all the major sights, but not much else.
For our return to Lima we chose to fly TACA, because they are much cheaper than LAN and are more reputable than the other options of Aero Condor or Star Peru. TACA have only one flight per day between Lima and Cusco - this flight was too early when we were travelling to Cusco but was just right for our departure.
On the day of our departure we arrived at the airport about an hour before the flight was due to leave, having checked in online the night before. As with LAN, checking in online saves no time at all but at least on this occasion we had got some good seats. The queue was long, and the whole check-in process appeared very slow; apparently a two stage process with one person checking tickets before another does the actual checking in. The Americans behind us in the queue were concerned about making the flight. Then a man started calling for Lima-only passengers (that was us!) so we jumped the queue and got handwritten, barely legible baggage tags. But since this was the only TACA flight of the day, and every flight for the next few hours was going to Lima, it would have been difficult for the bag to be lost.
Once again we had to pay the airport tax, this time set at US$4.28 (which converts very nicely to S/13.00 for those paying in local currency). Boarding seemed quite early at around 07:25, but it was a relief to get away from the overpriced jewellery stores that my wife had been browsing in. Thanks to our online check-in, we had bulkhead seats with lots of legroom and baggage storage space in front of us.
Our aircraft reflected in the terminal windows
Photo © T.Laurent
Push back was slightly early (so I assume the Americans from the queue had made it without any trouble) and the safety demo was performed manually, in both Spanish and English. There was no in flight entertainment on this short flight, but we had beautiful views of the mountains to make up for it. We were given a ham and cheese croissant wrapped in cling wrap with an orange juice. Less professional in appearance than what we were given on LAN, but so much tastier.
En-route to Lima
We arrived into Lima 20 minutes ahead of schedule, partially due to our early departure, and we parked at a remote stand. The bus ride to the terminal took us past LAN, TACA, Aero Condor, and Amazon Sky aircraft. Once we collected our bags, we were able to check-in for our evening flight to Santiago on LAN, utilised the left luggage service for some of our hand luggage, and took a taxi to see the sights of Lima in a day.
I hope you enjoyed this report - it was my favourite part to write. The Nazca Lines are well worth a visit if you're ever in Peru and flying over them is lots of fun. LAN and TACA were quite similar on their domestic flights but I would give TACA the slight edge due to price and catering. Coming up next, we fly home with several stops along the way. It takes five 767s to get there - LAN in economy to Easter Island, then business class to Tahiti, and home via Auckland with Air New Zealand business.