All carriers mentioned here are personal choices.
This trip has the most expensive set of flights I’ve ever booked.
I did a gazillion mock bookings for this trip. I strongly suggest you draft your itinerary altogether before keying in your credit card number for these.
Doing the actual bookings required scheduling in a way that my credit card limit can accommodate these bookings and I can pay for them on time.
This is the sequence of bookings with respective costs:
1. Amaszonas, LPB-UYU roundtrip tickets: BOB 2,272.00. Booked 5 months before the trip.
2. Peruvian Air, CUZ-LPB: $128.62. Booked 5 months before the trip.
3. Lan Airlines, LAX-LIM, LIM-CUZ, LPB-LIM, LIM-LAX: $1,312.64 – 4 months before the trip.
4. Peru Rail Tickets: Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, $64. Machu Picchu to Cuzco, $117 – 4 months before the trip.
5. Cathay Pacific: roundtrip MNL-LAX $1,025.42 - 3.5 months before the trip.
I paid for all of these and the trip hasn’t even started! The cost of these are staggering considering these are just pre-trip costs. One convenience here is there is no visa requirement for Filipinos for Peru and Bolivia, and I already have a US visa.
Manila to South America Flights.
From the Philippines, that route to South America can be via 1) Europe/Dubai or 2) USA. In Option 1, the airports do not require a visa (Amsterdam, Dubai) if you are just transiting. Option 2, however, requires a visa even when you are just transiting. That’s where my $160 US Visa comes in handy.
Using Skyscanner, I selected the airlines which offered routes going to Lima, Peru. Lima is my arbitrary starting point in South America, feel free to change this as you see fit. The results show that Europe-bound flights cost $3,000 to $3,500. US-bound flights costs $2,200 in total ($1,000 to fly to the US and another $1,200 from the US to Lima). I didn’t even bother to compare the travel hours. Cash is king and I am frugal.
When I did my research last February 2015, the major hubs for direct flights from the US are San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami. I found the cheapest flights to Lima, Peru from Miami via jet Blue. However, I chose Los Angeles as my landing spot in the US because I have friends there. Considering that I am doing this major trip alone, it would be good to meet up with a few familiar faces. From Los Angeles, I checked Skyscanner for carriers flying directly to Lima.
I booked with Lan Airlines. Not a lot of airlines offering a direct route. What’s nice about Lan airlines is that I was able to book a multi-destination ticket (includes a flight from La Paz, to Lima, back to LA) for less than a hundred dollars more.
I booked Cathay Pacific going to Los Angeles. This was almost a no-brainer option. I flew with CX twice and loved the airline. They serve Häagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert, and Ruffles and Toblerone for snacks. Awesome food that comes with awesome service from the flight crew. Their fares are also cheaper compared to PAL ($1,000 CX vs. $1,400 PAL). The minor downside is the HK Airport stopover.
|Always nice to fly with Cathay Pacific|
Getting Around South America
Overland bus travel is cheap, but it takes a long time. A lot of long-term backpackers do this, and I’ve met a lot of them over the course of the trip. You know, the ones who are travelling for at least 6 months. The airlines are costly – there were no budget airlines unlike in Europe, where you have choices for budget airlines. I didn’t have six months so I let the airlines take my money. Either you have the money, or you have the time. Choose one.
Cuzco to La Paz: Using Skyscanner again, I found a direct flight from Cuzco to La Paz using Peruvian air. That was nice, as most airlines have a stopover in Lima before flying to La Paz. Doing the land travel to Bolivia involves going to Puno then passing Lake Titicaca. A lot of the people I’ve met did this and they said that the route was scenic, so do consider this if you have the time. I didn’t have the time, and I figured that I will be spending money when I stop by in cities anyway, so might as well fly instead.
La Paz to Uyuni: One can easily and cheaply travel to Uyuni from La Paz via an overnight bus, which I think costs around $30. A lot of travelers did this too with no problem, save for the usual touts in the terminals. I read a horror story in Tripadvisor that they were robbed during the bus trip so I gave my BOB 2,272/USD 320 to Amaszonas airlines.
|Small plane of Amaszonas|
I read and read and read. Most who shared their travel experiences about air travel in South America experienced delays in their flights. They cautioned not scheduling connecting flights less than 3 hours I between, and some even said that the flight may even be delayed for days if the wind is too strong. I believed them, but it left me with the flight schedules as long and 8 hours. An 8-hour layover in Lima and La Paz airport is like an eternity. But I was able to get through it, as time will eventually pass, whether I was bored or not. I did not encounter any delays. If I did not believe the posters, or if I wasn’t so paranoid, I would’ve booked earliner flights reducing my layover time in the airports.
Trains to Machu Picchu
There are two railways that runs to Machu Picchu town or Aguas Calientes. I went with Peru Rail because they had the train schedules that I like. Booking was just like booking a plane ticket. The guidelines mention some luggage weight limit but luggage was not really weighed. This is one expensive train ride, given the distance and time travelled by the train.
Cuzco airport is the gateway to Machu Picchu. Yet, the train from Poroy station (20 minutes away from Cuzco) takes almost four (4) hours. One very popular advice you’ll find when you research “how to get to Machu Picchu” is to proceed directly to Ollantaytambo upon landing in Cuzco. Ollantaytambo (coined “Ollan” for short) is at a lower altitude and a better place to acclimatize. The trip from Cuzco airport is less than 2 hours, and you can pass by awesome mountain scenery and the Pisac Ruins along the way. Trains run from Ollan to MP town more frequently than Poroy to MP trains. I took the train from MP to Poroy going back to Cuzco.
Ticket to Machu Picchu
Tickets can be booked online. The English website was not functioning properly. Some links cannot be clicked. I followed the advice in Tripadvisor to book using the Spanish website. I was successful in getting the reservation but come payment page, it only accepts Visa credit cards – and I had Mastercard. Boooooo. So had to request my hostel in Ollantaytambo to secure the Machu Picchu ticket for me. They charged me a facilitation fee of course, but I didn’t pay any downpayment.
Hotels and Hostels
I had a mix of hostels and hotels this time. I did not go for the cheapest accommodation in this trip. Rather, I wanted some level of comfort. Comfort still costs something in that side of the world but not a lot. I was glad I chose some hostels with heating and really hot showers. I booked via Booking.com and read reviews in Tripadvisor.
So there. I cannot really list down the entire thought process that I had when I was doing the bookings. I think I have a couple of other options that I discarded because I found it scary, expensive or it took too much time. These are the options that worked out for me, I hope you’ll get some ideas from this. HTH!