Existing Member?

dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

Peru 2012 - Cusco & the Sacred Valley

PERU | Monday, 8 October 2012 | Views [771]

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu


Taking someones advise we reserved window seats on the left had side of the aircraft for the flight from Lima to Cusco, which provided spectacular views of Cusco on the approach to the city; it has to be said that it was a little freaky and unnerving as the aircraft banks inbetween the mountains on its final approach. 

Our hostel, 'Pension Alemana' was in the San Blas district and provided stunning views of the City below.  Upon arrival they plied us with coca tea and we were pleasantly suprised to find we had no effects of altitude sickness, so set out to explore.

Wandering the  cities historic streets we passed through the San Blas plaza on route to the central plaza. The walk itself was picturesque, with cobbled streets, Inca stonework, whitewashed buildings and distinctive red tiled roofs.  We passed the famous (and very crowded) inca stone wall with the 12-sided stone before reaching the central plaza and the impressive looking Cathedral.  We got an audio guide for the Cathedral (essential to get the best out of the visit) and spent a couple of hours wandering around.  It was interesting to learn how the catholics had amended aspects of their religion to blend in with Inca culture, for example, Mary had a traditional mountain dress whilst the painting of the last supper depicted a meal of guinea pig (cuy) and andean fruits.  There was an impressive painting of the earthquake that struck Cusco, as well as an alter to the patron saint of earthquakes (apparantly women pray to him to provide good husbands !).  On display is also the first cross brought to Peru by the Spanish.

Wandering back to our hostel we indulged in a couple of pisco sours, before heading to 'korma sutra' for a good old fashioned curry - well a local take on it, complete with tandoori guinea pig followed by alpaca curry. Tasty !

Awoke to blue skies and the sun blazing in the sky.  After a wonderful breakfast of fresh bread, cheese, eggs, fruit salad and coffee (this hostel provided the best breakfast we had during our time in Peru) we headed out for our first full day in the city.  It was a complete contrast walking the side streets early in the morning with few tourists and vehicles around - great for taking photos !  Reaching the main plaza we opted to take a tourist tram for a lazy overview of the area, the first tram of the day also means there were only 5 people on it (including us).  We toured the main sights before heading out towards the Saqsaywaman archeological complex (didn't stop there) and finally to the Christ the redeemer statue (stopping there for a full 7 minutes -  reminding us that we hate scheduled tours !) before returning to the square.  OK tour but nothing to write home about.

Heading through the Plaza San Fransisco we reached the San Pedro central market where we were inundated with an array of sights,  smells, sounds and colours.  The hussle and bussle was incredible, and you could buy almost anything - there was even an animal 'innards aisle'.  Sitting at one of the  food counters we mingled with the locals over a couple of bowls of quinau soup - tasty and only 2 soles a bowl.  Wandering the back streets only a few blocks from the plaza we were pleasantly suprised at the local feel that the area had, passing very few tourists who obviously were sticking to the well worn (and written about) tourist track.

That afternoon we walked up and out to Saqsaywaman, which is a walled complex and was the capital of the Inca empire. It was impressive enough in its own right with huge stones all perfectly slotting together without mortar to create massive walls, the bonus was the great views it provided over Cusco.

In the evening we stumbled across a small pizza place called 'La Pizza Carlo' - it was warm and cozy, with only 4 tables,  the owner was friendly, whilst  the pizzas were prepared and cooked in a huge wood burning oven in the same room. It was a great find.  Afterwards we wandered the bizarres before becoming a little weary of the hawkers offering paintings, trinkets and photos with lamas/lambs etc, so headed back to our bed.



A 15 minute walk from the hostel saw us at a street offering numerous share taxis to Pisac, you pay your money (4 soles per person) and once its full off you go.  The minibus held 11 and so was soon full with us being the only 2 non locals.  It was a scenic 45 minute journey as we  passed through small communities, the only disconcerting part was that the driver seemed to be on the wrong side of the road more often than not.  We arrived in Pisac at 10am and walked to the central square where out hostel (Pisac Inn) was located, and were able to check straight in.  It was overcast and drizzly so we spent about an hour wandering around the market, enjoying it before the daily mass of tourists converged (Pisac is famous for its craft market).  We bought a few trinkets, ate empanadas which were made in  massive clay ovens and watched the cuy scurrying around their 'castles'.  We then grabbed a coffee from an upper balcony bar which overlooked the market and watched as bus load after bus load of tourists arrived from Cusco.

