The next day, I had booked us what I thought would be an casual bike ride through the Sacred Valley of Peru. Boy, was I wrong! Why did I not learn from the last time I did any sort of physical activity at 11,000+ feet?! I usually love biking uphill because I’m all about working out that bootayy, but man, even biking the slightest incline was extremely difficult at this altitude. Our lungs were NOT prepared for this shit.
There were two stops on this tour. The first stop was Moray, an Incan ruin believed to have once been used as an agricultural laboratory of sorts. Each level of the circular terraced bowl exhibited a different micro climate, allowing the Incans to experiment with various vegetation.
While we did not bike to Moray (thank goodness), we did bike to our next stop: Maras. The path went from wide open and fairly flat to narrow, downhill, on the side of the mountain.
The town of Maras is known for the salt ponds that sit on the slopes of the Qaqawiñay mountain. Some 3,000 shallow pools are filled with the hypersaline water that flows through an intricate network of channels from the Qoripujio spring. Once full, the water in the ponds is left to evaporate and the remaining deposits are raked into a basket to be sorted, bagged and sold. An admission fee of 10 soles and a short hike from the small parking lot take you down to the salt mines. We bought a few bags of salt to take home for ourselves and as gifts for our foodie friends. Based on what we purchased, the grain size is a bit more coarse than I’m used to so I would definitely recommend for use as a finishing salt rather than a salt to cook with. The taste is more salty, for the lack of a better description.
And (drum roll) for the main event, we traveled to Machu Picchu bright and early the next morning aboard the Vistadome train. This train was an upgrade from the normal Expedition train, but the panoramic windows and food service offered both ways were well worth the extra cost.
Our journey began with 20 min car ride to the Poroy Train Station and from there, it took 3.5 hours to get to Machu Picchu by train (~ 4 hours one way). The Poroy Station is only open from May through December so for those considering traveling from January through April, the trip from Cusco to Machu Picchu consists of a long BUS ride to the Ollantaytambo Station and then taking a train from there (~4.5 hours one way).
Given the limited vacation days we had for this trip, we decided against trekking to Machu Picchu. Although now looking back, I probably would have given up one day in Lima for a day trek to Machu Picchu.
The last stop of the train was the Machu Picchu Train Station, located in Machu Picchu Town aka Aguas Calientes. From the train station, we walked 10 min into town to the bus station and after a 30 min bus ride, we were finally at the entrance. FINALLY. After almost 5 hours. FIVE. CINCO.
We met up with our tour guide and got to exploring this new wonder of the world.
That’s what we whispered as we peered over our shoulders to catch a glimpse of Huayna Picchu one last time.
Cusco, 4 days
Lima, 2 days
Mountain biking to Moray and Salt Mines
Machu Picchu tour
Chocolate making class
Like Canada, this was another short notice trip, by my standards anyway. We finalized travel plans in March for our trip in May. Looking back, I wish I had spent more time planning because there are so many things we didn’t get to do. But that’s why we have to go back, right?
This being my first international trip (to another continent), the travel time to Cusco was almost unbearable. We took a red eye to Lima, with a layover in Panama City, and then a domestic flight to Cusco. All in all, the total travel time including layovers was 17 hours. I am so so so thankful for airport lounges because we were able to relax, take a nap, stay hydrated or caffeinated, use wifi, and have access to clean restrooms.
When we finally arrived in Cusco, we were too tired to deal with having to negotiate a cheaper taxi fare so we just took an official taxi offered inside the airport. The ride to our hotel in the San Blas neighborhood cost us 50 soles (~$15). You can definitely get a cheaper fare (~15 soles) if you bargain with one of the many taxi drivers waiting outside in the airport parking lot.
Fair warning: taxi drivers here are CRAZY. I’m pretty sure I saw my life flash before my eyes a few times so I’m still amazed how we were not involved in any accidents nor did we witness one.
The best thing about our hotel, Pension Alemana, was this amazing view of Cusco…
Having this view did come at a price, physically. Since it is situated higher than the main part of town, walking to and from our hotel was a real workout. While we didn’t suffer from any symptoms of altitude sickness (we took medicine beforehand), our lungs felt even the slightest bit of incline.
The other pros of the hotel included continental breakfast and having water/tea/coffee/fruit available all day near the front desk. The continental breakfast is offered with made to order eggs in the restaurant upstairs (not just hard boiled eggs yay!). Tip: the wifi is actually MUCH better in the restaurant than in the room so make use of the free drink coupons provided or just grab a beer during whatever downtime and use the wifi there.
The cons included thin walls and poor wifi. Our room (#303) was close to the stairs and we were able to hear people walking up and down. And even though our itinerary didn’t allow for us to sleep in much, we were still woken up fairly early due to construction on the building across the street.
After checking in and freshening up a bit, we headed to dinner at Pachapapa, known for their cuy (guinea pig). YAAAAAS, WE TRIED GUINEA PIG! AND ALPACA!
