Cusco, The Sacred Valley, & Machu Picchu – Peru

Peru has been an interesting country for us. Generally, easy to travel through, with a clearly outlined tourist (or “Gringo”) trail with good transportation, food, and hostels/hotels.

Day 16-18 – Cusco: Capital of the Inca Empire

Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru
Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru

Cusco is a great city to visit. It’s really safe and you can find budget to luxury accommodation and restaurants. We spent our first three nights at Backpacker & Creperie La Bo’M. We really liked this hostel! It has a great vibe and a good free breakfast. They also have a great crepe restaurant. If you are looking for more budget meals, look no further than the many local restaurants with the ‘menu del dia’ (dish of the day) written on their outdoor chalkboards. It usually includes a small starter (try the stuffed avocado) or soup, a main dish, and drink (usually lemonade or chicha morada – which is a sweetened purple corn drink). Be aware though, these restaurants may be a bit harder on your stomach! We got by with no problems, but I think that was just luck. For a non-Peruvian restaurant, try Jack’s Cafe (Clair – try the veggie and hummus sandwich).

Learning how to make Ceviche on our walking tour in Cusco
Learning how to make Ceviche on our walking tour in Cusco

While in Cusco, we met up with some friends from the UK and went a on a great city walking tour that we definitely recommend! It includes a small alpaca and ceviche tasting, as well as brings you to a store where you can get great prices on the merchandise/souvenirs. On that note, one thing we learned is that nothing is really ‘hecho a mano’ (hand made) or unique. Generally, we are really bad at haggling with merchants, but a good rule of thumb is to talk to a few different merchants before purchasing to get an idea of the price.

Day 19/20 – Ollantaytambo: The Sacred Valley 

Before heading to Machu Picchu, we wanted to spend some time in the Sacred Valley. We took a cab to the bus station and hopped in a minibus (approx $5 CND pp). After about 90 minutes we arrived at Ollantaytambo. We stayed at Casa de Wow which is a really nice hostel run by Wow and Winn. Make sure Wow takes you up to the roof to explain all the Gods in the mountains. It’s an experience we won’t soon forget.

Having drinks while watching the festivities in Ollantaytambo, Peru.
Having drinks while watching the festivities in Ollantaytambo, Peru.

There are a lot of ruins around the Sacred Valley and we had the full intention to go see them…but once we arrived we realized there was a huge festival going on that kept us close to town. If you do want to see these sites you need to buy a tourist ticket beforehand. The only downside with the festival was that the town was super busy, with food and drink a-flowing. Which is definitely a recipe for a great party, but without public washrooms the cobblestone corners quickly became urinals 🙁

Day 21-24 – The Inca Trek: An unbelievable hike!

Group photo at the starting point of the Inca Trail.
Group photo at the starting point of the Inca Trail.

We had booked our 4-day Inka trek through Llama Path 7 months prior to our trip. It books up this early, so if your heart is set on the Inka Trail book it early! You pay 50% of your deposit in advance and need to pay the balance 48 hours before your trek.  They don’t take credit cards, so grab plenty of cash (how annoying). Most people leave from Cusco, but because we wanted to visit the Sacred Valley we had arranged in advance to be picked up from there. Our tour was stopping in the town for breakfast anyways, so it worked our perfectly.

View from one of the Inca sites along the trail.
View from one of the Inca sites along the trail.

The trek was amazing and something we fully recommend.  We spent about $1000 CND pp on the trek including: paying Llama paths, transportation, buying warmer clothing in Peru, renting walking polls, and sleeping bags. Pro tip – don’t rent from your trekking agency. They charge WAY more than the shops located near the Plaza de Armas. We also carried our own bags and mattresses, although for an extra charge you can have a porter carry these items.  The weather changes a ton during the trek so make sure to bring a variety of outfits including some for sunshine, rain, and snow!

Phuyupatamarca - One of many Inca sites along the trail.
Phuyupatamarca – One of many Inca sites along the trail.

The hike itself is of medium difficulty. The difficulty is mostly from long days, altitude, slippery rocks, and general fatigue (days begin at 5am!) We had a great guide, Roger, who as a local, had so much knowledge and passion for everything we saw. This is probably what makes the trek an integral part of your Machu Picchu experience. The Inca Trail is the actual path that the Inca’s took to Machu Picchu. The Inca were not the general population but similar to what we would call a Pharaoh in Egypt (The higher class). Along the way you visit many other Inca sites and learn about their significance.

Day 24/25 – Arrival at Machu Picchu 

Machu Picchu at the completion of our hike.
Machu Picchu at the completion of our hike.

There is no doubt that it is amazing, but there is something that is lost by the 500 people at the site. There are so many people taking pictures, tour groups clogging up the paths, and the difficulty in navigating your way through the site. Or it just might be after four days, 46 km and a 3 am wake up call, it’s hard to absorb Machu Picchu in all of it’s glory!

Agricultural terraces at Machu Picchu.
Agricultural terraces at Machu Picchu.

Our tour included a bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes where we had decided to spend a night. We stayed at Tambo Inn Machupicchu Hostel. There are so many options for hotels/hostels, and this one was okay. It was a decent free breakfast, good WiFi, and an amazing high pressured hot shower. The hostel is located right next to a soccer field which literally has games late at night and super early in the morning. Their checkout is also at 9 AM, really?

We also checked out the local hot springs ($8 CND pp) in Aguas Calientes. As our sister-in-law said, “Don’t go to the hot springs unless you want to contract a disease, unless you already went then I bet you had a lovely time.” To be fair, if you think this is going to be a lovely North American style spa, think again. There are hot and cold pools, and the hot pools are significantly murkier (and more used) than the cold pools. For a great coffee and snack check out the Paris Boulangerie.

Day 26/27 – Cusco: Final days in Peru

Later that day we headed out on our train back to Cusco where we spent two nights at The Flying Dog Hostel. The only negative thing was that the bedspreads are in need of replacement. Other than that, there’s a great little common area to watch movies, good free breakfast, and good wifi.

Now here’s the bad (maybe bad, isn’t the right word). We were definitely ready to leave Peru when we did.  It was very clear the distinction between tourists and locals (as it is in most developing countries we’ve seen) but this distinction seemed deeper than we’ve seen. One of the clearest examples of this were the porters for our trek. Apparently, the evolution of porters has changed and they are treated much better than they used to be, but it still seems like they have a long way to go (Clair – UNION YES!) By law, they can’t carry more that 27 kg on their backs…THAT’S STILL 27 KG!!! Basically a third grader on their backs. One of the reasons we selected Llama Paths was they say they engage in sustainable tourism and we really hope that this is true. We were also asked to tip the porters and guides at the end and as always, we are happy to tip, but the amount they suggested seemed less of a tip and more of a wage replacement. At the end of the day, I think it is clear in Peru that tourism is a massive industry, but we didn’t see regular Peruvians benefiting from this industry.

Finally, after a nearly month traveling this complex country, we flew from Cusco to Lima, and then to Santiago, Chile. Spoiler alert – Wine here is $5 a bottle!

 

One thought on “Cusco, The Sacred Valley, & Machu Picchu – Peru

  1. $5 a bottle??! A nice thing to do would be to ship home a few cases to your family, specifically that smart sister-in-law who is quoted in this post.

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