Escaping the mayhem we took a taxi to the top of the Pisac ruins which are home not only to spectacular views of the Urubamba valley but also some of the best examples of Inca agricultural terraces.  We spent about 4 hours wandering around, including the 3 km walk back down to Pisac, there were few tourists around and none on the trail itself.  That evening we  enjoyed a meal of andean river trout washed down with a couple of pisco sours. Would have been a perfect day apart from there being no hot water in the hostel for showers - Brrrrrrrrrr



Skipped breakfast as the thought of more eggs was a little too much and caught the local bus to Urumbamba.  It was 2.5 soles each for the 1 hour journey and again we were the only tourists; stopping at every village through the valley we just soaked in the scenery and daily goings on of life.  From Urumbamba we jumped into a share taxi to the final journey to Ollantaytambo and then found our way to the KB Tambo hostel.  I immediately fell for Ollantaytambo and would say it was probably my  favourite  place during our travels.  It is dominated by 2 massive inca ruins and is the best surviving example of Inca city planning with narrow cobblestone streets, babbling irrigation channels and stone buildings.  We chose to leave the main ruins until later in the day and instead hiked up to the Inca granary on the side of the Pinkuylluna mountain, whilst only a 20 minute walk it was devoid of tourists and provided spectacular views of both the town and its more popular Inca ruins.  Instead of retracing our steps we continued along a little used trail which took us up and over the mountain before weaving its way back down to the town.  It was a magical walk, with stunning views through the valley and in over of an hour of walking we didn't pass another tourist.  Looking down on the town we saw scores of buses descending on the main ruins and a stream of ant sized tourists swarming over the ruins.  Back in the town I braved a local stand selling meat (who knows what sort) and potato on a stick - which was very tasty.  We followed that up with a safer option of homemade soup and bread at a local eatery.  We passed the next few hours exploring the town before heading to the main ruins in the late afternoon, as by that time most of the daytrippers had moved on.  We climbed the huge steep terraces and just chilled out and enjoyed the views.  After hot showers we had pizza and pisco sours.



Setting our from  Ollantaytambo, we had booked a half day mountain biking tour that incorporated the saltpan salinas and ampitheatre like terracing of Moray. It turned out it was just of us on the tour and so we jumped into the van and drove for about 30 minutes before hopping on our bikes and cycling downhill along a bumpy track to the salinas.  The first sight of the saltpans was very sureal with it nestling in the nook of a valley.  There are thousands of saltpans (1 saltpan per family, its takes about 4 days for salt to be ready for harvest) dating back to pre Inca times, with a hot spring at the top of the valley discharging heavily salt-laden water which is then diverted into the individual pans. We walked around the saltpans, it felt very much like walking on snow, bought some salt and then got back in the van for our journey to Moray.  We passed through  the small town of Maras where you got a real feel of day-to-day life, not a tourist in sight, and people with old, weather worn faces sitting in their doorways.  The scenery was fascinating, a mixture of  fields of potatos (over 3800 varieties of potato in Peru), and animals - sheep, pigs, piglets and donkeys, all set to a background of snowcapped mountains.  After stopping at the archeological site of Moray which mainly consists of 3 enormous terraced circular depressions, the purpose of which appears to be unknown (although there is plenty of speculation) we embarked on an exhilirating downhill bikeride. 

Back in Ollantaytambo we had soup and sandwiches for lunch before walking down the the train station to catch our train to Aguas Calientes.