We enjoyed our meal with some live entertainment…
I was not a fan of the cuy. I’ve heard people say that it is too “gamey” but it wasn’t that for me. There was just so little meat! Despite the skin being nice and crispy, I honestly felt like I was just eating skin and fat, and if it was just that, why am I paying so much (72 soles!)? The alpaca, on the other hand, was delicious! The tenderness of the meat reminded me of veal and the flavor was very mild and not distinct. It was hard to pinpoint what it tasted like… chicken? beef? mixture of both? The ceviche, although good, was my least favorite ceviche we had during this trip.
The next day was spent exploring Cusco.
We started by heading down to Plaza de Armas, where there was a parade going on.
Our game plan was to not get full off one thing and try a little bit of everything. We also targeted booths that seemed to be filled with locals, not tourists.
We tried our best, but by this time, we were pretty stuffed. We couldn’t pass up tamales though. We even bought a few extra in case we needed a snack later on.
We finished our tour of San Pedro Market by perusing through the merchandise area for souvenirs to bring home. Afterwards, we set out in search of a local coffee shop for a pick me up and wifi.
As we were walking around, we passed by ChocoMuseo. While I was in the midst of planning this trip, I had considered booking a truffle making class, but held off since I wasn’t sure if we would have enough time. Now that we were actually there, I caught a major case of FOMO and didn’t want to leave Peru without taking a class. Unfortunately, the truffle class wasn’t available, but we were able to snag spots for the chocolate class later that day! But committing to the chocolate class meant that we had only 2.5 hours to get to and explore Sacsayhuaman, about 1 mile away. It would be a 30 minute walk, which didn’t sound too bad, so we decided we would walk there and take a cab ride back. Within 5 minutes, I regretted our decision…
When we got to the first gate, I was so out of breath! To give you some perspective on the steepness of the walk up to Sacsayhuaman, this view is only half way up…
Our exhaustion made us susceptible to hustlers. When we were approached by men offering us horseback riding to Sacsayhuaman with stops at other sites in between, we were basically like, JUST TAKE OUR MONEY.
We stopped to check out Temple of the Moon while our “guide” (he really didn’t do much besides keep the horses in line) took a nap.
While at the top of Temple of the Moon, CT was told about another temple nearby, Temple of the Monkey. We followed the general directions provided and even tried using GPS, but after 15 minutes of searching, we gave up and headed to Sacsayhuaman.
When we first agreed to horseback riding, we thought that we would be riding horseback to Sacsayhuaman. This turned out to not be the case. We had to get off our horses and walk down the main road for about 15 mins to get to Sacsayhuaman. This was pretty annoying since we were short on time. We essentially paid 40 soles each for an hour of riding, which isn’t bad when you think about it in US $ (~$13), but it probably wasn’t the best deal. However, I definitely would recommend horseback as a means to see the various ruins around Cusco!
Sacsayhuaman, a fortress-temple complex made of stone, is one of the many sites included in the boleto turistico. There are a few options in purchasing the boleto turistico:
A complete ticket (130 soles) gives you access to all participating sites and is valid for 10 days
A partial ticket (70 soles) is broken up into circuits:
Sacsayhuaman, Q’enko, Tambomachay and Puca Pucara. Valid for 1 day.
Museum of Regional History, Museum of Contemporary Art, Koricancha Museum (but not Koricancha itself), Museum of Popular Art, Native Music and Dance Centre, Pachacutec Monument, Pikillacta & Tipon. Valid for 2 days.
Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Chinchero & Moray. Valid for 2 days.
Since we had planned to visit Sacsayhuaman and Moray, we purchased the full boleto turistico.
By the time we got to Sacsayhuaman, we really didn’t have much time explore. We walked around for about 15 mins, took some pictures, and headed back to town for the chocolate class.
Was I sad that we didn’t have more time to explore Sacsayhuaman? Sure. Did I regret booking the chocolate class? Not for a second! I’m really glad we were able to take the class. It was informative, hands-on, entertaining, and most importantly, tasty! We sampled chocolate from various regions of Peru/South America and went through most of the steps of the chocolate making process. I say most because the class skips the step of melting chocolate for the sake of time. We also learned to use ingredients for other purposes: shells of the roasted cacao beans for tea and and paste we grinded from the beans into hot chocolate.
At the end of class, we made our own chocolate molds and added whatever ingredients we wanted.
We ended the day with a delicious dinner at Barrio Ceviche, one of the many restaurants that line Plaza de Armas.
This was one of my favorite meals of the trip. We ordered the El Trio which is essentially a taster of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: classic ceviche (fish only), seafood fried rice, and fried seafood. It was very reasonably priced and the portions were a good size. We also ordered an additional ceviche that included other seafood (octopus, calamari, shrimp).
This meal was a delicious end to our jam-packed day. We headed back to our hotel after dinner since we had an early start for our mountain biking tour the next day.