Prior to embarking on this journey, I had limited knowledge of Peru, it’s resilient people, it’s lush and vibrant landscape and its impressive history. I split my time between 3 provinces (Urubamba, Cusco and Lima) to achieve 3 goals: 1) check an item off my bucket list by hiking Machu Picchu 2) embrace the local culture and 3) indulge in great Peruvian cuisine. But my experience far exceeded my simplistic expectations.
The Sacred Valley – Yucay (Elevation 9,373′)
Enchanted, picturesque and as the locals would say “mystic.” I arrived via Collectivo (6 soles) after sunset in the rain so when I awoke to the mountain views from my hotel room, I was blown away. During the taxi ride (40 soles) from the Sonesta Posada del Inca hotel in Yucay to Ollantaytambo, I was in awe of the lush and vibrant landscape and local culture from the stalks of the giant Peruvian corn, to the rushing sounds of the Urubamba River, to the colorful flowers growing in the fields, to the Peruvian woman walking along the road carrying their children or goods in a manta (traditional woven cloth), to the Collectivo drivers en los calles shouting their destinations (vamos a ir a Cusco), to the roaring sound of the moto taxis weaving in and out of traffic. Urubamba had my heart from the start!
Ollantaytambo (Elevation 9,160′)
The Temple of Ollantaytambo has a large market and guides for hire (the price is negotiable). Fortunately, I was invited to join a prepaid tour and was enriched greatly by their kindness and their knowledgeable tour guide. The history that remains here . . . the original Inca walls, views of the historic store houses where crops were stored to feed the town, the huge terraces and the Inca temple stairs. Don’t underestimate the stairs, I had to stop to rest on a few terraces and I am very fit (I could not, after all, beat the altitude). There are quite of few areas to explore once you climb up, the size of this place does not really set in until you’ve walked around.
Moray (Elevation 11,106′)
As I rode along to Moray, our driver emphasized the importance of the Sun God to the Incas, which they continued to secretly worship after the Spanish arrived – this is reflected in the carvings
Up to this point, I had not suffered from altitude sickness. My fate turned within 10 mins of overlooking the beautiful terraces of Moray, an Inca agricultural site.. I am thankful that I was able to retire to the taxi to recover but I regret that I was not able to navigate around the terraces and learn more about the site.
Maras (Elevation 11,090′)
I never knew how salt was made and I’ve never even wonder how until now. The drive in along a steep winding road is beautiful and scary at the same time since the turns are not wide enough to accommodate 2 cars. There were several turns where I could peek over a very steep cliff and I found myself praying for safety. The dry season is the best time to visit to see the most salt and a good portion of the main walking path was closed due to maintenance.
Aguas Calientes or Machupicchu Pueblo (Elevation 6,700′)
Opt for the Vistadome train (if returning at night, consider the return trip via Explorer dome to save about ~$20 as you won’t be able to see a thing!) This small town sits along the bustling Urubamba River (“sacred river”) and is the portal to Machu Picchu. Within seconds of exiting the Peru Rail train station, there are throngs of local tour guides offering their services. I opted to go it alone but if you do use a tour guide, negotiate – they will accept a lower price (I made some friends and they booked a packaged deal in the US for $430 per person – trust me when I tell you that it is far cheaper to do it yourself!). You then navigate through the market to get to the small city
Machu Picchu (Elevation 7,800′)
Cusco (Elevation 11,150‘)
Pisaq (Elevation 9,700′)
Within 5 minutes of arriving to my B&B, it hailed and then the heavy rains rolled in, I was amazed by the quick change of weather. Fortunately it was a quick shower so were able to enjoy curated cocktails at Museo del Pisco as well as a late dinner at Limo overlooking the Plaza de Armas. The next day, I headed to Pisaq via the collectivo and continued to be amazed by the scenic views of the mountains and the valleys below. We shared a taxi with another tourist from The Netherlands to the Ruins of Pisaq and ended up spending the rest of the day together. Unfortunately, several sections of the ruins were closed off that day so we could not navigate the full site. The portions we saw offered amazing views but I am just about convinced that every nook of this region is astonishingly beautiful! The Pisaq market had the typical tourist wares; the vendors were not aggressive, most waited for me to express interest. We headed back to Cusco for a late lunch at Greens Organics and then the rain rolled and stayed for the rest of the day. With Ponchos in tow, this did not slow us down but we opted for Inca massages and then drinks at our now favorite watering hole, Museo Del Pisco. We met a lovely family from California and had a great time chatting and indulging in Pisco Sours (mine made with Maracuya).
Lima (Elevation 5,080′)
I am a city girl true so I felt at home when we sped (taxi drivers were very aggressive) through the city to our B&B ($25 from the Airport to Barranco). I immediately felt the temperature difference (high 60s vs low 80s) and was thankful for the crisp ocean breeze when we hit the Circuito de Playas. I immediately hit the streets for El Mercado since I read such rave reviews. I LOVED the energetic and tropical vibe, the food was amazing and the service was impeccable!!! The weather was so great that I decided to walk to the Miraflores boardwalk. Along the way, I enjoyed watching a women’s futbol match, families picnicking in the parque or walking their dogs, surfers awaiting the next big wave as well as the sun set “into the ocean.” The next day was full of activity starting with the Museo de Larco which had an impressive art collection and a small erotic art gallery which was essentially a salute to the male form, if you know what I mean. From there we battled even worse traffic to visit Plaza de Armas and arrived just in time to watch the changing of the guards. The ceremony lasted far longer than expected so we moved on after 45 minutes of melting in the sun. I reconnected with a tourist that I met a few days prior at Machu Picchu and had a great family style Peruvian lunch at La Panchita with a group of her MBA classmates (the portions were massive). It was great to learn a few lines from the stories of their lives because that is what travel is all about: new experiences, new learnings and new connections. The evening ended with an amazing meal at Cala overlooking the balcony with the waves crashing on the rocks below. Of all the Pisco Sours I tried, theirs packed the biggest punch!