We had opted for the luxury (rather than backpacker) train for the 2 hour journey, which had more room and most important of all a surround glass roof to really allow you to capture the secenery as we travelled through the valley - we had a raging river on one side of us and snow capped mountains on the other.  We arrived in Aguas Calientes and were met by the hotel manager (Rupa Wasi Eco Lodge) and led through the chaos that is the town - through a crowded market, over a bridge, through a plaza, down a dirty narrow alleyway and up and long flight of stairs. Imagine our suprise to arrive at a cosy hostel tucked away from all the hussle and bussle, a real oasis of calm.  We had a brief wander around the town which is really just a netwrok of streets comprising of restaurants, restaurants and more restaurants, all of which hound you for business.  We retreated to the hostel and ate at their restaurant, known as the treehouse (it comes highly rated).  It was a little extravagent and probably our most costly meal of the entire trip but worth every sole - I had trout ceviche with avacardo, lime and olives; then rare cooked alpaca steak with potatoes and organic salad - sumptuous.

It rained pretty much non stop during the night and so we awoke at 04:30am none too refreshed for our day at Machu Picchu.  A light breakfast and we were at the busstop at 05:00am for the first bus of the day - to find there was already a pretty significant queue.  We managed to get on about the 5th bus of the morning as we took the 25 minute winding road up to M.P; there was thick mist so nothing to see during the journey.  We reached M.P at about 06:00 to be rewarded with ............. a thick mist, you could barely see 10ft infront of you, let alone catch even the briefest of glimpses of Perus most famous Inca ruins.  We decided to walk upto the sun temple (about a 40 minute walk) whilst waiting (and praying) for the sun to burn away the mist.  At 07:05am we glimpsed our first small, lonely patch of blue sky.  Reaching the sun temple we were rewarded with small breaks in the mist but nothing to get too excited about so chose to descend again, then at 07:45am there was the briefest break in the mist and my first view of M.P - awesome, awesome, awesome - nothing prepares you for your first view of M.P saddled between the two mountain peaks of Macchu Picchu mountain and Huayna (Wayna) Picchu.

Walking back down to M.P we just sat down and watched the view unfold as the mists cleared to be replaced with the sun and blue skies.  We decided to walk to the Inca drawbridge - you have to sign in and out as a couple of years ago a tourist fell to their death ! We were the 12th and 13th visitors of the day.  It was a great walk with sheer drops and amazing views, and best of all noone around.  Returning to M.P main, it was already far more crowded than when we left and so made our way to the entrance to Huayna Picchu.  The walk to the top of this mountain (2000 steps) provides a birdseye view of M.P, but is limited to 400 people per day (200 at 07:00am and 200 at 10:00am) and we had managed to get tickets.  Josie was not feeling too hot so opted to chill out whilst I chose to head up the mountain.  I was the 19th person through and was determined to have the summit to myself for a few minutes so set off at a pace.  It was a strenuous climb but 40 minutes later I had made it to the top, it was awesome to stand on the sumit and look down on M.P - best of all I had about 5 minutes of solitude before the next people began to arrive.  Wandering down I spent some time in the ruins before descending at a more leisurely rate, met up with Josie and chilled over lunch on the terraces. The skies opened up at about 1:00PM and showed no signs of abating so we decided to leave, there were long queues of bedraggled people waiting for the buses so we chose to take the 1.5 hour walk down through the rainforest.  It was a really enjoyable walk and we saw only a handful of people along the way.  We caught the train back to Cusco and a taxi back to the hotel we had previously stayed in, exhausted we fell straight to sleep.


Awoke refreshed and after a big breakfast headed down to the main Plaza where a hugh parade (don't know what it was in aid of) was in full swing; colourful costumes and noisy firecrackers seemed to be the main theme of the whole thing.  We went to the chocolate museum (guess whose idea that was) and drank chocolate tea (very nice) and  mayan hot chocolate - served with honey and chillies.  Josie then signed herself up for the 2 hour chocolate making class, whilst I wandered the busy sunday streets just people watching. Meeting up with Josie (and the bag of homemade chocolates that she closely guarded) we went back to 'La Pizza Carlo' again before an early night.

Next stop .... Arequipa

Add your comments

(If you have a travel question, get your Answers here)

In order to avoid spam on these blogs, please enter the code you see in the image. Comments identified as spam will be deleted.

About dannygoesdiving

Follow Me

Where I've been

Photo Galleries

My trip journals

See all my tags 



Travel Answers about Peru

Do you have a travel question? Ask other World Nomads.